The Louvre, located in the 1st arrondissement along the right bank of the Seine River, is the world’s largest and most visited art museum. It contains more than 550,000 objects that span the course of prehistory to the 21st century; its collection of Western art dates from the Middle Ages up to 1848. More than 35,000 works of art are exhibited across an area larger than 72,000 square meters (783,000 square feet).
In 2018, more than 10 million people visited the Louvre to view its sculptures, paintings, drawings, ceramics, archaeological finds, and other works of art. Its collections are divided into eight curatorial departments: Egyptian Antiquities; Near-Eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Art; Sculpture; Decorative Arts; and Paintings, Prints, and Drawings.
Although the Louvre itself consists of many individual building areas (each with their own names), the building is largely organized through three main wings: the Sully Wing (the oldest part of the Louvre, which includes the remains of the medieval Louvre fortress), the Denon Wing (which houses many prominent works of art such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and The Winged Victory of Samothrace), and the Richelieu Wing (which contains the apartments of Napoleon III, two sculpture terraces, antiquities from Mesopotamia and ancient Iran, as well as paintings and decorative arts).
A view of the Louvre from inside the glass pyramid.
The Louvre began its life as a medieval fortress built in the 12th century, but most of this building was demolished to make way for the construction of a new Renaissance-style palace. The majority of the present structures of the Louvre were built over a long series of construction projects beginning in 1546 and finishing mostly by 1876 (with a notable renovation in 1989 that saw the construction of the Louvre Pyramid). The Louvre Palace ceased being a royal residence in 1682 when Louis XIV moved to Versailles, and it was officially opened as a museum for the first time on August 10, 1793. Some of the prominent figures who have featured in its history include Philippe-II-Auguste, Charles V, François I, Henry IV, Louis XIV, and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Napoleon crowns his wife, Josephine, below. This famous painting is part of the Louvre’s collection.
The story of the Louvre begins with Philippe-II-Auguste (1165-1223, reigned 1180-1223). In 1190, Philippe-II-Auguste ordered the construction of a city wall to protect Paris from potential invaders. The biggest threat lay less than 100 kilometers west of Paris, where English soldiers were based in Normandy¹. The Wall of Philippe-II-Auguste was constructed on the right (north) bank of the Seine from 1190-1209, and the left (south) bank between 1200-1215. It was 2.4 metres (8 feet) thick, and protected by wide and deep ditches. It contained 500 towers. The walls enclosed an area of 253 hectares, and included both the present limits of the city as well as vegetable fields and vineyards (to supply the residents with food in case of a long siege). Philippe-II-Auguste had the Louvre fortress built to reinforce his new wall at its weakest point, along the western side of the wall (facing Normandy) where it intersected with the Seine river on the right (north) bank.
Below is an illustration showing the Wall of Philippe-II-Auguste. The right (north) bank of the Seine is the top half of the illustration, the left (south) bank is the bottom half. You can see how the area inside the wall contains both developed urban areas and rural fields. The Louvre fortress is located on the left side of the picture, just outside the main wall, north of the river.
The Louvre fortress was built between 1190-1202. It is not known whether this was the first building on the site, as Philippe-II-Auguste may have modified an already-existing tower. The source of the word “Louvre” is also unclear. The fortress was square, measuring 78 metres by 72 metres (256 feet by 236 feet). It was enclosed by a 2.6 metre (8.5 feet) thick curtain wall pierced with defensive arrow slits, and surrounded by a 10 metre wide (32.8 feet) moat whose water was sourced from the nearby Seine River. There were ten defensive towers, which were spaced so there was no more than 25 meters (82 feet) of distance between them; at the time, this was the effective firing range of a bow. There was a tower located in each corner, a tower in the centre of the north wall, a tower in the centre of the west wall (facing Normandy), and two towers flanking each of the narrow gates in the south and east walls. These gates provided the only two entrances to the fortress. The main entrance gate faced south, towards the Seine river. The other entrance gate faced east, into the city. Each entrance contained a drawbridge. A central keep, the Grosse Tour (Big Tower), was built in the courtyard. The keep was 30 meters (98 feet) high, 15.6 metres (51 feet) in diameter, and contained a wall that was 4.25 metres (14 feet) thick. The keep had a dungeon that contained a well and a large water tank, which would be helpful in the event of a long siege. The dungeon was meant to serve as a refuge for the King, and also housed the royal treasure and archives; it was also used as a prison until the 14th century. Both the dungeon and the keep were surrounded by a 9 metre wide (30 feet) dry ditch (like a moat, but not flooded with water) that was 6 meters (20 feet) deep and filled with irregular stones (to prevent the use of ladders to scale it). Access to the keep across this dry ditch was provided by a drawbridge. At this point, the Louvre was not yet a royal residence as the French monarchs resided at the Palais de la Cité.
You can see the central keep, its dry ditch, the curtain wall, its towers, and the moat in the illustration below. You can see the Seine river at the bottom left corner of the illustration, which indicates which way is south.
The remains of some of the medieval foundations can be seen on the lowest floor of the Sully wing in the Louvre museum. They were discovered during construction work for the museum in the 19th century.
The illustration below is from the 1800s, and imagines what the medieval Louvre would have looked like.
In the 13th century, Saint Louis IX of France (1214-1270, reigned 1226-1270) had new rooms built in the Louvre without paying mind to the fortress’ original defensive function. This includes the Salle Saint-Louis, built from 1230-1240, part of which which can still be seen at the Louvre today. The Salle Saint-Louis contains a collection of everyday objects such as small games, jugs, and flasks from the medieval castle that were found during excavation work for the Musée Louvre. This room is all that remains of the interior of the medieval structure. (Saint Louis IX of France was also the man who had Sainte-Chapelle built).
