The Louvre, or the Louvre Museum, is the world's largest art museum and a historic monument in Paris, France. A central landmark of the city, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the city's 1st arrondissement (district or ward). Approximately 38,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century are exhibited over an area of 72,735 square meters (782,910 square feet). In 2019, the Louvre received 9.6 million visitors, making it the most visited museum in the world.
The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as the Louvre castle in the late 12th to 13th century under Philip II. Remnants of the fortress are visible in the basement of the museum. Due to urban expansion, the fortress eventually lost its defensive function, and in 1546 Francis I converted it into the primary residence of the French Kings. The building was extended many times to form the present Louvre Palace. In 1682, Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles for his household, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection, including, from 1692, a collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. In 1692, the building was occupied by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, which in 1699 held the first of a series of salons. The Académie remained at the Louvre for 100 years. During the French Revolution, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display the nation's masterpieces.
The museum opened on 10 August 1793 with an exhibition of 537 paintings, the majority of the works being royal and confiscated church property. Because of structural problems with the building, the museum was closed in 1796 until 1801. The collection was increased under Napoleon and the museum was renamed Musée Napoléon, but after Napoleon's abdication, many works seized by his armies were returned to their original owners. The collection was further increased during the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X, and during the Second French Empire the museum gained 20,000 pieces. Holdings have grown steadily through donations and bequests since the Third Republic. The collection is divided among eight curatorial departments: Egyptian Antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Art; Sculpture; Decorative Arts; Paintings; Prints and Drawings.
The Louvre Palace, which houses the museum, was begun as a fortress by Philip II in the 12th century to protect the city from English soldiers which were in Normandy. Remnants of this castle are still visible in the crypt. Whether this was the first building on that spot is not known; it is possible that Philip modified an existing tower. According to the authoritative Grand Larousse encyclopédique, the name derives from an association with wolf hunting den (via Latin: lupus, lower Empire: lupara). In the 7th century, St. Fare, an abbess in Meaux, left part of her "Villa called Luvra situated in the region of Paris" to a monastery, this territory probably did not correspond exactly to the modern site, however.
The Louvre Palace was altered frequently throughout the Middle Ages. In the 14th century, Charles V converted the building into a residence and in 1546, Francis I renovated the site in French Renaissance style. Francis acquired what would become the nucleus of the Louvre's holdings, his acquisitions including Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. After Louis XIV chose Versailles as his residence in 1682, constructions slowed; however, the move permitted the Louvre to be used as a residence for artists, under Royal patronage. Four generations of Boulle were granted Royal patronage and resided in the Louvre in the following order: Pierre Boulle, Jean Boulle, Andre-Charles Boulle and his four sons (Jean-Philippe, Pierre-Benoît (c. 1683–1741), Charles-André (1685–1749) and Charles-Joseph (1688–1754)), after him. André-Charles Boulle (1642–1732) is the most famous French cabinetmaker and the preeminent artist in the field of marquetry, also known as "Inlay". Boulle was "the most remarkable of all French cabinetmakers". He was commended to Louis XIV of France, the "Sun King", by Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619–1683) as being "the most skilled craftsman in his profession". Before the fire of 1720 destroyed them, André-Charles Boulle held priceless works of art in the Louvre, including forty-eight drawings by Raphael.
By the mid-18th century there were an increasing number of proposals to create a public gallery, with the art critic La Font de Saint-Yenne publishing, in 1747, a call for a display of the royal collection. On 14 October 1750, Louis XV agreed and sanctioned a display of 96 pieces from the royal collection, mounted in the Galerie royale de peinture of the Luxembourg Palace. A hall was opened by Le Normant de Tournehem and the Marquis de Marigny for public viewing of the Tableaux du Roy on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and contained Andrea del Sarto's Charity and works by Raphael; Titian; Veronese; Rembrandt; Poussin or Van Dyck, until its closing in 1780 as a result of the gift of the palace to the Count of Provence (the future king, Louis XVIII) by the king in 1778. Under Louis XVI, the royal museum idea became policy. The comte d'Angiviller broadened the collection and in 1776 proposed conversion of the Grande Galerie of the Louvre – which contained maps – into the "French Museum". Many proposals were offered for the Louvre's renovation into a museum; however, none was agreed on. Hence the museum remained incomplete until the French Revolution.
