Louvre and Louvre Geneviève Bresc-boutier Essay

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| The Louvre: A National Museum

in a Royal Palace by Geneviève Bresc-Bautier
Chief curator of National Heritage, Geneviève Bresc-Bautier has been responsible for the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century French sculpture collections of the Louvre Museum since
1976. She has published a number of articles and catalogues in this field. In addition, since 1989, she has been in charge of the history of the Louvre and ensures the management of the halls exhibiting paintings and sculptures that were part of the Louvre’s decor, served as models for the decor, or represent the palace or the museum’s halls.

Originally a castle, the Louvre has witnessed the achievements of eight centuries of history. It has been a museum for the past two centuries. Open to the public in 1793, the museum did not include the whole of the palace until 1993. It is thus after a long process of transformation that art and culture have slowly kept up with politics. It was necessary to take into consideration centuries of history, architectural transformations, and immemorial customs attached to the place, in order to make a modern museum that offers the public prestigious collections of internationally recognised quality, presented, highlighted, and restored according to rigorous norms; but also one that provides visitors, whose numbers keep growing – more than
5,700,000 in 2002 – with all the facilities they require: escalators and elevators to comfortably access the floors, restaurants and cafeterias to rest at, guided visits, workshops, publications, and earphones to help guide, understand and go further, in the discovery of civilisations, of art and world cultures.


ISSN 1350-0775,

no. 217 (vol. 55, no. 1, 2003)

Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ (UK) and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148 (USA)



History of the palace
Originally a fortress close to the edge of the city, the
Louvre was a dungeon surrounded by a thick wall mounted with towers, a place of defence which made it possible to shelter, when necessary, the royal treasure or prestigious prisoners. Constructed to defend Paris while King Philippe-August left for the Crusades at the end of the twelfth century, the castle experienced the first transformation into a royal residence around 1360, under Charles V.
Becoming one of the residences of a monarchy in constant movement, the Louvre housed what one could consider as the starting point for its future: a library of manuscripts, which the King, considered to be a scholar, would consult in his ‘library tower’.
In the history of the Louvre, this medieval castle has been nothing but a memory, known only through illuminations and paintings, and an archaeological survey conducted in 1860. Partially destroyed in 1528, and then totally destroyed in the middle of the seventeenth century, it was brought back to life in 1984–85 by excavations undertaken while the museum was undergoing modernisation.
Now visible, the castle moat and thick walls, the foundations of the dungeon and the lower hall with its ribbed vaulting, form a tour of the ‘Medieval
Louvre’ which allows the presentation of different objects found during the excavations.
The Renaissance was the second great period of its history. François I decided to build a palace in a new style for his capital. While he was not able to finish the project of an entirely new building, which was entrusted to the architect
Serlio, he nevertheless had the dungeon and a wing of the old quadrilateral building knocked down.
Under the reign of his son, Henri II, the task of


constructing a new wing was given to the architect
Pierre Lescot, assisted by the sculptor Jean Goujon.
This project included a large pavillion to house the
King’s apartments, and then another wing for the apartments of the Queen. During this period, a certain type of architecture and decor developed which would serve as a reference to all the architects that