The Design

The first royal “Castle of the Louvre” on this site was founded by Philippe II in 1190, as a fortress to defend Paris on its west against Viking attacks. In the 14th century, Charles V turned it into a palace, but Francois I and Henri II tore it down to build a real palace; the foundations of the original fortress tower are under the Salle des Cariatides (Room of the Caryatids) now.

The existing parts of the Chateau du Louvre were begun in 1546. Here the architect Pierre Lescot introduced to Paris the new design vocabulary of the Renaissance, which had been developed in the chateaux of the Loire. His new wing for the old castle defined its status, as the first among the royal palaces. J. A. du Cerceau also worked on the Louvre.

During his reign (1589 – 1610), King Henri IV added the Grande Galerie to the Louvre. More than a quarter of a mile long and one hundred feet wide, this huge addition was built along the bank of the Seine River and at the time was the longest edifice of its kind in the world. Henri IV, a promoter of the arts by all classes of people, invited hundreds of artists and craftsmen to live and work on the building’s lower floors. This tradition continued for another two hundred years until Napoleon ended it.

Architect Claude Perrault’s eastern wing (1665 – 1680), crowned by an uncompromising Italian balustrade along its distinctly non-French flat roof, was a ground-breaking departure in French architecture. His severe design was chosen over a competing design provided by the great Bernini, who came to Paris for the purpose. Perrault had translated the Roman architect Vitruvius into French. Now Perrault’s rhythmical paired columns form a shadowed colonnade with a central pedimented triumphal arch entrance raised on a high, rather defensive basement, in a restrained classicizing baroque manner that has provided models for grand edifices in Europe and America for centuries. The Metropolitan Museum in New York, for one example, reflects Perrault’s Louvre design.

The Louvre was still being added to by Napoleon III. The new wing of 1852 – 1857, by architects Visconti and Hector Lefuel, represents the Second Empire’s version of Neo-Baroque, restlessly charged with detail everywhere and laden with sculpture. Work continued until 1876.