La Pyramide de le Louvre à nuit. Note L'arc de Triomphe du Carrousel at the edge of le Jardin des Tuilleries at the top of the picture.
(Adapted from l'histoire du musée du Louvre.)
, in its successive architectural metamorphoses, has dominated central Paris since the late XII ème siecle
. Built on what at the time was the western edge of Paris, the original structure was gradually engulfed as the city grew. The dark château
of the early days was transformed into the modernized dwelling of François I and, later, the sumptuous palace of the Sun King, Louis XIV. Here we explore the history of this extraordinary edifice and of le musée
that has occupied it since 1793.
Le Moyen Âge
During the forty-three-year reign of Philippe-Auguste (1180–1223), the power and influence of the French monarchy grew considerably, both inside and outside the kingdom. In 1190, a rampart was built around Paris, which was Europe’s largest city at the time. To protect the capital from the Anglo-Norman threat, the king decided to reinforce its defenses with a château
, which came to be known as le Louvre
. It was built to the west of the city, on the banks of la Seine
It must be remembered that when the Norman king Guilliaume le Conquérant
won the Battle of Hastings in Angleterre
in 1066, Normandie
was not yet under the domination of Paris, and Guilliaume
reigned over both Normandie et Angleterre
. Phillipe-Auguste built a ring of fortresses, châteaux
, in addition to le Louvre
around Paris. One was on what was at the time the eastern edge of the city just behind what is now rue-Saint-Antoine
in the 4 ème arrondissement
near Place Bastille
. Remnants of the wall and one of the towers of that château
can be seen today on rue Charlemagne
behind the parochial school attached to église-Saint-Louis-Saint-Paul
of 1190 was not a royal residence but a sizable arsenal comprising a moated quadrilateral (seventy-eight by seventy-two metres) 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 this complex stood the Grosse Tour
(great tower) which was fifteen metres in diameter and thirty metres high. Two inner buildings abutted the outer walls on the west and south sides.
Le Louvre as it probably appeared in 1190.
La Salle Basse
(Lower Hall) is all that remains today of the medieval interior of le Louvre
. Its original function is unknown. The vaulted ceiling (now destroyed) rested on two columns at the center of the hall and on supporting walls. The vaulting, columns, and corbels that can be seen today date from 1230–40 and were added to the old masonry.
In the middle of le XIV ème siecle
, Paris spread far beyond Philippe-Auguste’s original wall. With the onset of the Hundred Years' War, further defenses were needed for the French capital. Etienne Marcel, provost of the merchants of Paris, instigated the construction of an earth rampart (1356–58), which was continued and developed under Charles V. The new defenses encompassed the neighborhoods on the right bank of la Seine
. Enclosed within the expanding city, le Louvre
lost its defensive function.
In 1364, Raymond du Temple, architect to Charles V, began transforming the old fortress into a splendid royal residence. Contemporary miniatures and paintings contain marvelous images of ornately decorated rooftops. Apartments around the central court featured large, elaborately-carved windows. A majestic spiral staircase, la grande vis
, 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, le Louvre
slumbered for a century until 1527, when François I decided to take up residence in Paris. La Grosse Tour
was demolished, affording still more light and space. The medieval Louvre gave way to a Renaissance palace.
From le Louvre to les Tuileries
The demolition of La Grosse Tour
marked the beginning of a new phase of building work that would continue through to the reign of Louis XIV. The transformation of François I’s château continued under Henri II
and his sons. However, the construction of le palais des Tuileries
some 500 metres to the west led to a rethinking of the site. Ambitious royal plans to link the two buildings culminated in the creation of la Grande Galerie
(The name Tuileries
comes from the fact that the site was the former location of kilns used to make tuile
Even after its transformation, Charles V’s château
was inadequate for the needs of François I, who ordered the construction of new buildings at le Louvre
in 1546. The medieval west wing was demolished and replaced with Renaissance-style buildings designed by Pierre Lescot and decorated by Jean Goujon. The work begun under François I was completed by Henri II, who created la Salle des Caryatides
(Hall of the Caryatids) on the ground floor and built a new wing following the demolition of the castle's medieval south wing. Le Pavillon du Roi
(King’s Pavilion) was built at the junction of the new buildings and housed the king’s private apartments on the first floor. The new, uniform facades established the Parisian Renaissance style. Their decoration was finally completed under Henri IV
In the second half of the 16th century, le Louvre
was an astonishing 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 Médicis ordered the building of a new residence a short distance to the west. Plans for le palais des Tuileries
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 la Petite Galerie
, a small wing intended to serve as a starting point for a long corridor connecting le Louvre à les Tuileries
along the banks of the Seine. The plan to create a link between the two palaces was beginning to take shape.
