LivingTravelA Brief History of the Louvre: Intriguing Facts

A Brief History of the Louvre: Intriguing Facts

Main sources: official website of the Louvre Museum; Encyclopedia Britannica

The Louvre Museum is primarily known today for its incredibly rich collection of mostly European paintings, sculptures, drawings, and other cultural artifacts. But before it became one of the largest and most impressive art collections in the world, it had a very different function. The Parisian museum now visited by millions of people each year was, until recently, a royal palace and a crucial part of the fortifications that protected invaders from early medieval Paris. To really appreciate this historic site, learn more about its complex history before your visit.

These are the key facts and events to take on the site.

The Louvre during the medieval period

1190: Philippe Auguste King built a huge fort on the site of the current port days in an effort to protect the cité of the invaders. The fortress is built around four large moats and defensive towers. A huge fortress, known as the Grosse tour , stood in the center. The lower levels of this fortress are all that remain; can be partially visited today.
1356-1358: After another period of expansion, Paris now extends far beyond the original fortified wall built in the 12th century.

A new wall is built in part to serve as a defense at the start of the Hundred Years War against England. The Louvre no longer serves as a defense site.
1364 – The Louvre has ceased to serve its original purpose, prompting an architect working for King Charles V to convert the old fortress into a luxurious royal palace. The medieval appearance of the palace featured a prominent spiral staircase and a ‘pleasure garden’, while the interiors were decorated with tapestries and sculptures.
1527: The Louvre remains unoccupied for approximately 100 years after the death of King Charles VI.

In 1527, Francois I moved in and completely destroyed the medieval fortress. The Louvre takes on its Renaissance look.

The Louvre during the Renaissance

1546: Francois I continues to transform the palace in accordance with Renaissance architectural and design trends, eradicating the medieval west wing and replacing it with Renaissance-style structures. Under the reign of Henry II, the Hall of the Caryatids and the Pavillon du Roi (King’s Pavilion) were built and include the king’s private quarters. The decoration of the new palace is finally completed under the orders of King Henry IV.
Mid-16th century: Italian-born French Queen Catherine de ‘Medici, widow of Henry II, orders the construction of the Tuileries Palace in an effort to improve comfort levels at the Louvre, which is, according to historical records, a chaotic and smelly place.

This particular set of plans is eventually abandoned for another.
1595-1610: Henri IV builds the Galerie du Bord de l’Eau (Waterside Gallery) to create a direct passage from the royal quarters of the Louvre to the nearby Palais des Tuileries. The area known as Galerie des Rois (Gallery of the Kings) is also built during this time.

The Louvre during the ‘classical’ period

1624-1672: Under the reign of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, the Louvre undergoes an intensive series of renovations, resulting in the palace we recognize today. Major additions during this period include the Pavillon de l’Horloge (Clock Pavilion) which today is called the Pavillon de Sully and would serve as a model for the design of the other pavilions that make up the modern site. The sumptuous Apollo Gallery was completed in 1664.
1672-1674: The monarch Louis XIV moved the seat of royal power to the Palace of Versailles in the countryside.

The Louvre falls into a state of relative neglect for a century.
1692: The Louvre has a new role as a meeting place for artistic and intellectual “salons”, and Louis XIV orders the establishment of a gallery of ancient sculptures. This was the first step towards the birth of the most frequented museum in the world.
1791: After the French Revolution of 1789, the Louvre and the Tuileries are temporarily reimagined as a national palace to “gather monuments of science and the arts.”
1793: The French revolutionary government opens the Central Museum of the Arts of the Republic, a new public institution that in many ways predates the modern concept of the museum.

Entry is free for all, while collections come primarily from the seized possessions of French royalty and aristocratic families.

Becoming a great museum: empires

1798-1815: The future Emperor Napoleon I “enriches” the collections at the Louvre through the loot acquired during his conquests abroad, and particularly from Italy. The museum was renamed the Musée Napoleon in 1803 and a bust of the emperor was placed over the entrance. In 1806, the architects of the Emperor Percier and Fontaine built a small “Arc de Triomphe” in the central pavilion of the Tuileries to celebrate the military conquests of France. The arch originally included four ancient bronze horses that had been taken from St. Mark’s Basilica in Italy; These are restored to Italy in 1815 when the First Empire falls.

During this period, the Louvre was also significantly expanded to include many of the wings that are still present today, including the Cour Carré and the Grande Galerie.
1824: The Museum of Modern Sculpture opens in the west wing of the “Cour Carré”. The museum included sculptures from Versailles and other collections, in just five rooms.
1826-1862: As modern techniques of curating and commerce develop, the Louvre’s collections are significantly enriched and expanded to include works of foreign civilizations.

From Egyptian and Assyrian antiquities to medieval and Renaissance art and contemporary Spanish painting, the Louvre is on its way to becoming a gigantic center of art and culture.
1863: The now massive collection of the Louvre is renamed the Napoleon III Museum in honor of the leader of the Second Empire. The expansion of the collections is mainly due to the acquisition in 1861 of more than 11,000 paintings, art objects, sculptures and other objects of the Marquis Campana.
1871: In the heat of the popular revolt of 1871 known as the Paris Commune, the Tuileries Palace is burned by the “Communards.” The palace is never restored, leaving only the isolated gardens and buildings.

To this day, at least one French national committee continues to request the restoration of the Palace.

NEXT: The Rise Of The Modern Louvre

The next period in the history of this iconic French site brings further change and upheaval, beginning with the destruction of the former Tuileries Palace.

1883: When the Tuileries Palace is demolished, a major transition takes place and the Louvre ceases to be a seat of royal power. The site is now almost entirely dedicated to arts and culture. In a few years, the museum would expand significantly to take over all the main buildings.
1884-1939: The Louvre continues to expand and inaugurates countless new wings and collections, including a wing dedicated to Islamic arts and the Museum of Decorative Arts.
1939-1945: With the imminent outbreak of World War II in 1939, the museum is closed and the collections evacuated, with the exception of the larger pieces that are protected by sandbags.

When Nazi troops invaded Paris and most of France in 1940, the Louvre reopened, but it was almost empty.
1981: French President Francois Mittérand reveals an ambitious plan to renovate and reorganize the Louvre and move the only remaining government ministry to another location, turning the Louvre exclusively into museum activity for the first time.
1986: The Musée d’Orsay opens in the former premises of the Orsay train station on the other side of the Seine. The new museum transfers more contemporary works by artists born between 1820 and 1870, and is soon distinguished by its collection of impressionist paintings, among others.

The works of the Jeu de Paume at the west end of the Tuileries are also transferred to Orsay.
1989: The Louvre glass pyramid built by Chinese architect IM Pei is inaugurated and serves as the new main entrance.

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