Musée du Louvre: When The Museum Itself Is a Work of Art

Posted on 25. Feb, 2013 by in Destinations, Europe Travel, France

Forget Venus de Milo. Forget the Winged Victory. Hell, forget Mona Lisa. The real star here is the museum.

Well, duh?

I hear you. What I mean is the actual museum. The pavilions, the moldings, the ceilings, the statues on the outside walls. The abundant use of gold and intricate carving, in an all-around architectural exuberance that only Kings and Queens know the secret to. And that is not just a metaphor.

History of the Louvre

louvre museum facts

Few people seem to know that the Louvre, besides being the world’s most visited and largest museum, was once a Royal Palace.

That’s right.

The foundations date as far back as the 12th century - which can be viewed in the crypts of the museum - and the palace was occupied by Kings like Phillip II, Charles V, François I and ultimately Louis XIV. It didn’t become a “museum” until the 17th century, when royalty moved its court to the Palace of Versailles, leaving the Louvre empty of its occupants. The live ones, that is.

Before moving to Versailles, Louis XVI ordered that the Louvre Palace should be the home of the most notable French paintings and the royal collection, but remained available for viewing by the Royal entourage only. That’s very cute and all, but if you know your French history, you know that Louis XVI wasn’t a very good king - mix that with extremist revolutionaries, and it doesn’t come as a surprise that his death came a bit prematurely when he was beheaded at the Tuileries.

Cue dramatic music. Dom dom dom!

What was bad news for royalty quickly became extremely good news for art, though - the death of the king meant that his personal collection, housed in the Louvre, was now public property for everyone and their mother to see. It was only then, in the midst of the French Revolution, decided that the Louvre would forever remain a place of cultural worship, and a display of the nation’s masterpieces.

The actual Musée du Louvre official opened to the public on August 10th 1793, and was then free of charge . The collection kept growing throughout the years, with a particularly fertile period under the rule of Napoleon - he went as far as temporarily renaming the museum after himself! - and later on under Louis VIII and Charles X, into the impressive display of 380,000 pieces we know today.

A Few Photos of the Louvre

Does this remind you of something?

Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, perhaps? Indeed, this room, called Galerie d’Apollon, was built specifically for Louix XIV to house his personal collection, and was used as a model for what is now the most popular room - and consequently the most crowded - at the Palace of Versailles.

This is actually a really fine example of why the Louvre Museum is not just a blank canvas showcasing works of art - the ceilings, the moldings, the patterns - the room itself is a work of art, whose details completely eclipse the hangings on the walls.

I think I’ve made my point - who needs paintings when the museum itself is already magnificent?

Sadly, this gorgeous architecture often goes under the radar because it is filled, from wall to wall, with other spectacular pieces of art that tourists pretty much run to, crunched in time. The sheer amount of pieces - 380,000 to be exact - is overwhelming enough as it is, no time to bother with architecture, right?

But if you are a second, or third time visitor to Paris and this legendary museum, why not try to explore differently and focus on the less obvious beauty of this place? Less Da Vinci, more neoclassical. Concentrate your visit on what made the Louvre the legendary place that it is today.

And then, if you have time, brave the crowds for Mona Lisa.
Her enigmatic smile will still be there, waiting for you to try and figure out yet another explanation for her much discussed expression, even after all these years.

Have you ever been to the Louvre? What are your favorite Louvre Museum facts? What’s your favorite piece?

Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau. As always, all opinions are my own.


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9 Responses to “Musée du Louvre: When The Museum Itself Is a Work of Art”

  1. Turtle

    25. Feb, 2013

    Beautiful photos! I’d never really thought about it this way before but it makes a lot of sense. The building is so impressive, it should be considered the greatest piece of art there. Lovely post!

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      08. Mar, 2013

      Thanks Michael - I indeed found the history of the building fascinating, so few people know about this! It wasn’t purpose-built at all.

      Reply to this comment
  2. I’ve just found your blog and I love your voice - I’m also a happily married solo traveller and I’m glad to have found someone else doing the same thing!

    Gorgeous photos - I’m looking forward to reading more.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      08. Mar, 2013

      Thanks Kerry :) Glad you can relate to my stories!

      Reply to this comment
  3. Laura

    25. Feb, 2013

    Love your photos and the Louvre! I could visit over and over again.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Cherina

    06. Mar, 2013

    Talk about making me nostalgic!! I love the Louvre and agree that the museum itself is completely gorgeous, with or without the art work. (Although, the Winged Victory is one of my faves…)

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      08. Mar, 2013

      Thanks Cherina! I LOVE the Winged Victory as well. It was the first piece I saw during my first visit to the Louvre 4 years ago, it has a special place in my heart. Would love to see the Napoleon apartments as well.

      Reply to this comment
  5. Louise

    12. Mar, 2013

    Oh I so totally agree. I’ve been to the Louvre twice, and will be returning again this year. Most of my photos are of the architraves, just as yours are. Sure the Winged Victory of Samothrace is cool, but look up a bit more and it’s even cooler. Having said that the statue garden is gorgeous, Napoleon III Apartments are wondrous, and Large French Paintings my favourite section. There’s so much to see that we’ve just recently realised that we’ve never found Venus! I’ll be tracking her down in June.

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