The Louvre is widely accepted to be the World’s greatest art museum. With that title comes some unbelievable facts and history. Here are 15 Louvre facts that will make you want to visit Paris today!
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15 Astounding Facts About the Louvre Museum in Paris
Have you ever wondered why the Louvre is so famous? After reading this article you’ll never question it’s fame ever again. The Louvre is by far the most accomplished museum on Earth which is impressive considering the Vatican has been at work building its collection a lot longer. So why is it so famous?
For starters, it is the largest single-complex museum on Earth coming in just shy of 800,000 sqft or 73,000 sqm. Does being the largest definitely make you the best?
Not always, but in this case, the museum is also filled with the world’s most famous artwork. You can read our in-depth article on the Louvre’s most famous paintings and most famous statues, but there are many. Here are some of the main reasons the Louvre is so famous.
15. The Louvre has Existed for 8 Centuries
The original structure was built by King Phillip August in the 12th century. He proclaimed Paris his new capital and any capital must have a centralized building.
14. The Louvre Was Once a Fortress
We have war to thank for the creation of the Louvre. In the 12th century, Philip II ordered a fortress built, fearing an English invasion.
Twelve years later, this site was erected on grounds already named “The Louvre.” The surrounding forest was inhabited by wolves (loup in French), so thick fences were strategically built near the Seine.
The stronghold was so impenetrable, it was the gold standard of fortresses.
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13. The Louvre was Once a Home
In the 14th century, Charles V finally defeated the English and became the first king to consider The Louvre a residence.
He hired Raymond du Temple to transform the forte into cushy quarters fit for a king.
This paved the way for Francois I, who demolished the fortress in 1546 then rebuilt the Louvre into the renaissance paradise he would call home. His Grand Galerie connected the Louvre to the Palais Tuileries.
12. The Louvre is the Largest Museum on Earth
The Louvre contains 380,000+ pieces of artwork across 731,945 sqft (80,000 sqm) of museum.
11. The Museum Opened to the Public in 1793
The Louvre, formerly Muséum des Arts, was the first national museum in France and opened with just over 500 works of art. At this time, Paris would definitely be the most dazzling urban setting in Europe and they likely wanted to catch up with Rome’s elevated art scene.
10. 4000 Artworks were Displaced During WWII
The Nazi’s were known for many things and one of those things was stealing artwork. Leading up to the occupation of Paris by Nazi Germany, Jacques Jaujard removed over 4000 works of art from the Louvre and hid them in a Loire Valley Château. Jaujard’s title is “Senior Civil Servant” which is befitting to what he did or mankind.
Moving 4000 works of art is no easy task but the clock was ticking. Nazi’s also enjoyed the occasional artwork campfire at times which is what Jaujard feared. In 1939 they burnt 3,825 pieces of art that they deemed of “little value”.
9. The Nazi Commandeered the Louvre during WWII
Doing justice to Jacques Jaujard’s cause, the Nazi commandeered the Louvre during war time until being ousted from Paris by the allied troops.
8. The Pyramid is American… or is it Chinese?
As is often done with modern architecture, the Parisians imported the architect to create the iconic Louvre pyramid. The pyramid sits in the “Cour Napoléon” or Napoleon Courtyard which is considered to be the “front” of the Louvre. I.M. Pei had already worked on the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
The local Parisian were outraged at the idea of a foreigner would be selected for such an important job in such a classical setting, but that was to be expected. The art community welcomed Pei for his past achievements. The result, an iconic and globally recognized entryway, speaks for itself. The pyramid is arguably as much a symbol of Paris as the Eiffel Tower.
7. The Louvre is the Most Visited Museum on Earth
The BBC reported that 10.2 million people visited the Louvre in 2018 which was boosted because Jay-Z and Beyonce made a music video in the museum. That makes it the most visited museum on Earth. I think it is incredible that popular culture can draw attention to the arts and wish Jay-Z would make more videos in museums!
It being the most visited museum may sound like a no-brainer since it is the largest, but the Hermitage in Russia is the second largest but tenth most visited.
6. The Mona Lisa is Most Famous Because it was Stolen
People obsess over La Giocanda (The Mona Lisa) for many reasons of little significance. Some say that it is a self-portrait of a homosexual Leonardo. True or not, this is not a big enough deal to be discussed in the art community. Da Vinci did not invent symbolism in art--far from it.
Why is the Mona Lisa not the greatest painting in the Louvre? It is without a doubt one of the greatest portraits ever painting, but it is still a portrait. Portraits are not interesting enouogh to reach international stardom. They are intended to preserve the image of a person in time for their future kin.
Geneviève Bresc-Bautier, an author and art historian who has written multiple books on the Louvre, barely covers the Mona Lisa in her 600+ page book entitled “The Louvre”. When she does speak about the Mona Lisa, its with disdain. If the painting was as important as it appears, you’d think it would merit 20 pages but instead, the Mona Lisa received no more than a footnote.
The Story of Grand Theft Art
You likely already know the story, but La Gioconda gained its fame when it was stolen and brought home to Florence by an Italian janitor in the early 20th century. The issue was, the painting was already “at home” in France. Napoleon, I stole troves of artwork when he conquered Italy and brought it back to the Louvre for display. However, the Mona Lisa was already in France at the time.
