The Louvre hosts many galleries, with its sprawling layout host to many spaces that have become famous in their own right. Perhaps none of these is as storied and beloved as the Galerie d’Apollon — also known as the Gallery of Apollo.
Its central role in the exhibition of some of the Louvre’s finest treasures, as well as the amount of immaculate decoration and phantasmagoric murals, has long made it a favorite for visitors.
And yet, few people actually know the full story.
That’s why we’ve created this guide to the Louvre’s Gallery of Apollo.
Below, you’ll learn about its conception and construction. You’ll also learn about all the amazing things you can see housed there today. And we are so lucky to live at a time when the Louvre has masterfully renovated and restored this space, returning it to its full glory.
Once you have fallen in love with the Gallery of Apollo, maybe you will want to see it for yourself!
The Galerie d’Apollon is an enormous room on the upper floor of the Petite Galerie. It houses the French Crown Jewels as well as the royal collection of hardstone vessels. The ornate interior boasts a high number of beautiful decorations.
Because of this, the room has become a must-visit part of any trip to the famous museum.
The history of the Louvre is a fascinating tale. It traces not only the French monarchy but also the rise of Paris as a cultural center of the world.
While it began as a military fortress in the 13th century, it went on to become an important location for French kings. In a similar vein, the story of the Gallery of Apollo is as much a story of the changing politics of France as it is about a room in an art museum. In fact, its very name is a clue to the profound ways that the government has changed over time in the country and how architectural marvels can be used to assert power.
To understand how the Gallery of Apollo came to be, we first must understand the Petite Galerie where it is located.
The Petite Galerie itself is an iconic wing of the Louvre. This was created in the second half of the 16th century under the command of Charles IX as a single story hall. But construction wasn’t completed as internal conflicts locked France up in more important matters.
As the century came to a close, the Petite Galerie got its second story — and this is where the Galerie d’Apollon would eventually go.
Before then, however, there was the Galerie des Rois, which showed artwork owned by Henry IV. Anne of Austria enjoyed the bottom floor as a summer apartment, which is why it has been lavishly decorated since the 1650s (some of this still survives today).
In 1661, a fire destroyed much of the Petite Galerie. And so the famous Louis Le Vau was ordered by King Louis XIV to restore the wing and raise it to even grander heights of magisterial excess.
Louis Le Vau was a leader of the French Classical style, famously overseeing massive building projects at Versailles. And it was here at the Gallery of Apollo that he would prove his worth for those larger ventures later on.
Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, wanted to turn the Petite Galerie fire into an opportunity to rebuild it as something grander than ever imagined. The overwhelming beauty of this gallery would be a form of soft power — showing how refined and elegant the French King was, how indomitable his greatness. It was a move he made often, supporting the arts and sciences to improve his image across the continent.
The new space was called the Gallery of Apollo because Louis XIV closely identified himself with the god Apollo from antiquity. The theme for the room was the travel of the Sun through the sky, a fitting tribute to Louis the Sun King. As Apollo is often merged with the Greek god of the Sun Helios, the mythic symbolism became weighted with extra significance.
There is another historical component. It was only in the 16th century that Copernicus declared that the Earth revolved around the Sun, not the other way around. And Louis XIV, like many of the French kings that came before him, loved and so patronized astronomy. He even commissioned the Paris Observatory (which you can still visit), and he founded the French Academy of Sciences.
To pull off connecting his personality with the Sun itself, Louis XIV tapped the powers of the great Charles Le Brun (an artist who would later work at Versailles) to decorate the interior. It was here in the Gallery of Apollo that Le Brun’s commissions gave him the ability to experiment and push excess to its absolute limits. The innovations found in this room would go on to influence generations of French interior design and decorative arts.
When it was completed in 1663, the room was by far the most decorated in Europe — with at least 60% of its surfaces covered by gold leaf! The audacity of this space went on to inspire the famous Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
Though great strides were made in his lifetime, Louis XIV never saw the gallery completed. And in fact, its continuous improvement lasted centuries. It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that the room would come to its completed state under the aegis of architect Félix Duban. He employed the services of well known painters of his generation, including Eugène Delacroix (you can see Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People at the Louvre).
It was Delacroix who was given the capstone achievement of the entire hall. It is his Apollo Slaying the Serpent Python (1851), a 12-meter wide ceiling mural, that serves as the culmination of centuries of construction and as one of the most shining achievements of French Romanticism.
From the floors to the paintings to the ceilings, every inch of this space radiates meaning and majesty. If you know how to read it, you can discover the elements of the storytelling and symbolism that make this a coherent work of art.
The ceiling of the Gallery of Apollo is covered with incredible paintings that tell a story that unfolded over the hundreds of years that the room was constructed. These represent works by the following artists:
● Joseph Benoît Guichard
● Charles Le Brun
● Antoine-François Callet
● Jean-Jacques Lagrenée
● Eugène Delacroix
● Antoine Renou
● Jean-Hugues Taraval
● Louis Durameau
● Chales-Louis Muller
Across 11 paintings, the story of the Sun and Apollo (and thus, metaphorically, the Sun King) is told.