During the French Revolution the Louvre was transformed into a public museum. In May 1791, the Assembly declared that the Louvre would be "a place for bringing together monuments of all the sciences and arts". On 10 August 1792, Louis XVI was imprisoned and the royal collection in the Louvre became national property. Because of fear of vandalism or theft, on 19 August, the National Assembly pronounced the museum's preparation as urgent. In October, a committee to "preserve the national memory" began assembling the collection for display.
The museum opened on 10 August 1793, the first anniversary of the monarchy's demise. The public was given free accessibility on three days per week, which was "perceived as a major accomplishment and was generally appreciated". The collection showcased 537 paintings and 184 objects of art. Three quarters were derived from the royal collections, the remainder from confiscated émigrés and Church property (biens nationaux). To expand and organize the collection, the Republic dedicated 100,000 livres per year. In 1794, France's revolutionary armies began bringing pieces from Northern Europe, augmented after the Treaty of Tolentino (1797) by works from the Vatican, such as Laocoön and His Sons and the Apollo Belvedere, to establish the Louvre as a museum and as a "sign of popular sovereignty".
The early days were hectic; privileged artists continued to live in residence, and the unlabelled paintings hung "frame to frame from floor to ceiling". The structure itself closed in May 1796 due to structural deficiencies. It reopened on 14 July 1801, arranged chronologically and with new lighting and columns.
Under Napoleon I, a northern wing paralleling the Grande Galerie was begun, and the collection grew through successful military campaigns. Following the Egyptian campaign of 1798–1801, Napoléon appointed the museum's first director, Dominique Vivant Denon. In tribute, the museum was renamed the "Musée Napoléon" in 1803, and acquisitions were made of Spanish, Austrian, Dutch, and Italian works, either as spoils or through treaties such as the Treaty of Tolentino. At the end of Napoleon's First Italian Campaign in 1797, the Treaty of Campo Formio was signed with Count Philipp von Cobenzl of the Austrian Monarchy. This treaty not only marked the completion of Napoleon's conquest of Italy, but also the end of the first phases of the French Revolutionary Wars. Under this treaty, Italian cities were required to contribute pieces of art and patrimony to take part in Napoleon's "parades of booty" through Paris before being put into the Louvre Museum. One of the most famous pieces taken under this program was the Horses of Saint Mark. The four antique bronze horses, which had adorned the basilica of San Marco in Venice after the sack of Constantinople in 1204, were brought to Paris to reside atop Napoleon's Arc du Carrousel in Paris in 1797.
Several churches and palaces, including Saint Mark's Basilica, were looted by the French, which outraged the Italians and their artistic and cultural sensibilities. In 1797, the Treaty of Tolentino was signed by Napoleon, and two statues, the Nile and Tiber, were taken to Paris. These statues had previously been in the Vatican, and both were housed in the Louvre until 1815. After the defeat of Napoleon, the Nile was returned to Italy. However, the Tiber remained in the Louvre Museum and can be seen in the collections today.
The Italian Peninsula was not the only region from which Napoleon took art. Under the Directory government of the 1790s, Napoleon (then a General) led an expedition to Egypt. The campaign was an expansionist effort on the part of the government, but the Directory had another goal to make Paris the center of art, science, and culture. The Directory wanted France to assume responsibility for liberating the works of art they deemed in danger in order to protect and nationalize the heritage and culture of their subjects. As a result, there were teams of artists and scientists who accompanied the armies into battle equipped with lists of paintings, sculptures, and other pieces of patrimony that would be collected, crated, and shipped back to France.
Dominique Vivant Denon was Napoleon's art advisor, and accompanied him on the expedition to Egypt. Through his initiative, the Valley of the Kings in Egypt was discovered and studied extensively. As a result, he was later installed by Napoleon as the director of Musée Napoléon, formerly the Louvre, cementing the status of the museum as a center for global patrimony and storehouse for cultural heritage.
