Musée du Louvre – France, Europe
The Musée du Louvre, in English, the Louvre Museum or simply the Louvre – is one of the world’s largest museums, the most visited art museum in the world and a historic monument. A central landmark of Paris, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the 1st arrondissement (district). Nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 19th century are exhibited over an area of 60,600 square metres (652,300 square feet).
The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace (Palais du Louvre) which began as a fortress built in the late 12th century under Philip II. Remnants of the fortress are visible in the basement of the museum. 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 antique 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 size of the collection increased under Napoleon and the museum was renamed the Musée Napoléon. After the defeat of Napoléon at Waterloo, 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 gifts since the Third Republic. As of 2008, 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 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. In popular culture, the Louvre was 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.
The Louvre is owned by the French government; however, since the nineties 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. 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 Henri Loyrette, who reports to the French Ministry of Culture and Communications. 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 addition, the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi generated further income for the museum. 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
The Louvre is involved in controversies that surround cultural property seized during World War II by the Nazis and under Napoleon I. After Nazi occupation, 61,233 articles on more than 150,000 seized artworks returned to France and were assigned to the Office des Biens Privés. In 1949 it entrusted 2130 remaining unclaimed pieces (including 1001 paintings) to the Direction des Musées de France in order to keep them under appropriate conditions of conservation until their restitution, and meanwhile classified them as MNRs (Musees Nationaux Recuperation or, in English : National Museums of Recovered Artwork). Some 10 % to 35 % of the pieces are believed to come from Jewish spoliationsand until the identification of their rightful owners, which declined at the end of the 1960s, they are registered indefinitely on separate inventories from the museums collections.
They were exhibited in 1946 and shown all together to the public during four years (1950–1954) in order to allow rightful claimants to identify their properties, then stored or exposed, according to their interest, in several French museums including the Louvre. From 1951 to 1965, about 37 pieces were restituted. Since November 1996, the partly illustrated catalogue of 1947–1949 has been accessible online and completed. In 1997, Prime Minister Alain Juppé initiated the Mattéoli Commission, headed by Jean Mattéoli, to investigate the matter and according to the government, the Louvre is in charge of 678 pieces of still unclaimed artworks by their rightful owners. During the late 1990s the comparison of the American war archives, which had not been done before, with the French and German ones as well as two court cases which finally settled some of the heirs’ rights (Gentili di Giuseppe and Rosenberg families) allowed more accurate investigations. Since 1996, the restitutions, according sometimes to less formal criteria, concerned 47 more pieces (26 paintings, with 6 from the Louvre including a then displayed Tiepolo), until the last claims of French owners and their heirs ended again in 2006.
According to Serge Klarsfeld, since the now complete and constant publicity which the artworks got in 1996, the majority of the French Jewish community is nevertheless in favour of the return to the normal French civil rule of prescription acquisitive of any unclaimed good after another long period of time and consequently to their ultimate integration into the common French heritage instead of their transfer to foreign institutions like during World War II.
Napoleon’s campaigns acquired Italian pieces by treaties, as war reparations, and Northern European pieces as spoils as well as some antiquities excavated in Egypt, though the vast majority of the latter were seized as war reparations by the British army and are now part of collections of the British Museum. On the other hand, the Dendera zodiac is, like the Rosetta stone, claimed by Egypt even though it was acquired in 1821, before the Egyptian Anti-export legislation of 1835. The Louvre administration has thus argued in favor of retaining this item despite requests by Egypt for its return. The museum participates too in arbitration sessions held via UNESCO’s Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to Its Countries of Origin. The museum consequently returned in 2009 five Egyptian fragments of frescoes (30 cm x 15 cm each) whose existence of the tomb of origin had only been brought to the authorities attention in 2008, eight to five years after their good-faith acquisition by the museum from two private collections and after the necessary respect of the procedure of déclassement from French public collections before the Commission scientifique nationale des collections des musées de France.
The department, comprising over 50,000 pieces, includes artifacts from the Nile civilizations which date from 4,000 BC to the 4th century. The collection, among the world’s largest, overviews Egyptian life spanning Ancient Egypt, the Middle Kingdom, the New Kingdom, Coptic art, and the Roman, Ptolemaic, and Byzantine periods. The department’s origins lie in the royal collection, but it was augmented by Napoleon’s 1798 expeditionary trip with Dominique Vivant, the future director of the Louvre. After Jean-François Champollion translated the Rosetta Stone, Charles X decreed that an Egyptian Antiquities department be created. Champollion advised the purchase of three collections, the Durand, Salt and Drovetti; these additions added 7,000 works. Growth continued via acquisitions by Auguste Mariette, founder of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Mariette, after excavations at Memphis, sent back crates of archaeological finds including The Seated Scribe.
