May 22, 2015
Among the many attractions of the City of Light is the Louvre. It is one of the largest and most-visited museums in the world. With over 30,000 pieces of art spread across more than 650,000 square feet of gallery space, visiting the Louvre can seem like a daunting task. Of course you’ll want to see the Mona Lisa and the Venus to Milo, but how do you know what other pieces to see and where to look? Today I am sharing my PDF Louvre guide book: a two-hour guide to the best art. Download the guide here.
A Short History of the Louvre
The Louvre wasn’t always a museum. It actually started out as a fortress in the late 12th century. The city quickly outgrew its defenses, and the Louvre fell into disuse. Construction began on the building that you see today in 1527, and the palace continued to expand as the royal collection of art grew. When Louis XIV built the Palace of Versailles, the French court moved away from Paris and the Louvre once again started to fall into disrepair. With the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, the newly created National Assembly decreed that the Louvre be turned over to the government to become a national museum open to the public. The museum’s doors have been open since August 10, 1793, though at the time it only had a little over 500 paintings, many of which had been confiscated from the royal family and the French nobility.
The Art of War
Napoleon renamed the museum after himself and filled it with artistic spoils of war as his armies swept across the continent. Most notable was a set of antique bronze horses from the façade of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice which he placed on the triumphal arch outside the Louvre. After his fall in 1815 much of the artwork was returned to its rightful owners.
More dubious art dealings took place at the Louvre under the Nazi regime. As the Nazis were coming, conservators at the Louvre hastily packed up thousands of pieces of art and scattered it across the country. When the Nazis arrived, the only things left were a few sculptures that were too difficult to move. However, the Nazis soon found a new use for the building, using it as a clearinghouse to catalog, package and ship art and personal items confiscated from wealthy French (primarily Jewish) families back to Germany. Since the Louvre had resisted working with the Nazis it was not very successful in repatriating its lost artwork.
Want to experience the Louvre firsthand? Sign up for a 2016 tour to France. Details here.