One of the most important discoveries made during Napoleon's campaign in Egypt was the Rosetta Stone. It was discovered in 1799, and eventually led to the ability to decipher ancient hieroglyphs. Although the Rosetta Stone was discovered by the French, it actually never made it to the Louvre Museum. It was seized by British Forces following the defeat of Napoleon in Egypt and the subsequent signing of the Treaty of Alexandria in 1801. It is now on display at the British Museum.
After the French defeat at Waterloo, the works' former owners sought their return. The Louvre's administrators were loath to comply and hid many works in their private collections. In response, foreign states sent emissaries to London to seek help, and many pieces were returned, even some that had been restored by the Louvre. In 1815 Louis XVIII finally concluded agreements with the Austrian government for the keeping of pieces such as Veronese's Wedding at Cana which was exchanged for a large Le Brun or the repurchase of the Albani collection.
Restoration and Second Empire
During the Restoration (1814–1830), Louis XVIII and Charles X between them added 135 pieces at a cost of 720,000 francs and created the department of Egyptian antiquities curated by Champollion, increased by more than 7,000 works with the acquisition of antiquities in the Edme-Antoine Durand, the Egyptian collection of Henry Salt or the second collection former by Bernardino Drovetti. This was less than the amount given for rehabilitation of Versailles, and the Louvre suffered relative to the rest of Paris. After the creation of the French Second Republic in 1848, the new government allocated two million francs for repair work and ordered the completion of the Galerie d'Apollon, the Salon Carré, and the Grande Galérie. In 1861, Napoleon III bought 11,835 artworks including 641 paintings, Greek gold and other antiquities of the Campana collection. Between 1852 and 1870, under Napoleon III, the museum added 20,000 new pieces to its collections, and the Pavillon de Flore and the Grande Galérie were remodelled under architects Louis Visconti and Hector Lefuel.
Damage during the 1871 Paris Commune
The Louvre was damaged during the suppression of the Paris Commune. On 23 May 1871, as the French Army advanced into Paris, a force of Communards led by Jules Bergeret set fire to the adjoining Tuileries Palace. The fire burned for forty-eight hours, entirely destroying the interior of the palace and spreading to the museum next to it. The library of the museum and some of the adjoining halls were destroyed, but the museum was saved by the efforts of Paris firemen and museum employees.
Third Republic and World Wars
During the Third Republic (1870–1940) the Louvre acquired new pieces mainly via donations and gifts. The Société des amis du Louvre (established in 1897) donated the Pietà of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, and in 1863 an expedition uncovered the sculpture Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Aegean Sea. This piece, though heavily damaged, has been prominently displayed since 1884. The 583-item Collection La Caze donated in 1869, included works by Chardin; Fragonard; Rembrandt – such as Bathsheba at Her Bath – and Gilles by Watteau.
Museum expansion slowed after World War I, and the collection did not acquire many significant new works; exceptions were Georges de La Tour's Saint Thomas and Baron Edmond de Rothschild's (1845–1934) 1935 donation of 4,000 prints, 3,000 drawings, and 500 illustrated books. At the beginning of World War II the museum removed most of the art and hid valuable pieces. When Germany occupied the Sudetenland, many important artworks such as the Mona Lisa were temporarily moved to the Château de Chambord. When war was formally declared a year later, most of the museum's paintings were sent there as well. Select sculptures such as Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo were sent to the Château de Valençay. On 27 August 1939, after two days of packing, truck convoys began to leave Paris. By 28 December, the museum was cleared of most works, except those that were too heavy and "unimportant paintings [that] were left in the basement". In early 1945, after the liberation of France, art began returning to the Louvre.
Grand Louvre Pyramids
By 1874, the Louvre Palace had achieved its present form of an almost rectangular structure with the Sully Wing to the east containing the Cour Carrée (Square Court) and the oldest parts of the Louvre; and two wings which wrap the Cour Napoléon, the Richelieu Wing to the north and the Denon Wing, which borders the Seine to the south. In 1983, French President François Mitterrand proposed, as one of his Grands Projets, the Grand Louvre plan to renovate the building and relocate the Finance Ministry, allowing displays throughout the building. Architect I. M. Pei was awarded the project and proposed a glass pyramid to stand over a new entrance in the main court, the Cour Napoléon. The pyramid and its underground lobby were inaugurated on 15 October 1988 and the Louvre Pyramid was completed in 1989. The second phase of the Grand Louvre plan, the Pyramide Inversée (Inverted Pyramid), was completed in 1993. As of 2002, attendance had doubled since completion.
