Musée du Louvre, Paris

Musée du Louvre, Paris
Île-de-France, France
Phone: +33 (0)1 40 20 53 17
closed on: Tuesdays, May 1, August 15, and December 25
Museum Type: Archaeology, Art, Decorative arts / Handicraft
The Louvre museum Paris main court 01

The Musée du Louvre in Paris, founded during the French Revolution as the Muséum Central des Arts, is one of the world’s largest and most visited museums.

History and architecture

The Louvre museum is housed in an imposing palace whose origins date back to the Middle Ages. 
The first palace was built in the late-12th century by Philippe II Auguste, King of France, as a defensive fortress close to the Seine river. With the expansion of the city, the castle progressively lost its original function, until it was converted by François I into the main residence of the Kings of France in 1578.

As mentioned, the palace was repeatedly enlarged by the most acclaimed architects of their times, such as Pierre Lescot in the 16th century and Louis Le Vau in the 17th.
A monumental corridor, known as Grande Galerie, once connected the Louvre to the Tuileries royal palace; the latter was set on fire and destroyed in 1871, during the Paris Commune, while the corridor still exists today and is one of the most spectacular architectural spaces of the museum.

In 1793, during the French Revolution, the palace was transformed into a state-owned museum, and opened to the public.

In 1989, it was completed a famous (and controversial) addition to the Louvre museum’s home, namely the new Pyramide entrance building and an underground wing designed by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei. 20 years after a wild outburst of criticism arose against the “outrageous” construction of modern architecture within the historical premises of France’s most famed museum, the pyramid is now widely recognized as a natural and coherent contemporary addition to Le Vau’s grandiose Baroque building.

Collection and permanent exhibition

Encompassing some 400,000 pieces, the permanent collection of the museum is divided into many chronological and thematic sections, grouped into nine departments: Decorative Arts; Egyptian Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Islamic Art; Paintings; Prints and Drawings; Sculptures; and Architectural Views.

The original core of the collection was based on artworks acquired over time by the Kings of France, which comprised several masterpieces of European art, including the works brought to France by Leonardo da Vinci.
After the transformation into a public museum, the Louvre’s collection was enriched by paintings, sculptures, and antiquities gathered by Napoleon during his military campaigns, especially in Italy and Egypt; and further enlarged thereafter with notable acquisitions, such as that of the famous Greek sculpture of the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

The many exhibition rooms in which the collection is displayed are located on three levels and in three main wings: the Richelieu wing, the Sully Wing, and the Denon wing.

The most popular sections are those dedicated to the art of Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Classical Greece, Rome, European Middle-Ages, and Renaissance; the museum also includes large collections of decorative and applied arts, graphic arts, and jewelry (which includes the famous Regent diamond).

Louvre museum Paris plan

General plan and wings of the Louvre Museum in Paris; image: Musée du Louvre / Inexhibit

Most popular masterpieces on view

The Louvre’s exceptional ensemble of world-famous art icons comprises a large number of pieces of art from different periods and geographical areas.

Artworks dating back to antiquity include Egyptian sculptures and paintings such as the Seated Scribe statue, the Great Sphinx of Tanis sculptureand the Portrait of a Woman painting on board, Mesopotamian artifacts such as the Law Code of Hammurabi, Classical Greek pieces, including the already mentioned Nike of Samothrace, and the Aphrodite (also known as the Venus of Milo),

Old masters’ sculptures and paintings include world-renowned works such as the Rebellious Slave by Michelangelo, the Mona Lisa and the Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci, the self-portrait by Albrecht DürerLa belle jardinière by Raphael, the Woman with a Mirror by Titian, the Fortune Teller by Caravaggio, the Lacemaker by Johannes Vermeer, and the Psyche by Antonio Canova, to name just a few.

Furthermore, apart from viewing the most famous works of art of the Louvre’s collection, our suggestion is to save some time to discover some of the lesser-known masterpieces on view in the galleries of the Louvre other than those, usually quite crowded, featuring the most popular works from the museum’s collection.

The Louvre museum’s complex, which is accessible to physically impaired people, includes temporary exhibition spaces, auditoriums, bookshops, boutiques, restaurants, and cafes.

The Louvre Nike Samothrace

The Winged Victory (also known as Nike) of Samothrace, c. 160 BC, Denon wing; photo Thomas Ulrich (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Image Gallery

The Louvre museum Paris Denon wing 1

Old masters’ paintings in the “Grande Galerie”, Denon wing; photo SpirosK photography

The Louvre museum Paris Cour Napoleon

Panoramic view of the museum’s main court, the Cour Napoléon; photo Vitaly Makaganiuk

Louvre paris lobby panorama

360° panoramic view of the main entrance lobby; image SpirosK photography

Louvre phase 2 longitudinal section

The second phase of The Louvre extension, 1993, longitudinal section; image courtesy Pei Cobb Freed & partners.

The Louvre inverted pyramid

Louvre’s “inverted pyramid” skylight, designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners in 1993; photo Ricardo Luengo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Great Sphynx od Tanis Louvre Museum Paris

Great Sphinx of Tanis, c. 2600 BC, on view in the Crypt of the Sphinx, Sully wing; photo SpirosK photography

Louvre Monna Lisa

Leonardo da Vinci, Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, also known as Mona Lisa or La Gioconda; c. 1503–06; photo Slices of Light (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Louvre Cour Marly

The Louvre, monumental sculptures in the Cour Marly, Richelieu wing; photo fmpgoh (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Photos: cover by Paulo Horta;  panorama by SpirosK photography; 1 by David Baron; 2 by Robert S. Donovan; 3 by Juanedc; 4 by Vankfire; 

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