By the 14th century, Paris had grown beyond the walls that Philippe-II-Auguste had constructed from 1200-1215. The Hundred Years War (1337-1453) and the threat of English invasion meant that the growing city needed further protection. In 1356, a second city wall was begun by Étienne Marcel, the Provost of the merchants of Paris, along the right (north) bank of the Seine a few hundred yards beyond the earlier Philippe-II-Auguste Wall. Charles V (1338-1380, regent in 1356, official reign 1364-1380) had this earthen rampart extended. It was finished in 1383. The Philippe-II-Auguste Wall on the left (south) bank of the Seine was unaffected by the new construction.
You can see both of the walls in the illustration below. The blue line reflects the earlier Wall of Philippe-II-Auguste². The new city wall built by Charles V can be seen on the left side of the illustration. The illustration has been rotated 90° to the left so that N (right bank) ← → S (left bank).
This new fortification extended westward beyond the Louvre (which you can see outlined in blue in the illustration above, towards the bottom of the picture and to the left of the river), and so the fortress no longer needed to maintain its defensive function. Two years after the new rampart was begun, the Louvre would become an official royal residence. On February 22, 1358, a revolt by French tradesmen (led by Étienne Marcel) saw an army of 3,000 force their way into the Palais de la Cité where Charles V and his family were living. The group murdered two of Charles’ marshals in front of him. Charles was able to pacify the crowd and the tensions were later sorted out, but he was shaken by the event. He abandoned the Palais de la Cité for the Louvre, which he transformed into a royal residence from 1360-1380. The curtain wall was given new windows, new wings were added to the courtyard, and new chimneys, turrets, and pinnacles were added to the castle. He also repurposed the northwest tower into the first Royal Library, which contained over 900 manuscripts. This building glow-up led to the fortress becoming known as le joli Louvre (“the pretty Louvre”).
Below is an illustration made in 1826 showing the Louvre after Charles V’s modifications in 1380. The Seine river is located on the right side of the illustration, indicating N←→S.
Below is a detail from a contemporary illustration³ of the Louvre made in the 15th century.
I’m now going to explain how the medieval Louvre fortress was progressively torn down, renovated, and rebuilt until it became the complex we know it as today. I won’t cover everything, but I will focus on the most historic and important structures. It’s a bit complicated, so bear with me.
Below is a bird’s eye view of the modern Louvre. The grey lines indicate its main buildings. The long stretch of buildings located at the top (north) of the diagram that run west from the Jardin des Tuileries to the Jardin de l’Oratoire in the east is the Richelieu Wing. The long parallel stretch of buildings that face it in the south along the bottom of the illustration, spanning the length of the Seine river, is the Denon Wing. You’ll notice the Louvre pyramid is located between these two wings, set in the Cour Napoleon (the Napoleon Courtyard). To the right of the Louvre pyramid and both the Richelieu and Denon wings is a grey, square building: this is the Sully Wing. Note the courtyard that lies within it, the Cour Carrée (the Square Courtyard), as this will also come up in our discussion.
The Sully Wing contains the oldest parts of the Louvre, and this is where we’ll first focus our attention. The lower left (south-west) corner of the Sully wing is where the medieval Louvre fortress used to sit. This fortress (which we’ve been discussing) was slowly torn down and its four walls rebuilt over the centuries as it was transformed into a Renaissance-style palace. Eventually, this palace reached the current dimensions of the modern Sully Wing. As the medieval fortress was being rebuilt, a second palace was built to the west. This palace, known as the Palais des Tuileries, spanned the area between the two ends of the Denon and Richelieu wings (in the illustration below, it was situated to the right/east of the “Avenue du Général-Lemonnier”). Although the Tuileries no longer exists (it burned down in 1871), it remains important to our story because it guided the construction of the Denon and Richelieu Wings of the Louvre. These two wings were built to connect the Louvre with the Tuileries.
First, we’ll focus on how the smaller medieval Louvre fortress began to transform into a larger Italian-style Renaissance palace. To do this, I’m going to examine small, successive parts of a bigger image that I’ll refer to as “the Sully diagram.” Each part will represent an individual step in this process, there being seven steps in total. These steps will be interspersed with other pictures and information. I’ll make it clear when I’m returning to the Sully diagram to illustrate the next step.
Sully Diagram Step One: The black lines in the illustration below show the outline of the original fortress building as it existed under Philippe-II-Auguste and Charles V from 1200-1525. The solid line indicates the original walls of the fortress, and the small circles interspersed along those walls show where the defensive medieval towers were located. The white space in the middle indicates the original medieval courtyard. The black circle in the middle of that courtyard is the location of the big central keep and its dungeon, the Grosse Tour. Layered beneath the depiction of the original fortress is a pair of blue squares made up of dotted lines: this reflects the boundaries of today’s Sully Wing and its larger courtyard, the Cour Carrée. Note that both the building and the courtyard would growto a size four times larger than the original. You can see both the modern Sully wing and the Cour Carrée in the illustration above.
In 1528, François I (1494-1547, reigned 1515-1547)* decided to make the Louvre his primary Paris residence. But the medieval look of the old fortress was not to his taste. He wanted a structure that looked more like the beautiful châteaux that were springing up in the Loire Valley. His first order of business was to get rid of the ghastly looking keep that was taking up all the real estate in the Louvre’s central courtyard.
Sully Diagram Step Two: In 1528, François I orders the demolition of the Grosse Tour. Goodbye, keep! Now he has room to work with!
In 1546, François I hired architect Pierre Lescot and sculptor/architect Jean Goujon to construct a modern, Italian-style Renaissance palace to replace the medieval fortress. Lescot seems to have been the main force behind the overall structural redesign, while Goujon contributed the artistic sculptural details that made up its beautiful classical style. Lescot’s intention was probably to build a four-sided château that was the same size as the medieval fortress it was replacing, with four nearly-identical wings. He may have planned for the new Louvre Palace to look similar in appearance to the Château d’Écouen**, which was being built at the same time. (Of course, we know now that fate had grander plans in mind for the Louvre, but we’ll get to those later).
Lescot set to his task and in 1547 he arranged to have the west wing of the old Louvre (the one that had been built to face Normandy) torn down. Unfortunately, as soon as he had done this, his work was interrupted by François’ death in 1547. Thankfully, François’ son and successor, Henri II (1519-1559, reigned 1547-1559), approved of moving ahead with Lescot’s plan for the Louvre. Work began again in 1549. Below you’ll again find the Sully diagram, and the third step in the process.