The Musée du Louvre contains more than 380,000 objects and displays 35,000 works of art in eight curatorial departments with more than 60,600 square metres (652,000 sq ft) dedicated to the permanent collection. The Louvre exhibits sculptures, objets d'art, paintings, drawings, and archaeological finds. It is the world's most visited museum, averaging 15,000 visitors per day, 65 percent of whom are foreign tourists.
After architects Mario Bellini and Rudy Ricciotti had won an international competition to create its new galleries for Islamic art, the new 3,000 sq m pavilion eventually opened in 2012, consisting of ground- and lower-ground-level interior spaces topped by a golden, undulating roof (fashioned from almost 9,000 steel tubes that form an interior web) that seems to float within the neo-Classical Visconti Courtyard in the middle of the Louvre's south wing. The galleries, which the museum had initially hoped to open by 2009, represent the first major architectural intervention at the Louvre since the addition of I.M. Pei's glass pyramid in 1989.
On 5 February 2015, about one hundred archaeologists, protesting against commercial private involvement to protect France's heritage, blocked Louvre's ticket desks to facilitate free access to the museum. At least one announcement reading "Free entrance offered by the archeologists" was attached to the ticket desk and a number of people visited the museum free of charge.
The Louvre is owned by the French government; however, since the 1990s it has become more independent. Since 2003, the museum has been required to generate funds for projects. By 2006, government funds had dipped from 75 percent of the total budget to 62 percent. Every year, the Louvre now raises as much as it gets from the state, about €122 million. The government pays for operating costs (salaries, safety and maintenance), while the rest – new wings, refurbishments, acquisitions – is up to the museum to finance. A further €3 million to €5 million a year is raised by the Louvre from exhibitions that it curates for other museums, while the host museum keeps the ticket money. As the Louvre became a point of interest in the book The Da Vinci Code and the 2006 film based on the book, the museum earned $2.5 million by allowing filming in its galleries. In 2008, the French government provided $180 million of the Louvre's yearly $350 million budget; the remainder came from private contributions and ticket sales.
The Louvre employs a staff of 2,000 led by Director Jean-Luc Martinez, who reports to the French Ministry of Culture and Communications. Martinez replaced Henri Loyrette in April 2013. Under Loyrette, who replaced Pierre Rosenberg in 2001, the Louvre has undergone policy changes that allow it to lend and borrow more works than before. In 2006, it loaned 1,300 works, which enabled it to borrow more foreign works. From 2006 to 2009, the Louvre lent artwork to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, and received a $6.9 million payment to be used for renovations.
In 2012, the Louvre and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco announced a five-year collaboration on exhibitions, publications, art conservation and educational programming. The €98.5 million expansion of the Islamic Art galleries in 2012 received state funding of €31 million, as well as €17 million from the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation founded by the eponymous Saudi prince. The republic of Azerbaijan, the Emir of Kuwait, the Sultan of Oman and King Mohammed VI of Morocco donated in total €26 million. In addition, the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi is supposed to provide €400 million over the course of 30 years for its use of the museum's brand. Loyrette has tried to improve weak parts of the collection through income generated from loans of art and by guaranteeing that "20% of admissions receipts will be taken annually for acquisitions". He has more administrative independence for the museum and achieved 90 percent of galleries to be open daily, as opposed to 80 percent previously. He oversaw the creation of extended hours and free admission on Friday nights and an increase in the acquisition budget to $36 million from $4.5 million.
On the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci's death, the Louvre held the largest ever single exhibit of his work, from 24 October 2019 to 24 February 2020. The event included over a hundred items: paintings, drawings and notebooks. A full 11 of the fewer than 20 paintings that Da Vinci completed in his lifetime were displayed. Five of them are owned by the Louvre, but the Mona Lisa was not included because it is in such great demand among visitors to the Louvre museum; the work remained on display in its gallery. Salvator Mundi was also not included since the Saudi owner did not agree to move the work from its hiding place. Vitruvian Man, however, was on display, after a successful legal battle with its owner, the Galleria dell'Accademia in Venice.