2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Art

Musée du Louvre
Established 1793
Location Palais Royal, Musée du Louvre,
75001 Paris, France
Visitor figures 8,300,000 (2006)
Director Henri Loyrette
Curator Marie-Laure de Rochebrune
Website www.louvre.fr

The Louvre (French: Musée du Louvre) in Paris, France, is the most visited and famous museum in the world. The structure is located on the Right Bank in the 1er arrondissement between the Seine River and the Rue de Rivoli.

The structure originated as a palace during the Capetian dynasty under the reign of Philip II. The building holds some of the world's most famous works of art, such as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne, Madonna of the Rocks, Jacques Louis David's Oath of the Horatii, Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People and Alexandros of Antioch's Venus de Milo. The equestrian statue of Louis XIV constitutes the starting point of the " axe historique", but the palace is not aligned on this axis.


Construction and architecture

Palais du Louvre

The present-day Louvre has been the result of a series of successive building projects completed over the past 800 years. The origin of the term Louvre is murky. First, Potter contends that King Philip II of France referred to the structure as L'Œuvre (French language: The Masterpiece) because it was the largest building in 13th century Paris. Second, Sauval proposes that the name references an old Anglo-Saxon term leouar meaning " castle" or " fortress". Additionally, Edwards posits that the name stems from the word rouvre meaning oak, referring to the building's location in a forest.

The Richelieu Wing of the Louvre at night
The Richelieu Wing of the Louvre at night

Regardless, a fortress style structure was built under Philip Augustus from 1190 to 1202 in order to defend Paris against Norman attacks. It is unknown whether this is the first building to be constructed on that spot, although contemporary references refer to the early Louvre as the "New Tower", which indicates there was an "Old Tower". The only portion still extant from this period is the foundation of the southeast corner. Additions were subsequently completed, notably by Charles V who in 1358 built a defensive wall around the fortress and converted the Louvre into a royal residence. Although further monarchs used the structure as a prison.

Louis IX (Saint-Louis) and Francois I added a dungeon and annex, respectively. Additionally, Francois rebuilt the Louvre using plans of architect Pierre Lescot. Following Francois' death in 1547, his successor Henry II retained the architect, and the Louvre saw completion of the west and south sides alongside the addition of Jean Goujon's bas-relief sculptures. Lescot's renovations modified the Louvre from a fortress to the style of structure visible today.

In 1594 King Henry IV united the Palais du Louvre with the Palais des Tuileries, which had been constructed by Catherine de Medici. This "Grand Design" called for a Grande Galerie to built connecting to the Pavillon de Flore on the southern end and the Pavillon de Marsan to the north. To contemporaries, this edifice was one of the longest in the world. Louis XIII (1610-1643) completed the wing now called the Denon Wing in 1560.

In 1624 Le Vau Lemercier designs the Cour Carrée under the reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, effectively quadrupling the size of the old courtyard. Progress on the building halts however as Louis XIV choose Versailles as his residence. The Louvre remains unchanged until the 18th century when it begins its transformation into a museum under Louis XV. However, this does not accelerate until the French Revolution.

French Revolution

View of Musée du Louvre from Jardin des Tuileries
View of Musée du Louvre from Jardin des Tuileries

The Louvre as a place for display of artistic works dates from the time of Francois I, however it was not until the French Revolution that the royal Louvre collection became the "Muséum central des Arts" and opened to the public as such in 1793. From 1794 onwards, France's victorious revolutionary armies brought back increasing numbers of artworks from across Europe, aiming to establish it as a major European museum. Particularly significant additions to the collection were the masterpieces from Italy (including the Laocoon and his sons and the Apollo Belvedere, both from the papal collection) which arrived in Paris in July 1798 with much pomp and ceremony (a special Sèvres vase was commissioned for the occasion).

The sheer number of these statues forced the museum's curators into reorganising the displays. The building was redecorated and inaugurated in 1800, and renamed the "Musée Napoléon" in 1803. It continued to grow (led by Vivant Denon) through purchases and spoliation (e.g. the forced purchase of part of the Borghese collection) and was an attempt at creating a universal museum of art, with all the best sculptures - indeed, most of the art Napoleon directed his commissioners to take was sculpture rather than old-master paintings. For a short period, this allowed north Europeans to see the finest of classical sculpture without organising an exlf. The collections shrank again when almost all wartime acquisitions had to be returned after Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo in 1815.

Louvre Pyramid

Courtyard of Museum of Louvre, at night
Courtyard of Museum of Louvre, at night

The central courtyard of the museum, on the axis of the Champs-Élysées, is occupied by the Louvre Pyramid, which serves as the main entrance to the museum.