Guarded by the Large Sphinx (c. 2000 BC), the collection is housed in more than 20 rooms. Holdings include art, papyrus scrolls, mummies, tools, clothing, jewelry, games, musical instruments, and weapons. Pieces from the ancient period include the Gebel el-Arak Knife from 3400 BC, The Seated Scribe, and the Head of King Djedefre. Middle Kingdom art, “known for its gold work and statues”, moved from realism to idealization; this is exemplified by the schist statue of Amenemhatankh and the wooden Offering Bearer. The New Kingdom and Coptic Egyptian sections are deep, but the statue of the goddess Nephthys and the limestone depiction of the goddess Hathor demonstrate New Kingdom sentiment and wealth.
The painting collection has more than 6,000 works from the 13th century to 1848 and is managed by 12 curators who oversee the collection’s display. Nearly two-thirds are by French artists, and more than 1,200 are Northern European. The Italian paintings compose most of the remnants of Francis I and Louis XIV’s collections, others are unreturned artwork from the Napoleon era, and some were bought. The collection began with Francis, who acquired works from Italian masters such as Raphael and Michelangelo, and brought Leonardo da Vinci to his court. After the French Revolution, the Royal Collection formed the nucleus of the Louvre. When the d’Orsay train station was converted into the Musée d’Orsay in 1986, the collection was split, and pieces completed after the 1848 Revolution were moved to the new museum. French and Northern European works are in the Richelieu wing and Cour Carrée; Spanish and Italian paintings are on the first floor of the Denon wing.
Exemplifying the French School are the early Avignon Pietà of Enguerrand Quarton; the anonymous painting of King Jean le Bon (c.1360), possibly the oldest independent portrait in Western painting to survive from the postclassical era; Hyacinthe Rigaud’s Louis XIV; Jacques-Louis David’s The Coronation of Napoleon; and Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People. Northern European works include Johannes Vermeer’s The Lacemaker and The Astronomer; Caspar David Friedrich’s The Tree of Crows; Rembrandt’s The Supper at Emmaus, Bathsheba at Her Bath, and The Slaughtered Ox.
The Italian holdings are notable, particularly the Renaissance collection. The works include Andrea Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini’s Calvarys, which reflect realism and detail “meant to depict the significant events of a greater spiritual world”. The High Renaissance collection includes Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Virgin and Child with St. Anne, St. John the Baptist, and Madonna of the Rocks. Caravaggio is represented by The Fortune Teller and Death of the Virgin. From 16th century Venice, the Louvre displays Titian’s Le Concert Champetre, The Entombment and The Crowning with Thorns.
The La Caze Collection, a bequest to the Musée du Louvre in 1869 by Louis La Caze was the largest contribution of a person in the history of the Louvre. La Caze gave 584 paintings of his personal collection to the museum. The bequest included Antoine Watteau’s Commedia dell’arte player of Pierrot (“Gilles”). In 2007, this bequest was the topic of the exhibition “1869: Watteau, Chardin… entrent au Louvre. La collection La Caze”.
Some of the best known paintings of the museum have been digitized by the French Center for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France.
The museum lies in the centre of Paris on the Right Bank. The neighborhood, known as the 1st arrondissement, is home to the destroyed Palais des Tuileries. The adjacent Tuileries Gardens, created in 1564 by Catherine de Medici, was designed in 1664 by André Le Nôtre. The gardens house the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, a contemporary art museum that was used to store Jewish cultural property from 1940 to 1944. Parallel to the Jeu de Paume is the Orangerie, home to the famous Waterlilly paintings by Monet.
The Louvre is slightly askew of the axe historique (Historic Axis), a roughly eight-kilometre (five-mile) architectural line bisecting the city. It begins on the east in the Louvre courtyard and runs west along the Champs-Élysées. In 1871, the burning of the Tuileries Palace by the Paris Commune revealed that the Louvre was slightly askew of the Axe despite past appearances to the contrary. The Louvre can be reached by the Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre Métro or the Louvre-Rivoli stations.
There are three entrances: the main entrance at the pyramid, an entrance from the Carrousel du Louvre underground shopping mall, and an entrance at the Porte des Lions (near the western end of the Denon wing).
Under the main entrance to the museum is the Carrousel du Louvre, a shopping mall operated by Unibail-Rodamco. Among other stores, it has the first Apple Store in France, and a McDonald’s restaurant, the presence of which has created controversy.
The use of cameras and video recorders is permitted inside. Use of flashes is forbidden.