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Show Me the Louvre

king francis statue outside louvre

By Paula Nechak

November, 1793, was Le Musée du Louvre's Grande Galerie opening to the general public.

Today, its massive collection is one of the world's finest, with artwork and antiquities archiving over 10,000 years of human contributions to civilization.

It remains a muse to art students worldwide who flock to art school after becoming inspired by its culture-laden walls.

The Art-loving King

According to History.com, the Louvre was originally built in 1546 on the west edge of the River Seine, atop the surviving site of a 12th-century fortress. Art-loving King Francis I wanted the Louvre to be a royal residence in which to display his huge collection. Unfortunately, King Francis died prior to the completion of his ambitious "dream house," though construction of the grand palace and its grounds continued through the tenures of kings Henry II and Charles IX.

Cultural Contributions

Since it was first built, many key people have contributed to the palace or its grounds: Catherine de' Medici oversaw the building of the Palace des Tuileries, the museum's contiguous gardens, in 1564. Two additions were added, creating the multi-building Louvre complex, in 1857 during the reign of Napoleon III.

In 1983 another addition was made by French President Francois Mitterand. He contracted the famous architect, I.M. Pei, who proposed building a glass pyramid for the museum's central courtyard. Pei's plan envisioned a structure both "delicate and stable," and this contribution was finished in 1993.

Today the Louvre covers nearly 13 acres and is divided into eight curatorial departments:

  • Decorative arts
  • Egyptian antiquities
  • Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities
  • Islamic art
  • Near Eastern antiquities
  • Paintings
  • Prints and drawings
  • Sculptures

Plunder and Blunder

It was not until the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 that real steps were taken to establish the Louvre as a permanent museum. The French army seized art and archaeological items from the nations they conquered in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, and though much was returned after Napoleon's defeat in 1815, several pieces confiscated by Napoleon's armies were consequently contested by Italy and Northern European nations.

Besides Napoleon's plundering, the Louvre has weathered other scandals, mostly over demands for restitution of art or cultural property from other countries. World War II brought more debate over goods seized by the Germans during the Occupation. After the war, some holdings were returned to France, although there is some controversy because many objects with no clear ownership—but believed to be Jewish—remain in French museums, including the Louvre.

In 1968, the Louvre paid a few hundred dollars for a painting attributed to a group of 17th-century Bolognese artists called the Carracci school, but later it was discovered to have actually been painted by Nicolas Poussin, a 17th-century French artist. Its former owners were forced to sue to have the painting returned to them.

Arts Schools Foster Invention

Despite its controversies, the Louvre remains untouchable as a cultural icon. Think of how many of today's art and design professionals have been inspired to create their masterpieces after viewing the Louvre's confluence of paintings, sculptures and antiquities.

If your artistic passion is stirred after your visit to the Louvre, we can help you find the right online art school in which to fulfill your art or design career goals, and perhaps one day you'll see your contribution to culture in an art museum.