Henri IV built la Galerie du Bord de l’Eau
(Waterside Gallery) between 1595 and 1610. Also known as la Grande Galerie
, the long passage provided a direct link from the royal apartments in le Louvre à le palais des Tuileries
, ending with le Pavillon de Flore
. To avoid excessive monotony along its 450-metre façade, two architects were hired: Louis Métezeau for the east end and Jacques II Androuet du Cerceau for the west. During the same period, la Galerie des Rois
(Kings' Gallery) was built on top of Petite Galerie
Henri IV's assassination on le 14 mai 1610
, left his works unfinished: the main shell of la Grande Galerie
was complete and roofed, but the interior remained undecorated. His successor, Louis XIII, acceded to the throne when he was only nine years old. Work begun by him fifteen years later was completed under Louis XIV.
The Classical Period
The reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV had a major impact on le Louvre et le palais des Tuileries
. The extension of the west wing of la Cour Carrée
under Louis XIII marked the beginning of an ambitious program of work that would be completed by Louis XIV and added to by Louis XV, resulting in le Louvre
that we see today. However, following the completion of Versailles, royal interest in the palace waned, plunging la Louvre
into a new period of dormancy.
In 1625, after over ten years of inactivity, Louis XIII decided to resume construction work and carry out le 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 the new building and the old one, the architect Jacques Lemercier installed the monumental Pavillon de l’Horloge
(Clock Pavilion), now known as le Pavillon Sully
. With its steeply pitched roofs and imposing top story decorated with powerful caryatids, the building dominates the Louvre complex and serves as the model for the palace's other pavilions.
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 la Petite Galerie
. The six interconnecting rooms comprised a large salon, anteroom, and vestibule, a grand cabinet (study or private sitting room), a bedchamber, and a petit cabinet overlooking la Seine
. The decoration was carried out by the Italian Romanelli (frescoes and ceilings) and Anguier (stucco).
In 1660 Louis Le Vau was appointed to oversee the completion of le Louvre
. This entailed a new façade for la Petite Galerie
, the completion of the north wing of la Cour Carrée
, and, between 1661 and 1663, the extension of the south wing, including two new pavilions—one at the eastern end, symmetrical to the Renaissance Pavillon du Roi
, and one in the center. In 1668, Le Vau doubled the width of the palace and constructed a new façade overlooking la Seine
. The last external vestiges of the medieval Louvre were demolished.
On le 6 février 1661
, fire ravaged the upper story of la Petite Galerie
. While Le Vau oversaw the reconstruction work, the Sun King, 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 (begun in 1663) and a number of large-scale stucco sculptures.
In 1665, Louis XIV invited the Italian sculptor and architect Bernini to work on the eastern wing of la Cour Carrée
, the planned site of a grandiose new entrance to the royal residence. Bernini submitted two projects, but Louis called a halt to construction work, and neither was completed.
In 1667, a committee that included the physician Claude Perrault designed the celebrated Colonnade, a monumental facade with a peristyle of double columns occupying the entire upper story. Building was stopped in 1672, when Louis XIV moved to Versailles, leaving the project unfinished.
As work progressed at Versailles, Louis XIV's permanent residence from 1672, Jean-Baptiste Colbert
(controller general of finances) called a halt to work at le Louvre
. The buildings of la Cour Carrée
were left unroofed and exposed to the elements. They remained so for nearly a century.