Sully Diagram Step Three: The west wing of the old Louvre is demolished in 1547. In 1549, the construction of a new wing to replace it begins (indicated below in solid blue). This wing is named after its architect. The Lescot Wing is completed in 1551. Today, it is the oldest portion of the Louvre Palace located above-ground (the older portions are the afore-mentioned medieval foundations, located below ground).
The illustration below shows the layout of the modern Louvre building. The red indicates the specific location of the Lescot wing, which is part of what would become the bigger Sully wing. Note that the Lescot wing is located at the western edge of where the medieval fortress would have been formerly located; the rest of the building would have been located to the east.
You can see a current view of the Lescot wing in the picture below. It is located behind the pyramid, to the right side of the central pavilion (this is the Pavillon du Sully, which was built later).
Below is the opposite side of the Lescot wing from what we can see in the picture above; this is the interior façade, which looks into the Cour Carrée (not seen in the photo above). Remember that the Lescot wing is the oldest part of today’s modern Louvre and, at the time of its construction, this side would have been facing the rest of the old fortress and its small medieval courtyard (the present Cour Carrée was not built until the 1600s). The Lescot wing contained a ballroom, known today as the Salle des Caryatides (named after a series of four sculptures done by Goujon). The look of the Lescot wing set the tone for many later buildings that were inspired by its French classical architectural style. This would have been the showcase side of the Lescot wing, the one that was meant to be seen. Compare this side of the wing with the one shown in the picture above facing the Louvre pyramid. This side is fancier, whereas the one on the same side as the pyramid is more plain. It’s a trick of history that now the main focus of the Louvre building has switched to the side that is less fancy.
The central pediment of the Lescot Wing, located above the middle door in the façade, contains a sculpture by Goujon. Titled Allegory of War, it contains two angels flanking Henri II’s monogram.
Below is a photograph taken at night of today’s Louvre, standing by the pyramid in the Cour Napoleon. The modern appearance of the Lescot wing’s exterior façade can be seen in the distance.
Below is a reconstruction of what that same exterior façade of the Lescot wing would have looked like around 1555. The illustration contains a medieval tower on the left (now gone, replaced by the Pavillon du Sully) and the Pavillon du Roi on the right. The Pavillon du Roi was not original to the Lescot wing, it was added during the next building phase (more details below). The Pavillon du Roi still exists in a modified form (it is now the same height as the rest of the central building), but you can’t see it in the photo above because there is another wall in front of it.
Let’s continue with the next phase of major construction on the Louvre fortress.
Sully Diagram Step Four: In 1553, Lescot demolished the south wing of the old Louvre. From 1553-1556 he had a new wing added here that was identical to his earlier Lescot wing. This new southern wing involved the construction of the Pavillon du Roi in the southwest corner of the building. This southwest corner is shared with the Lescot wing, which is why you can see the pavilion in the illustration of the Lescot wing above. The Pavillon du Roi contained the King’s and Queen’s royal apartments. The west Lescot wing and the new south wing, connected through the Pavillon du Roi, are indicated in solid blue in the Sully diagram below.
The location of the Pavillon du Roi is highlighted in red in the illustration below. The illustration also shows how the Pavillon du Roi is hidden by another structure (part of the Petite Galerie) so that if you were standing by the Louvre pyramid facing the Lescot wing, you would be unable to see it (as was the case with the picture shown three images above).
The location of the south wing can be seen in red in the illustration below. (Lescot’s version would have only been half of the red span; it was later doubled).
An illustration of the south wing containing the Pavillon du Roi on the left (connecting it with the Lescot wing) and a medieval fortress tower on the right.
Lescot also designed the Petite Galerie, which ran from the southwest corner of the Louvre to the Seine river. The location of the Petite Galerie can be seen in red in the illustration below.
The Petite Galerie also appears in the drawing, below. The south wing of the Louvre is located on the right (with the Pavillon du Roi towering high above the rest).
The Petite Galerie today.
Henri II died in 1559, but Lescot’s work continued under Henri’s three sons (François II, Charles IX, Henri III) and the regency of his widow, Catherine de Medici (1519-1589, regent from 1559-1574). Lescot’s plans for the continued renovation of the medieval Louvre fortress into a new Renaissance-style palace changed in 1564, when Catherine de Medici lost interest in it and prioritized the construction of a brand-new palace that was more suited to her tastes. This new château would be built west of the Louvre, located outside of the Wall of Charles V, in what was still the countryside. This palace was built on the site of an old tuile (tile) factory, and became known as the Palais de Tuileries. While Lescot continued his work on the Louvre, Catherine hired her own special architect for this project: Philibert de l’Orme. She also made plans for a grand Renaissance garden (known today as the Jardin de Tuileries).
Below is a model showing a bird’s eye view of the area in question circa 1564. From left to right: the Palais des Tuileries; a moat fed by the Seine and surrounded by the earthen rampart Wall of Charles V; fields, houses, and then the Louvre. Note the location of the Petite Galerie and the Pavillon du Roi.
A later illustration of the Tuileries Palace in the 1600s. Its front façade was 266 metres (873 feet) long.
An early photograph of the Tuileries Palace, taken before it burned down in 1871.
The red line in the illustration below marks where the Tuileries Palace was formerly located, in relation to the modern structure of the Louvre.
Work on both the Tuileries Palace and the Louvre stopped completely in the late 1560s, due to the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598). Although construction had stopped, the Louvre became a central royal palace under the rule of (Catherine’s third ruling son) Henri III (1551-1589, reigned 1574-1589). In 1578, Pierre Lescot passed away with only two wings of the new Louvre Palace completed.
