Musée du Louvre, Paris
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, opened to the public.
In 1998, 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.
The Louvre fortress in the 15th century, illustration from the manuscript “Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry”, 1412-1416; © RMN – Grand Palais (Domaine de Chantilly) / René-Gabriel Ojéda
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 into 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).
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 and the Seated Scribe statue, the Great Sphinx of Tanis sculpture, and 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 Dürer, La 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 Winged Victory (also known as Nike) of Samothrace, c. 160 BC, Denon wing; photo Thomas Ulrich
Old masters’ paintings in the “Grande Galerie”, Denon wing; photo SpirosK photography
The “Grande Galerie” between 1801 and 1805, painting by Hubert Robert; photo © RMN – Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre) / Jean-Gilles Berizzi
Aerial view of the Louvre complex (on the left of the Seine river); the green space at the bottom-left is the Tuileries Garden, where once the Tuileries palace was standing; photo © Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Altitude / Musée du Louvre
Panoramic view of the museum’s main court, the Cour Napoléon; photo Vitaly Makaganiuk
360° panoramic view of the main entrance lobby; image SpirosK photography
The second phase of The Louvre extension, 1993, longitudinal section; image courtesy Pei Cobb Freed & partners
Louvre’s “inverted pyramid” skylight, designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners in 1993; photo Ricardo Luengo
Great Sphinx of Tanis, c. 2600 BC, on view in the Crypt of the Sphinx, Sully wing; photo SpirosK photography
Leonardo da Vinci, Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, also known as Mona Lisa or La Gioconda; c. 1503–06; photo © 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angéle Dequier
The Louvre Museum also holds large collections of applied arts, including jewelry and goldsmithing; in the image: the 141-carat “Regent” diamond; photo © 1989 RMN
The Louvre, monumental sculptures in the Cour Marly, Richelieu wing; photo © 2003 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing
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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