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The Louvre

[loo'vr'] one of the largest art museums and palaces in the world

Located in Paris, France, The Louvre covers more than 40 acres on the north bank of the River Seine. The museum has about 275,000 works of art, including about 5,000 paintings.

the Louvre courtyard at night, with the Pyramid in the center
the Louvre courtyard at night, with the Pyramid

Important Events in the History of the Louvre

Philippe Auguste built the first Louvre as a Gothic fort about 1200. It was a sizable arsenal comprising a moated quadrilateral with round bastions at each corner, and at the center of the north and west walls. Defensive towers flanked narrow gates in the south and east walls. At the center of the complex stood the massive keep, the Grosse Tour. Two inner buildings abutted the outer walls on the west and south sides.

the first Louvre
the first Louvre was built as a fortress by King Philip II about 1200

In the mid-14th century, Paris spread far beyond Philippe Auguste's original wall. With the onset of the Hundred Years' War, further defenses were needed, so Etienne Marcel, provost of the merchants of Paris, instigated the construction of an earth rampart, which was continued and developed under Charles V. The new defenses encompassed the neighborhoods on the right bank of the Seine. Enclosed within the expanding city, the Louvre lost its defensive function.

In 1364, Raymond du Temple, architect to Charles V, began transforming the old fortress into a splendid royal residence. Apartments around the central court featured large, elaborately carved windows. A majestic spiral staircase served the upper floors of the new buildings, and a pleasure garden was created at the north end. The sumptuous interiors were decorated with sculptures, tapestries, and paneling.

After the death of Charles VI, the Louvre remained unoccupied for a century until 1527, when François I decided to take up residence in Paris. Francois I, who had been a prisoner of war in Italy, decided to build a palace more splendid than the great palaces of Italy. In 1546, Pierre Lescot designed a building in the classical Renaissance manner. The Grosse Tour was demolished, affording more light and space. Jean Goujon, a Frenchman, did the sculpture. From then on, every French king of importance added buildings to the Louvre.

By the second half of the 16th century the Louvre was a mixture of new buildings, work in progress, and half-ruined structures over 200 years old. Dissatisfied with its lack of comfort, and with the noise and smell of the city, Henri II's widow Catherine de Médici ordered the building of a new residence a short distance to the west. Plans for the Tuileries palace were drawn up by Philibert Delorme in 1564, but work was discontinued a few years later.

In 1566, Charles IX began building the ground floor of the Petite Grande, a small wing intended to serve as a starting point for a long corridor connecting the Louvre to the Tuileries.

Henri IV built the Grand Galerie between 1595 and 1610. The long passage provided a direct link from the royal apartments in the Louvre to the Tuileries palace, ending with the Pavillon de Flore. To avoid excessive monotony along its length, two architects were hired -- Louis Métezeau for the east end and Jacques II Androuet du Cerceau for the west. During the same period, the Galerie des Rois (King's Gallery) was built on top of the Petite Galerie.

In 1625, after over ten years of inactivity, Louis XIII decided to resume construction work and carry out the Grand Dessein (Grand Design) envisaged by Henri IV. Louis XIII ordered the demolition of part of the north wing of the medieval Louvre and its replacement by a continuation of the Lescot wing, with identical decoration and detail.

Between 1655 and 1658, Anne of Austria, the queen mother and regent during Louis XIV's childhood, created a suite of private apartments on the ground floor of the Petite Galerie. The six interconnecting rooms comprised a large salon, anteroom and vestibule, a private sitting room, a bedchamber, and a petit cabinet overlooking the Seine. The decoration was carried out by the Italian Romanelli (frescoes and ceiling) and Anguier (stucco).

In 1660, Louis Le Vau was appointed to oversee the completion of the Louvre. This entailed a new façade for the Petite Galerie, the completion of the north wing of the Cour Carrée, and, between 1661 and 1663, the extension of the south wing. On February 6, 1661, fire ravaged the upper story of the Petite Galerie. While Le Vau oversaw the reconstruction work, Louis XIV commissioned Charles Le Brun to execute decorative paintings evoking the passage of the sun represented by the Roman sun god Apollo. The decoration was left unfinished, but includes three ceiling panels by Le Brun and a number of large-scale stucco sculptures.

