French May > inventing le louvre : from palace to museum over 800 years
Inventing le Louvre : From Palace To Museum over 800 Years


Heir to the century of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, the Louvre was quickly accepted as the “museum among museums;” and since then it has remained a model and a recognized authority.

Museum among museums
Formerly a royal palace, the Louvre has embraced the history of France for eight centuries. Intended as a universal museum since its inception in 1793, its collections—among the finest in the world—span several thousands of years and a territory that extends from America to the confines of Asia. Divided among eight departments, these collections feature works admired throughout the globe, including the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and the Venus de Milo. With nearly ten million visitors in 2012, the Louvre is the world’s most visited museum.

The Louvre, a universal museum
The Louvre is universal both in terms of the wealth of its collections and the great diversity of its visitors. Of the nearly ten million people who visited the Louvre in 2012, 69 percent were of overseas origin, with 15 percent from the United States of America, 7 percent from China, and 6 percent from Brazil. To adapt to the diverse nature of this public, the Louvre continually strives for greater accessibility. To this end, its initiatives include the progressive widespread use of labeling in two or even three languages to describe the 38,000 artworks exhibited; the revamped numbering of exhibition rooms; the development of a new, more user-friendly floor plan; and the fostering of art education. In addition, the Louvre website ( offers various visitor tips on planning a visit, gaining in-depth knowledge, and teaching art history to children.

The Louvre, a museum concerned with territorial development
Not content merely to receive visitors, the Louvre often engages in public outreach, in France in particular. The opening, on December 4, 2012, of the Louvre Lens in Northern France is a case in point. The building, designed by the Japanese architectural firm Sanaa, winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2010, consists of two main wings with glass and polished aluminum façades that blend seamlessly into landscaped grounds designed by French landscape architect, Catherine Mosbach. The 205 artworks on display there are taken from the Louvre’s collections and are renewed on a regular basis. After Liberty leading the people in 2013, visitors can admire Oedipus and the Sphinx by Ingres. In addition, the Louvre pursues an active policy of loans and exhibitions, throughout France, in collaboration with French regional museums.

The Louvre in the world
In keeping with the universal scope of its vocation, the Louvre enjoys relations with over seventy-five countries. Its activities serve to strengthen its bonds with its collections’ countries of origin, to gain a better understanding of overseas visitors, and to reach out to those who are unable to travel to Paris.

These activities can take several forms, including scientific consultancy, technical assistance, excavations, artwork loans, exhibition organization, and the reception of official delegations.

Examples of actions already undertaken include the opening, in January 2007, of a new excavation site in El-Muweis, Sudan; the launch of an exemplary partnership with the Bardo Museum in Tunisia, enabling the creation of an archaeological field school as part of the restoration of the Carthage room; the signing, on May 4, 2012, of a Protocol Agreement with the national museum foundation (FNM) of Morocco to prepare for the organization in October 2014 of an exhibition at the Louvre on medieval Morocco.

Furthermore, the Louvre has helped to organize over forty exhibitions held in eighteen countries and which attracted close to four million visitors. In 2011 and 2012, twenty-four exhibitions were organized with its support.

A project of unprecedented scale: Louvre Abu Dhabi
In their initiative to design the first universal museum in this region of the world, the United Arab Emirates authorities’ choice of the Louvre stands in great recognition of the museum’s skill in exhibition design and its scientific expertise. By accepting this challenge, the Louvre extends its influence in a rapidly growing area, at the crossroads of Africa and Asia.

The building, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, will span 258,300 square feet (24,000 m²). It will include over 64,000 square feet (6,000 m²) of galleries housing the permanent collections and almost 22,000 square feet (2,000 m²) devoted to temporary exhibitions. Teams from France and the UAE have stepped up their efforts to allow the museum to open on December 2, 2015. It is a huge task. Work is needed to build up the collections, to plan loans of artworks from the French collections, and to create the museum’s managerial framework.

