The Rijkssmuseum and The Louvre – Viewing Great Works of Art Despite the Crowds

Everyone wants to see the Mona Lisa, made famous by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, even if they don’t know much about Leonardo Da Vinci. And, for those that studied art history in college, the notion of seeing and carefully examining original works of Vermeer, Rembrandt, Monet, Van Gogh and Michelangelo puts European museums at the top of your bucket list. And, I was no exception.

It was a rainy Saturday when we visited Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and we were glad we had purchased our tickets online before leaving on our trip. While there was a line for those with advance-purchase tickets, it moved quickly compared with those who needed to buy their tickets on-site. As we moved along, we had an opportunity to view the intricate details of the building’s impressive architecture.

Approach to the Rijksmuseum

Approach to the Rijksmuseum

We had gone to the museum’s website to plan our visit and a friend had given us a map from her visit. The paintings on our priority list were in the Gallery of Honour, which was where everyone was headed. We followed the crowd up the stairs. Unlike most of the throng, we stopped to admire the large stained-glass window on our way
NL---Rijksmuseum-stained-gl
and Bill reminded me to look up to appreciate the ceiling art.

decorative ceiling

decorative ceiling

I was particularly interested in viewing works of Johannes Vermeer. I had read The Girl With the Pearl Earring and recently watched the movie, Tim’s Vermeer. The Rijksmuseum has four of Vermeer’s paintings, the most famous being The Milkmaid. There was a large crowd gathered at one of the paintings near the entrance to the Gallery of Honour.

No one seemed to be studying the painting, which in real life was more luminescent than photos I have seen. Instead, they were gathered taking photos with their cell phones high above their heads, as if to say ‘I was here.’ After documenting the crowd, I nudged closer to admire the details and colors of the painting.

Crowd around Vermeer's The Milkmaid

Crowd around Vermeer’s The Milkmaid

17th Century Dutch artists are the specialty of the Rijksmuseum, so we wandered through the crowd to admire masterpieces of Rembrandt, Steen and others. The museum’s most famous painting is Rembrandt’s Night Watch (De Nachtwacht) and it was interesting to learn that it represented one of the first representations by artists of ordinary people – those who performed the night watch of the city. After spending an hour in the Gallery of Honor, we decided to split up and view other areas of the museum that appealed to each of us. The layout of the museum was complicated, involving four floors in two adjacent wings that were not connected.

There is a whole museum devoted to Van Gogh that we would not have an opportunity to see, so I made my way to the first floor gallery that contained Van Gogh’s self-portrait and then to the exhibit of Delftware.

We reconvened in the late afternoon to enjoy dark chocolate brownies and coffee in the café.

As we left, the sun had come out and a smiling Rembrandt was standing along the path and I couldn’t resist taking a picture of Bill with him.

Bill Burk with 'Rembrandt'

Bill Burk with ‘Rembrandt’

We stopped by the gift shop; however, I didn’t buy anything as the offerings resembled what I could get at The Getty Museum. There was a wonderful mural along one outside wall.

Gift shop mural

Gift shop mural

A week later, we visited The Louvre in Paris.

My son and his family had been in Paris a few weeks earlier and had warned us about the crowds. “You’ll never get to see the Mona Lisa,” I was told. “It is a small painting and there are too many people crowded around it. Instead, they spent time in the Egyptian exhibit and my granddaughter had insisted that I see the mummies!

I was not to be deterred. I was not going to Paris and the Louvre and not see the Mona Lisa!

A friend had recommended that we enter from the basement after getting off the Metro. We never saw that exit and emerged from the Metro along a side street next to the museum, but were there 15 minutes before it opened and got in the fairly short line for those with the Paris Museum Pass – a VERY smart investment. Two large tour groups were already in the other line.

Pyramid entrance

Pyramid entrance

I was armed with a brochure map from another friend and had gone to the website the night before and meticulously written down the exhibits we wanted to see, their location and the order that would work best. Unfortunately, I had not noticed the small colored square next to the exhibit photos and had assumed that everything we wanted to see was in the Richeleu wing. We were surprised there were not many people going through the line to show our ticket for this wing. We walked into the first gallery we came to and inquired where the Mona Lisa was – only to discover that we were in the wrong location. A very nice guard gave us a new map and directed us.

The two tour groups were mobbing their way to the other wing check point and I joined the throng, leaving Chris and Bill to find an elevator. After emerging from the check point, I marched with the others streaming through to Room 6 in the Denon Wing, not giving a glance at the bronzes, up the stairs through the Apollo Gallery, and ignoring the other exhibits as we made our way. I felt like I was part of the ‘running of the bulls,’ trying not to get trampled.

As predicted, there was a large crowd in front of the painting – all taking photos.

Crowd in front of Mona Lisa

Crowd in front of Mona Lisa

However, as people snapped their photo and moved away, I was able to move closer,
FR-Louvre-Mona-Lisa-better-
until I was able to see the painting well.
FR-Louvre-Mona-Lisa-view
Now I could relax and see the rest of the exhibits and met up with Chris and Bill.

Next on our list was the Winged Victory of Samothrace, where there was a large crowd. By standing on a landing above it, I was able to get a good look.

Winged Victory

Winged Victory of Samothrace

We made our way back to the Apollo Gallery to view architectural details
FR-Louvre-arch-details2
and then to the gallery with Roman sculpture.

Italian scuptures

Italian scuptures

Next up was Venus de Milo in the Greek Antiquities galleries. I waited until a tour group leader had finished her spiel so I could appreciate the graceful form of the statue and then take a photo with as few heads in front of the statue as possible.

Venus de Milo

Venus de Milo

I was amazed to see tourists having their picture taken as they imitated the poses of the statues.
FR-Louvre-miming-statue
As opposed to the Rijksmuseum, there was very little visitor seating to rest our legs and I was dehydrated and beginning to regret my decision not to have the weight of my water bottle in the side of my purse.

As we passed through the various galleries, I really appreciated Chris and Bill suggesting I stop periodically and look up at the architectural details.
FR-Louvre-architec-details
In trying to find our way to the Egyptian exhibit, we discovered the area referred to as Medieval Louvre, where a boardwalk curved through the lower ground floor displaying parts of the original fortress that preceded the palace and then museum,

Medieval Louvre

Medieval Louvre

Including a model of the original structure.

Model of Medieval Louvre

Model of Medieval Louvre

Before stopping for lunch, we took time to take in some of the Egyptian exhibit, including an imposing Sphinx

Egyptian Sphinx

Egyptian Sphinx

and the collection of Sarcophagus my granddaughter wanted me to see.

Egyptian Sarcophogus

Egyptian Sarcophogus

After lunch, we made our way to the Metro via the lower level that we had missed when we arrived – stopping to see the inverted pyramid.
FR-Louvre-inverted-pyramid
It was an exhausting day, maneuvering through the three areas of the museum and jostling through the crowds to view the works of art we really wanted to see, but it was definitely worthwhile. Maybe I’ll make my next visit in January.

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