In 1665, a committee that included the physician Claude Perrault designed the Colonnade, a monumental façade with a peristyle of double columns occupying the upper story. Perrault continued working on his design until 1680, but building was stopped in 1672, when Louis XIV moved to Versailles.

the colonnade being constructed
the colonnade being constructed

In 1692, Louis XIV ordered the creation of a gallery of antique sculpture in the Salle des Caryatides. In the same year, the Académie Française, the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres and the Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture all moved into the vacant palace. In 1699, the latter held the first of a long series of salons, drawing large crowds.

the first of a long series of salons
the first of a long series of salons

As work progressed at Versailles, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, controller general of finances, ordered a halt to work at the Louvre. The buildings of the Cour Carrée were left unroofed and exposed to the elements, and remained so for nearly a century.

In 1756, Louis XV ordered the resumption of construction work at the Louvre. The wings begun under Louis XIV were partially completed, and the north, east and south sides of the Cour Carrée were finally roofed. At the same time, buildings at the foot of the Colonnade were demolished, as were a complex of ancillary buildings in the Cour Carrée.

In 1791, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre and the Tuileries together "will be a national palace to house the king and for gathering together all the monuments of the sciences and the arts."

The Museum Central des Arts opened its doors on August 10, 1793. Under the authority of the Minister of the Interior, its first governors were the painters Hubert Robert, Fragonard and Vincent, the sculptor Pajou, and the architect de Wailly. Admission was free, with artists given priority over the general public, who were admitted on weekends only. The works, mostly paintings from the collections of the French royal family and aristocrats who had fled abroad, were displayed in the Salon Carrée and the Grande Galerie.

On November 9, 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte inaugurated the Musée des Antiques in the former apartments of Anne of Austria on the ground floor of the Petite Galerie. Here, visitors could admire pieces from the Vatican, the Capitoline museum, and Florence, as well as the collections of the French royal family.

the Musée des Antiques
the Musee des Antiques

Through the treaties of Tolentino and Campo Formio, France acquired numerous works of art from the Vatican and the Venetian republic. These were enriched by spoils from Napoleon I's conquests. In 1803, the museum was renamed the Musée Napoléon. Enlargement and embellishment of the palace was entrusted to the architect Fontaine. A new monumental staircase served the Salon Carrée and the Grande Galerie. The façades facing the Cour Carré were homogenized, and staircases were raised at each end of the Colonnade, whose central pavilion received a bronze door and a tympanum. A new north wing progressed from the Tuileries toward the Louvre along the rue de Rivoli. The Arc de Trimophe du Carrousel, a small triumphal arch decorated with reliefs and statues celebrating French military victories, was inaugurated in 1808. After the fall of the empire in 1815, each nation reclaimed its treasures and the museum was disbanded.

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

In 1824, the Musée de Sculpture Moderne was created in the Galerie d'Angouléme on the ground floor of the Cour Carrée's west wing. Five rooms decorated by Fontaine displayed sculptures from the Musée des Monuments Français, as well as from Versailles.

Jean-François Champollion discovered the principles of hieroglyphic writing and published articles on the Rosetta Stone and the translation of hieroglyphics into Greek. On May 15, 1826, he became the first curator of the Louvre's new Department of Egyptian Antiquities.

Jean-Francois Champollion
Jean-Francois Champollion

In 1827, the Musée Charles X was inaugurated on the first floor of the Cour Carrée's south wing. Its collections included Egyptian antiquities, ancient bronzes, Etruscan vases, and Medieval and Renaissance decorative arts. In the same year, the Musée de la Marine was installed on the first floor and, later, the second floor of the Cour Carrée's north wing.

Spanish art was revealed to the French public with the opening of Louis-Phillipé's Spanish gallery. The collection of over 400 paintings was exhibited in the Louvre from 1838 to 1848.

On May 1, 1847, Europe's first museum of Assyrian art was inaugurated in two galleries in the north wing of the Cour Carrée. It was the result of shipments of material made by Paul-Emile Botta, who served as French consul in Mosul.