In 1692, Louis XIV ordered the creation of a gallery of antique sculpture in la Salle des Caryatides
. In the same year, the deserted palace received new occupants:l'Académie Française
was followed by l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres
and l'Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture
, which remained until 1792. In 1699, the latter held the first of a long series of salons, drawing large crowds.
In 1699, the artist members of l'Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture
(founded in 1648) held their first exhibition at le Louvre
, in la Grande Galerie
. From 1725, the event was held in le Salon Carré
(Square Salon), near the Académie's offices. The show was henceforth known as the “Salon.”
In 1756, Louis XV ordered the resumption of construction work at le Louvre
. The wings begun under Louis XIV were partially completed, and the north, east, and south sides of la Cour Carrée
were finally roofed. At the same time, the monumentality of Perrault’s Colonnade could at last be properly appreciated thanks to the demolition of buildings at its foot. A complex of ancillary buildings in la Cour Carrée
was also razed.
In 1791, the revolutionary Assemblée Nationale
decreed that “le Louvre et les Tuileries ensemble
will be a national palace to house the king and for gathering together all the monuments of the sciences and the arts.''
Le Musée Central des Arts
opened its doors on le 10 août 1793
. Under the authority of le Ministre du Intérieur
. 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 le Salon Carré
and la Grande Galerie
From Palais au Musée
With the Revolution, le Louvre
entered a phase of intensive transformation. For three years, Louis XVI lived in le palais des Tuileries
, alongside la Convention Nationale
. In 1793 le Musée Central des Arts
opened to the public in la Grande Galerie et le Salon Carré
, from where the collections gradually spread to take over the building. Anne of Austria’s apartments housed the antique sculpture galleries, and further rooms and exhibition spaces were opened under Charles X.
Le Grand Louvre
Restoration of the Flore and Marsan pavilions (at either end of the former palais des Tuileries
) began in 1874. Le Pavillon de Flore
served as the model for the renovation of le Pavillon de Marsan
, which replaced the building by Le Vau. The width of the north wing along the rue-de-Rivoli
Odalisque, Ingres, le Louvre
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 museum in 1888. This new collection of exhibits represented a major addition to the recently created Department of Near Eastern Antiquities.
Created in the wake of the XIX ème siecle Expositions Universelles
in Paris, and formerly housed in le Palais de l’Industrie et le Pavillon de Flore, le Musée des Arts Décoratifs
was inaugurated on le 29 mai 1905
. Managed by la Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs
(UCAD), its collections were displayed in le Louvre's rue-de-Rivoli
wing, between the north entrance to the museum and le Pavillon de Marsan
In 1926, France's director of national museums, Henri Verne, launched an ambitious plan to extend the exhibition space at le Louvre
. Work began in 1930 and continued during and after World War II. Le Cour du Sphinx
was given a glazed roof for the display of antique sculpture, while new rooms of European sculpture in the Flore wing, and of objets d’art
and paintings in la Cour Carrée
were opened. The galleries of Egyptian and Near Eastern antiquities were completely refurbished.
Cupid and Psyche, le Louvre
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. The works were initially deposited at the Château de Chambord in the Loire valley, before being dispersed to numerous other sites, mostly châteaus. For safety reasons, many works were moved several times during the war. Although mostly empty but for plaster casts, le Louvre
reopened under the Nazi Occupation, in septembre 1940
The collections continued to expand under the impetus of Henri Verne's plans, leading le Musée de la Marine
to seek larger premises. Run since 1919 by the History Department of the French Admiralty, the museum was transferred from le Louvre
to a wing of the new Palais de Chaillot
across la Seine
from la Tour Eiffel
at les Jardins du Trocadéro
In 1945 a new plan for the reorganization of France's national art collections was drawn up. The Asian collections, which had until then been housed at le Louvre
(notably the donations of Isaac de Camondo, Raymond Koechlin, and Grandidier, together with the Marteau bequest), were transferred to Musée Guimet
on place d’Iéna
, in Paris.
Le Louvre is so vast, one could visit every day for a week and still not be able to give more than a cursory look to all the exhibits.
