The Louvre Museum, the largest museum in France

The Louvre Museum is the largest art museum in the world. Located in Paris, this museum houses the most emblematic works of art in history, such as the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci or the Venus de Milo. Originally built as a palace in the 12th century, the Louvre underwent many transformations over the years before being turned into a museum during the French Revolution. Open to the public since 1793, the Louvre Museum welcomes nearly 10 million visitors each year, making it the most visited museum in the world. In this article, we will take a look at the origins of the palace and its transformation into a museum, as well as its pyramid and its famous galleries.

The Louvre Palace

Located in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, the Palais du Louvre is a royal palace located between the Jardin des Tuileries and the Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois church. Main residence of François 1er in 1527, the king decided to modernize it in the spirit of the Renaissance. Wings were added around the palace and from 1564, Catherine de Medici wanted the construction of a new building with a large garden on the site of the Tuileries. This new palace then becomes “the palace of the tuileries”. Under Louis XIV, the Louvre Palace was abandoned in favor of the Palace of Versailles and in 1672, the French Academy joined the Louvre Palace. In 1789, a project for a museum housing the royal collections was considered and improvements were made to the premises of the royal palace. In 1793 the Louvre Museum was inaugurated under the name of Muséum Central des Arts de la République.

The great gallery of the Louvre located in the Denon wing

The Louvre museum

  • The Louvre Museum opened its doors in 1793 and exhibited at the time nearly 600 works from royal collections, churches or emigrant nobles. Over time, the collections of the Louvre Museum are enriched mainly with works from legacies, sponsorships, donations, as well as archaeological discoveries. In 1796, the Galerie d’Apollon located above Anne of Austria’s apartment received drawings and works of art and on August 15, 1797, the first exhibition of drawings by the great masters was inaugurated. Since 1815, the Louvre Museum has been obliged to enrich its collection through purchases or donations, the most important acquisition remaining the Venus de Milo offered by the Marquis de Rivière to Louis XVIII. In 1818, the Tochon collection enabled the Louvre to expand its collection of vases and gave rise to the section of Greek ceramics exhibited in the Campana gallery. Today, the Louvre Museum is spread over 3 wings:
  • The Denon wing,
  • The Sully wing,
  • The Richelieu wing.

The greatest works exhibited at the Louvre Museum

The Louvre Museum houses a vast collection of works of art and famous antiquities made up of paintings, sculptures… The best known are:

  • The Venus de Milo : this statue which represents the goddess Aphrodite found without her arms on the island of Milo, was offered to the Louvre in 1821.
  • The Mona Lisa : this portrait of Mona Lisa is a painting by the Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci. It has been exhibited in the great gallery of the Louvre since 1802.
  • Freedom leading the people: this painting by Eugène Delacroix represents an allegory of freedom through a bare-breasted woman. In France, it also symbolizes freedom and the republic.
  • The Raft of the Medusa : This painting by Théodore Géricault depicts the dead and survivors of the sinking Medusa calling for help from a ship in the distance.
  • The wedding at Cana : this huge painting by the painter Paul Veronese measures 6.7m high by 9.9m wide.
  • The coronation of Napoleon : this gigantic painting by the painter Jacques-Louis David depicts the emperor during his coronation as well as the coronation of Josephine.
  • The horses of Marly : These two marble sculptures represent prancing horses and their groom (employee in charge of looking after the horses).
  • The lion of Monzon: this bronze statue is of Spanish origin and represents a lion with a mouth in the shape of a fountain.
  • The lacemaker : this painting by Johannes Verneer dates from the 17th century and represents a lacemaker absorbed in her work.
  • The mummy : this work is the last mummy present in the Louvre Museum and visible in the space dedicated to Egyptian antiquity.
  • The birds : this monumental work by Georges Braque is a painting that decorates the ceiling of the Henri II room. It is also called “the two birds”.
The Marly courtyard located in the Richelieu wing with its glass roof and its famous horses

The most beautiful rooms of the Louvre Museum

The Louvre Museum has a large number of rooms, each more beautiful than the next. Among these are:

  • The large gallery : located in the Denon wing, this is the largest room in the museum and the busiest. It notably houses the famous collection of Italian paintings such as the Mona Lisa painting.
  • The sarcophagus room : located in the Sully wing, it houses the collections of Egyptian antiquities.
  • The Apollo Gallery : located in the Denon wing, this gallery is reminiscent of the decorations and woodwork that can be admired in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles . Restored in 2004, the gallery houses part of the crown diamonds.
  • The Khorsabad courtyard : located in the Richelieu wing, this gallery brings together statutes and oriental antiquities.
  • The Caryatids room : located in the Sully wing, this room houses around forty sculptures from the Roman period.
  • The Marly courtyard : located in the Richelieu wing, this open-air courtyard was covered with a glass roof in 1993. In this space, there are sculptures from the 17th and 18th centuries as well as the famous Marly horses.
  • The apartments of Napoleon III : located in the Richelieu wing, these apartments include an impressive suite of rooms where decorative arts from the Second Empire are exhibited.

The Louvre pyramid

The Louvre Pyramid is a glass and metal pyramid located in the main courtyard of the Louvre Museum. It was built in 1989 by Chinese-American architect Leoh Mong Pei. With a height of 21.64 meters, the Louvre pyramid is covered with 603 lozenges and 70 triangles of laminated glass. The objective of the pyramid is to provide a large, bright entrance hall to the Louvre Museum, while contrasting architecturally with the surrounding buildings. Opened to the public in 1989, the Louvre pyramid required nearly 4 years of work.

The Louvre-Lens

The Louvre-Lens is a satellite museum of the Louvre Museum, located in the city of Lens, in northern France. Inaugurated on December 12, 2012, it houses around 35,000 works from the large collection of the Louvre Museum. Located on a 120-hectare park, the museum houses works of art spread over an area of approximately 7000 m² of exhibition space. The museum is divided into 3 spaces:

  • The large gallery : 120 meters long and with an area of 3000m², this gallery hosts temporary exhibitions.
  • The glass pavilion : fully glazed and transparent, its surface is 1000m² and it hosts exhibitions in addition to those installed in the large gallery.
  • The temporary gallery : with an area of 1800m², it hosts 2 temporary exhibitions every year, hence its name.

Louvre Abu Dhabi

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is a museum located in the United Arab Emirates. Inaugurated on November 11, 2017, it is a joint project between the French government and the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The museum is located on Saadiyat Island and houses 600 works of art from the Louvre’s collection, as well as works on loan. Designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, the Louvre Abu Dhabi extends over an area of 24,000m² adorned with an openwork dome made up of 7,850 stars in aluminum and steel, measuring 180 meters in diameter. Like the Louvre-Lens, the Louvre Abu Dhabi hosts temporary exhibitions, in addition to its acquisitions. In 2019, nearly 2 million visitors visited the museum.

The Apollo Gallery located in the Denon wing

Virtual tours of the Louvre Museum

Since the Louvre Museum closed on March 17, 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the museum has been offering virtual tours of some of its galleries. These online tours are a way for art lovers to continue enjoying the works of art held in the Louvre, while staying at home.

The Louvre in figures

  • 535,000 works (in 2016)
  • 10 million visitors per year, i.e. 40 visitors per minute,
  • 2,091 employees including 1,232 surveillance agents,
  • 1 guard for each of the 403 showrooms,
  • 900 surveillance cameras,
  • 14 km of corridors and 2000 gates,
  • 10,000 steps and 73 lifts,
  • 9000 years old, date of the oldest work in the Louvre.

Tickets, timetables, prices and all additional information on the museums are available on the website www.louvre.fr

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