The Louvre Pyramid is a glass pyramid commissioned by then French president François Mitterrand and designed by I. M. Pei. The construction work on the pyramid base and underground lobby was carried out by Dumez: it was inaugurated in 1989. This was the first renovation of the Grand Louvre Project. The Carre Gallery, where the Mona Lisa was exhibited, was also renovated. The pyramid covers the Louvre entresol and forms part of the new entrance into the museum.

Le Louvre-Lens

View of the outside from inside the Louvre Pyramid
View of the outside from inside the Louvre Pyramid

Since many of the works in the Louvre are viewed only in distinct departments — for example, French Painting, Near Eastern Art or Sculpture — established some 200 years ago, it was decided that a satellite building would be created outside of Paris, to experiment with other museological displays and to allow for a larger visitorship outside the confines of the Paris Palace. Sourced from the Louvre's core holdings, and not from long-lost or stored works in the basement of the Louvre, as widely thought, the new satellite will show works side-by-side, cross-referenced and juxtaposed from all periods and cultures, creating an entirely new experience for the museum visitor. The project completion is planned for late 2010; the building will be capable of receiving between 500 and 600 major works, with a core gallery dedicated to the human figure over several millennia. This new building should receive about 500,000 visitors per year. There were originally six city candidates for this project: Amiens, Arras, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Calais, Lens, and Valenciennes. On November 29, 2004, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin chose Lens, Pas-de-Calais to be the site of the new Louvre building. Le Louvre-Lens was the name chosen for the museum.

The new satellite museum, funded by the local regional government, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, will have 22,000 m2 of usable space built on two levels, with semi-permanent exhibition space covering at least 5000 m2. There will also be space set aside for rotating temporary exhibitions. The project will also feature a multi-purpose theatre and visitable conservation spaces. The building is comprised of a series of low-lying volumes clad in glass and stainless steel in the middle of a 60 acres former mining site, largely reclaimed by nature. The estimated cost for this building is 70 million euro, or 96.6 million US dollars (at July 2007). The new satellite building was selected after an international architectural competition in 2005. The architectural joint-venture team of SANAA of Tokyo and the New York-based IMREY CULBERT LP were awarded the project on September 26, 2005.


Map of the Louvre
Map of the Louvre

The Louvre can be accessed by the Palais Royal — Musée du Louvre Métro station. The station is named after the nearby Palais Royal and the Louvre. Until the 1990s its name was Palais Royal; it was renamed when a new access was built from the station to the underground portions of the redeveloped Louvre museum.


Long managed by the French state under the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, the Louvre has recently acquired powers of self-management as an Établissement Public Autonome (Government-Owned Corporation) in order better to manage its growth.


The director of the Louvre has in the past been known as its "Conservateur", and is now known as its "président directeur général". These have included:

  • Dominique Vivant : 1804-1815
  • Michel Delignat-Lavaut : ?-1987
  • Michel Laclotte : 1987-1994
  • Pierre Rosenberg : 1994-2001
  • Henri Loyrette : 2001-present
Panoramic view of the Louvre in 1908
Panoramic view of the Louvre in 1908

Panoramic view of the Louvre in 2006
Panoramic view of the Louvre in 2006

Departments & collections

Khorsabad - Human Headed Winged Bulls and Reliefs
Khorsabad - Human Headed Winged Bulls and Reliefs

The Musée du Louvre's collections number over 380,000 objects, though not one of the world's largest collections, arguably one of the finest.

The Louvre displays 35,000 works of art drawn from eight curatorial departments, displayed in over 60,600 m2 of exhibition space dedicated to the permanent collections. According to the most recent Annual Report, published in 2005, the museum's holdings are as follows:

  • Near Eastern Antiquities
  • Egyptian Antiquities
  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
  • Islamic Art
  • Sculptures
  • Decorative Arts
  • Paintings
  • Prints and Drawings
  • 100,000
  • 50,000
  • 45,000
  • 10,000
  • 6,550
  • 20,704
  • 11,900
  • 183,500
Canova - Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss
Canova - Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss

The hallmark of the museum's collection is its 11,900 paintings (6,000 on permanent display and 5,900 in deposit), representing the second largest holding of western pictorial art in the world, after the State Hermitage, Russia. There are large holdings from such artists as Fragonard, Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian, Van Dyck, Poussin, and David. Among the well-known sculptures in the collection are the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo.

The collection of Prints and Drawings was significantly supplemented with the donation of Baron Edmond de Rothschild's (1845 – 1934) collection in 1935, containing more than 40,000 engravings, nearly 3,000 drawings and 500 illustrated books.

Besides art, the Louvre displays a host of other exhibits, including archaeology, sculptures and objets d'art. The permanent galleries showcase large holdings of furniture; the most spectacular item was the Bureau du Roi, completed by Jean Henri Riesener in the 18th century, now returned to the Palace of Versailles.

