• Culture
The Invention of Louvre
Text by Yi Mei Photographs courtesy of Louvre Museum


An 18th-Century oil painting by French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard. © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre)/Gérard Blot A landscape copper etching by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, produced in 1640. © Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/Martine Beck-Coppola An oil painting by French artist Jacques Louis David, produced in 1771. © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre)/Philippe Fuzeau

A cultural icon of France, the Louvre Museum is now very popular with Chinese people. Chinese tourists have become the second largest foreign group to visit the Louvre with 820,000 trips in 2015, trailing only those from the United States. To better satisfy Chinese demand for Louvre art, the Louvre and the National Museum of China are jointly holding the exhibition “L’invention du Louvre” in the National Museum of China in Beijing, which displays 126 treasures that create a timeline of the history of the Louvre.

The exhibition is divided into five parts: The Royal Palace and Royal Collection, the Louvre and the Enlightenment Movement, the Napoleon Museum, the Royal Palace to the World Museum, and Today’s Louvre.

 A bronze statue of Louis XIV. © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre)/Thierry Ollivier An agate cup with a lid dating back to the 1640s. © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre)/Jean-Gilles Berizzi A sculpture of famous French fabulist Jean de la Fontaine, produced in 1785. © Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/Thierry Ollivier A jade statue of Emperor Augustus of Ancient Rome. © RMN-Grand Palais (musé e du Louvre)/Martine Beck-Coppola 

French “Forbidden City”

“For centuries, just like the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Louvre was the main residence of the royal family,” explains French co-curator Neguine Mathieux. “It was an ostentatious place of power and art. This exhibition recounts the birth of the first universal museum at the end of the French Revolution.”

The history of the Louvre dates back to the end of the 12th Century when Philip II built the Louvre Tower, a military defense project, on the right bank of the Seine. That project was gradually expanded into a royal palace. During the Valois Dynasty (1328-1589), Francis I was obsessed with art from the Italian Renaissance as well as Northern European realism. In his wake, French kings across the ages tended to buy or commission art to demonstrate their individual taste. Heavily influenced by the Enlightenment Movement, the Louvre officially became a museum and was opened to the public in 1793. The royal collection of the palace naturally became the national collection. Napoleon and his successors contributed greatly to expanding the museum’s collection. Since the 19th Century, the Louvre has become a treasure trove of world art. To this day, the Louvre is still expanding its collection with donations from generous collectors.



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