The Louvre or The Louvre Museum is one of the largest museums of the world.
The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as the Louvre castle in the late 12th to 13th century under Philip II. Remnants of the fortress are visible in the basement of the museum. Due to the urban expansion of the city, the fortress eventually lost its defensive function and, in 1546, was converted by Francis I into the main residence of the French Kings.
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 ancient Greek and Roman 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 collection was increased under Napoleon and the museum was renamed Musée Napoléon, but after Napoleon’s abdication 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 bequests since the Third Republic. 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.
In the front of the palace which houses the museum is the Louvre Pyramid (Pyramide du Louvre) which is a large glass and metal pyramid designed by Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei. It is surrounded by three smaller pyramids, in the main courtyard (Cour Napoléon) of the Louvre Palace (Palais du Louvre). The large pyramid serves as the main entrance to the Louvre Museum. Completed in 1989, it has become a landmark of the city of Paris.
Below the Coeur Carré of the Musée de Louvre are the remains of the Medieval walls and dungeons of the Louvre Palace. These are the walls and bastions of the original Palais du Louvre over which the later structures and the subsequent museum was built.
And just besides these is the underground shopping centre of the Carrousel du Louvre. This posh modern shopping mall comprises of shops on two levels and almost all the modern brands are represented in it. From clothings to stationary to curios and toys, the mall has a rich food court, stationary shops and gift shops.
The whole Museum is divided into three wings and a Carousel: Richelieu, Sully and Denon spread on two floors:
Amongst one of the most celebrated exhibits at Louvre is “The Wedding Feast at Cana” (1563), by the Italian artist Paolo Veronese (1528–88), which is a representational painting that depicts the biblical story of the Marriage at Cana, at which Jesus converts water to wine (John 2:1–11).
This beautiful canvas is displayed at Denon wing, 1st floor, Mona Lisa room (Room 711) at the Louvre Museum, Paris.
During my visit I had my first date with her in April 2008. I would visit her almost daily without fail for the whole month! She is to be seen and experienced to be believed!
The Renaissance master, Leonardo da Vinci is said to have painted the Mona Lisa around 1503. It depicts Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a Florentine cloth merchant.
A large number of Sculptures too are displayed in two wings of the Louvre. Thus we have “The Venus de Milo” which is an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. Initially it was attributed to the sculptor Praxiteles, but based on an inscription that was on its plinth, the statue is now thought to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch.
Another is “The Winged Victory of Samothrace”, also called the “Nike of Samothrace”, is a marble Hellenistic sculpture of Nike, that was created in about the 2nd century BC. Since 1884, it has been prominently displayed at the Louvre and is one of the most celebrated sculptures in the world.
Another is “The sculpture of the Seated Scribe” or “Squatting Scribe” is a famous work of ancient Egyptian art. It represents a figure of a seated scribe at work.
The world’s first “Assyrian Museum” opened at the Louvre in 1847; annexed to the “Department of Antiques”, it displayed 37 monumental bas-reliefs discovered by Paul-Emile Botta, the French consul in Mosul, at the site of Khorsabad. Shortly afterward, Félicien de Saulcy returned from his archaeological expedition with Palestinian and Jewish antiquities, Ernest Renan’s excavations in Lebanon supplied the core of the Phoenician collection, and the first Cypriot collection was established by Melchior de Vogué.
A fine example of a Carthaginian terra-cotta mask. In the late 9th century BC, the Phoenicians founded, in present-day Tunisia, a “new town” called Qart Hadasht, which the Romans corrupted to Carthage. This life-sized terra-cotta mask was discovered during 20th-century excavations of the necropolis. It depicts a grimacing figure with decorative discs on its forehead and cheeks. Lines are drawn to represent wrinkles. The term “mask” is used by archaeologists to refer to plastic representations of the face with openings for the eyes and usually for the mouth. These masks were common products made by Phoenician craftsmen. They were widely distributed in the Western world and are found in Greece, Cyprus, Sardinia, North Africa, and Spain.
A bas-relief from the Iranian site Masjid-e Suleiman shows a Parthian king from the 2nd or 3rd century AD performing a ritual. This work was an offering to the god Heracles-Verethragna, protector of the royal dynasties, placed in the temple in which it was discovered.
Many old and ancient Persian remains too form a large collection at Louvre. Starting in 1885, French archaeologists carried out wide-ranging excavations there. Most of the artifacts they discovered — tens of thousands in all — ended up in the Louvre.
Thus at the Louvre, we have a limestone column whose top is decorated with two kneeling bulls. Thirty-six of these columns once supported the roof of the 128,000-square-foot audience hall in the Darius palace at Susa.
Another important exhibit is the frieze with archers, among the artifacts from the Darius palace in the Near Eastern Antiquities collection.
The centerpiece of the main Persian room at the Louvre is the upper part of what was a nearly 70-foot-tall limestone column, decorated at the top with two kneeling bulls. Thirty-six of these columns once supported the roof of the 128,000-square-foot audience hall, or apadana, at Susa. The column was pieced together from several fragments that were found on the site.
One can go on and on: the Louvre, after all, is one of the largest Museum of the World! However we will end this tour with some examples of the exquisite ceilings of the Louvre Palace Museum. Here are just a few examples:
There is much much more to be seen and discovered: Renaissance Art to Assyrian to Egyptian to modern European. You name it and that is there at Louvre. Rest assured, if you have not visited Louvre, you have not seen the world!
Professor Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi
[Most of the photographs are taken by me during my several visits to the Louvre in 2008 when I was a Visiting Fellow at MSH, Paris.]