Before becoming a museum, the Louvre building knew a chaotic past.
For almost 8 centuries, the building will know many phases of metamorphosis to adapt to its succeeding owners.
Considered today as the Body of France, unique, imposing, the Louvre stands as the most admired monument.
Paris was expanding outside of Ile de la Cité.
But the city was defenseless.
Before leaving to crusades, the King Philip August II ordered a protection for his capital : "Surround it with high walls and defense towers ! "
According to D. Soulié, Art historian & writer, the building was a simple basic Philippian fortress, shaped as rectangle, with a very high central tower to overview the River : La seine.
The Parisian authorities reinforced the west side by building a stronghold, from where the danger was supposed to come, and they opened two gates : on the south and on the east for Parisian soldier to enter.
We believe that the name of the castle is after the Wolves that used to live in that area of Paris before building the Louvre : "Louves" in French meaning the female wolves.
In the central tower, the king keeps the treasures, the kingdom archives and the most precious documents of the King family.
You have to imagine that the Louvre is not just high to protect the city, but also a way for the King to rival with the power of the Church.
The vertical architecture, the high towers of the Louvre is not a coincidence but a clear message to the cardinal that the king's Louvre is above everything else in Paris.
During this time, the King lives in Ile de la Cité, at the very center of Paris. But, due to a rising administration, his palace is more and more invaded by bureaucrats. His living space became small. A lot of his employees, court advisors, administrators are taking place in his old Palace.
The Louvre, located a bit outside the city, with many green gardens around, offered a beautiful vacation home for the Royalty to take a break from work. Soon, the Louvre become his official residence.
You can still see the Medieval Louvre in the Museum : the archaeologists discovered these hidden rooms by chance, during the Louvre Pyramid construction during the 1980s. However, the Salle Saint Louis is discovered in the late 19th century.
In 1358, Etienne Marcel, Provost of the Merchants of Paris assembled a revolt and attacked the Palace of Ile de la cité, making this old Royal Palace vulnerable. It became clear to the King that moving to the Louvre, a fortress, is the best option in order to be protected from his own population.
The king Charles V achieved the construction of a second wall in 1364, protecting the new suburbs of Paris from foreign attacks.
The Louvre is now within the city walls, thus, loses its military function.
Charles V decides then to transform the Louvre from a medieval simple fortress to a true Royal Palace.
The Great Architect Raymond du Temple is in charge of the embellishment:
According to Pierre Yves Le Pogam, "Raymond du Temple is very close to the king, he builds for him, but also become the godfather to the architect's son"
Thanks to him, the Louvre becomes a fairy tale castle with beautiful decorations as we can see it on the book "Les Très riches Heures"
We know the tower of the library, where the king installed a huge Book collection, decorated the walls with precious wood, inside of which we found closets where the King archived his books.
Thomas de Pisan, an Italian savant, was the principal consultant of Charles V. Astrologer, he left Italy to come study in Paris, France thanks to Charles Vth efforts in Science.
His daughter, a poet, brags about Charles Vth contributions to Art and Science : "Most of the time, He reads, or we read to Him various beautiful stories, until the end of the night. He reads about Philosophy, about Morality, about History of Romans and other books in Science."
Charles V was among the first kings to amass a book treasury, not for pleasure but for learning purposes.
He ordered many books about Politics, human nature, religion and many other topics of his interests, earning him the name of the "Wise King of France".
In one hand, he wanted to be the enlightened monarch, looking for answers in his books, in the darkness of the middle ages.
In the other hand, Paris was going through rough times : Epidemic, famine, wars, insurgents deifying the monarchy and Paris was boiling of rage.
1420, the English occupy Paris and find Parisian in a bad situation : poor and sick population. The establish their quarter in an empty ghostly Louvre.
During all the 15th century, the Kings of France will live in the Val de Loire and avoid Paris, occupied by the English. After the retreat of the English, the Louvre remained empty, until the coming back of King Francis I in 1527.
After the Treaty of Madrid, and his release, by going back to Paris, King Francis I wanted to take back the control of Paris parliament. He made it clear that Paris is now his principal political town and he wanted to live in the Louvre in 1528.
