The 1st district of Paris extends west to east from the Tuileries Gardens to the Place du Châtelet. It is rich with museums, including the most famous of all: the Louvre. But the area also contains some of the city’s earliest religious monuments and gives us the airy and relaxing Tuileries Gardens.
Musée du Louvre
99 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris
Metro station: Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre. Main entrance at the Pyramid
Website - tel : 01 40 20 53 17.
Price : €15. Free for EU citizens under 26 years old (free for non-EU citizens under 18 years old).
This pass allows access to the permanent collections and to the temporary exhibitions at the Louvre and the Eugène-Delacroix Museum.
Opening time: Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday : 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ; Wednesday and Friday : 9 a.m. to 9 :45 p.m. ; Closed on Tuesdays
Shopping : Book store, museum boutique, shops, cafés and restaurants
The Louvre museum is one of the oldest, largest and richest museums in the world. Operating as a museum since 1793, the Louvre brings together works of Western art from the Middle Ages to 1848, of oriental ancient civilizations, of Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman graphic arts and of Islamic arts.
The Louvre is above all the crown gem of the kings of France, its emperors and its presidents. From the dark fortress of the late 12th century to the glass pyramid of I. M. Pei, opened in 1989, many have ruled Paris and almost all have left their mark. Since the construction of the Tuileries Palace a few hundred meters away until its demolition in 1871, a series of extensions were made to connect the two royal residences.
History of the Louvre
In the 12th century, at the current location of the museum, sat a powerful fortified castle marking the boundaries of the medieval city. At the time it was used as a military arsenal.
The "Low Room" is the only remnant of the medieval Louvre interior (13th century), but its original function remains unknown. Over the following centuries, mainly because of the Hundred Years War, fortifications were pursued and developed. Gradually the Louvre lost its protective role and was absorbed by the new surrounding neighborhoods. From the 16th century onward, important developments to this dark fortress transformed it into a sumptuous royal residence. Gardens were created and its interiors were decorated with sculptures, tapestries and woodwork. But the history of the Louvre took a final turn when François I decided to move to Paris in 1527. The Middle Ages then gave way to the Louvre Renaissance.
From the Louvre to the Tuileries
Construction near the Tuileries Palace (1572) accelerated the grand destiny of this exceptional architectural complex and gave the succession of kings a common goal over the years : link the two palaces. In 1664, under Louis XV, the center of the monument already looked as it does today.
1793 : Opening of the Central Museum of Arts
The Central Museum of Arts opened its doors on August 10, 1793 and has since operated as a museum. The acquisition of collections made it necessary to expand into the numerous rooms and different floors of the building.
At first, the museum served to enrich the conquests of Napoleon (paintings and ancient sculptures from Italy) and then in the 19th century the following were opened in succession: the gallery of modern sculptures, the Maritime Museum, the Spanish Louis-Philippe gallery, the Assyrian museum, the Mexican museum, the Algerian and ethnological museum, museum of the sovereign, the Napoleon Museum (Campana collection), the rooms devoted to Susa (Iran), and finally the completion of the connection with the Tuileries Palace. But during the events of the town in 1871, the Tuileries Palace, symbol of royalty, was burned by the Communards. It was finally demolished in 1883.
In the 20th century, museum collections occupied the entire building, though during World War II the collections were evacuated and the museum was temporarily closed. Some collections were moved into other more thematic museums of the capital, such as the Maritime Museum to the Palais de Chaillot and the Asian collections to the Guimet Museum. The Glass Pyramid, built by I. M. Pei, was inaugurated on March 30, 1989. Built in the center of the Napoleon Court, it became the main entrance of the museum. The Richelieu wing, the largest expansion since the museum’s establishment two centuries earlier, opened in 1993.
The former palace of the kings of France holds collections of the West and of Islam (up to the mid-19th century), and a selection of African, Asian, Oceanic and American arts. A universal museum, it houses 35,000 works divided into eight departments: Oriental antiquities; Egyptian antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities; Islamic art; sculptures; works of art; paintings and graphic arts. In addition to these collections, there is a section on the history of the Louvre including the base of the tower and the medieval moat built by Philippe Auguste in 1190.
Visit the Louvre : the (many) options
Guided tours of the Louvre (time : 1 hour, 30 minutes) are presented by speakers of the National Museums. You can discover the museum's collections through a selection of works from a specific period, or an artistic movement or theme (there are 43!). The different options would be impossible to detail here. But if you are preparing your first visit to the Louvre, the "Masterpieces of the Louvre" tour allows you to discover the most famous works of art. The architectural promenade allows visitors to understand the various facets of the Louvre. As for the musical tour, it leads visitors to the works of art that represent a dialogue between painting and music. In addition to these options, the Louvre organizes more specific tours. These lecture visits focus on a particular theme in the history of art, a period, a genre or an artist.
Discovering the Louvre with the family
Thematic guided tour on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes.
Though it may seem tedious for children, every effort is made to ensure that the discovery of the museum is fascinating for all. The museum offers activities for children and families, introductions to artistic techniques, an auditorium for special presentations, a multimedia guide ... But above all, on Sundays and during school holidays, a facilitator offers 30 minutes of tips for discovering the works while having fun before attacking the museum’s many rooms and hallways. This is a good introduction to art for children 6 years old and up, as well as adults, and is a free service. Other free services for families include : strollers, baby carriers, wheelchairs and folding chairs, all available at the central information desk.