Work began again on the Louvre with the ascension of Henri IV (1553-1610, reigned 1589-1610). He was the first Bourbon King of France, as the line of surviving sons on the Valois line from Catherine and Henri II had finally run out. (Henri IV is also known in English as “Henry of Navarre”). Henri IV had a plan, known as the “Grand Design”, to connect the Louvre with the Tuileries Palace by building two long wings between them in the north and south. Henri IV began the project in 1607 with the construction (from east to west) in the south of the Grand Galerie, which ran alongside the Seine river. The Grand Galerie was 400 meters long (1,312 feet or a quarter of a mile) and 30.5 meters (100 feet) wide. At the time of its completion in 1610, it was the longest building of its kind in the world. Henry IV was also a great patron of the arts, and invited artists and craftsmen to live and work on the building’s lower floors. This tradition would continue for the next 200 years, until Napoleon later put an end to it.
You can see the scale of the Grand Galerie in the picture below. The Louvre fortress is in the foreground, and the Tuileries Palace is in the distant background. The Petite Gallerie connects the Louvre fortress at the Pavilion du Roi with the Grand Galerie, which spans the Seine River along the left side of the picture. Some of the buildings in the picture that lie in the space between the two main palaces were demolished by Henri IV. S ←→ N
Here is a view from the other side, with the Tuileries Palace in the foreground. Towards the top of the picture you can see the “Pont Neuf” bridge crossing the Seine River, with the mid-span of the bridge crossing over the western tip of the Île de la Cité. Plans for the bridge were begun in 1578 under Henri III, and construction was completed in 1607 under Henri IV. This bridge still exists today, and is the oldest standing bridge across the Seine.
The location of the Grande Galerie in today’s modern Louvre structure.
Below is how the Grande Galerie looks today. The tall building at the left/west end of the Galerie is known as the Pavillon de Flore. It connected the Galerie with the now-gone Tuileries Palace. At the time of its construction from 1607-1610, it was known as the Gros Pavillon de la Rivière (Big Pavilion of the River). The pavilion was entirely redesigned and rebuilt in a Napoleon III style from 1864-1868.
The location of the Pavillon de Flore today.
As previously mentioned, two of the Louvre’s medieval fortress wings had already been demolished and rebuilt by Lescot. Henri IV had plans to finish the job by tearing down the two remaining medieval wings, doubling the length of the two wings that had already been rebuilt, and then building two new wings that would also be twice their original length. By doing this, he would have quadrupled the size of the Louvre and its courtyard, bringing both in line with the dimensions of the modern Sully wing and Cour Carrée. This was in addition to his plans to construct a north wing that would be identical to the southern Grand Galerie, connecting the Louvre and the Tuileries on its other side. Sadly, Henri IV’s ambitions for the Louvre redesign were interrupted when he was assassinated in 1610. He was succeeded by his young son, Louis XIII (1601-1643, reigned 1610-1643). Henri IV’s ambitions for the expansion of the Louvre would be later taken up by his son and grandson (Louis XIII and Louis XIV), as well as two guys named Napoleon (Napoleon I and Napoelon III).
In 1624, Louis XIII continued on with his father’s plans to enlarge the Louvre palace. He did this by demolishing the northern wall of the medieval fortress. With that gone, he was then free to double the length of the western wall beyond the existing Lescot wing. He did this by adding a large central pavilion, a second wing that was a symmetrical extension of the Lescot, and then an end pavilion. The central pavilion and the wing adjoining it were both named after Jacques Lemercier, the architect Louis XIII had hired. The end pavilion was named after the rue de Beauvais, a nearby street. Work was halted in 1626 due to a lack of funds, and then completed from 1639-1645. To illustrate this expansion, we’ll return to the Sully Diagram.
Sully Diagram Step Five: Demolition of the north wing, then the doubling of the west wing through the construction of the Pavillon du Lemercier, the Lemercier wing, and the Pavillon de Beauvais from 1624-1645.
The location of the Pavillon du Lemercier below, in red. (Today it is known as the Pavillon du Sully).
A pavilion with three names! Below is the large central pavilion today, as viewed from the Cour Carrée. At the time of its construction, it was named the Pavillon du Lemercier. Napoleon III renamed it the “Pavillon du Sully” in the early 1850s. It acquired a third name in 1857, when it had a clock added to it: the “Pavillon de l’Horlage” (the Clock-Tower Pavilion). Today, it is more commonly referred to as the Pavillon du Sully, but you’ll still see it occasionally referred to as the Pavillon de l’Horlage.
The Lemercier wing extension is shown in red, below.
The location of the Pavillon de Beauvais.
Below is a picture of the work in progress. The viewer is standing to the north west of the Louvre, looking south, around 1644. You can see the western wing of the Louvre, whose expansion is still incomplete, on the left. The Pavillon de Beauvais is in the foreground and unfinished; only the first levels of it have been built. The Lemercier wing beside it looks nearly complete, as does the Pavillon du Sully in the middle. You can see the Pavillon du Roi at the other end. The Petit Galerie and the Grand Galerie are seen in the distance. The courtyard where the people and building supplies are assembled would later become the Cour Napoleon, where the Louvre Pyramid is today. E ←→ W
Below is the completed western wall of the new Louvre palace as it can be seen today, with the Cour Carrée in the foreground. From left to right: the Lescot wing, the Pavillon du Sully/de l’Horlage, and then the Lemercier wing. You can’t see the Pavillon du Roi (which would be on the left corner) or the Pavillon de Beauvais (which would be on the right) because there are walls in front of them. S ←→ N.
Louis XIII and Lemercier also began the construction of a new north wing, shown at the right in the picture below. This would remain unfinished at the time of Louis XIII’s death in 1643. S ←→ N
Louis XIII was succeeded by his young son, Louis XIV (1638-1715, reign 1643-1715). In 1659, at the age of 21, Louis XIV kicked off a new phase of construction on the Louvre and the Tuileries Palace. He hired architect Louis Le Vau and painter Charles Le Brun to: remodel and complete work on the Tuileries Palace; finish building the north wing of the Louvre; demolish the fourth and final eastern wall of the medieval Louvre fortress; and double the length and the width of the Louvre’s south wall. This brings us to the next step in our Sully Diagram!
