LOUVRE, PARIS


LOUVRE, PARIS
   The Louvre was initially a fortified castle built during the reign of Philip Augustus, king of France from 1180 until his death in 1223. He governed his territory from the Île de la Cité in the center of Paris and therefore located the fortification across from the island on the banks of the Seine River. Documents from 1198 first mention its name as the "Louvre," and in the 1300s, Charles V remodeled some of its wings into a more aristocratic setting. The exterior of the original Louvre Palace can be seen in the background of the October page of the beautifully illustrated manuscript titled Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, commissioned by the Duke of Berry and completed around 1410 by the Limbourg brothers. On this page appears a tall, square stone castle with towers and turrets in each of the corners, towers flanking a central doorway, and small windows in the upper registers. A model of this original structure can be found in the Louvre Museum today, and in the basement, visitors can see some of the original foundation walls of the castle.
   During the Renaissance, King François I began an extensive renovation of the castle, demolishing the older structure completely. This work was begun in the 1530s and continued until the death of François in 1547 and the death of his son Henri II in 1559. François I was inspired by the emerging Renaissance style found in his court at Fontainebleau and at other châteaux along the Loire Valley and therefore hired Pierre Lescot to build a new wing to the Louvre in this new classical style. Lescot's west wing of the Cour Carrée, in the square court of the Palais du Louvre, was begun in 1546 and reveals the use of a classical symmetry and balance, with sculptural details in the Mannerist style designed by the French sculptor Jean Goujon. Because the turrets were replaced by round arches and because windows lined all three registers of the courtyard façade, the palace no longer had any of its original fortified appearance. Fluted classical pilasters flank each window. The ground-floor windows are crowned by an arch, and the second- and third-story windows are instead capped by rounded and triangular pediments. Although an urban palace, the gardens of the Louvre were very important to its initial design. The main living quarters on the piano nobile, or second floor, looked out over formal gardens in the area called the Tuileries garden.
   Henri IV (ruled 1589-1610) continued the construction of the Louvre Palace along the Seine River with the Grande Galérie, a quarter-mile-long wing that was the longest freestanding structure in the world at the time. Louis XIII (ruled 1610-1643) continued the construction of the Denon wing and built the opposing Richelieu wing. The palace was then a U-shaped structure with a cour d'honneur, or Court of Honor, which formed the official entrance via a three-sided courtyard that led visitors to the central wing. In the latter 1600s, the palace was again the focus of a large-scale renovation, this time to-ward the more large-scale, theatrical Baroque style. Accordingly, in 1664, King Louis XIV invited the famous Italian architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini to spend a year in France to provide advice on the renovation of the palace. Due perhaps to nationalistic concerns, the French architect Claude Perrault was ultimately hired for these renovations, which he completed between 1665 and 1680. It was Perrault who introduced a classical balustrade along the roofline of parts of the palace, in keeping with the ideals of the Roman architect Vitruvius.
   The palace served as the administrative seat of the monarchy until 1682, when Louis XIV moved his entire court to Versailles Palace, but the Louvre continued to be used and was opened as a museum in 1793. New additions continued to be added through the mid-19th century by Napoleon III, who created a Neo-Baroque wing. A pencil sketch made around 1899 by Louis-Ernest Lheureux, now located in the Musée d'Orsay, reveals an unrealized project for the addition of a Neo-Baroque pyramid at the entrance courtyard to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution. In 1989, however, I. M. Pei was commissioned to build an entrance that could accommodate large crowds of visitors. He designed it as a metal and glass pyramid with entry into a broad subterranean foyer for the museum. The pyramid is 70 feet tall and contains about 673 panes of glass fitted into steel framing. (Rumors that 666 panes of glass were used for the pyramid caused a flurry of satanic legends and have been refuted.) The Louvre continues to function as one of the most important museums in the world, with additional renovations planned for the future.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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