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Visitor trails From Palace to Museum, 800 Years of History

Thematic trail - Length: 3 hrs - Tour days: Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

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Plafond Braque
Plafond Braque

© R.M.N.

00Introduction

The Palais du Louvre, which houses one of the most stunning collections of artworks in the world, is known first and foremost as a museum. Yet for almost seven hundred years the buildings constituted one of the principal residences of the kings and emperors of France.

Built shortly after 1190 by King Philippe Auguste as a defensive fortress, by the 14th century the Palais du Louvre had become a pleasant residence that occasionally served as a royal home. Francis I chose to turn it into a Renaissance “palace”. Over time, a royal estate gradually developed. Henry IV ordered the château built by Catherine de Médicis in the Tuileries to be linked to the Louvre palace by a “grand gallery” bordering the Seine. Louis XIV, who resided at the Louvre until his departure for Versailles in 1678, completed the Cour Carrée (Square Court), which was closed off on the city side by a colonnade. When the court moved to Versailles, French monarchs lost interest in the Palais du Louvre.
In 1793, the Louvre became a museum, and has been given over ever since to the conservation and presentation of thousands of artworks and legacies of past civilizations. In the early 19th century, sovereigns transformed the interiors but carried out little building work. But from the mid-19th century onward, the Louvre underwent the largest phase of extension in its history. Napoleon III completed the unification of the Palais des Tuileries and the Palais du Louvre by building the Aile Denon (Denon wing) on the Seine side and finishing the Aile Richelieu on the rue de Rivoli side. In 1871, the Palais des Tuileries burned down. Thenceforth, the Louvre opened onto the great perspective facing western Paris.
The Grand Louvre project, launched by President François Mitterand in 1981, modernized the museum and extended it, with the opening in 1993 of the Richelieu wing, which formerly housed the Ministry of Finance.

How to get to the next stop:
From the Pyramid, take the escalator towards Sully and proceed to the Medieval Louvre section.
On either side of a rotunda are rooms devoted to the history of the Palais du Louvre. They contain models, paintings, plans and documents.

Louvre médiéval (Salle 5)
Louvre médiéval (Salle 5)

© Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier

01The medieval Louvre

A model displayed next to the entrance to the moats of King Philippe Auguste's fortress shows that the original site was located just outside the Paris city walls, of which it formed the western bastion. The keep, a massive, cylindrical tower, stood at the center of this almost square-shaped fortress. Today visitors can follow the moats around the outer perimeter and the keep to reach the only remaining vestige of the main building - the rib-vaulted lower room, known as the Salle Saint-Louis, built under Philippe Auguste c. 1230-1240.

How to get to the next stop:
On leaving the Salle Saint-Louis, turn left twice and take the Henri II Staircase up to the ground floor. This leads you to the Salle des Caryatides.

Salle des Caryatides
Salle des Caryatides

© Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier

02Salle des Caryatides

The new wing was built by Pierre Lescot from 1546 to 1550 in the style of the Renaissance. This large room on the ground floor owes its name to four sculpted female figures – the Caryatids – made by Jean Goujon in 1550 to support the musicians' gallery. The other end of the room formed a space surrounded by columns used to stage the presence of the royal figure. From 1692 to the Revolution, this performance and reception area housed the King's Antiquities. The room was transformed and redecorated in the early 19th century and today contains the Louvre's collection of Roman copies after Greek originals from the Hellenistic period. The east-facing windows offer a view over the whole of the Cour Carrée.

How to get to the next stop:
Leave the room by the door on the right-hand side of the fireplace, then turn right into the Rotonde de Mars. To your left you can see the summer apartments of queen Anne of Austria, Louis XIV's mother.

Art romain. Antiquité tardive. IIIe - Ve siècle après J.-C. (Salle 27)
Art romain. Antiquité tardive. IIIe - Ve siècle après J.-C. (Salle 27)

© Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier

03Anne of Austria's summer apartments

The apartment of Louis XIV's mother was built by the architect Louis Le Vau from 1655 to 1658 on the ground floor of the Petite Galerie, which was commenced in 1566 and completed under Henry IV. From north to south, it comprises six rooms: the large salon, the anteroom (Salle des Saisons), the vestibule (Salon de la Paix), the great study, the drawing room and the small study, all subsequently interconnected. The last five were sumptuously decorated by the painter Giovanni Francesco Romanelli and embellished with stuccos by the sculptor Michel Anguier. They were converted into a gallery when the antiquities collection was installed in 1799, shortly after works removed from Italy by the Revolutionary armies arrived at the Louvre. Today, the gallery houses the Roman Antiquities collections.