Sully Diagram Step Six: Goodbye, east wall. Hello, new northern wall! Welcome, expanded southern wall! We’re almost at the finish line! I should note that, although Louis XIV and his architects did construct these new sections of the north and south walls, these areas would remain unfinished—they would not be given roofs until a century later, under the rule of Napoleon. Still, we’re making good progress!
In 1668, Louis XIV and his two architects Le Vau and Le Brun added a third architect, Claude Perrault, to their team (known as the Petit Conseil). The team began work on a new eastern palace wall to replace the one from the medieval fortress that had been demolished. Perrault had won an architectural design competition with his proposal for the exterior eastern façade of that new wall. From 1668-1680 work on that façade, known as Perrault’s Colonnade, was undertaken. The Colonnade was completed, but the rest of the eastern wing lying behind it would remain unfinished. Similar to parts of the northern and southern walls, the eastern wall would also go without a roof until Napoleon had one later installed. This incomplete work can be seen in the picture, below. The Seine river indicates which direction is south.
We can now witness the final step of the Sully Diagram, shown below.
Sully Diagram Step Seven: The transformation of the former medieval Louvre fortress into the new Louvre palace is now almost complete (give or take a few roofs), with its dimensions now equal to today’s modern Sully wing and Cour Carrée. The former dimensions of the Louvre fortress and its medieval courtyard are indicated in the illustration below by the pair of black rectangles with the dotted lines. Interestingly, it is the foundations of the last two walls to be demolished (the north and east walls) that can now be seen in the basement of the Sully wing. It seems that the foundations of these last two walls were not as thoroughly dug up as the rest. A few surviving pieces from the dungeon of the long-gone Grosse Tour are also on exhibit.
Below is the eastern exterior façade of the Louvre, Perrault’s Colonnade, as it appears today. The design of this façade was widely celebrated, and has served as a model for other buildings such as The Metropolitan Museum in New York and the United States Capitol Building in Washington.
In addition to these ambitious building projects, Louis XIV was the first to exhibit artwork at the Louvre. In 1661, a fire destroyed a part of the Petite Galerie and it had to be rebuilt. This was done between 1661-1663 with a slight enlargement of the Petite Galerie itself, and its interior was richly decorated from 1663-1677. This area became known as the Galerie d’Apollon (the Apollo Gallery) and the Cabinet du Roi (the King’s Cabinet). The Cabinet du Roi consists of seven rooms located west of the Apollo Gallery. In 1673, Louis XIV had many of his paintings hung up in this beautifully remodeled area, and this first proto-art gallery/museum was called the Royal Gallery. The Apollo Gallery would later serve as a model for Louis XIV’s famous Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
The location of the Apollo Gallery, shown in red below.
The Apollo Gallery as it appears today.
The ceiling of the Apollo Gallery.
In 1682, Louis XIV moved his royal household to Versailles. He took 26 of his paintings with him, but around 400 remained behind at the Louvre. These paintings could be viewed by an elite audience of art lovers. In 1692, a collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture was added to the collection. In that same year, two French academies of learning also moved into the Louvre: the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, which was devoted to the Humanities; France’s premier art institution, the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, moved in as well. In 1699, the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture began to hold a series of artistic salons. Both academies remained in the Louvre palace for the next 100 years. With Louis XIV, the Louvre had taken its first steps towards becoming a cultural and artistic institution.
Throughout the first decades of the 18th century, there was growing interest in having a public art gallery. Louis XIV’s successor, his great-grandson Louis XV (1710-1774, reigned 1715-1774), was receptive to the idea. In 1750, the Royal Gallery of Painting was opened in the east wing of the Palais du Luxembourg. This was the first art museum opened to the public in France, and acted as a forerunner to the Louvre’s current function as a museum and art gallery. The gallery at the Palais du Luxembourg remained open until 1779. Louis XV’s successor, his son Louis XVI (1754-1792, reigned 1774-1792), gifted the Palais du Luxembourg to his brother Louis Comte de Provence (later Louis XVIII), who had the gallery closed. You can read more about the Palais du Luxembourg and its surrounding gardens in this post.
The Palais du Luxembourg.
With the closing of the gallery at the Palais du Luxembourg, there were proposals to transform the Grand Galerie of the Louvre into the “French Museum.” Nothing had yet been decided on when the political and social climate changed considerably with the outbreak of the French Revolution. In May 1791 the current government, the National Assembly, declared that the Louvre would become “a place for bringing together monuments of all the sciences and arts.” After the Insurrection of August 10, 1792, Louis XVI was imprisoned, the monarchy abolished, and the royal collection became national property. As the French Revolution progressed, other artistic works were seized from the Church and other members of the nobility who fled France in fear of their lives. In October 1792, a committee dedicated to “preserving the national memory” began the work of assembling the growing collection for public display. On August 10, 1793, on the one-year anniversary of the abolishment of the monarchy, the Louvre was opened for the first time as the Musée Central des Arts de la République (Central Museum of the Arts of the Republic). It contained 537 paintings and 184 other artistic objects. The museum was free to the public three days a week; a truly revolutionary idea.
The Louvre’s collection began to expand as the French army traveled through northern Europe during the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1804). Beginning in 1794, French successes saw Spanish, Austrian, Dutch, and Italian art pieces make their way into the Louvre as the result of peace treaties or simply as spoils of war. In 1796, a then-unknown General by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) began his first campaign in Italy. Napoleon would have a major impact on the continued development of the Louvre’s buildings and its collections, thanks to his notoriously sticky fingers.
Below is a cartoon of Napoleon directing the French looting of Italian artefacts.
In April 1797, the French armies led by Napoleon succeeded in pushing the Austrian/Hapsburg forces out of Italy. The French army looted several churches and palaces, including Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice. A few months later in Paris, a two-day celebration was held from July 27-28 to celebrate the French army and its achievements. Napoleon had his war trophies paraded through the streets. Large floats carried famous items such as the Horses of Saint Mark from Saint Mark’s Basilica; The Wedding Feast at Cana, also from Venice; the Laocoön, the Apollo Belvedere, and the Venus de’ Medici from the Vatican; as well as ancient statuary from Naples and Pompeii. On October 18, 1797, the Treaty of Campo Formio was signed by France and Austria. Under this treaty, Italian cities were required to contribute further works of art and pieces of patrimony (cultural heritage) to France.
