Museums in Paris: The Louvre

Presentation

The Louvre Museum is one of the most important museums in the world and the largest in Paris, with an area of 210,000 m² of which 68,000 are devoted to exhibitions. It is located in the centre of the city, between the right bank of the Seine and one of the busiest streets in the city: Rivoli Street, in the first district.

The building is of great beauty and constitutes an attraction in itself. One could only visit the Louvre to admire this ancient royal palace: the Louvre Palace, which is a vast collection of monumental buildings whose history dates back to 1546.

The Louvre is a universalist museum, covering a wide chronology : from Antiquity to 1848, and also a wide geographical area : from Western Europe to Iran, passing through Greece, Egypt and the Near East.

It is made up of several sections: Eastern Antiquities, Egyptian Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, the Art of Islam, sculptures, art objects, paintings and graphic arts. Post-1848 European works of art can be found in the Musée d’Orsay and the Georges Pompidou, while Asian works of art are on display in the Musée Guimet.

Moreover, since the recent construction of the Musée du quai de Branly, works of art from Africa, America and Oceania have a new space. Only a few masterpieces remain in the Louvre and are exhibited in the Pavillon des Sessions.

The 60,600 m² of rooms in the Louvre house 35,000 works of various kinds: paintings, sculptures, ceramics, drawings, archaeological objects and artistic objects. Among the most famous pieces of the museum are: Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Milo’s Venus, Hammurabi’s Code and Delacroix’s Freedom in Guiding the People.

The Louvre Palace

In the place where the Louvre is today, there was a fortress built by Philip Augustus in 1190 that occupied the southwestern part of the current Cour Carrée. The fortress was a quadrilateral of 10 by 80 meters side, surrounded by moats and flanked by towers. It had two entrances with a tower in the middle, which is called the Grosse tower of the Louvre.

This castle had an important function of surveillance of the Seine, as it was one of the traditional ways of invasions and skirmishes since the time of the Vikings.

It was with Charles V that the castle became a royal residence, after the royal treasure previously conserved in the Maison du Temple was transported to the Louvre in 1317, after the transfer of the goods of the Order of the Temple to the Order of the Hospital.

In the 16th century, the Louvre was in a deplorable state as it had been abandoned by other residences. In 1527, Francis I destroyed the Grosse tour, which was obsolete at the time. And in 1546 the transformation of the fortress into a luxurious residence began, demolishing the western part of the medieval walls and replacing it with a Renaissance style wing erected by Pierre Lescot. These works continued under the reigns of Henry II and Charles IX: a Renaissance wing replaced the southern part of the walls.

Henry IV decided in 1594 to join the Louvre Palace to the Tuileries Palace, built by Catherine de Medici. This is the “Grand Project”, the first stage of which is the Grand Gallery linking the Lesdiguières Pavilion (in honour of François de Bonne, Baron de Champsaur, last Constable of France and first Duke of Lesdiguières) to the La Trémoïlle Pavilion (in honour of Henry de La Trémoïlle, field marshal of the light cavalry of France).

Under the reign of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, the architects Lemercier and later Le Vau built the Cour Carrée, quadrupling the size of the old Renaissance courtyard, for which it was necessary to demolish the last part of the medieval wall. The pavilion of the clock (Pavillon de l’horloge) will be the central pavilion. Lermercier continued with the western wing and led the northern wing to the first floor.

Painters such as Romanelli, Poussin and Le Brun are responsible for the layout and decoration of the palace. However, all these works were interrupted when Louis XIV chose Versailles as his centre of power and royal residence in 1678. It was not until the 18th century that Gabriel and Soufflot developed new projects to complement the “Great Project”. This is the case of the project to transform the Louvre into a museum, which was born with Louis XV and became a reality with the Revolution.

Since the destruction of the Tuileries in 1871, the name Louvre has been extended to the new Louvre and the Louvre-Tulleries union. From east to west is the Louvre itself, which closes the Cour Carrée.

Behind this courtyard, to the north and to the south, two long wings and two large galleries that joined the pavilions of the Tuileries palace go west; these now form the lateral parts of the courtyard of the Carrousel and of the garden on the ruins of the latter palace.

From the western façade of the courtyard of the Louvre, a second gallery of 220 m accompanies each wing to the Carrousel square. This perimeter forms the Napoleon courtyard in the centre of which is the glass pyramid that today serves as the main entrance.

History of the Museum

An exhibition of the most beautiful paintings from the royal collection takes place at the Palais de Luxembourg between 1750 and 1780. Its enormous success led the Director General of the King’s Buildings, the Marquis de Marigny, and his successor, the Count of Angiviller, to draw up a project to make the Louvre a permanent museum.

The new museum will be inaugurated on 10th August 1793 after the transformation of the project into law on 6th May 1791. Its function was, at first, as a place of training for the artists of the time who were the only ones who could enter during the week (this was so until 1855). On Sundays was when the public could enter.

Under the Empire, the Louvre was renamed the Napoleon Museum, the largest in the world. Its director was Dominique-Vivant Denon and presides over its dismantling with the fall of the emperor.

During the reign of Napoleon III, the museum underwent various transformations, such as its extension by Percier and Fontaine with the construction of the wing of Rivoli Street. The northern gallery linking the Louvre with the Tuileries was also completed, thanks to the union of buildings built by Hector-Martin Lefuel. Others are added to the south to maintain the symmetry of the whole.

But in 1871, with the Commune, the museum was burned down, and the architect Lefuel had to rebuild part of the buildings. Under the Ancien Régime, the space between the Louvre and the Tuileries was covered by streets.

But after the abandonment of the works of the first Empire, the houses reappeared in the midst of unfinished demolitions. This site is now made up of gardens and the triumphal arch of the Carrousel.

The Tuileries will not be rebuilt again, and after years of deliberation, the ruins will be demolished in 1886. And the garden has been continued on the site of these ruins ; the perspective thus extends from the center of the courtyard of the Carrousel to the Place de la Concorde and the Champs Elysées.