A Brief History
The Louvre museum is arguably the most famous and instantly recognisable museum in the world. It boasts the largest collection, with over 35,000 exhibits from prehistory to the 21st century, and receives an incredible footfall of between approximately 8-10 million visitors every year, second only to China’s Palace Museum! It is also a historic landmark, and actually started life as a fortress in the 12th century before becoming the residence of French royals in in 1300’s. The Louvre was developed and added to in subsequent years by its various residents, most notably in the 14th century by Francis I, who developed the Renaissance style of the Louvre and acquired the Mona Lisa, and by Catherine de’ Medici who developed the site considerably by starting construction of the adjoining Tuileries Palace.
When the royals moved their residency to Versailles in the 17th century, the Louvre became the home to many artists, who created considerable and acclaimed works, setting the tone for the future of the building. The Louvre actually became a museum during the French Revolution when the ruling National Assembly decreed that it should no longer house royalty, opening its doors to the public in 1793. However, the Louvre was badly damaged in fire during the Commune uprising of 1871, when the Tuileries Palace was set alight by communards and completely destroyed, so parts of the building have been subsequently repaired and redeveloped. During the uprising, the Louvre was also sacked, and many precious items looted. Notably the only remaining vestiges of the Tuileries Palace include the Pavilion de Flore and Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, the latter of which once formed part of the ornate gateway into the palace and now serves as a sort of mini-gateway/introduction to the grand museum instead.
During the Third Republic in the 19th century, the Louvre received many donations and items, and rebuilt its collection quite considerably, with many of the looted items returned and new donations gifted to the museum, both by various nations and from private collectors. During World War 2, many valuable items were removed and hidden for safe-keeping by the museum curators, but were put back after the liberation of France. The most recent addition to the museum is, of course, the pyramid in the Cour Napoléon, which also forms the entrance to the museum. It was designed by I.M. Pei and was completed in 1989, along with an underground lobby beneath it. The inverted pyramid, an amazing skylight that descends into the Louvre lobby shopping mall, was added in 1993. I am personally fascinated by the pyramids, the masonic legends and esoteric interpretations of which I will discuss in an upcoming article.
‘Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss’, by Antonia Canova, 1787
The Museum Exhibits
Consisting of eight main curatorial departments, the Louvre hosts various artefacts and artworks in permanent displays in the following categories;
- Decorative Arts – Including items from the Royal furniture repository, the section features gems, bronze statuettes, coronation regalia, and royal armour. The exhibits comprise of royal acquisitions, items seized from aristocrats, and privately donated collections from the Medieval period to the Napoleonic reign.
- Egyptian Antiquities – Featuring a breath-taking array of antiquities from 4,000 BC to the 4th century, the collection spans over approximately 25 rooms and includes scrolls, statues, tombs, mummies, jewellery, tools, clothes and ornate sarcophaguses.
- Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities – Holding pieces from the Neolithic era to the fall of the Roman Empire in the 6th century, this department displays an astonishing array of antiquities, such as vases and jewellery, headpieces, busts and sarcophaguses, and great carvings and statues, such as the Winged Victory of Samothrace, which dates from circa 190 BC!
- Islamic Art – The striking collection was only opened to the public in 2012, but already features over 3,000 items. Covering 13,000 years of history and artworks, ornaments, scrolls, tapestries, crockery, vases and other beautiful pieces adorn the department.
- Near Eastern Antiquities – Consisting of Persian, Mesopotamian and Levantian artefacts, this section holds carvings, manuscripts, murals and great statues and commemorative pieces. It even holds some incredibly rare items from Babylon and Persepolis, that are amazing to witness.
- Paintings – Perhaps amongst the most famous of the Louvre’s acquisitions, this department is renowned for showcasing some of the greatest paintings known to man, and dates back to the 16th century. Including celebrated items such as the Mona Lisa, Erasmus, and Saul and the Witch of Endor, amongst thousands of others, the collection is simply incredible.
- Prints and Drawings – Items in this department are kept under very strict conditions to preserve them, and can only be viewed under specific light, temperature and humidity circumstances, followed by a period of rest for three years! Comprising of drawings, prints and engraved plates dating back to the 16th century, contributors to the department have included the Rothschilds, and items seized during the French Revolution. Due to their preservation specifications, this department features only temporary exhibitions, albeit on a permanent basis, which are usually themed.
- Sculpture – Originally hosting medieval to modern sculptures, the department features works from the likes of Michelangelo and Raphael, and was first curated in the 18th century. Many of the modern-era items were moved to the Musée d’Orsay in the 19th century, where they are still on display today. Covering two floors in the Louvre, highlights in the section include The Fountain of Diana, Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss (pictured above), and Prometheus Bound.
The Louvre also hosts temporary and guest exhibitions, some of the more unusual and unique of which have included exhibits such as Enki Bilal’s ‘The Ghosts of the Louvre’ (2012-2013), and ‘New Frontier: American Art Enters the Louvre’ (2012). The current temporary exhibitions at the time of writing (March 2017) include ‘The Body in Movement’ until July, which focuses on art and culture education, and ‘Mirrors’ until September, showcasing the juxtaposition between truth and illusion.
Bronze statue of Horus, circa 100 BC
For me, the highlight of the Louvre is always going to be the Egyptian Antiquities department; I think it appeals to the Adele Blanc-Sec would-be adventurer side of me! The collection is awe-inspiring and transports you to a far-away world, figuratively speaking, presenting the sheer grandiosity of Ancient Egypt and their incredible craftsmanship abilities and skills. It includes some simply stunning statues, such as a colossal statue of Ramsès II, and some chillingly cool mummified items and related regalia, such as the amazingly preserved mummy of an adult male, decorative organ jars and various ornately painted sarcophaguses. My favourites in the collection include a bronze statue of Horus from circa 100 BC (pictured above), and the Sarcophagus box of Ramesses III from around 1100 BC. My other highlights surrounding the museum concern its myths and legends! Most notably the plaque in the underground ruins of the old donjon, which you can access beneath the Louvre where the buildings old fortification lies, directly acknowledges the lost souls that eternally wander the building. Similarly, my favourite section reputedly houses a demon spirit that possessing a mummy, rises each night and roams the halls of the museum! Now that does sound like something from an Extraordinary Adventure film…! (You can read more about the spooky side of the Louvre in this post)
Things You Need To Know
The Louvre is open every day between 9am – 6pm, except on Tuesdays, when it is closed. It has late night openings on Wednesdays and Fridays until 9.45pm, and is open every day except Jan 1st, May 1st and Dec 25th.
A standard plain tariff ticket costs 17€, with concessions available, which includes permanent and temporary exhibits.
You can access the museum via Metro line 1, via the Palais-Royale – Musée du Louvre stop, or by foot if you take a stroll through the Tuileries gardens. Parking for cars is available underneath the museum, if you fancy braving the ghosts!
Finally, you can access their website here for bookings!
Thanks for reading, and I hope you visit again soon! Don’t forget to check out my awesome guided walking tours on the Our Tours page.