The Louvre is the largest museum in the world and houses one of the most impressive art collections in history. The magnificent Baroque-style palace and museum – LeMusée du Louvre in French – sits along the banks of the Seine in Paris. It is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city.
History of the Louvre
The Louvre was originally built as a fortress in 1190, but was rebuilt in the 16th century to serve as a royal palace. “Like many buildings, it has been built and rebuilt over the years,” said Tea Gudek Snajdar, an Amsterdam-based art historian, museum professor and blogger at Culture Tourist.
During its time as a royal residence, the Louvre experienced rapid growth. Almost all monarchs have enlarged it, according to History.com. Today, it covers a total area of 652,300 square feet (60,600 square meters). In 1682, Louis XIV moved the royal residence to Versailles and the Louvre became the seat of various art academies, regularly offering exhibitions of the works of its members.
During the French Revolution, Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were forcibly expelled from Versailles and imprisoned in the Tuileries Palace, which was then adjacent to the Louvre, according to the official Louvre website. They were beheaded there in 1793.
The National Assembly opened the Louvre as a museum in August 1793 with a collection of 537 paintings. The museum closed in 1796 due to structural problems with the building. Napoleon reopened the museum and expanded the collection in 1801, and the museum was renamed Musée Napoléon.
“It was Napoleon Bonaparte who created the foundation for the world-renowned museum that is the Louvre today,” said Gudek Snajdar. “He wanted to be commissioned to create an art collection in the Louvre. That’s why he renamed it in 1802 as the ‘Napoleon Museum’. He wanted to create a museum in France with a magnificent collection of art from all over the world. He expanded his collection by bringing in works from his military campaigns, private donations and commissions he made.”
Napoleon’s contributions included loot from Belgium, Italy, Prussia and Austria, according to Napoleon.org. In 1815, when Napoleon abdicated with the Treaty of Fontainebleau, nearly 5,000 works of art were returned to their country of origin. France was only allowed to keep a few hundred works, and the Louvre reverted to its original name. Many artifacts from Napoleon’s conquests in Egypt remain, according to History.com.
After Napoleon, the Louvre continues to expand. The multi-building complex of the Louvre was completed during the reign of Napoleon III in the mid-19and century, according to napoleon.org.
Louvre paintings and other works
The Louvre’s collection includes Egyptian antiquities, ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, paintings by Old Masters (notable European artists from before 1800), crown jewels, and other artifacts from French nobles. His works span from the 6th century BC to the 19th century AD. Over 35,000 works are on display at any one time. The exhibits are divided into eight departments: Antiquities of the Near East; Egyptian Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities; Islamic art; Sculptures; decorative arts; Paintings; and Prints and Drawings, according to the Louvre website.
Undoubtedly, the most famous work in the Louvre is Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”, which enchants hordes of visitors with its enigmatic smile. This iconic little painting – it measures just 21 by 30 inches (53 by 77 centimeters) is covered in bulletproof glass and flanked by guards, according to the Louvre’s website. This protection is the result of its theft in 1911. (It was recovered in 1913.)
Crowds also flock to see the armless beauty of the ‘Venus de Milo’ and ‘Winged Victory’, the ancient Greek sculpture also known as the ‘Nike of Samothrace’. Other popular works include a stele bearing the code of Hammurabi, Leonardo da Vinci’s tragic sculpture “The Dying Slave”, and Antonio Canova’s 18th-century sculpture “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss”. “Liberty Leading the People” by Eugène Delacroix, which depicts the bare-breasted goddess of Liberty leading a charge in the French Revolution, and is said to have inspired Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” and Jacques’ “The Coronation of Napoleon” -Louis David, was commissioned by Napoleon himself and is a good reminder of the history of the Louvre.
Gudek Snajdar gave Live Science unique recommendations on cultural tourism. Some of his favorites come from the Near Eastern art collection. She recommends the “Archers’ Frieze” from the 6th century BC and the “Winged Bull with a Human Head” from the 8th century BC.
She also suggests seeing another masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci, “The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne”, which is very close to the “Mona Lisa”.
“Instead of getting lost in the crowd in front of the ‘Mona Lisa’, I would definitely look at this painting and appreciate the work of this Italian painter in peace and quiet,” she said. Also, “some paintings by Johannes Vermeer are not to be missed (especially when you know that there are only 34 in the world). It’s a great opportunity to see some of them.”
Architecture of the Louvre
“Although today his collection is the most interesting part of the museum, the building itself is also an important exhibit,” Gudek Snajdar said. The building is mainly French Renaissance and Classical in style, she said. The first medieval elements of the old fortress are still visible underground, under the pyramid, around the lobby.
“Its most famous part is probably Claude Perrault’s ‘Colonnade’ on the east facade of the Louvre,” Gudek Snajdar said. “It was built in the 17and century and it is a marvelous example of French classicism. It is made up of Corinthian columns paired with pavilions at the corners of the facade.” She said she has influenced many buildings – the US Capitol in Washington, DC, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York are just a few.
The Louvre pyramid
In 1983, the Louvre underwent a renovation plan known as the Grand Louvre, according to History.com Part of the plan called for a new design for the main entrance. Architect IM Pei won the project and designed an underground hall and a modern glass pyramid structure in the courtyard. Inaugurated in 1988, the pyramid would become a famous design element of the historical museum. “It’s my favorite,” Gudek Snajdar said. “Combining traditional style and modern architecture, it shows the timeless beauty of the Louvre.”
In 1993, the Inverted Pyramid, a skylight plunging into the underground hall, was unveiled, according to the Louvre’s website.
Louvre tickets and hours
Due to its size and the breadth of its collection, it is impossible to see the entirety of the Louvre in a single visit. The museum recorded around 8.1 million visitors in 2017 – so prepare for crowds, especially around the most popular works.
The museum offers a variety of tools to help visitors plan their days, including the “Masterpieces Visitor Trail”, which lasts around 90 minutes and covers the 10 most famous works, floor plan maps and advanced ticket options.
The Louvre is open every day except Tuesdays and the following public holidays: Christmas, New Year’s Day and International Workers’ Day (May 1). The hours are: Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.
As of 2018, admission to the whole museum costs 15 euros (17 euros if ordered online). Admission is free for those under 18, as well as others with proper documentation, such as art teachers, pass holders, and people with disabilities. Admission is also free on special days, such as July 14.