The medallions show the Latin months, with the natural activities and economic processes of the months illustrated — like the July harvest.
The medallions also express the signs of the tropical Zodiac. These show the Sun’s march through the ecliptic, further highlighting how the Sun’s cycle over the course of the year and its rule over the cosmos.
Unlike the colorful vitality of the paintings, the medallions give us solid grisailleimages that seem somehow more permanent and real, even though their palette and style is actually more abstracted than the paintings in the ceiling. Nevertheless, those splendors above feel ethereal, distant, and mythic — while the medallions show how those forces in the universe appear in the mundane details of everyday life.
In this way, the medallions connect the grand mythological narrative of the ceiling to human life, showing how the power of the Sun (and the Sun King) is complete and, as Louis himself might have preferred to say it, absolute!
The ongoing symbolism of time cycles does not end with the paintings and the medallions. It continues with the chandeliers. Though no longer visible today, they once represented each day of the week, with the missing 7th day of Sunday placed in the center.
Some of the ongoing decorative imagery can be found today in the grotesques. These are decorative objects that mix human, animal, and plant elements in a single figure. While they are very beautiful in their own right, they also carry plenty of symbolism within — though this can be difficult to decipher.
If we know how to read them, however, we can see the days of the week appear. For instance, when elements of an eagle appear, this represents Jupiter. Thursday is Jupiter’s day (it is called Jeudi in French).
By illustrating the connection between the Sun and the days of the week, yet another concentric circle is added to the dazzling tapestry of solar significance. The Sun controls the rhythm of day and night. This adds up to weeks, which measure the Sun’s travels through the signs of the Zodiac. This eventually gets us through a full year — the culmination of the solar journey.
You’ll notice the floor is made up of diamond shapes with an interwoven pattern inside. This is a popular form of flooring for French royalty, now called Parquet de Versailles due to its prevalence at the famous palace of Versailles.
And yet, it is here in the Gallery of Apollo where the style began. So when you visit, beneath your feet lies an experiment that went on to change architectural history. It is here that French builders first figured out how to accomplish this pattern, and it was so successful that they went on to become the must-have floors of the aristocracy and royalty in Europe for centuries.
At the end of construction in the 19th century, portrait tapestries were added to the Gallery of Apollo that represent the monarchs, architects, and artists who worked to make this wonder what it is today.
Totalling 28 in all, these tapestries give us a sweeping view of the personalities that ruled France and developed its visual culture from the rise of absolutism, through the Revolution, the First Empire, as well as multiple upheavals and restorations.
In 2005, the Gallery of Apollo reopened after a 24 month restoration process. Throughout the centuries, candle smoke, humidity, the Parisian air, and even human breath contributed to the dimming of the room’s splendor.
This means that we can now enjoy the gallery in its full power. For that reason, the Gallery of Apollo has begun to rise again in the general appreciation of the Louvre, with visitors being able to connect to the room and see it as it was meant to be seen.
When you visit the Louvre, you’ll find that the Gallery of Apollo is such a marvelous achievement that the museum has largely allowed it to stand as a work of art in itself. After all, if anything is to be held inside, it has to compete with the extraordinary setting. That’s why the Louvre entrusts this room with its most unbelievable treasures.
First and foremost, the Crown Jewels of France — including the kings, queens, emperors, and empress Josephine can be found here.
These give us an intimate look at royalty, as the crown is the personal item that most directly connects the monarch with their station. It is at once a very human thing, made to fit someone’s head, and also unearthly, made to signify the full spiritual and military power of the French state.
Among the Crown Jewels are these most famous of items, particularly the Regent. This is a massive diamond brought to France from India. Considered one of the most valuable diamonds on Earth, this truly must be seen to be believed.
The stories behind the diamonds are as enchanting as their sparkling bodies — and you can learn more about these on our private Louvre Extended tour!
Also held in the Gallery of Apollo is the hardstone vessel collection. These are precious pieces carved and showered with gilt and enamel to produce breathtaking works of art.
Among these, Neptune’s Ship is perhaps the most famous and photographed. It is made predominantly out of lapis lazuli and was purchased by Louis XIV himself.
In fact, the Sun King acquired almost all of the pieces in the hardstone vessel collection, as he had a special love for them. These works are carved out of a wide range of material, like agate, amethyst, jade, and more. All in all, there are 800 pieces.
Entering the Gallery of Apollo, we are overcome by the force of history. We encounter a level of splendor that seems to be in such short supply today.
The grandeur of kings and the talent of so many artists and architects cannot be put into words or captured by a camera. One must stand under these ceilings where the gods spread out in the pitch of battle and the serenity of peace. One must take in the shimmering gold all around them. One must see the light twinkling inside the enormous jewels. Only then can one say they understand the power of the Galerie d’Apollon.
Are you interested in witnessing this one-of-a-kind cultural icon? Then schedule your tour of the Louvre in advance. Our guides can walk you through all the symbolism and history that pours out of every detail in this gorgeous space. And when you are ready, you can explore the rest of the artwork on display in the world’s greatest art museum.
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