How the Louvre Changed from Palace to Museum

Among the great changes that came to France in the wake of the French Revolution was the 1973 opening of the Louvre to the public for the first time. In this year the Museum Central des Arts opened to the public in the Grande Galerie and the Salon Carré, marking the toddler beginning of the Louvre as a museum. It would take almost a century for the building to completely shed it’s links to it’s past as royal palace, during which a slow but steady transition took place and was influenced by some of France’s most notable historic figures.

Perhaps most notable of these figures is Napoleon I. During his rule France;s first emperor left a bold mark on the Louvre, indeed the  museum was renamed the Musée Napoléon in 1803. Great art looted during his campaigns enriched Paris’, and particularly the Louvre’s collection. For many years four celebrated antique bronze horses taken from Venice’s Saint Mark’s Basilica adorned the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel which was built west of the Louvre between 1806 and 1808 to commemorate his military victories. Numerous originally Vatican and Venetian Republic paintings and antiquities rested in museum’s halls as a result of the Tolentino and Campo Formio treaties. These but a few examples of these magnificent spoils of war. The fall of Napoleon’s empire in 1815 also meant the end of the Louvre’s ownership of these masterpieces as these treasures returned home. His nephew, Louis-Napoleon followed suit and had a significant effect on the Louvre. As Napoleon III, he commissioned the completion of the north wing linking the Louvre and the Tuileries in the 1850s. The second empire greatly grew the Louvre’s collection with the addition of 11,385 pieces which included paintings, objets d’art, sculptures, and antiquities, a collection which was first housed as the Musée Napoléon III in 1863.

Colour Image of Musée Napoléon III salle des terres cuites au Louvre
Image by Charles GIRAUD, courtesy of

Along with the influence of great individuals, the Louvre developed naturally. It’s artistic interests and focuses moved with the changes of France’s and the western art world’s interests. Most notable changes include the addition of the Department of Egyptian Antiquities, which was created in the wake of renewed public interest in ancient egypt. It was inaugurated on December 15, 1827 with the renowned father to modern understanding of the principles of hieroglyphic writing, Jean-François Champollion, as curator. Louis-Philippe’s Spanish gallery brought Spanish art, a rare sight in pre-revolutionary France, to the louvre between 1837 and 1848. Some years later, the Louvre brought Europe’s first museum of Assyrian art, inaugurated May 1, 1847 in the Cour Carrée’s north wing. And in 1850 the Mexican, Algerian, and ethnographic museums were created in response to increased interest in the exotic worlds and their art. Some two years later, February 15, 1852 , the Louvre was able to add important treasures from France’s royal dynasties, spanning from Childeric I to Napoleon, to its collection of decorative arts through the opening of the Musée des Souverains by Louis-Napoleon.

Incendie du pavillon de Flore, 2 octobre, vue prise depuis les bains de la Frégate
Image courtesy of

As the beginning of the Louvre’s transition from Palace to museum was marked by the early years of the revolution, so was the symbolic completion of its transition to be marked with the historic, and not unviolent, Paris Commune. In May 1871, in the last desperate moments of the Paris Commune, the Communard, witnessing the unmissable signs of the approaching end of their campaign, rushed to destroy what they saw as symbols of the monarchy and of their oppressors. The Tuilleries burned, with the Louvre miraculously surviving the same fate, though its ruins were not completely demolished until 1883. Out of the ashes of those flames the modern Louvre we admire today arose and blossomed.

-Lemmy Thuku-

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Martinez, Jean-Luc. “History of the Louvre: From Chateau to Museum.” Louvre Museum Official Website. Musée du Louvre, n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2013. <>.

Gould, Cecil Hilton Monk. Trophy of Conquest; The Musée Napoléon and the Creation of the Louvre. London: Faber and Faber, 1965. Print.

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