The Louvre, for hundreds of years, it has been a part of French culture. As a medieval fortress in the beginning, the palace for the King of France, and a museum for the last two centuries, this place has been a milestone for the FreNch. The Louvre has been a piece of history for over 800 years. Its architecture was very advanced for its time, and is still considered advanced for the 21st century. In the beginning, The Louvre was used as a royal palace. It was built by King Phillippe Augustine in the late 12th century. The library of Charles V – installed in one of the towers of the original fortress of Philippe August – was eventually taken away, and to this day, no one knows how.. François I began a new collection of art with 12 paintings from Italy. These included works by Titian, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci, the most famous being the Joconde – or Mona Lisa. The royal collection grew and by the reign of Louis XIII, numbered roughly 200 pieces. Henri II, and Catherine de Médicis continued to enlarge the collection, as did others. When Louis XIV died in 1715, there were 2,500 pieces of art and objects. Until the Revolution, this collection was strictly for the private pleasure of the Court. Finally, the idea of a museum (originating with Louis XVI) was realized on 10 August 1793, when the Musée de la République opened to the public. Napoléon greatly increased the collections by exacting tribute from the countries he conquored, but most of these were returned in 1815 after his defeat at Waterloo. Under Louis XVIII the Venus de Milo was aquired (for 6000F) shortly after it was rediscovered on the Island of Melos in 1820. In 1848 the museum became the property of the State. With an annual budget devoted to aquiring new art, the collections continued to grow. Private donations also augmented the Museum’s holdings. In 1947 the impressionist paintings were moved to the Jeu de Paume and l’Orangerie. (In 1986 these were transfered to the Musée d’Orsay.) Today, the catalogue lists about 300,000 works, only a fraction of which are on display at any one time. Le Grand Louvre – begun in 1981 is transforming the museum once again enlarging it substantially. The Richelieu Wing – which had “temporarily” housed part of the Ministry of Finance since the 18th century – was opened in 1993. The Louvre was not in any way originally intended to become a museum. The “salle des antiques” which Henri VI set up on the ground floor of the Grande Galerie was not accessible to the general public, nor was the king’s cabinet of drawings, created in 1671, or the king’s cabinet of paintings, to which access was reserved for a privileged few. From the date when, under Louis XIV, most of its occupants left the Louvre, its vocation as a “palace of the arts” appeared a quite natural progression in the eyes of the resident artists and the academies. The idea of a Palace of the Muses or “Muséum”, where one could view the royal collections, was born in 1747. The museum concept, which was quite new at the time, ran along the same lines as the Encyclopedia and the philosophy of the Enlightenment. From 1779, purchases and museographical projects demonstrate the imminence of its realisation. The “Grand Louvre” is a part of the “Grand Travaux” or Major Works defined by the President of the Republic François Mitterrand, which also includes the new Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Opéra Bastille and the Grande Arche de la Défense. In fact it constituted the realisation of an earlier project, which involved devoting the entire Palace to the function of a museum, whilst modernising and improving the presentation of the collections.Covering an area of 40 hectares right in the heart of Paris, on the right bank of the Seine, the Louvre offers almost 60,000 m² of exhibition rooms dedicated to preserving items representing 11 millennia of civilisation and culture. The “Grand Louvre” is also a cultural unit which has a didactic role towards the public, a role which it fulfils through lectures, audiovisual and interactive productions and very many printed publications which are available in the exhibition rooms or at the bookshop under the pyramid. The Grand Louvre Project represents over fifteen years of work (1981-1999). Its ambition is at once museological, architectural and urban, since it involves enlarging and modernising the Louvre Museum and the Decorative Arts Museum, setting off the palace to advantage and opening up the whole towards the city. The Etablissement Public du Grand Louvre (E.P.G.L.) was created in 1983 to be in charge of the project as a whole. It will be required to oversee all the work right up to its completion in 1998, when the renovation work on the historical areas of the museum will be concluded. The budget of 6.9 billion FRF, which is financed by the Government, provided the means to realise a project which will enable the exhibition areas of the museum to be doubled in size, to 60,000 m², to increase the scientific, technical and administrative working areas fivefold, and the reception and service areas intended for the public (documentation points, rest areas, cafés) thirteenfold.
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