The former Jeu de Paume
(games court) in the northeast corner of les Jardins des Tuileries
(1861) was used for a variety of exhibitions before being annexed to le Louvre
in 1947 as le Musée de l'Impressionisme
. Faced with increasingly cramped conditions, the museum closed on le 18 août 1986
, and its expanding collections were transferred to the new Musée d’Orsay
, which was a converted train station.
In 1961, le Pavillon de Flore
was vacated by le Ministère de Finance
. The museum's Department of Sculptures was moved to the ground floor and basement, with paintings on the first floor of the western part of la Grande Galerie
and drawings on the second floor. Restoration laboratories and workshops were set up on the upper floors. The 1968 exhibition of European Gothic art marked the official incoporation of these new spaces into le Louvre
In 1964, le Ministère de Culture
, André Malraux, ordered the digging of a dry moat in front of Perrault’s Colonnade. Although a characteristic feature of French classical architecture, the moat appears on none of the building's original plans and was probably never envisaged by Louis XIV.
The need to improve the museum’s displays and provide better amenities for visitors became increasingly pressing. On le 26 septembre 1981
, President François Mitterrand announced a plan to restore le Louvre
in its entirety to its function as a musée
. The Finance Ministry, which still occupied the Richelieu wing, was transferred to new premises in Bercy in the 12 ème arrondissement
, and le Projet Grand Louvre
, which would entail a complete reorganization of the museum, was launched.
The most famous resident of le Louvre
On le 2 novembre 1983, l'Etablissement Public du Grand Louvre
(EPGL) was given overall control of the project. The extension and modernization of le Louvre
were entrusted to the Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei, whose many buildings included the new wing of the National Gallery in Washington D.C. Archaeological excavations were undertaken before work began on the new spaces beneath la Cour Napoléon
and the construction of la Pyramide
Le Musée d’Orsay
was inaugurated on le 9 décembre 1986
, in Victor Laloux's renovated 1900 train station. The new museum encompassed the various movements that emerged in the second half of le XIX ème siecle
, from 1848 to the beginnings of cubism. It provided a transition between the collections of la Louvre
(from which it incorporated works by artists born between 1820 and 1870) and those of le Musée Nationale d'Art Moderne
. Works, principally of les impressionistes
, formerly displayed at the Jeu de Paume
were also transferred to le Musée d'Orsay
The glass Pyramide
built by I. M. Pei was inaugurated on le 30 mars 1989
. Rising from the center of le Cour Napoléon
, it is the focal point of the museum's main axes of circulation and also serves as an entrance to the large reception hall beneath. From here, visitors can also reach the temporary exhibition areas, displays on the history of the palace and museum, Charles V's original moat, an auditorium, and public amenities (coat check, bookshop, cafeteria, restaurant).
On le 1 janvier 1993, le Louvre
became an Etablissement Public
linked to le Ministère de Culture
, thereby acquiring greater autonomy. 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. Les Galeries du Carrousel
(a new underground shopping mall and parking garage) opened soon afterward.
In 1997, major new developments continued around la Cour Carrée
, with the inauguration of the Sackler wing (Near Eastern antiquities) and, most importantly, the opening of two completely refurbished floors housing the Department of Egyptian Antiquities, which doubled its exhibition space. Work also began on a scheme to refurbish la Salle des Etats
and to create three new galleries of antique art (la “salles des trois antiques”
) beneath la Cour Visconti
In 1996, the French président
, Jacques Chirac, announced the creation of a national museum of tribal and aboriginal art. In addition, selected masterpieces from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas were to be shown at le Louvre
. These were installed on the ground floor of the former Pavillon des Sessions
, in galleries refurbished by the architect J. M. Wilmotte. Inaugurated in avril 2000
, these galleries are a satellite of the future Musée du Quai Branly
, scheduled to open in 2006.
From a château
in 1190 to the world's preminent art museum in 2006 - 816 years of history are found in the walls of le Louvre
The reverse of the first image: Le Louvre as viewed from les Tuileries in daylight.
Paintings in the Louvre
Treasures of the Louvre
The Louvre: Architecture
The Louvre (Building World Landmarks Series)
The Pocket Louvre: A Vistor's Guide to 500 Works