The Musée du Louvre is not only one of the world’s largest museums, but also the most visited art museum on Earth (an average of 15,000 visitors per day), as well as a historic monument. It exhibits nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 19th century over an area of 60,600 square metres (652,300 sq ft) and owns nearly 380,000 pieces.
The Louvre Palace began as a fortress built in the 12th century. In 1682, Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles for his household, leaving the Louvre to display the Royal Collection. During the French Revolution the National Assembly decreed the Louvre should be used as a museum to display the nation’s masterpieces. The museum opened in 1793.
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 underwent numerous reconstructions and restorations over the course of its history. In the 14th century, Charles V converted the building into a residence, and in 1546, Francis I renovated the site in the French Renaissance style. Francis also had the foresight to acquire what would become the nucleus of the Louvre’s holdings, his acquisitions including Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. 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, 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.
By the mid-18th century, the idea of creating a public gallery had taken root, and under the rule of Louis XVI the establishment of a royal museum became policy. It was the comte d’Angiviller’s idea to converse the Grande Galerie of the Louvre – which contained maps – into the ‘French Museum’. However, quarrels and squabbles as to the Louvre’s renovation ensued that the museum wasn’t complete until the French Revolution.
It was in those turbulent times that the National Assembly decreed the Louvre should be used as a museum, to display the nation’s masterpieces. The museum opened on 10 August 1793, the first anniversary of the monarchy’s demise, with an exhibition of 537 paintings and 184 objects of art, the majority of the works being royal and confiscated church property. The public was given free access on three days per week. It should also be emphasised that the Republic dedicated 100,000 livres per year to expand and organise the collection, which, by the way, was greatly facilitated by the fact that France’s revolutionary armies began bringing pieces from across Europe (for instance Laocoön and His Sons and the Apollo Belvedere; however, the latter was later returned to Vatican).
It is both difficult and enlightening to imagine how the museum looked during the Revolution. Artists lived in residence, and the unlabelled paintings simply hung frame to frame on the wall. The building itself closed in May 1796 because of structural deficiencies. It reopened on 14 July 1801, arranged chronologically and with new lighting and columns.
Following the Egyptian campaign of 1798-1801, Napoleon appointed the museum’s first director, Dominique Vivant Denon. The size of the collection grew and the museum was renamed the Musée Napoléon. Change in fortune is the lot of life, however, and Bonaparte was defeated at Waterloo. Despite this pesky reversal of circumstances which necessitated that the stolen artefacts, or spoils of war, returned to their original owners, the collection of the blossoming Louvre museum was further increased during the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X. Between the two of them, they added 135 pieces at a cost of 720,000 francs and created the department of Egyptian antiquities, curated by Champollion, and increased the collection by more than 7,000 works with the acquisition of the Durand, Salt or second Drovetti collections. The Venus de Milo was added to the Louvre’s collection during the reign of Louis XVIII. After the French Second Republic was established 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 that time the Louvre acquired new pieces mainly via donations and gifts. The Société des Amis du Louvre donated the Pietà of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, and in 1863 an expedition uncovered the sculpture Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Aegean Sea. This beautiful piece, though heavily damaged, has been prominently displayed since 1884. Additionally, in 1861 Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte bought 11,835 artworks including 641 paintings of the Campana collection. During the Second French Empire, between 1852 and 1870, the French economy grew; by 1870 the museum had 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. By 1874, the Louvre Palace had achieved its present form of an almost rectangular structure with the Sully Wing to the east containing the square Cour Carrée 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.
The museum’s expansion slowed after World War I, and the collection did not acquire many significant new works. Baron Edmond de Rothschild, however, provided the exception to this disappointing rule by donating 4,000 engravings, 3,000 drawings, and 500 illustrated books in 1935. During World War II the museum removed most of the art and hid valuable pieces. 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 or deemed unimportant. In early 1945, after the liberation of France, art began returning to the Louvre.
In 1983, French President François Mitterrand put forth his famous Grands Projets, one of which was the Grand Louvre plan. In it he suggested the restoration of the building and the relocation of the Ministry of Finance. Architect I. M. Pei, who was awarded the project, 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. The second phase of the Grand Louvre plan, “La Pyramide Inversée” (The Inverted Pyramid), was completed in 1993.
The Louvre is also a business enterprise with a yearly budget of circa $350 million, which employs staff of 2,000. It is owned by the French government; however, it is expected to earn some of its keep. For instance, from 2006 to 2009, the Louvre lent artworks to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and received a $6.9 million payment.
