TR Robertson — It’s true. According to their web site, the Largest Art Museum in the World is once again open to visitors, following strict guidelines and safety protocol. That museum is The Louvre, located in Paris, France. This prestigious museum has a long and decorated history dating back to its opening as a public museum in 1793. But, this facility and the grounds have been used as many things other than aa museum, dating back to the 1100’s. The following will be a look at this amazing facility, the history prior to the establishment of the museum, a little about the collections and some of the little- known facts about one of the most visited museums in the world.
The Louvre is not only the world’s largest art museum, but it is a historic landmark in the city of Paris. The Louvre is in central Paris on the Right Bank of the Seine River. There are approximately 380,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century, all exhibited in over 782,000 square feet, close to 15 acres. Prior to COVID, The Louvre had 9.6 million visitors in 2019. The galleries are divided into eight departments made up of the Near Eastern Antiquities, Egyptian Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan, Roman, Islamic Art, Sculptures, Decorative Art – including Paintings and Prints & Drawings.
The Louvre was originally built as a castle in the late 12th century for King Philip II. The castle was a garrison fortress and included a prison. Remnants of the fortress walls are still visible in the basement of The Louvre. As the city of Paris expanded, the need for a garrison inside the city disappeared. In 1528, King Francois I demolished the original building and rebuilt it as his royal residence. The size of his residence was extended numerous times, becoming known as the Louvre Palace. His Palace contained numerous paintings, one of which was Leonardo da Vinci’s “La Giaconda” – known today as the “Mona Lisa”. In 1682, Louis XIV, who was King of France, decided to build his royal residence outside of the city of Paris, becoming the magnificent Palace of Versailles. Louis would move the paintings and a collection of Greek and Roman sculptures to Versailles.
In 1692, the former Louvre Palace was occupied by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. The teaching academies would remain at The Louvre for the next 100 years, until the French Revolution. After the French Revolution and the overthrow of the French monarchy, the National Assembly decreed the Louvre should be used as a museum to display France’s masterpieces. This museum opened in 1793 with 537 paintings on display. Much of the artwork was taken from churches and the royal family and other nobles. Due to the age of the building and structural issues, the museum was closed in 1796 until 1801. In 1803, under Napoleon’s direction, the collections in the museum were expanded because of his successful military campaign’s, primarily in Egypt. The name of the museum was change to Musee Napoleon. After Napoleon’s abdication, a lot of the art taken from other countries was returned. During the Second French Empire, under Louis XVII and Charles X, over 20,000 additional works of art were added to the museum’s collection (one of which was the Venus de Milo sculpture), which also included over 7,000 works of art from Egypt. Charles X would also create the Egyptian Antiquities Department.
Napoleon III, in 1852-1870, added 20,000 additional art pieces, one of which was the “Winged Victory of Samothrace”, still on display as visitors enter the museums staircase. By 1874, the Louvre Palace reached its present form still visible today. Any work on the museum slowed during World War I. During World War I & II, artwork was removed and taken to various locations to ensure the safety of the art. Hitler used the museum to store most of the art he had confiscated from his military campaigns. Prior to the Nazi arrival to Paris, curators from The Louvre tried to remove most of the art and valuable pieces and store these in the Chateau de Chambord and the Chateau de Valencay. By December 28, 1939, most of the valuable pieces had been removed.
In 1983, The Grand Louvre Renovation Plan began including hiring architect I.M. Pei. Pei designed the massive glass pyramid which would stand over a new entrance to the museum’s main court, the Court Napoleon. The Louvre Glass Pyramid was completed in 1989 and the smaller pyramid, located inside the larger pyramid, Pyramid Inversee, was completed in 1993. The larger pyramid contains 673 panes of glass. Technically The Louvre is owned by the French government, but there is a move to make The Louvre more independent. The Louvre Abu Dhabi opened in 2017 and features work brought in from 7 other museums. Prior to COVID, The Louvre employed over 2,000 employees. It is currently open with a much smaller staff at the present time. The Louvre recently celebrated the 500th Anniversary of de Vinci’s death featuring the largest single exhibit of his work including hundreds of art pieces and notebooks and 11 of the 20 paintings da Vinci painted.
Trivia From The Louvre
- It would take you 100 days to see every piece of art in The Louvre, assuming you spent 30 seconds in front of each piece.
- “The Mona Lisa” is only 21×30 inches and is protected with bullet proof glass and bodyguards.
- “The Mona Lisa” was stolen in 1911 and disappeared for 2 years before the thief was captured trying to sell the painting.
- “The Mona Lisa” is said to be a painting of the wife of Francesco del Giocondo or possibly a self portrait to da Vinci himself, an allusion to his supposed homosexuality.
- Some art historians believe “The Mona Lisa” in The Louvre is copy of the original, both paintings painted by da Vinci.
- Of the 7,500 paintings on exhibit, 66% are painted by French artists.
- There is a ghost named Belphegor said to haunt the museum. He is said to be around the Tuileries Gardens dressed in red.
- There are two additional pyramids glass pyramids in the courtyard.
- Prior to COVID, The Louvre averaged 15,000 visitors a day, 70% were foreign tourists.
- The Axe historique is a 5-mile architectural line of monuments running through central Paris to the west – The Louvre is in the center.
- Some believe the Dan Brown Da Vinci Code is true and the tomb of Mary Magdalene is located under The Louvre placed there sometime around the 1100’s.
- There is a smaller Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel located across from The Louvre.
- Napoleon hung the “Mona Lisa” in his bedroom during his rule.
- Under The Louvre is a large complex of offices, shops, exhibition spaces, a parking area, an auditorium, and a tourist bus depot.
- “The Venus de Milo” is a Greek statue created in 100 B.C. and also known as “Aphrodite of Milos”.
- Another famous work of art is the painting “Liberty Leading the People” by Delacroix, said to be the painting that inspired Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables”.
- After WW II, The Louvre was used as a storehouse for confiscated art stolen by the Nazi’s and a packing and shipping area to return artwork to the appropriate owners.
- The oldest park in Paris is just outside of The Louvre.
- The Decorative Arts Department displays treasures of former French kings – bronzes, miniatures, tapestries, jewelry, and furniture.
- The Near Eastern Antiquities Department displays collections of Mesopotamian art including work from ancient Assyrians.
- One piece is the “Monument of King Naramsin” from Mesopotamia dating back to 2,000 B.C.
You can tour The Louvre virtually at www.louvre.fr . The Louvre is open every day except Tuesday, from 9-6. Cost for entrance is 17 Euro or $20 U.S. It is best to go to www.ticketlouvre.fr and reserve a time slot to ensure entrance. The cloak room is unavailable to store bags or suitcases, so do not take large packs to The Louvre. Some levels might be closed as well as some exhibits. The online site will give you all the information you will need.
Hopefully, traveling will return to us sooner rather than later. As places open and traveling safely is ensured, if France is on your list of places to visit or return to, make sure you include a day or two for The Louvre.