The Louvre, the world’s largest art museum and a historic monument in Paris, France, is known as the ‘Temple of Fine Arts.’ One of the most central and most famous landmarks in the city, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the city’s first arrondissement (district or ward). The collection includes over 38,000 objects dating from the Paleolithic period through the modern era, occupying a space of 72,735 square meters (782,910 square feet). 9.6 million visitors from around the world visited the Louvre in 2019, making it the most visited museum in the world. Despite the drop in foreign visitors, however, the number of visitors has reduced to only 2.7 million people by 2020, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and the decline in foreign visitors.
Most of the museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, built as the Louvre castle in the late 12th to 13th century under Philip II. Exhibits on display in the museum include the remaining fragments of the fortress as well as historical artefacts. In the late 1500s, as the city continued to expand, the fortress gradually lost its defensive purpose and in 1546, Francis I converted it into the principal residence of the French Kings.
The building was extensively expanded numerous times over the years to form the present Louvre Palace. King Louis XIV’s 1682 decision to choose the Palace of Versailles for his household caused the Louvre to shift from being an object to be admired to a place to display the royal collection, which included, from 1692, a collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. The Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture established the first of a series of salons in 1699, which was subsequently frequented by other academies, such as the Comédie-Française, until 1773.
The Académie was located at the Louvre for one hundred years. At the time of the French Revolution, the National Assembly passed a law requiring the Louvre to be used as a museum to showcase the country’s finest pieces.
The museum was inaugurated on August 10, 1793, with an exhibition of 537 paintings, with the majority of the works being paintings confiscated from the church and the royal collection. As a result of structural problems with the building, the museum was closed from 1796 until 1801. Napoleon enlarged the collection while Napoleon’s reign was in effect. This caused the museum to be renamed Musée Napoléon, but after his abdication, many works that had been seized by his armies were returned to their original owners.
The museum gained more pieces during the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X, and the time period known as the Second French Empire saw another 10,000 items added to the collection. Holdings have grown steadily throughout the Third Republic as a result of donations and bequests. The objects in the collection are divided among eight curatorial departments: Egyptian Antiquities, Near Eastern Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities, Islamic Art, Sculpture, Decorative Arts, Paintings, and Prints and Drawings.