Notable paintings

13th to 15th century
  • The Madonna and Christ Child enthroned with angels, Cimabue (about 1270)
  • Saint Francis of Assisi receives the stigmata, Giotto (about 1290 – 1300)
  • Portrait of John II the Good, anonymous (about 1350). Acquired by Louis XV, part of the royal collection
  • The Virgin with Chancellor Rolin, Jan van Eyck (about 1435). Seized in the French Revolution (1796)
  • Portrait de Charles VII, Jean Fouquet (1445 – 1448). Purchased in 1838
  • The Condottiero, Antonello da Messina (1475). Purchased in 1865
  • St. Sebastian, Andrea Mantegna (1480)
  • Ship of Fools, Hieronymus Bosch (1490 – 1500)
  • Self-Portrait with flowers, Albrecht Dürer (1493). Purchased in 1922
16th century
  • Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci (1503 – 1506), acquired by Francis I in 1519
  • The Virgin and Child with St. Anne, Leonardo da Vinci (1508)
  • The Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist, called La belle jardinière, Raphael (1508). Belonged to the royal collection, acquired by Francis I
  • Portrait of Balthazar Castiglione, Raphael (about 1515), acquired by Louis XIV from the estate of Mazarin
  • The Wedding at Cana, Paolo Veronese (1562 – 1563). It hung 2.5 metres (8¼ ft) from the floor in the San Giorgio Maggiore monastery for 235 years, until it was plundered by Napoleon in 1797
17th century
Nicolas Poussin - Et in Arcadia ego
Nicolas Poussin - Et in Arcadia ego
  • Saint Joseph charpentier, Georges de la Tour (1642), donated in 1948
  • The club foot, Joseph de Ribera (1642), bequeathed in 1869
  • The pilgrims of Emmaus, Rembrandt (1648), seized in the French Revolution in 1793
  • Le jeune mendiant, Murillo (about 1650), bought by Louis XVI about 1782
  • Bathsheba at Her Bath, Rembrandt (1654, bequeathed in 1869
  • Ex Voto, Philippe de Champaigne (1662), seized in the French Revolution in 1793
  • The Lacemaker, Johannes Vermeer, (1669 – 1670), purchased in 1870
  • Et in Arcadia ego, Nicolas Poussin (1637 – 1638)
  • Coronation of Marie de' Medici in St. Denis, Peter Paul Rubens (1622-1625)
18th century
  • Portrait of Louis XIV, Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701)
  • The Embarkation for Cythera, Antoine Watteau (1717)
  • La Raie, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (before 1728)
  • Oath of the Horatii, Jacques-Louis David (1784)
  • Master Hare, Joshua Reynolds (1788 – 1789)
19th century
  • Bonaparte visitant les pestiférés de Jaffa, Antoine-Jean Gros (1804)
  • The Raft of the Medusa, Théodore Géricault (1819)
  • Liberty Leading the People, Eugène Delacroix (1830)
  • The Turkish bath, Ingres (1862)


The Louvre is a central location in the 1979 serial City of Death in the science fiction television series Doctor Who.


The Louvre, its art, particularly the art in the basement — not on display — is the subject of a scene in Kate & Leopold.
Scenes were filmed in the Louvre in both Martin Scorsese's 1993 The Age of Innocence and Merchant Ivory's 1990 Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.
The Louvre is destroyed (along with the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe) during a counter-terrorism mission in the 2004 satirical film Team America: World Police.

The Da Vinci Code

The Louvre and many of its works of art are featured prominently in Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code and in the 2006 film adaptation. The Louvre is the main setting in the prologue and first few chapters of the book and parts of the movie. The museum is the homicide crime scene where renowned curator Jacques Saunière is murdered by an Opus Dei member named Silas.

Film productions

The Louvre scenes of The Da Vinci Code were filmed on location. Originally, director Ron Howard was unable to obtain permission to film there, having already been denied access to Westminster Abbey and Saint-Sulpice (Paris). However, French President Jacques Chirac invited Howard to lunch at his home, where he informed the director that he would obtain clearance and Howard could contact him personally if there were any further problems.


The Louvre inspired a virtual setting of adventure in the video game Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, starring Lara Croft.


The Louvre is a frequent location in the British radio series The Goon Show, in particular the episodes "Napoleon's Piano" ( 11 October 1955) and "The Mountain Eaters" ( 1 December 1958).


The Louvre was also the name of a Los Angeles-based rock band in the 1980s.

Louvre Abu Dhabi

In March 2007, the Louvre announced that a Louvre museum would be completed by 2012 in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The thirty-year agreement, signed by French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres and Sheik Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, will prompt the construction of a Louvre museum in downtown Abu Dhabi in exchange for $1.3 billion USD. It has been noted that the museum will showcase work from multiple French museums, including the Louvre, the Georges Pompidou Centre, the Musée d'Orsay and Versailles. However, Donnedieu de Vabres stated at the announcement that the Paris Louvre would not sell any of its 35,000-piece collection, on display.

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