In 2004 it was decided to build a satellite museum on the site of an abandoned coal pit in the former mining town of Lens. The objective was to relieve the crowded Paris Louvre, increase total museum visits, experiment with other museological displays, and improve the industrial north’s economy. Another satellite museum is to be opened in Abu Dhabi
The Louvre’s collection of Egyptian antiquities is among the largest in the world. It comprises over 50,000 pieces and overviews Egyptian life spanning Ancient Egypt, the Middle Kingdom, the New Kingdom, Coptic art, and the Roman, Ptolemaic, and Byzantine periods. Holdings include art, papyrus scrolls, mummies, games, musical instruments, weapons.
Near Eastern Antiquities is the second newest department of the museum. It presents an overview of early Near Eastern civilization, before the arrival of Islam. The department is divided geographically into the Levant, Mesopotamia, and Persia (Iran). The museum contains exhibits from Sumer and the city of Akkad.
One of the museum’s oldest, the Greek, Etruscan, and Roman department displays pieces from the Mediterranean Basin dating from the Neolithic to the 6th century. The collection spans from the Cycladic civilization to the decline of the Roman Empire.
The Islamic art collection is the museum’s latest one as it was separated from the Decorative arts as recently as 2003. The collection comprises ceramics, glass, metalware, wood, ivory, carpet, textiles, and miniatures, with the sum total of more than 5,000 works and 1,000 shards.
The collection spans from the Middle Ages to the mid-19th century. It contains pietre dure bronzes and vases (a technique using cut and fitted stones to create images), ceramics, enamels, stained glass, faience, tapestries, jewellery and maiolicas. It also includes the coronation crown of Louis XIV and Charles V’s sceptre.
The collection has more than 6,000 works from the 13th century to 1848. It contains works of the finest and most celebrated European painters. Some of the best known paintings of the museum have been digitized by the French Centre for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France.
Downing Street is known for housing the official residence of the British Prime Minister, but it also accommodates other British Government figures. Throughout the history, ministers have lived by agreement in whatever rooms they thought necessary. Sometimes they use Downing Street flats only for formal occasions and live elsewhere.
9 Downing Street was named in 2001 and is the Downing Street entrance to the Privy Council Office and currently houses the Chief Whip’s (who is responsible for the party’s voting discipline) office. It was formerly part of Number 10.
10 Downing Street is the official residence of the First Lord of the Treasury, and thus the residence of the British Prime Minister, as in modern times the two roles have been filled by the same person. It has fulfilled this role since 1735.
11 Downing Street has been the official residence of the Second Lord of the Treasury since 1828, and thus the residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On some occasions Number 11 has been occupied not by the Chancellor of the Exchequer but by the individual considered to be the nominal deputy Prime Minister (whether or not they actually took the title); this was particularly common in coalition governments.
12 Downing Street, formerly the Chief Whip’s Office, currently houses the Prime Minister’s Press Office, Strategic Communications Unit and Information and Research Unit. In the 1820s it was occupied by the Judge Advocate-General, although it remained in private ownership. It entered government hands when purchased by the East India Company in 1863, and became occupied by the marine and railway departments of the Board of Trade. It was originally Number 13, but was partially rebuilt and renumbered following the demolition of Number 14 in 1876. It was badly damaged by a fire in 1879, and underwent further changes as a result.
14 Downing Street formerly closed off the western end of the street. It was acquired by the Crown in 1798, and was used by the War Office and Colonial Office in the 19th century. Some parts were demolished in the 1860s, and by 1876 it had been removed completely.
15-16 Downing Street, long since demolished, formerly held the Foreign Office, which also occupied two houses on the west side of the street.
18 Downing Street was occupied by the West India Department of the Colonial Office.
20 Downing Street was occupied by the Tithe Commission.
The prints and drawings department encompasses works on paper. The collection is organized into three sections: the core Cabinet du Roi, 14,000 royal copper printing-plates, and the donations of Edmond de Rothschild. Due to the fragility of the paper medium, only a portion is displayed at one time.
The controversial Pyramids lie at my feet. I pass from an era to another, through a journey in the times of human kind: from the ancient Egyptians, to the Greeks and the Romans (Venus from Milo is staring with linger eyes, and just around the corner, Amor and Psyche live their eternal love story), the Middle Ages (boasting with their tapestries), the Renaissance (Mona Lisa mysteriously smiles from no matter which angle I admire her). Statues of Michelangelo, Leonardo’s paintings (such as “Saint John” or the “Virgin of the Rocks”, heavily spoken about recently), or Rubens, all spread just in front of me. Then, I reach Baroque, Classicism, Impressionism … Renaissance and medieval themes are reinterpreted and brought back to life. French statues with gods and kings are discovered in a sanctuary-like courtyard. I get out through the inverted pyramid, not without thinking if indeed the tomb of Mary Magdalene is hidden under … while peacefully enjoying the Tuilleries, surrounded by art and nature.