The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace (Palais du Louvre) which began as a fortress built in the 12th century under Philip II. Remnants of the fortress are still visible. The building was extended many times to form the present Louvre Palace. In 1674, Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles for his household, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection. 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 confiscated church and royal property. Because of structural problems with the building, the museum was closed in 1796 until 1801. The size of the collection increased under Napoleon when the museum was renamed the Musée Napoléon. After his defeat at Waterloo, many works seized by Napoleon's 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 Empire the museum gained 20,000 pieces. Holdings have grown steadily through donations and gifts since the Third Republic, except during the two World Wars. 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, and Prints and Drawings.
The Louvre Palace (Palais du Louvre) which houses the museum was begun as a fortress by Philip II in the 12th century, with remnants of this building still visible in the crypt. It is not known if this was the first building on that spot, but it is possible that Philip modified an existing tower. The etymology of the name Louvre is also uncertain: it may refer to the structure's status as the largest in 12th century Paris (from the French L'Œuvre, masterpiece), its location in a forest (from the French rouvre, oak), or, according to Larousse, a wolf-hunting den (via Latin: lupus, lower Empire: lupara).
The Louvre Palace was altered frequently throughout the Middle Ages. In the 14th century, Charles V converted the building into a residence and in 1546, Francis I renovated the site in French Renaissance style. Francis acquired what would become the nucleus of the Louvre's holdings, his acquisitions including Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. After Louis XIV chose Versailles as his residence in 1682, constructions slowed; however, the move permitted the Louvre to be used as a residence for artists.
By the mid-18th century there were and increasing number of proposals to create a public gallery with Lafont Saint-Yenne publishing, in 1747, a call for the royal collection's display. In 1750, Louis XV agreed and sanctioned the display of some of the royal collection in the Louvre. A hall was opened for public viewing on Wednesdays and Saturdays and contained Andrea del Sarto's Charity and works by Raphael. Under Louis XVI, the royal museum idea became policy. The comte d'Angiviller broadened the collection and in 1776 proposed conversion of the Grande Galerie—which contained maps—into the "French Museum". Many proposals were offered for the Louvre's renovation into a museum, however none was agreed on. Hence the museum remained incomplete until the French Revolution.
During the French Revolution the Louvre was transformed into a public museum. In May 1791, the Assembly declared that the Louvre would be, "a place for bringing together monuments of all the sciences and arts". On 10 August 1792, Louis XVI was imprisoned and the royal collection in the Louvre became national property. Because of fear of vandalism or theft, on 19 August, the National Assembly pronounced the museum's preparation as urgent. In October, a committee to "preserve the national memory" began assembling the collection for display.
The museum opened on 10 August 1793, the first anniversary of the monarchy's demise. The public was given free access on three days per week, which was "perceived as a major accomplishment and was generally appreciated". The collection showcased 537 paintings and 184 objects of art. Three quarters were derived from the royal collections, the remainder from confiscated émigrés and Church property (biens nationaux). To expand and organize the collection, the Republic dedicated 100,000 livres per year. In 1794, France's revolutionary armies began bringing pieces from across Europe, such as Laocoön and His Sons and the Apollo Belvedere, to establish the Louvre as a museum and as a "sign of popular sovereignty".
The early days were hectic; artists lived in residence, and the unlabelled paintings hung "frame to frame from floor to ceiling". 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.
Under Napoleon I, a northern wing paralleling the Grande Galerie was begun, and the collection grew through successful military campaigns. Following the Egyptian campaign of 1798–1801, Napoléon appointed the museum's first director, Dominique Vivant. In tribute, the museum was renamed the "Musée Napoléon" in 1803, and Spanish, Austrian, Dutch, and Italian works were acquired as spoils. After the French defeat at Waterloo, the former owners sought their return. The Louvre's administrators were loath to comply and hid many works in their private collections. In response, foreign states sent emissaries to London to seek help, and many pieces were returned, even some that had been restored by the Louvre.
During the Restoration (1814–30), Louis XVIII and Charles X between them added 135 pieces at a cost of 720,000 francs. This was less than the amount given for rehabilitation of Versailles, and the Louvre suffered relative to the rest of Paris. After the creation of the French Second Republic 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 Galerie. On 2 December 1851, President Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte staged a coup d'état, ushering in the Second French Empire. Between 1852 and 1870, the French economy grew; the museum added 20,000 new pieces to its collections, and the Pavillon de Flore and the Grande Galerie were remodelled under architects Louis Visconti and Hector Lefuel.
During the French Third Republic 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 piece, though heavily damaged, has been prominently displayed since 1884. More than 7,000 works arrived after the acquisition of the Campana, Durand, Salt, and Drovetti collections. The 389 item Collection Lacaze, included Rembrandts, such as Bathsheba at Her Bath.
Museum expansion slowed after World War I, and the collection did not acquire many significant new works; exceptions were Georges de La Tour's Saint Thomas and Baron Edmond de Rothschild's (1845–1934) 1935 donation of 4,000 engravings, 3,000 drawings, and 500 illustrated books. 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 and "unimportant paintings [that] were left in the basement". In early 1945, after the liberation of France, art began returning to the Louvre.
The Musée du Louvre contains more than 380,000 objects and displays 35,000 works of art in eight curatorial departments with more than 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 foreigners. 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 work than before. In 2006, it loaned 1,300 works, which enabled it to borrow more foreign works. From 2006 to 2009, the Louvre will lend artwork to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, and will receive 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 Palace is an almost rectangular structure, composed of the square Cour Carrée and two wings which wrap the Cour Napoléon to the north and south. In the heart of the complex is the Louvre Pyramid, above the visitor's center. The museum is divided into three wings: the Sully Wing to the east, which contains the Cour Carrée and the oldest parts of the Louvre; the Richelieu Wing to the north; and the Denon Wing, which borders the Seine to the south.
