The Musée du Louvre in Paris, founded during the French Revolution as the Muséum central des Arts, is the most visited museum in the world.
History of the palace
The Louvre is housed in an imposing palace which origins dates back to Middle Ages, enlarged various times and to which the famous pyramide entrance building, as well as an underground expansion, were added in 1989 after a design by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei.
The palace was built in 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 lost its original function and was converted in 1578 by François I into the main residence of the Kings of France.
Over time, the palace was renovated and enlarged after designs by the most acclaimed architects, such as Pierre Lescot in the 16th century, and 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 and is one of the most spectacular galleries of the museum.
In 1793, during the French Revolution, the palace was transformed into a museum and opened to the public.
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
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
Louvre’s “inverted pyramid” skylight, designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners in 1993; photo Ricardo Luengo
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 the artworks acquired over time by the Kings of France, which included many 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 Winged Victory of Samothrace.
The various exhibition rooms in which the collection is displayed are distributed on three floor levels and into three main wings: the Richelieu wing, the Sully Wing, and the Denon wing.
The most popular sections are those of art of Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Classical Greece, Rome, European Middle-Ages and Renaissance; the museum also includes notable collections of decorative and graphic arts.
The Louvre’s incredible ensemble of world-famous art icons includes works such as the Nike of Samothrace, the Venus of Milo, the Egyptian Seated Scribe, the Rebellious slave by Michelangelo, the Mona Lisa and the Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci, La belle jardinière by Raphael, the Fortune Teller by Caravaggio, and the Psyche by Canova; yet, it is also interesting to discover one of the many lesser-known masterpieces on view in one of the several galleries of the museum.
Great Sphinx of Tanis, c. 2600 BC, on view in the Crypt of the Sphinx, Sully wing; photo SpirosK photography
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
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’s complex, which is accessible to people with disabilities, includes temporary exhibition spaces, auditoriums, various bookshops, boutiques, restaurants, and cafeterias.
The Louvre, monumental sculptures in the Cour Marly, Richelieu wing; photo © 2003 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing
Photos: cover by Paulo Horta; pabnorama by SpirosK photography; 1 by David Baron; 2 by Robert S. Donovan; 3 by Juanedc; 4 by Vankfire;