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Great Art Galleries: The Louvre, Paris

Famously the place where the Mona Lisa is hung, The Louvre in Paris is inarguably one of the great art galleries. It is the most visited in the world, with a collection of around 600,000 original artworks and prints extending from Egyptian antiquities through to the beginning of the modern art period. The building itself is a thing of beauty inside and out, with a long history starting in the 12th century as a palace to defend the city in the event of an attack by the British.

In the 14th Century Charles V converted the palace into a residence, and Francis I began rebuilding it into a French Renaissance style in the 1500s. It’s association with the arts began when Louis XIV chose Versailles as his residence, and the Louvre became a residence for artists under Royal patronage. Seven rooms within the building were used to display paintings from the king’s collection, open as an art gallery to a privileged few. Louis XVI responded to a growing voice of people asking for a public art museum, that began to be put into practice in the lead up to the French Revolution.

The Louvre was finally opened as an art gallery and museum owned by the nation during the Revolution. Displaying 700 works of art it set out to quickly expand the collection, and had a chaotic early period with artists still living in residence and unlabelled, unlit paintings and art prints hung on every available piece of wall space. Gradually things fell into place, with Napoleon bringing a huge range of original artworks back from foreign campaigns, and many more champions through history who expanded and developed the building into the phenomenal art museum we see today.

The Louvre art gallery collection has over 600,000 objects and artworks

At different times through history the collection has focused on the Royal collection, artworks from France, from the West, and works of art from all around the world as it does today. Collections include Egyptian Antiquities from 4000BC onwards, Near Eastern Antiquities, and pieces from Greek, Etruscan, Roman, and Islamic culture, all of which includes papyrus scrolls, jewellery, tools, statues, and weapons.

Decorative arts includes ceramics, bronzes, vases, and, in many ways, the furniture, fittings, and interiors of the museum itself, but of course the collections that pull in the majority of visitors are the paintings, sculptures, and art prints. Sculptures cover work from before 1850, with the modern art collection now displayed another of Europe’s great art galleries; the Musee D’Orsay, it includes a large collection of French work, as well as work by foreign artists, mostly from Europe. Art prints and drawings include tens of thousands of pieces but are quite rarely exhibited due to their delicacy.

The collection of paintings covers work from the 1200s to 1848, with around two thirds representing French art, and a large portion of the remainder coming from Europe. Artists featured include names like Raphael, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Titian, da Vinci, Vermeer, and Friedrich, amongst many more, and numerous pieces as well known and iconic as the Mona Lisa, which remains the art gallery’s most popular exhibit.

The Louvre’s place amidst the great art galleries of the world

An emblematic landmark of Paris, which has been at the heart of so much of the history of art, The Louvre represents one of the greatest collections of Western art from the Middle Ages to the 1800s, and many of the antiquities that inspired it. A visit is like a dive into the cultural foundations of Western civilisation, presented in a truly stunning set of palatial interiors that are worth a visit in themselves.

Even with the popular modern art works long since moved over to the Musee D’Orsay, The Louvre was still pulling over 7 million visitors a year before Coronavirus, and in polls of the international public is the most well known art gallery in the world.

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