In 1983, French President François Mitterrand proposed the Grand Louvre plan to renovate the building and relocate the Finance Ministry, allowing displays throughout the building. Architect I. M. Pei was awarded the project and proposed a glass pyramid for the central courtyard. 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. As of 2002, attendance had doubled since completion.
The Musée du Louvre contains more than 380,000 objects and displays 35,000 works of art in eight curatorial departments.
Guarded by the Large Sphinx (c. 2000 BCE), 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 BCE, 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 museum contains exhibits from Sumer and the city of Akkad, with monuments such as the Prince of Lagash's Stele of the Vultures from 2,450 BCE and the stele erected by Naram-Suen, King of Akkad, to celebrate a victory over barbarians in the Zagros Mountains. The Code of Hammurabi, discovered in 1901, displays Babylonian Laws prominently, so that no man could plead their ignorance. The Iranian portion contains work from the archaic period, like the Funerary Head and the Persian Archers of Darius I.
The Greek, Etruscan, and Roman department displays pieces from the Mediterranean Basin dating from the Neolithic to the 6th century CE. The collection spans from the Cycladic period to the decline of the Roman Empire. This department is one of the museum's oldest; it began with appropriated royal art, some of which was acquired under Francis I. Initially, the collection focused on marble sculptures, such as the Venus de Milo. Works such as the Apollo Belvedere arrived during the Napoleonic Wars, but these pieces were returned after Napoleon I's fall in 1815. In the 19th century, the Louvre acquired works including vases from the Durand collection, bronzes such as the Borghese Vase from the Bibliothèque nationale.
The archaic is demonstrated by jewellery and pieces such as the limestone Lady of Auxerre, from 640 BCE; and the cylindrical Hera of Samos, circa 570–560 BCE. After the 4th century BCE, focus on the human form increased, exemplified by the Borghese Gladiator. The Louvre holds masterpieces from the Hellenistic era, including The Winged Victory of Samothrace (190 BCE) and the Venus de Milo, symbolic of classical art. In the galleries paralleling the Seine, much of the museum's Roman sculpture is displayed. The Roman portraiture is representative of that genre; examples include the portraits of Agrippa and Annius Verus; among the bronzes is the Greek Apollo of Piombino.
The collection's overview of French sculpture contains Romanesque works such as the 11th century Daniel in the Lions' Den and the 12th century Virgin of Auvergne. In the 16th century, Renaissance influence caused French sculpture to become more restrained, as seen in Jean Goujon's bas-reliefs, and Germain Pilon's Descent from the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. The 17th and 18th centuries are represented by Étienne Maurice Falconet's Woman Bathing and Amour menaçant and François Anguier's obelisks. Neoclassical works includes Antonio Canova's Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss (1787).
The works are displayed on the Richelieu Wing's first floor and in the Apollo Gallery, named by the painter Charles Le Brun, who was commissioned by Louis XIV (the Sun King) to decorate the space in a solar theme. The medieval collection contains the coronation crown of Louis XIV, Charles V's sceptre, and the 12th century porphyry vase. The Renaissance art holdings include Giambologna's bronze Nessus and Deianira and the tapestry Maximillian's Hunt. From later periods, highlights include Madame de Pompadour's Sèvres vase collection and Napoleon III's apartments.
Exemplifying the French School are the early Avignon Pieta of Enguerrand Quarton; Jean Fouquet's King Jean le Bon, 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 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 Virgin 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.
In 2004, French officials decided to build a satellite museum on the site of an abandoned coal pit in the former mining town of Lens to relieve the crowded Paris Louvre, increase total museum visits, and improve the industrial north's economy. Six cities were considered for the project: Amiens, Arras, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Calais, Lens, and Valenciennes. In 2004, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin chose Lens to be the site of the new building, called Le Louvre-Lens. Museum officials predicted that the new building, capable of receiving about 600 works of art, would attract up to 500,000 visitors a year when it opened in 2009.
In March 2007, the Louvre announced that a Louvre museum would be completed by 2012 in Abu Dhabi. A 30-year agreement, signed by French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres and Sheik Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, will establish the museum in downtown Abu Dhabi in exchange for €832,000,000 (US$1.3 billion). The Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel and the engineering firm of Buro Happold, will occupy and will be covered by a roof shaped like a flying saucer. France agreed to rotate between 200 and 300 artworks during a 10-year period; to provide management expertise; and to provide four temporary exhibitions a year for 15 years. The art will come from multiple museums, including the Louvre, the Georges Pompidou Centre, the Musée d'Orsay, Versailles, the Musée Guimet, the Musée Rodin, and the Musée du quai Branly.
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, more than 60,000 articles were returned to France. Nearly 2,000 objects that did not have clear ownership and were claimed by Israelis and Jews were retained by French museums, including the Louvre. In 1997, Prime Minister Alain Juppé initiated the Mattéoli Commission to investigate the matter and "according to the government[,] the Louvre continues to hold 678 pieces of [claimed] artwork. Napoleon's campaigns acquired Italian and Northern European pieces and antiquities were taken during excavations, particularly in Egypt and the Near East. The Louvre administration has argued in favor of retaining these items despite requests by source nations for their return. The museum participates in arbitration sessions held via UNESCO's Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to Its Countries of Origin.
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 reorganized 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.
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.