In 2014, the Louvre organized a major exhibition entitled “Birth of a Museum” to unveil the new museum’s collections to the public. I will act as general curator of the opening exhibition of Louvre Abu Dhabi in spring 2016, which will focus on France in the Age of the Enlightenment.

Major structural initiatives
Ever since the “Grand Louvre” project, which in 1989 doubled the available exhibition area, the Louvre has constantly sought to build, restore, or redevelop its gallery spaces to provide an optimal setting for its collections. Recent years have seen the opening, in September 2012, of the Department of Islamic Art and the ongoing renovation of the eighteenth-century decorative art galleries.

The Louvre is about to embark upon one of the largest projects of the last twenty years: the “Pyramid” project. I. M. Pei’s Pyramid, inaugurated in 1989, was designed to accommodate 4.5 million visitors. Twenty years later, the number of museum-goers has more than doubled to almost ten million. The museum’s undersized reception facilities have given rise to much inconvenience: queuing, a sentiment of disorientation, cloakroom congestion, and noise pollution.

Though not affecting Pei’s architectural structure, the project will reorganize the entire subterranean zone beneath the Pyramid. It will restore to the Hall Napoléon its original vocation as an area of reception, meeting, and visit preparation by shifting logistics functions to peripheral areas. It will also offer a new simplified and more accessible reception sequence, recreational spaces, and new tools for cultural mediation.

Increasingly adaptable means
More than 2,100 people, including 166 curatorial staff and 1,200 security officers, work on a daily basis in service of the collections and visitor reception. In addition, there are many external players (including technical maintenance, external monitoring, laboratories, conservation professionals, and cultural contributors).

Furthermore, the Louvre has thoroughly modernized its financing methods and developed its own resources. In 2009, the museum created an “endowment fund” styled on English and American models, to finance its long-term projects. In 2012, the Musée du Louvre revenue amounted to 216 million euros, 116 million euros of which were state subsidies (54%) and 100 million euros self-funded. These self-funded resources can be broken down as follows: 58 million euros from ticket sales, 16 million euros from sponsors, and 15 million through the enhanced visibility and profitability of the Louvre offering as a whole.

The Louvre also manages the Musée Eugène Delacroix (as of January 1, 2004) and the Tuileries garden (as of January 1, 2005).

Over the years, the Louvre has remained true to its missions of promoting encounters between art collections and the public. More than just a meeting place, it is now clearly a forum for sharing, open and generous, where the exceptional is accessible to all.

Pascal Torres
Pascal Torres was a curator of Château de Versailles from 1996 to June 2000.
In July 2000 he joined the Louvre and was in charge of the Edmond de Rothschild collection as well as of the Louvre’s Chalcography. In April 2014, Pascal Torres joined the Department of Education and Cultural Programming at the Louvre, in charge of exhibitions outside the walls.
As a curator, he organized several exhibitions in France and abroad, especially in China.
As an author, he wrote numerous essays dedicated to Art and History.
He is also a member of the Real Academia de Nobles y Bellas Artes de San Luis since 2006.

Néguine Mathieux

Néguine Mathieux is head of the Service dedicated to the Louvre’s History. Specialist of the history of collections and of archeology, her publications were dedicated to the rediscovery of Antiquity and Collectionism in the 19th century. Néguine Mathieux is a unit member of the National Center for Scientific Research (Halma-Ipel 8164) and is responsible for a research program at the National Institute of Art History. She also taught at the Ecole du Louvre. In charge of the Pavillon de l’ Horloge Project inaugurated at the Louvre in July 2016, Néguine Mathieux also curated several exhibitions at the Louvre and abroad (“Letter and Clay” at the Louvre in 2007, ‘Tanagra, Female figures of Antiquity” in Tokyo in 2007, “The Saga of the Thracian Kings” at the Louvre in 2015 and “Invention of the Louvre” in Beijing in 2017).


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