Below is a painting depicting the Horses of Saint Mark on display outside of Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, prior to their relocation to France.
Napoleon then embarked on a campaign in Egypt from 1798-1799. A team of 167 artists and scientists known as the Commission des Sciences et des Arts accompanied Napoleon’s army with the purpose of “liberating the works of art” they came across. They brought lists of paintings, sculptures, and other cultural pieces that they were hoping to acquire and ship back to France. Their goal was to make the Louvre the global centre of patrimony and storehouse for cultural heritage. Dominique Vivant Denon, Napoleon’s art advisor, was the head of this group. Under his direction, the Egyptian Valley of the Kings was discovered and studied extensively. One of the most important discoveries made during Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign was that of the Rosetta Stone***, which was uncovered on July 15, 1799. The stone provided the crucial key to translating Egyptian hieroglyphics, a language that had been long lost to history.
The Rosetta Stone.
Napoleon returned to France in the fall of 1799. In November, he orchestrated a coup and overthrew the French government (known as the Directory at the time). He appointed himself First Consul of France, and made the Tuileries Palace his official residence.
In 1796, the Musée du Louvre had closed due to structural problems. In 1799, Napoleon appointed Denon as the museum’s first director. Denon oversaw the reopening of the museum on July 14, 1801, with the collections reorganized in a chronological fashion and with better lighting and displays. On November 9, 1802, the Louvre was renamed the “Musée Napoleon” in Bonaparte’s honour.
On May 18, 1804, Napoleon crowned himself Napoleon I, the First Emperor of the French. On December 2, 1805, he defeated the combined armies of Russia and Austria at the Battle of Austerlitz. This is considered his greatest victory, and inspired him in 1806 to commission the construction of the Arc de Triomphe d’Étoile and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in 1806. While the former victory arch is more famous (read more about the Arc de Triomphe here), it took thirty years to finish. The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, on the other hand, was finished in a speedy two years.
The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel served as a gateway to the Tuileries. It was designed by Charles Percier and Pierre François Léonard Fontaine, based on the Arch of Constantine in Rome (which itself was constructed in 312 C.E.). It is only half the size of the Arc de Triomphe, measuring 63 feet (19 m) high, 75 feet (23 m) wide, and 24 feet (7.3 m) deep. Its exterior contains eight Corinthian marble columns, topped by statues depicting French soldiers. The bas-reliefs on the arch commemorate several of Napoleon’s military and diplomatic successes, the subjects of which were chosen by Denon. Napoleon had the Horses of Saint Mark placed on top of the arch. The four horses were joined in their display by a chariot, a chariot rider, and two gilded statues in order to form a completed Triumphal Quadriga; a quadriga is a sculptural tradition in which four horses are shown pulling a chariot. Thus an infamous piece of victory loot was used to decorate a monument that celebrated Napoleon’s greatest military triumph. The finished quadriga can be seen in the painting below.
Below is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel as it appears today. The original Horses of Saint Mark were removed from the arch in 1815 and returned to Venice****. The statuary that can be seen atop the arch today is an 1828 copy.
The location of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel is indicated in red, below, in today’s modern Louvre structure.
Below is an early photograph of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and the Tuileries Palace, taken around 1860. In the distance you can see the Arc de Triomphe, which is about 3.5 kilometers (2.17 miles) away. Between the palace and the distant arch is an Egyptian obelisk*****. This obelisk is located at the Place de la Concorde, which is where Louis XVI was guillotined during the French Revolution. There is so much history in this one photograph!
Today, the view between the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and the Arc de Triomphe is unobstructed, as shown in the photo below, due to the destruction of the Tuileries Palace. The two arches lie along the Axe Historique, a long thoroughfare that begins at the Louvre, continues first through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and then the Arc de Triomphe (its midpoint), before finally ending at the Grand Arche de la Défense (built in 1989, not pictured) after a span of 8.5 kilometers (5.28 miles).
After erecting the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, Napoleon directed the construction of other building projects at the Louvre. He added roofs to the wings that Louis XIV had left unfinished. Then, from 1807-1812, he had Percier and Fontaine (the architects of the Carrousel) work on a companion building to the Grand Galerie. This new structure, known as the Napoleon Wing, was designed to similarly connect the Tuileries Palace with the Louvre across its northern span. Rather than building east to west, as was the case with the Grand Galerie, the Napoleon Wing was built in the reverse direction from west (starting at the Tuileries) to east (towards the Louvre). This was a continuation of Henri IV’s earlier vision. Napoleon intended to have the extension completed, but the work was interrupted by his changing political situation. You can see the Napoleon Wing in the floor plan of the Louvre below.
Location of the Napoleon wing in today’s modern Louvre structure.
In April 1814, Napoleon was forced to abdicate after the combined forces of Prussia, Russia, and Austria invaded France. Louis XVIII (1755-1824), was crowned King and reigned from 1814-1824 (minus 100 or so days). Napoleon temporarily returned to power in February 1815 but was conclusively defeated at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815. At this point, the owners of many of the artistic works Napoleon had previously taken sought their return. The administrators of the Louvre did not initially comply with their requests and tried to hide some pieces in private collections, but the British government intervened. Many of the contested items found their way home, some remained in the Louvre collection after compensatory arrangements had been made, and others stayed in France because claims on their ownership weren’t pursued (or they were lost in the confusion). It was a very messy and chaotic time, I imagine, trying to sort out which items belonged to whom, and there were probably a lot of heated emotions. Denon submitted his resignation as museum director on October 8, 1815. The museum was closed on November 15. In that same month, 5,100 pieces of art were returned to their original countries of Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Around 470 paintings remained in France. 420 collection items that had been previously confiscated from religious institutions were returned, but Louis XVIII ordered that the items that had been seized from (fellow) nobles who had fled during the French Revolution would not be relinquished.
