The Louvre was originally built as a fortress under the rule of King Phillip II in the late 12th century. Sections of the original fortress can be seen in the basement of the Louvre. During the Middle Ages, King Charles V used the palace as a place of residence. Francis I started acquiring pieces for the art collection. He also acquired the Mona Lisa from Italy. The Louvre was continued to be used as a palace until King Louis XIV decided to move his family to Versailles in 1682. The Louvre wasn’t used until King Louis XVI opted to turn the Louve into a museum in 1792. After King Louis XVI was overthrown in 1792, his royal collection became national property and was displayed in the new museum established during the French Revolution on the first anniversary of the previous monarchy’s demise in 1793.
The original collection consisted of 537 paintings and 184 pieces of art. The public was allowed access to the museum three days a week, while private tours were reserved for wealthier families. Due to structural instabilities, the Louvre Museum was shut down between 1796 and 1801. After construction had been completed, the Louvre Museum reopened on July 14th, 1801. During the reign of Napoleon I, the Louvre Museum’s collection grew as the military confiscated numerous pieces of art during military conquests. In 1803, Napoleon renamed the Louvre Museum to Musee Napoleon. After the loss at Waterloo, many of the confiscated pieces of art were returned to their original owners.
During the Second Empire, King Louis XVIII and Charles X expanded the Louvre Museum collection to over 7,000 pieces of art by spending over 700,000 francs (French currency before the Euro). The French government put aside over 2,000,000 francs, which allowed Louis Napoleon-Bonaparte to purchase an addition 11,000 pieces of art. Restoration to the Louvre continued during this period.
The Louvre continued its artwork expansion as the Third Republic continued to purchase art and people donated art to the museum. Over 4,000 pieces were added in a 1935 donation by Baron Edmond de Rothchild and Georges de La Tour’s Saint Thomas. Most of the art was hidden from the Germans during World War II as the French feared it would be destroyed or confiscated.
The final major expansion occurred in the 1980’s and 1990’s when the pyramids were constructed. I.M. Pei was the architect who proposed the pyramid at the entrance to the Louvre. Construction on the first, above ground, pyramid lasted until 1983. The inverted, below ground, pyramid project lasted until 1993. Over 8.8 million tourists visited the Louvre Museum in 2012. The Louvre Museum consists of Egyptian collections, Near Eastern Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan and Roman collections, Islamic Art collections, Sculptures, Decorative Art, Paintings and Prints and Drawings. There are almost 100,000 pieces of art on display at the Louvre, which covers an astonishing 652,000 square feet of space. The Louvre has partnered with satellite museums, lending its name to Louvre-Lens in northern France and Louvre Abu Dhabi located in Abu Dhabi.
Quick facts & figures
Built: 12th Century
Museum Opened – 1793
Museum Reopened – 1801
Visiters – 8,800,000
Art – 100,000 pieces
Size – 652,000sqft