Three new important new galleries featuring major decorative schemes were completed under the Prince-President Louis-Napoléon. In 1848, Félix Duban was commissioned to restore the Galerie d'Apollon. The decoration was completed in 1851 with the installation of the central ceiling panel by Delacroix. Duban also restored the Salle des Sept-Cheminés (Hall of Seven Chimneys), with its impressively decorated ceiling, and the Salon Carrée.

Galerie d'Apollon
Galerie d'Apollon

The fascination with exotic worlds, and especially with the scientific study of traditional crafts and folk art, led in 1850 to the creation of the Musée Mexicain on the ground floor of the Cour Carrée, together with the Algerian and ethnographic museums on the second floor of the Pavillon de Beauvais, in the north wing of the Cour Carrée.

On February 15, 1852, Louis-Napoleon opened the Musée des Souverains on the first floor of the Colonnade. The museum displayed treasures from France's royal dynasties, from Childeric I to Napoleon.

The Louvre's collections were considerably enriched during the Second Empire, thanks in large part to the acquisition of the collections of the Marquis Campana in 1861, which consisted of 11,385 paintings, objets d'art, sculptures, and antiquities. The collection became the Musée Napoléon III in 1863. A number of those items still form a major part of the Louvre's collections of Greek pottery and Etruscan antiquities displayed in the Galerie Campana.

the Galerie Campana
the Galerie Campana

During the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the French used the Grand Gallery as a munitions factory.

In May 1871, during the last days of the Paris Commune, the Communards set fire to several Paris buildings, including the Tuileries palace. The fire gutted the palace buildings and threatened the Louvre. The ruins of the Tuileries were demolished in 1883.

Restoration of the Flore and Marsan pavilions began in 1874. The width of the north wing along the rue de Rivoli was doubled.

Excavations led by the French archaeologist Marcel Dieulafoy at Susa, in Iran, yielded a number of important discoveries, which were put on display in new rooms at the Louvre in 1888. This new collection represented a major addition to the recently created Department of Near Eastern Antiquities.

The museum's holdings in Islamic art were considerably enriched in 1912 by the bequest of Baroness Delort de Glécon. In 1922, a gallery devoted to the Islamic East was opened in the dome of the Pavillon de l'Horloge.

In 1926, France's Director of National Museums, Henri Verne, launched an ambitious plan to extend the exhibition space at the Louvre. Work began in 1930 and continued during and after World War II. The Cour du Sphinx was given a glazed roof for the display of antique sculpture, while new rooms of European sculpture in Flore wing, and of objets d'art and paintings in the Cour Carrée were opened. The galleries of Egyptian and Near Eastern galleries were completely refurbished.

At the outbreak of war in September 1939 the museum's collections were evacuated, with the exception of the heaviest pieces, which were protected with sandbags. For safety reasons, many works were moved several times during the war. Although mostly empty but for plaster casts, the Louvre reopened under the Occupation, in September 1940.

In 1961, the Pavillon de Flore was vacated by the French Finance Ministry.

On September 26, 1981, President Françoise Mitterand announced a plan to restore the Louvre palace in its entirety to its function as a museum. The Finance Ministry, which still occupied the Richelieu wing, was transferred to new premises, and the Grand Louvre project, which would entail a complete reorganization of the museum, was launched.

artist's conception of the Grand Louvre Project
the Grand Plan for the Louvre

On November 2, 1983, the Etablissement Public du Grand Louvre was given overall control of the project. The extension and modernization of the Louvre were entrusted to the Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei.

The glass Pyramid built by I.M. Pei was inaugurated on March 30, 1989.

On January 1, 1993, the Louvre became an Etablissement Public linked to the Ministry of Culture. The same year, the renovated Richelieu wing was opened, representing the biggest single expansion in the museum's history. Glazed roofs over three inner courtyards created new spaces for the display of monumental sculpture, the departments of paintings and decorative arts expanded their exhibition space, and rooms were set aside for the collection of Islamic art. The Galeries du Carrousel opened soon afterward.

The Louvre's official website is

See Also

Napoleon Bonaparte
World War II

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The Robinson Library >> Fine Arts >> Art Museums, Galleries, Etc.

This page was last updated on 08/08/2018.