The Wedding Feast at Cana, originally taken from Venice by Napoleon’s soldiers in 1797, remains at the Louvre. Denon claimed that the expansive piece, measuring 6.77 metres (22.2 feet) x 9.94 metres (32.6 feet) and weighing 1, 500 kilograms (1.5 tonnes), was too fragile for the return journey from Paris. That was a little rich, considering French soldiers had cut the canvas and rolled it up like a carpet for the original journey. A painting by Charles Le Brun, Feast at the House of Simon (1563), was given to Italy as recompense. The Wedding Feast at Cana can be found in the same room of the Louvre as the Mona Lisa, on the opposite wall.
Louis XVIII oversaw the reopening of the Royal Louvre Museum on July 22, 1816. Purchases and donations allowed him and his successor, brother Charles X (1757-1836, reigned 1824-1830) to build the collection back up. Acquisition of The Venus of Milo, a gift to Louis XVIII, was a highlight. This period also saw the creation at the Louvre of the department of Egyptian Antiquities.
The modern Louvre structure was finally accomplished under the direction of Napoleon III. Charles-Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (1808-1873) was the nephew of Napoleon I. He became the first elected President of France in 1848. When it looked like he was not going to be re-elected in 1851, he seized power. He ruled as Napoleon III, Emperor of France, from 1852-1870. From 1852-1870, he added an extension to the Napoleon wing that connected it with the rest of the Louvre. At long last, Henri IV’s earlier vision of having two parallel wings of buildings linking the Louvre with the Tuileries was achieved. This new northern structure is the modern Richelieu wing, shown below. It contains the apartments of Napoleon III, two sculpture terraces, antiquities from Mesopotamia and ancient Iran, as well as paintings and decorative arts.
Napoleon III also added other buildings to the southern Grand Galerie, which resulted in today’s modern appearance of the Denon wing, shown below. The Denon wing contains notable works such as the Mona Lisa and the Winged Victory of Samothrace.
The completed Louvre-Tuileries structure did not last long. I’m sure there was still paint drying on some of the walls when, on May 23, 1871, the Tuileries Palace was set ablaze by 12 men acting on the orders of Jules Bergeret, the former chief military commander of the Paris Commune. The fire raged for 48 hours, gutting the building. The palaces’s distinctive central pavilion had been packed full of explosives prior to the fire and erupted in spectacular fashion. The library and other parts of the Louvre were also set on fire by the Communards; although these areas sustained heavy damage, the Louvre itself was saved through the efforts of Parisian firefighters and museum employees.
The ruins of the Tuileries Palace stood in place for eleven years. Although the roof and the interior were beyond recovery, the stone structure of the building remained. It could have been restored, especially since all of the furniture and paintings in the palace had been relocated at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War in July 1870 to protect them. However, it was decided by the Third French Republic that the Palace was too negative a symbol of the former royal and imperial regimes. The French National Assembly voted for the demolition of the palace ruins, which was carried out from February-September 1883. The damaged sections of the Louvre were rebuilt and, by 1876, the museum reached its modern form. Although the Palais de Tuileries is now gone its 55-acre garden, the Jardin des Tuileries, remains a popular urban space enjoyed by Paris locals and visitors alike. Interestingly, there has been talk since 2003 of rebuilding the Tuileries Palace. This idea is not totally implausible: Berlin is currently rebuilding the Berliner Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace), which was destroyed by the government of East Germany in the 1950s; completion is expected later this year, in 2019!. One of the advantages to rebuilding the Tuileries is that the Louvre could expand its collections into the rebuilt palace. It will be interesting to see if this is ever carried out, although I imagine that reconstruction priorities have recently changed due to the fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral on April 15, 2019.
Below is a photo of the Tuileries Garden looking towards the Louvre. The Pavillon de Flore is on the right, the Pavillon de Marson on the left. The Tuileries Palace was once situated between them.
In August 1939, the threat of war and German occupation loomed heavy over Paris. On August 25, the Louvre was closed, supposedly for repairs. What followed was a massive evacuation of nearly 4,000 pieces from the museum’s art collection, in which 203 vehicles were used to transport 1,862 wooden cases to the Château de Chambord. The Winged Victory of Samothrace was the last piece to be moved on September 3. Jacques Jaujard, Director of the French National Museums, was responsible for this plan. He had previous experience evacuating the collections of the Prado Museum in Madrid to Switzerland during the Spanish Civil War, and both his foresight and his skills at diplomacy proved extremely valuable. Nazi Germany had a special task force, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce), dedicated to appropriating cultural property from other nations. By the time the Nazis marched into Paris on June 14, 1940, the Louvre was mostly empty save for a few items that were too heavy to move or were deemed comparatively unimportant. Jaujard even managed to keep the Louvre’s priceless pieces safe from the Vichy government during the German occupation. They were moved between several châteaux and abbeys throughout the course of the war.
Below is a picture of The Winged Victory of Samothrace being carefully lowered down a ramp during the evacuation of the Louvre’s art collection.
I’m sure the Nazis were less than thrilled to find nothing but the giant empty frames that had once contained the Louvre’s priceless paintings. In the picture below, you can see chalk scribbled on the wall behind the enormous frame. The chalk indicates the name of this missing Rembrandt piece.
The empty Grand Galerie, with nothing but frames on the floor and chalk inscriptions on the walls.
The Nazis ordered a partial reopening of the museum in September 1940. This was mostly symbolic, as many of the galleries and viewing rooms were completely empty.
During the occupation, the Nazis plundered private art collections belonging to prominent Jewish families and art dealers. The Louvre was used as a place to store and prepare these pieces for their relocation to Germany, which can be seen in the photo below.
After the war, the Louvre was gradually reopened to the public between 1945-1947. All of its major masterpieces returned, largely unscathed. In the photo below, the Mona Lisa is unpacked upon her triumphant return to the Louvre.