Francios I convinced da Vinci to move to France where he lived out the remainder of his years. After da Vinci’s death, Francois I bought three paintings from da Vinci’s assistant; The Virgin and Child with St.Anne, & St. John the Baptist, and The Mona Lisa.
The news of a “da Vinci” painting being stolen reached international fame, regardless of which one as there were so few left from the great maestro. When it was found and returned to the Louvre everyone just had to go see the “Returned Mona Lisa, da Vinci’s Masterpiece”. So, like everything else we can blame its mysterious fame on the media! #fakenews ( ;
5. Many Have Tried to Damage the Mona Lisa
Once the famed painting was returned there have been numerous unsuccessful attempts to harm it. The painting now sits behind bullet proof glass. Someone threw a bowl at the Mona Lisa in attempt to harm it. The bowl apparently shattered leaving no damage to the painting nor its glass.
4. The Louvre is the Third Try at a Good Name
The Louvre was first named Muséum des Arts when it opened in 1793 as explained above. Later, Paris’ great Emperor Napoleon named it after himself, Musée Napoleon. Finally, it was given the name the Louvre likely since Napoleon, while loved in France, did not have the same international appreciation.
3. 25% of All Leonardo da Vinci Paintings are in the Louvre
Leonardo da Vinci has garnered most of his fame from being so elusive. Unlike Michelangelo, Raphael, and Botticelli who had distinct patrons/masters, da Vinci was a lone wolf. Many say that his combined genius and creativity is what made him such a famous artist. Painting landscapes that he likely had never seen with his own eyes. Things that look more natural in Lord of the Rings rather than behind the Virgin Mary.
His illusory lifestyle is what makes him so sought after. Unlike Caravaggio or Picasso who would both paint 100s if not 1000s of paintings, da Vinci has left the world with twenty-four known free-standing works of art. Two of those twenty-four paintings are fresco adorned to a wall, such as the Last Supper in Milan, and the rest are free-standing works. These paintings are solo works by the master or collaborative efforts with students or friends such as Verrocchio.
6 of the twenty-four paintings are located in the Louvre. Of the 7, only one is unfinished. Da Vinci was so creative that he would often get bored with a project and move on to the next. While at the Louvre, you simply must enjoy 25% of the master’s worldly collection.
To see the full list of da Vinci’s works, check out my article on The Most Famous Artwork in the Louvre.
2. The Grande Galeriè Has the Most Impressive Collection of the Louvre and No Mona Lisa
By now, I am sure you are picking up the lack of appreciation for the Mona Lisa. My goal in covering a museum like the Louvre is to prepare you for your visit and ideally to engage in stimulating conversation with your guide when you take a tour. I must prepare you for the fact that while it is a da Vinci and honestly very captivating, the Mona Lisa is not the most impressive painting in the Louvre.
That said, it is a da Vinci which automatically places it in the top 1% and there are other da Vinci paintings in the Grand Galariè. The Grand Galariè is as impressive to they eyes as the artwork it contains. There are few French masters that reached the levels of Renaissance, Baroque, or Classicism art as the Italian masters. Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix, famous for the Raft of Medusa and Liberty Leading the People respectively, are two that have but few others can match the Italians in these styles.
It is not because the French are any less talented, it is simply that these are styles began in central Italy. It is the same reason why there is such a high concentration of tech start-ups near San Francisco. San Fran will undoubtedly be the Florence of the tech Renaissance.
The Grand Galeriè features many famous Italian masters far away from their homes. Raphael is a notable name along with Ghirlandaio, Perugino. The latter two artists took part in painting the Sistine Chapel.
Da Vinci has not one, but three paintings in the Grand Galeriè. One of which is the Virgin on the Rocks which is widely discussed and adored in the art community.
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1. Much of the Art was Stolen… Kind of
Napoleon was not a mere general or president, he was an Emperor who builit an Empire. He waged many wars and had many victories. When a country lost a war, they had to pay a great sum of money and when money was short, they paid with art.
The 12 years Napoleon ruled France was the quintessence of the Louvre, featuring the greatest paintings and sculptures of the known world. A lover of art, Napoleon even hung the Mona Lisa in his bedroom, situated at the Palais Tuileries, which has today been converted as part of the Louvre.
David’s The Coronation of Napoleon is a jaw-dropping painting that hyperbolizes Napoleon’s triumph. For instance, Napoleon’s mother was not at his coronation but can be seen in the painting.
This incredible piece foreshadows today’s media propaganda. After Napoleon’s reign, most of the art accumulated through war were returned to their countries, and the “Musée Napoléon” was once again called “The Louvre.”
Louvre Opening Hours & Admissions
Before you plan anything else, you need to know the Louvre museum hours. Luckily for you, the Louvre is open nearly every day of the year from 9:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M., except on Tuesdays – when the museum is closed. The museum also has a night opening on Wednesdays and Fridays where the museum stays open until 9:45 P.M.
- Monday: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m
- Tuesday: Closed
- Wednesday: 9:00 a.m. – 9:45 p.m
- Thursday: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m
- Friday: 9:00 a.m. – 9:45 p.m
- Saturday: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m
- Sunday: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m
Keep in mind that the Louvre is closed on January 1, May 1, and December 25.
Pro Tip: If you can, try to visit the Louvre in the evening for a more intimate experience. It’s typically less busy giving you a chance to view the exhibits longer. link.