Housed in the Louvre Palace and located on the Right Bank of the Seine, the Louvre is one of the largest and most visited museums in the world and, as former residence of the kings of France, one of the most illustrious. The Louvre exemplifies traditional French architecture since the Renaissance, and it houses a magnificent collection of Western and ancient art. Originally built in the 12th century as a royal castle to help defend Paris against Viking, Norman, and English attacks, the Louvre went through many metamorphoses until it was finally opened as a museum of art in 1793 shortly after the end of the French Revolution. The complex of buildings was turned over entirely to art and culture in 1882, when the Tuileries (the Palace of the French monarchy) was demolished. Since, then, the Louvre has became one of the world’s most popular art galleries and museums, housing masterpieces like Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” the “Venus de Milo“, the Law Code of Hammurabi, (King of Babylon) and “Louis XIV.” In addition to art collections and exhibitions, the Louvre offers lectures and symposiums, films, live performances, and poetry and literature readings.
The Louvre and its architectural transformations have dominated central Paris since the late 12th century. Built on the city’s western edge by Phillip II, the original structure was used as a royal fortress. This foundation was gradually engulfed as the city developed and expanded. The bleak fortress of the early days metamorphosed into the modern estate of François I and later became the decadent palace of the Sun King, Louis XIV. In 1546, Pierre Lescot was commissioned by Francis I to construct a new building on the site of the Louvre. During his reign, several paintings by Leonardo, including the “Mona Lisa,” and works of other Italian masters came into the royal collections.
In 1564, Catherine de’ Medici grew dissatisfied with the Louvre’s “half-ruined” slabs of buildings, lack of comfort, and the noise, smell, and general pollution of the city. As a result, she ordered the building of a new residence a short distance to the west and commissioned Philibert Delorme to build a residence at the Tuileries and to connect it to the Louvre by a long gallery. The Grande Galerie du Bord de l’Eau (Waterside Gallery) was complete in 1606 under Henri IV.
During the Classical Period, the reigns of both Louis XIII and Louis XIV had a major impact on the Louvre and Tuileries palaces. The reign of Louis XIII oversaw the expansion of the west wing of the Cour Carrée, which marked the beginning of an ambitious program of work that would be completed by Louis XIV and added to by Louis XV, resulting in the Louvre that we see today. However, following the completion of Versailles, the royal interest in the palace declined, plunging the Louvre into a period of dormancy.
It was not until 1756 that construction work at the Louvre resumed. The wings begun under Louis XIV were partially completed, and the north, east, and south sides of the Cour Carrée were roofed, after nearly a century of being exposed to the elements. In 1791, the Assemblée Nationale formally declared that the “Louvre and the Tuileries together would both function as a national palace to house the king and for gathering together all the monuments of the sciences and the arts. On August 10, 1793, the Museum Central des Arts opened its doors to the public for the first time. On display were mostly paintings from the French royal family and other aristocrats.
With the Revolution, the Louvre entered a new phase of intensive transformation. During this time, France acquired numerous paintings and antiquities from the Vatican and the Venetian Republic, which visitors could now admire in the Petite Galerie. A modern sculpture museum was created in 1824. Throughout latter half of the nineteenth century, the Louvre’s exhibitions and displays reflected Europe’s growing fascination with exotic worlds. Cultural activity at the Louvre flourished during this period, as the museum acquired Egyptian antiquities, ancient bronze statues, and Etruscan vases and revealed Spanish painting to the public for the first time. Before this Spanish collection was sold to London, the 400 paintings greatly influenced the work of major artists such as Corot and Manet. Mexican and Algerian museums were included and artwork by Delacroix and Felix Duban contributed to the Louvre’s new decorative schemes.
In May, 1871, the Tuileries palace, a potent symbol of the monarchy, was burnt to the ground by the Communards. The fire gutted the palace buildings and threatened the future of the Louvre. In 1882, the controversial demolition of the Tuileries marked the beginning of the modern era of the Louvre, as the palace ceased to be a seat of power and was devoted entirely to culture and the arts.
Historical Resources for Further Study
The Louvre’s collection showcases Western art from the medieval period to 1848, formative works from the ancient civilizations, and works of Islamic art. The collection is grouped into eight curatorial Departments: Paintings, Egyptian Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities, Near Eastern Antiquities, Sculptures, Decorative Arts, Islamic Arts, and Prints and Drawings. Each Department boasts between 80 and 275 pieces of artwork.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
In 2007, France and the United Arab Emirates decided to create a universal museum called Louvre Abu Dhabi, with an opening slated for 2014. This revolutionary venture paves the foundations for a unique cultural collaboration between two sovereign nations and also fulfills mutual needs and aspirations.
This agreement will give the United Arab Emirates an international museum that will place Abu Dhabi among the great cultural nations. In addition, this agreement will offer the chance for the United Arab Emirates to lead the way in creating a dialogue between civilizations and cultures, particularly Occidental, Middle Eastern and Asian.
Resources for Further Study
Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons