Immerse yourself in the history of the Louvre

Immerse yourself in the history of the Louvre

November 2nd, 2023

The Louvre Museum opened its doors almost 230 years ago in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, and today remains the most visited museum in France. With nearly 10 million visitors per year, this Parisian emblem with its famous glass pyramid has something to appeal to lovers of art and history. But do you know in detail the origins of this Parisian museum? Focus on 9 little-known facts about history of the Louvre museum.

Palace, museum, fortress… The 1001 lives of the Louvre museum

And the Louvre museum was inaugurated in the 18th century, its origins are much older, and the place had many functions before becoming the most famous museum in France. It all begins at the end of the 12th century. At the time, the Louvre was a fortress created by Philippe Auguste with the aim of asserting its power and authority, while ensuring the defense of the city.

The building was then small, then the fortified castle underwent numerous expansions until the 14th century, when it became the Royal residence of Charles V, then of Francis I. The medieval construction gradually gave way to a more modern Louvre palace, and it was Henry IV who added the Tuileries garden to it.

In the 17th century, King Louis XIV decided to establish his main residence in the Château de Versailles, and it was only a century later that the Louvre Palace would be transformed into a museum. Before that, many kings made changes to the royal palace, such as Napoleon III, Louis XIII, or even Charles by the architect Pierre Lescot.

The works of the Louvre: a collection created well before the inauguration of the museum

The walls of the Louvre were not the only ones to be born well before the inauguration of the museum, because the art collection also had its beginnings before the end of the 18th century. Indeed, long before the project saw the light of day, many pieces were already kept by the kings of France, dating back to the Renaissance. Marked by an interest in art and beautiful things, they loved acquire beautiful pieces to decorate their interior or to create collections.

King Louis XII, like Francis I, for example, particularly liked the works of Leonardo da Vinci, to the point of protecting the artist and his works. Purchases of works of art have thus fluctuated over the centuries, until it was decided to exhibit in a museum the most beautiful pieces of the crown collection

The Louvre Museum was not always called that

History of the Louvre museum was not at all a smooth river, and the developments were numerous, often influenced by the national context, such as the French Revolution and the world wars. Among the interesting anecdotes concerning the museum, it is surprising to learn that the Louvre Museum was occasionally renamed by Napoleon I. Indeed, the emperor always showed his interest in the building, even before his coronation in 1804. A major player in the developments of the museum, he even went so far as to change its name, to call it “Bonaparte museum“.

Building on his numerous campaigns around the world, he managed to requisition a multitude of pieces for the museum’s collection. In 1815, upon his fall, he was forced to return part of the works, but still managed to keep some of them.

From a few hundred to tens of thousands of works

Open since 1793, the Louvre museum has never stopped growing and welcoming new works. Thus, if the building had nearly 700 rooms (including 500 paintings) when it opened, it now has more than 500,000 pieces, of which 35,000 are on display, from painting to sculpture, including architecture and engraving.

Over time, the Louvre collection opens up to other eras and other civilizations, covering the different art forms of Asia, Oceania, Africa, and the Americas, from Antiquity to the 19th century.

Among the greatest works, we find The Mona Lisa, The Venus de Milo, Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix, and the Victory of Samothrace.

The statue of Aïn Ghazal: the oldest piece in the Louvre

The Louvre Museum’s art collection covers a vast period of our history, but the oldest piece was found in Jordan, and dates from over 9,000 years old. It’s here statue of Aïn Ghazal, built 7,000 years before our era, which ranks as the oldest of the works of the Louvre.

This white plaster sculpture, more than a meter high, is on display in the department of Near Eastern antiquities. Other similar statues have been discovered, but most of them are on display at the Jordan Museum, Jordan.

A story marked by the theft of the Mona Lisa

Lovers of detective novels have probably already read several books setting their plot on the flight of the Mona Lisa. It must be said that this emblematic work attracts curiosity and desire. But this scenario is not fictitious, because Leonardo da Vinci’s work was indeed stolen in 1911 from the Louvre museum.

In August 1911, an artist noticed that the Carré salon was empty, Mona Lisa had disappeared! The investigation will be tedious, going so far as to incriminate Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire. It was only in 1913 that it was discovered that the Mona Lisa had been stolen by an Italian glazier, who had taken advantage of work in the museum to steal the work. Since Louvre Museum is in the Guinness World Records: the seat of the most precious object ever stolen.

Works preserved during the Second World War

In times of unrest and war, collector’s items often die hard. Highly coveted, they are often the subject of searches and kidnapping. The Louvre Museum is no exception, and to avoid too great losses during the First World War, several works were moved to the south of the country. But the evacuation was even more impressive during the Second World War, where nearly 3,700 works were transported to several castles in France, and in particular the Château de Chambord, in Loir-et-Cher.

As for the remaining pieces in the Louvre museum, less precious or too fragile to be moved, they have been protected in basements, while the building was barricaded with sandbags. Throughout the war, the movements of the Germans were scrupulously monitored, in order to avoid any bombing of the Louvre museum.

The museum with multiple records

With such a history, such success and such works within it, the Louvre Museum has been included in the Guinness World Records several times:

  • Most visited museum in the world, with 10 million entries in one year;
  • The most precious object ever stolen, with the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911;
  • The largest art museum in the world, with 243,000 m² of surface area (360,000 m² including gardens), and exhibition rooms covering 73,000 m²;
  • The largest palace, now operated as a museum.

The Louvre pyramid, the 3rd most popular work in the museum

When we think of the Louvre, we think of the thousands of works on display, but we also think of the famous glass pyramid. And for good reason, it represents the 3rd most appreciated work by visitors to the Louvre Museum.

Built in 1981, on the initiative of François Mitterrand, the pyramid of Louvre modernizes the museum with its 21 meter high structure made up of 673 glass diamonds.

These unusual information about the Louvre museum will make you see this Parisian museum differently. Then book a room at the Cadet residence, and take the time to rediscover the Louvre Museum by soaking up its history.

Return to blog