The Louvre Museum (Musée du Louvre), also known as the Grande Louvre, is one of the oldest, largest and most famous museums in the world, and home to some of history’s most iconic artworks.
It contains almost 35,000 objects spanning the course of human history, displayed over an area of 652,300 sq ft within the historic walls of a former French royal palace.
Its 8.5 million visitors per year make it the most visited art museum on Earth, and it dominates the bank of the Seine as one of Paris’ most notable landmarks.
The museum employs a staff of 2,000 led by museum director Henri Loyrette, whose administration since 2001 has seen a transformation in the museum’s policies; a larger number of work is now loaned to other museums across the world, several international partnerships with other institutions have been set up to further research, and a number of high-profile fund-raising events have helped the acquisition budget rise from $4.5m to $36m.
History and foundation
The Louvre museum is housed within the Louvre Palace, a former royal residence built around the remnants of the 12th century fortress of Philiipe II (1165 – 1223).
In the 14th century Charles V converted the building into his royal residence, and in 1546 François I renovated and redecorated the building in the French Renaissance style.
This work was continued by Henri II, who created the Salle des Caryatides on the ground floor and the Pavillon du Roi which housed the King’s apartments. After Henri’s death his widow Catherine de Médicis ordered the building of the Tuileries palace, a new residence within walking distance to the West.
The second half of the 16th century saw new additions and extensions to the building as the two residences were connected by the Galerie du Bord de l’Eau, or Grande Galerie. The Petite Galerie and the Galerie des Rois were also constructed, and the 17th century saw extensive additions such as the Pavillon de l’Horloge and a series of new pavilions.
Louis XIV left the palace and took up residence in Versailles in 1672, leaving the Louvre empty and unfinished. However, in 1692 he ordered that a gallery of antique sculpture should be created in the Salle des Caryatides, and the palace became home to artists from around the country.
The Académie Française, the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture all took up residence and began to hold a series of salons.
The 18th century saw the public demand for a public gallery realised, when in 1750 Louis XV sanctioned the exhibition of 96 pieces from the royal collection for public viewing.
Many proposals for the transformation of the palace into a museum were put forward, but these were not realised until the French Revolution when the National Assembly decreed that the “Louvre and the Tuileries together will be a national palace to house the king and for gathering together all the monuments of the sciences and the arts.”
The palace opened its doors to the public as an official museum on August 10, 1793.
Departments and collections
The museum has the following eight curatorial departments:
Near Eastern Antiquities
This department, first founded in 1881, focuses on early Near Eastern civilizations before the arrival of Islam. It covers the areas of Mesopotamia, Persia and the Levant, and features artefacts from ancient Babylonian and Sumerian cultures. The department offers a comprehensive overview of three civilisations, based on extensive archaeological excavations of the 19th and 20th centuries.
This department features over 50,000 objects and includes artefacts from the Egyptian civilizations dating from 4,000 BC to the 4th century. It was opened on December 15 1827 to house the major collections of Durand, Salt, and Drovetti, which were purchased by King Charles X at the urging of the department’s first curator Jean-François Champollion. It also contained many items from the existing royal collections, along with those of collections of Dr. Clot, Count Tyszkiewicz, and the French consul Delaporte.
Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
This department curates work from the Greek, Etruscan, and Roman civilizations, and encompasses artefacts from Greece, Italy, and the whole of the Mediterranean basin. The collection spans from the Cycladic period to the decline of the Roman Empire, and contains many sculptures from the original royal collections. It opened in 1800, and was bolstered by large additions such as over 500 marbles from the Borghese collection and over 2000 vases from the Durand collection.
The Sculpture department contains work created before 1850 which does not belong in other departments. All post-1850 work is displayed in the Musée d'Orsay, along with all post-revolution paintings and drawings. The department was formed in 1893, and features pieces from the Medieval and Renaissance periods.
This department is the youngest in the museum, having opened in 2003, but it has its roots in the Islamic section of the Department of Decorative Arts which was created in 1890. It exhibits over five thousand works produced in Islamic countries over a period of over thirteen centuries, comprising ceramics, glass, metalware, wood, ivory, carpet, textiles, and miniatures. The department is currently closed, but is due to be re-opened in 2012.
This department contains works spanning the Middle Ages to the mid-19th century, and features work from the original royal collections of the 16th century. The 19th century saw the department extensively expanded with the purchase of a number of large private collections, a large number of donations, and it was finally granted separate departmental status in 1893.
The painting department is home to more than 6,000 works from the 13th century to 1848 and is managed by 12 curators who oversee the collection's display. It has a basis in the royal collection of François I and features work from every European school, from the Italian masters of the Renaissance to French postclassical portraits. The paintings in the department formed the core of the exhibition when the museum was first opened in 1793.
Prints and Drawings
This department comprises of works on paper such as prints, drawings, pastels and miniatures. The origins of the collection were the 8,600 works in the royal collection, and have been added to with a large number of donations. The department opened on 5 August 1797, with 415 pieces displayed in the Galerie d'Apollon. Due to the often fragile nature of the works, they usually appear in small temporary exhibits and can be viewed privately by arrangement.
The most well-known of all the Louvre’s exhibits is Leonardo da Vinci’s painting the Mona Lisa, displayed in the museum as ‘Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo’. Painted in Florence between 1503 and 1506, it was originally part of François I’s collection (although how he acquired it is unknown). It is the most famous painting in the world, and is the Louvre’s primary attraction for millions of visitors every year.
The Venus de Milo (or Aphrodite of Milos) is one of the most famous Ancient Greek sculptures, created between 130 and 100 B.C by the Hellenistic sculptor Alexandros of Antioch. It depicts Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of love and beauty and was discovered in 1820, buried within ancient ruins on the Aegean island of Milos.
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