King Francis was a friend of Da Vinci and loved the Italian culture.
He will destroy the Louvre dungeon which is the central tower, to rebuild the Louvre as an Italian Palace with a square court.
By destroying the symbolic Central Tower, King Francis is reshaping the medieval religious function of the Louvre: in 1540, many musical dinners and festivities were hosted in the Louvre.
In 1546, He ordered Pierre Lescot, a genius architect of the Renaissance, to renew the Louvre as a Grand Hotel with a majestic façade, ornate with French deco unique elements and classicism features that will survive to today.
Today, on the West wing of the Louvre, we can still see the Pierre Lescot contribution but also the magnificent sculptures of Jean Goujon, another remarkable renaissance designer.
The West Wing of the Louvre engraved the Louvre as the first Renaissance architectural wonder that has been ever been made in France.
The succeeding king Henri II will also add his touch to the Louvre. On the West wing of the Louvre, Henri II will elevate the façade to 2 more floors and adds his own Coat of Arms.
1559, Henri II will die from a wound in the head, inflicted during a jousting tournament against a Scottish player in Paris.
Ambroise Paré, his surgeon was unable to save him.
1572 August 24th, the Louvre is the theater of a horrific massacre of protestants known as the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre
The King's widow, Catherine de Medici, will also expand the Louvre on the tilery fabric that used to be on the Tuilleries Gardens. Actually, the queen Catherine de Medici was also a fan or Art, and beautiful architecture. She was fed up with all the noise and the filth of Paris town, just next to the Louvre. So she built a small Tuileries Palace for her to enjoy a peaceful walk in the gardens.
Unfortunately, the Tuileries palace is destroyed and we can not see it anymore, except the remaining queen's garden.
The gardens access is free and open to public today.
The vocation of the Louvre to become a “palace of the arts” is not recent.
As explained above, the Louvre was designed to be a fortress, so it already has a role of guard since it shelters the first literary works, the national archives, the national treasury...
Indeed, in the highest of the towers, Charles V sets up his "bookstore" there, a collection of 973 precious manuscripts which form the basis of the current National Library.
His successors, judging the Louvre too austere, decided to make it a pleasure palace. Some kings will have their paintings vault there.
But it is really with Henri IV that the idea of making the Louvre a Museum appears by tearing down the fortress and link the Old Palace to the new Tuileries castle.
This historic change provides for grandiose arrangements: the construction of galleries and artistic workshops, thus, the artistic vocation of the Louvre was born.
The "king's workers", painters, sculptors, goldsmiths and upholsterers settled there with their families, held shops there and produced the finest creations of the century. Henri IV will only have time to create the "Great Gallery on the water's edge" where he installs a collection of antiques, the start of the future museum.
With Louis XIV the royal ambitions came to an end since the monarch left Paris for Versailles, however leaving the royal collections in "the Cabinet des Tableaux du Roi".
The building is abandoned to various academies... moreover, in the 17th century, the Louvre was invaded by all kinds of parasites.
Barracks and workshops are multiplying in the Cour Carrée; under the counters, vaulted passages created by Soufflot, onlookers crowd in front of the print and painting dealers. painting and sculpture. It was there that the work of members of the Academy was exhibited for the first time in 1699.
From 1725, this exhibition will take place in the Salon Carré, hence its name "Salon", and will take on the appearance of a Parisian event. The hanging is delicate: the art consists in not letting the slightest end appear like a wall between the paintings.
Painters enjoying a great notoriety obtain the best locations, at breast height; sculptures and busts are lined up on the tables. The atmosphere is often stormy; As soon as the hanging is finished, the public rushes in, the salt-workers exchange their criticisms with virulence. Diderot will tell the story in his famous Salons.
He was also one of the first to call for the creation of a museum accessible to others than the privileged...
Flora Goldenberg is a passionate tour guide in Paris. She writes about Art and History of Paris.
Flora organizes a Louvre guided tour every week for groups of 6 people.
You can book her for a private guided tour in the Louvre.
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