It is perhaps the most iconic art museum in the world. Located in Paris, the Louvre (officially the Louvre Museum) has admitted thousands of cultural objects and millions of admirers since opening its doors on this day in 1793. A guided tour is always best, but if you can’t make it to the Right Bank of the Seine, learn these eight facts about the past, present and future of this 225-year-old monument.
1. IT WAS DESIGNED AS A CASTLE FORTRESS.
Before the French King Philip II left for the Crusades in 1190, he ordered the fortification of the Seine along the western border of Paris against any antagonist. Crowning the structure was a castle which featured a moat and defensive towers; it also housed a prison for undesirables. Over time, other construction urbanized the area, reducing the need for a combat-ready tower. In the 1500s, King Francis I built his residence on the same site. Art lover, the house of François and his collection of pieces gave a glimpse of what would become of the Louvre. In 1793, part of the Louvre became a public museum.
2. HE BECAME A RETIRED ARTIST.
Before the art was exhibited for public consumption, the Louvre invited artists to stay and work on site and treat the building as a creative retreat. From 1608, Henri IV offered artists both a studio and a place to live in the Louvre. They could carve, paint, and generally do as they pleased, but by the 18th century the surplus of distinguished squatters had left the property a bit messy, and their residence was eventually removed.
3. HE WAS BRIEFLY NAMED FOR NAPOLEON.
In 1803, Napoleon was the most powerful man in France and he had recently proclaimed Vivant Denon the head of what is now called the Louvre. The story goes that Denon commented: “There is a frieze above the door awaiting an inscription: I think ‘Musée Napoléon’ is the only one suitable for it.” The banner lasted until Napoleon’s defeat in 1815.
4. AN ARTIST MADE HIS FAMOUS PYRAMID DISAPPEAR.
In a move straight out of David Copperfield’s 2016 playbook, French artist JR was able to perform an impressive optical illusion using the three-story glass pyramid that sits outside the facade. of the Louvre. The surface was plastered with black and white photographs of the surrounding buildings, giving the impression that the construction had disappeared entirely. The performance piece was left in place for about a month.
5. THE MONA LISA WAS LOCKED IN.
Art heists in movies are usually pretty glamorous affairs, with gentleman thieves and Swiss watch planning. But when the crooks lifted the mona-lisa from its perch in the Louvre in 1911, it was a rather undelicate operation. Three Italian handymen hid in the museum overnight, then removed the painting from the wall and retreated into public view. One of them tried to sell it more than two years later, but a suspicious dealer called the police. The resulting media coverage is believed to be one of the reasons the painting became one of the most famous in the world.
6. IT CLOSED ONCE BECAUSE OF PICKPOCKETS.
In 2013, nearly half of the museum’s 450 employees refused to come to work because of a tenacious plague on the premises: pickpockets. Employees said the teenage criminals – admission is free for those under 18 – were distracting and robbing American tourists and showing nothing but contempt for Louvre workers who tried to intervene. The authorities agreed to step up security measures and the workers returned to their posts.
7. HE HAS RESIDENT “COPISTS”.
Few museums allow counterfeits of any type, but the Louvre recognizes the curious subculture of artists who enjoy trying to reproduce famous works. Every day from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., “copyists” are allowed to set up easels and study paintings while working on their own replicas. The call for artists is to try to better understand the process behind masterpieces; the museum insists that the size of the canvases is not exactly the same and that they are not signed.
8. AN APP CAN HELP YOU FIND AN EXIT.
With over 8 million visitors a year, the Louvre can often feel crowded with tourists unfamiliar with its layout. In 2016, the museum began offering an app that guides users, offering them a pre-planned visit or exit strategy. Lost? Turn left at Picasso, then right at Michelangelo.