In 1983, a further renovation was undertaken at the museum known as the “Grand Plan du Louvre.” As part of this plan, the Finance Ministry was moved out of the Louvre so that the entire building could be used as display space. Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei was tasked with the project. Pei also built a new underground entrance located in the Cour Napoleon, and had a glass pyramid erected over it. The Louvre pyramid was finished in 1989. A second inverted pyramid was completed in 1993. Museum attendance has more than doubled at the museum since the completion of this renovation.
The Louvre Pyramid at night.
As you can see, the Louvre has a very fascinating history. So much so, that it would be madness to now add the photos that I took while Neil and I were touring it. That will be coming up in my next post. Thank you for reading!
¹One of the strongest candidates for future would-be-conqueror of France was the King of England—Henry II (1133-1189, reigned 1154-1189), and then his son Richard I (1157-1199, reigned 1189-1199). The Angevin Kings of England were a direct threat to Philippe-II-Auguste’s rule because, as descendants of the Norman William the Conqueror, they held a lot of hereditary titles and power in France; Henry II and then Richard I were the Counts of Anjou, as well as the Dukes of Normandy and Aquitaine. Philippe-II-Auguste disrupted the earlier threat of Henri II by encouraging Henry II’s discontented sons, Henry (1155-1183) and Richard (“the Lion-Heart”), to rebel against their father. In 1189, Philippe-II-Auguste traveled with the newly-crowned Richard I to participate in the Third Crusade. The friendship between the two men later dissolved.
² Remains of the Wall of Philippe-II-Auguste (1200-1215) can still be found in Paris. Rather than being destroyed like the two later walls that followed it, many of its elements were simply abandoned, or incorporated into private buildings or the Wall of Charles V (1356-1383). The western part of Charles V’s Wall was demolished (and its material reused) in the 1640s for the Louis XIII Wall (1633-1636). The Louis XIII Wall was designed by Jacques Lemercier, the Louvre architect after whom the Lemercier Wing and Pavillon du Lemercier (now Pavillon Sully) is named. This third wall was also extended to the west on the right (north) bank of the Seine, and included the Tuileries within its limits. In the latter half of the 17th century, Louis XIV believed his conquests had made Paris a secure city, and so thought the city walls were unnecessary. He had the Louis XIII wall torn down and, in its place, the Grands Boulevards were built from 1678-1705. Boulevard comes from the Flemish word bolwerc, which English speakers might recognize as bulwark, meaning “a wall of earth or other material built for defense, a rampart.” The Grands Boulevards measured four kilometers in distance from the Bastille to the Église de la Madeleine (Madeleine Church); they became a popular pedestrian promenade, and remain so.
³ The full illustration comes from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, a book of hours created between 1412-1416 by the Limbourg brothers. (A book of hours is a collection of prayers that would be said at the canonical hours). The book was made for Jean, Duke of Berry, a royal bibliophile and patron. It is the most famous and best surviving example of French Gothic manuscript illumination. The manuscript was left unfinished in 1416 when the Duke of Berry and all three of the Limbourg brothers (Herman, Paul, and Johan) died, possibly of the plague (the brothers were all under the age of thirty!). The manuscript was further embellished by an anonymous painter in the 1440s, believed to be Barthélemy D’Eyck.
* If you read any of my posts about the châteaux in the Loire Valley, you’ll recall that François I kick-started the (Italian-influenced) Renaissance in French art, culture, and architecture. He was a patron of Leonardo da Vinci, and invited the Italian artist and inventor to the Loire Valley (specifically to the Château d’Amboise) in 1516. Leonardo da Vinci brought his painting of the Mona Lisa with him. When the artist passed away in 1519, François I purchased it as well as several other paintings from the executor of da Vinci’s estate (which is how it later ended up in the Louvre’s collection). François I also ordered the building of the Chateau de Chambord in 1519.
**The Château d’Écouen was built for Anne de Montmorency, the Grand Constable, Chief Minister, and Commander of the French army under François I and Henri II. The château was constructed from 1539-1555 following the plan of the Château de Chambord. Lescot worked on the Louvre from 1546-1560s.
***Although it was discovered by the French, a change in the French army’s circumstances meant that the Rosetta Stone never made it to the Louvre. While Napoleon was busy back in France, the British army met the remaining French troops in Egypt and defeated them in battle in August 1801. They seized the Rosetta Stone from the French, along with other Egyptian antiquities that had been excavated. These items are now part of the collections of the British Museum.
**** The Horses of Saint Mark are a set of four bronze horses that date (most likely) to the 2nd or 3rd century C.E. They were probably made to sit atop a grand building or structure such as a triumphal arch. They were displayed at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, perhaps brought there in the early 8th or 9th century. In 1204, Constantinople was sacked by Venetian forces as part of the Fourth Crusade. The horses were shipped to Venice, where they were put on display on the terrace outside of Saint Mark’s Basilica. Collars were added to the horses to hide where their heads had been severed for transport. They were moved to Paris in 1797, and in 1806 made part of a display that was placed atop the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. After Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the Horses of Saint Mark were ceded to Austria. Austria, which had annexed Venice that same year, returned the statuary to Venice. The horses were displayed over Saint Mark’s Basilica until the 1980s. They were moved inside to protect them from further damage from air pollution. The originals can still be seen inside the Basilica, while copies now appear on the exterior of the building.
The original Horses of Saint Mark on display inside the Basilica.
What you see on top of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel today is a replacement quadriga made by Baron François Joseph Bosio in 1828. “Peace” rides in the chariot while two gilded statues of “Victory” accompany the horses (which are wearing gilded collars!). The work commemorates the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy from 1814-1815 and 1815-1830 (minus 100 days or so) after the downfall of Napoleon. Kind of a cheeky thing to put on the top of Napoleon’s triumphal arch!
*****The Luxor Obelisk once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple in Egypt (which was constructed around 1400 B.C.E.). The obelisk was gifted to France by Egypt in 1829. It was raised in the Place de la Concorde a few years later on October 25, 1836, as it took some time to move such a heavy and delicate object.