Art of Louvre | Discovery/History/Museum (by Roosev Kelley/BBC)
The Palais du Louvre, which houses one of the most stunning collections of artworks in the world, is known first and foremost as a museum. Yet for almost seven hundred years the buildings constituted one of the principal residences of the kings and emperors of France.
Built shortly after 1190 by King Philippe Auguste as a defensive fortress, by the 14th century the Palais du Louvre had become a pleasant residence that occasionally served as a royal home. Francis I chose to turn it into a Renaissance “palace”. Over time, a royal estate gradually developed. Henry IV ordered the château built by Catherine de Médicis in the Tuileries to be linked to the Louvre palace by a “grand gallery” bordering the Seine. Louis XIV, who resided at the Louvre until his departure for Versailles in 1678, completed the Cour Carrée (Square Court), which was closed off on the city side by a colonnade. When the court moved to Versailles, French monarchs lost interest in the Palais du Louvre.
In 1793, the Louvre became a museum, and has been given over ever since to the conservation and presentation of thousands of artworks and legacies of past civilizations. In the early 19th century, sovereigns transformed the interiors but carried out little building work. But from the mid-19th century onward, the Louvre underwent the largest phase of extension in its history. Napoleon III completed the unification of the Palais des Tuileries and the Palais du Louvre by building the Aile Denon (Denon wing) on the Seine side and finishing the Aile Richelieu on the rue de Rivoli side. In 1871, the Palais des Tuileries burned down. Thenceforth, the Louvre opened onto the great perspective facing western Paris.
The Grand Louvre project, launched by President François Mitterand in 1981, modernized the museum and extended it, with the opening in 1993 of the Richelieu wing, which formerly housed the Ministry of Finance.
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