Image Le Grand Louvre: History

The Louvre was originally built at a fortress. Around year 1200, near the city limits and the Seine river banks, the Louvre was considered and administered as an additional protection in the Paris defensive system by King Philippe Auguste's engineers.

Built just before the departure of the King to the Crusades, its high walls were protecting the citizens from the river, from where invaders were always feared. The building did not yet host the political power, which was still moving. Prison, often keeping the royal treasure and armory, with lots of surrounding towers to protect the central dungeon, it was just one of the many fortresses where the Royalty was displaying its growing power.

With Charles V, the wise King, the Louvre took a more pleasant and intellectual visage. The King installed his private library, a rich collection of manuscripts, in one of the towers. The architect Raimond du Temple redesigned the housing facilities to be more open to daylight. He built a huge staircase, the "grande vis", decorated with sculptures of the royal family. But the Louvre was still only one of the many royal constructions: la Bastille, Vincennes, the Saint-Paul Hotel were other royal buildings. Francois 1er, fascinated by feasts and constructions, starting to rework the old citadel. He had Philippe Auguste central dungeon destroyed in 1528, invited Charles Quint in 1530, and mandated Pierre Lescot to renovate the palace in 1546. However, the construction mostly expanded under the reigns of the King's sons.

Often in Paris, the royal family and their servants used to spend days there. The palace was transformed, Pierre Lescot designed a new facade which, along with the King's pavilion, new dungeon above the Seine, became the manifest of the French Renaissance style. Jean Goujon chiseled the sculpted ornaments of the facade, showing surprising allegories of the monarchic power. The sculpture continues inside towards the staircase, becomes magnificent in the amazing Caryatides tribune, up to Scibecq de Carpi's chiseled wooden ceiling in the King's chamber.

Charles IX, then Henry III continued their father's policy, adding more stones to the building towards the south. However, Henry II's Louvre was still about the same size as the early citadel, tiny compared to royal cities such as Blois, Fontainebleau, Vincennes or Saint-Germain. Monarchs lived there the darkest hours of the late Valois reigns, with the Saint-Barthelemy massacre in 1572, as Paris political powers were increasing.

Located in the middle of the city, the neighborhoods of the Louvre were residential and animated. It had a tiny corridor to the Tuileries, a pleasure palace Catherine de Medicis had asked Philibert Delorme and Jean Bullant to build, but which had remained incomplete. Hard times had forced architects to cope with lack of gold, civil wars and the superstitious florentine Queen.

Henry IV decided to mute the Louvre and Tuileries ensemble a sort of huge royal city, able to host the royal servants, nobles and even artists since 1608 in the Grande Gallerie, along the Seine between the two palaces. The hidden goal of the operation was to build two aisles in order to unite them.

In 1610, the death of Henri IV, assassinated by Ravaillac, temporarily halted the realization of this goal, mostly visible through the building of the Petite and Grande Galeries, and the Pavilion des Tuileries, doing the junction. Louis XIII ordered the destruction of another part of the medieval citadel, and initiated the building of a new pavilion, de l'Horloge, and an aisle located after the Henri II facade. The Louvre was going to multiply by 4 its size.

Louis XIV went even further, renovating the Petite Galerie, doubling its size, unifying the Tuileries, completing the quadrilateral cour du Louvre, building a monumental facade towards the city and an incredible interior decoration, of which the King Chamber, the regent apartments and the Apollon Galerie remain. Those places hosted the first feasts, later held at Versailles.

But Versailles, the living folie though Colbert was defending the great plan, was soon to supplant the Louvre. Leaving the Tuileries park, that Le Nôtre had just transformed into a countryside illusion, the King was leaving his Paris apartments, where he felt surrounded by the crowd, for Versailles, where the absolute monarch could feel at ease.

The incomplete Louvre was taking a new artistic and intellectual function. Henri IV old Grande Gallerie was populated, artists and painters taking over the Louvre and Tuileries studios, if not courtiers. The French, Inscriptions, Science, Painting and Sculpting, Chalcography Academies were located there, and also the Royal Printing House, plans of fortified cities, the tribunal de la garenne du Louvre.

Meetings were hosted in the Louvre, but also exhibitions: preparations, stuffed animals of the Science Academy, paintings and sculptures, plaster works and engravings of the Painting and Sculpting Academy. They organized an annual exhibition of their members' works, in the Grand Salon Carré. Hence, this artistic and mundane exhibition was named Salon. Those artworks were added to the royal collections, the sculptures of the Antiques room which dated from Henri IV, the cabinet of Royal Paintings and Drawings. Between 1670 and the French Revolution, the Louvre was the state cultural and learning center, city of artists and their family.

© 14 Oct 2002, Nicolas Pioch - Top - Up - Info
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