Workshops and tours for children
For children from 4 to 13 years old, the museum offers painting, modeling and photography workshops to demonstrate artistic techniques and learn more about different civilizations. Workshops for the whole family are available (6 years old and up), allowing adults and their children to discover and better understand the museum's collections.
Children can visit the museum using a toolkit along with a guided thematic course on sculptures and techniques, the role of light in a picture, etc.
Thematic Tour Example
The "Welcome to the Louvre, museum highlights" tour invites you to discover 12 major works of the Louvre:
Remains of the Louvre’s moat, from Philip Augustus and Charles V
Around 1200, fearing an English invasion, Philippe Auguste built a fortified castle on the outskirts of the city (see "History of the Louvre"). When Francis I decided to build a palace in the Renaissance style, the fortress was razed. Perfectly preserved in the Carrée Court, the remains of the moat were uncovered during excavations in the 1980s and presented to the public in 1989.
"The Great Sphinx of Tanis" (Department of Egypitian antiquities).
It was under the leadership of Champollion (who deciphered hieroglyphics) that the statue was acquired in 1826. Carved more than 4,000 years ago, mixing images of a lion and a king, this monumental work is a major technical and artistic masterpiece.
Aphrodite, known as the Venus de Milo
This sculpture is a representation of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty dating from about 100 BC. An impassive and emotionless facial expression and ideal physical proportions represent the beauty of the gods, the feminine ideal, and the pursuit of absolute beauty. Commonly called "Venus de Milo", its name comes from the name of the Greek island where it was unearthed in 1822. A truly timeless masterpiece.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace
Discovered broken in 1863 on the island of Samothrace, this statue depicts the Greek goddess of victory, Nike. It was made around the 2nd century BC. The statue was visible from afar by ships and brought them the protection of the gods. Its proportions, gestures, staging, and flapping drapes express a search for a sincere artistic realism.
The Oath of the Horatii (1785)
This painting may be the masterpiece of neoclassical painting. By Jacques Louis David, the painting recounts an episode in the life of the Horatii sons more than 2,000 years ago. Light, staging, decor, intensity and rendering are so realistic that the painter seems to have been a spectator at the scene.
Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and Coronation of the Empress Josephine
Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned this painting by Jacques Louis David to immortalize his coronation in Notre Dame on December 2, 1804. It took three years for the artist to finish his work. The scene takes place in the choir of the cathedral in a grandiose setting.
The return to reality was not Napoleon’s goal for the depiction, and indeed the scene seems fictional: his mother is present in the painting when in reality she was absent that day as she was angry with her son. The physical beauty of Napoleon and Josephine is greatly exaggerated and probably does not reflect reality. The artist, a diplomat as ever, clearly glossed over some harsh truths to serve the political purposes of the Emperor. The lighting in the scene is striking and the attention to detail is pushed to its climax.
An Odalisque (concubine), called La Grande Odalisque (1814)
With this female nude, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres recounts his passion for the Orient, here enhanced by a harem woman. A recurring theme in his overall work, he does not hesitate to gloss over realistic details, and you will notice that the proportions of the woman do not reflect the real, anatomical proportions of a body. But what matters most to Ingres are the sensual curves he recreates in his painting. Too avant-garde for its time, it nonetheless inspired many painters and modern artists like Picasso.
The Wedding at Cana
We owe this monumental canvas to Veronese, brilliant painter of 16th-century Venice. It recounts the first miracle of Christ at the wedding at Cana. Relocated to a Venetian décor, this painting amazes in its use of color, contrast and perspective. In the right foreground there is a character pouring water into wine, and two characters behind him look on at the miracle. The painting depicts a rich pageantry and dishes, however this episode of the Bible is supposed to have happened in a much more modest setting.
The Mona Lisa
With this painting Leonardo de Vinci created one of his most remarkable works. Its exceptional pictorial technique, light setting, contours and aerial perspective are mastered to perfection. However, the aging canvas tarnished the bright colors originally used by the artist. The woman pictured represents the perfect woman, a platonic beauty. This is probably a portrait of Monna ("Lady") Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, begun in Florence between 1503 and 1507.
The Raft of the Medusa
Theodore Gericault is a precursor of critical thinking applied to art. Creating a scandal upon its introduction in 1819, The Raft of the Medusa, with its captain adrift, is a metaphor for the unstable and unsure leadership at the time, a critique of royal power. In the image a huge wave prepares to engulf the survivors of the unstable raft, and in contrast to this destruction, the shape of Argus (a giant) looms in the background, ready to help, though from the images there is no way to know the final fate of the characters …
Liberty Leading the People (July 28, 1830)
In this painting, Eugène Delacroix recounts an episode of French history: the revolutionary riots of July 1830. The symbol of the Republic in her Phrygian cap, waving a tricolor flag, leads the people to power, expressing the will of freedom. This painting was scandalous at its introduction, not for his political stance, but by the physical representation of the Republic. This naked woman who guides the men is far from the allegorical representations of the perfect woman and the ideal of feminine beauty advocated by the painters of the time. In the background, behind the barricades, sit the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
The Captives (1513)
These sculptures belong to a group otherwise housed at the museum of the Academy of Florence. From Michelangelo, they were meant to compose a monumental fresco to adorn the tomb of Pope Julius II. In the end, this project was not completed. One can see their incompleteness in the many tool marks on the sculptures, or in the hand of the rebellious slave still trapped in the unsculpted marble.