How to get to the next stop:
A second series of rooms overlooking the Seine leads to the Cour du Sphinx, on the right.

Cour du Sphinx (Salle 31)
Cour du Sphinx (Salle 31)

© Musée du Louvre / E. Revault

04The Cour du Sphinx

Built in 1663 by Le Vau, this small court (originally known as the "Queen's Court") was bordered to the east by a new wing featuring a pediment, to the south by the Grande Galerie and to the north by a theater. The western side was closed off between 1855 and 1857 by Hector Lefuel, but it was not until 1934 that a glass roof was installed to protect the ancient Greek and Roman monuments displayed there. In the center is a magnificent mosaic from a Roman villa in the ancient city of Antioch (Turkey), dating from the 4th century AD.

How to get to the next stop:
The west gallery bordering the court leads to the Escalier Daru, at the top of which stands the Victory of Samothrace.

Escalier de la Victoire de Samothrace (Escalier Daru)
Escalier de la Victoire de Samothrace (Escalier Daru)

© Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier

05The Escalier Daru

Located on the site of the former staircase of the Musée Napoléon (the museum vestibule can be admired on the first floor), this monumental staircase was built by Lefuel from 1855 to 1857 in the Pavillon Daru, which was named after one of the emperor's ministers.
At the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, construction of the staircase was incomplete and was not resumed until 1883, when The Victory of Samothrace, found in 1863, was placed there. The staircase is indeed often called the Escalier de la Victoire de Samothrace (Victory of Samothrace Staircase). The mosaic decoration celebrating the arts, partially executed in the late nineteenth century, was eventually concealed in 1934 to highlight the formal aspects of the flights of steps, which are lit by light from the cupolas.

How to get to the next stop:
To the left of the Victory of Samothrace, a flight of stairs leads to the rotunda and the Galerie d'Apollon on the first floor.

Rotonde d'Apollon
Rotonde d'Apollon

© Musée du Louvre / P. Philibert

06The Rotonde d'Apollon

The rotunda was formerly Louis XIV's audience chamber designed by Le Vau. From 1692 to 1793, it was given over to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. The present decoration of stuccos and frescoes dates from the 19th century. This circular vestibule, with a ceiling depicting the Fall of Icarus painted by Merry-Joseph Blondel, leads to the Galerie d'Apollon (Apollo Gallery), which takes up the whole of the upper floor of the Petite Galerie. Destroyed by a fire in 1661, this long room was rebuilt by Le Vau.
The sumptuous decoration of the ceiling by Charles Le Brun illustrates the theme of the path of the sun - the star that symbolized the greatness of Louis XIV. The gallery was restored in 1849 by Félix Duban and continued to receive embellishments until 1851, when Delacroix was commissioned to decorate the central part of the vault, where he painted his Apollo Vanquishing the Snake Python.

How to get to the next stop:
Leave the gallery, turn right into the rotunda and proceed to the Grand Cabinet on the other side.

Salle des verres - Grand cabinet du roi
Salle des verres - Grand cabinet du roi

© R.M.N./J.G. Berizzi

07Antique glassware room

The former study of Louis XIV, which was next to the king's bedroom, was built by Le Vau from 1655 to 1658. From 1722 on, it was used as a meeting room for the Académie Royale. The room subsequently housed the library of the Institut de France, and later, under the Restoration, the museum's collection of precious objects. It was decorated at this time. The painting on the ceiling executed by Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse in 1821 depicts the finding of the Venus de Milo. The windows on the right offer a view of the Petite Galerie, built in phases from 1566 to 1662. On the left are the façades of the Cour Napoléon, designed by Lefuel between 1854 and 1857 after a project by Ludovico Visconti. Visconti sought to respect the 17th-century architectural style of the Louvre, with its alternating arrangement of wings and pavilions.

How to get to the next stop:
The Grand Cabinet leads into the Salon des Sept Cheminées.

Salle des sept-Cheminées
Salle des sept-Cheminées

© Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier

08Salon des sept-Cheminées

So named because seven chimney flues –or sept cheminées in French – led into the room, this hall occupies the piano nobile, or noble floor of the Pavillon du roi, which was subsequently extended. This is where the king's apartment was located. The original decoration of the royal suite has been relocated to the Aile de la Colonnade. The architect Félix Duban and the sculptor Francisque-Joseph Duret created the present ceiling decorated with stuccos and celebrating French artists of the early nineteenth century. The room was used to house the French painting collection when the museum was reopened by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte in 1851.

How to get to the next stop:
Turn your back to the windows to enter the Salle Henri II.

Salle Henri-II
Salle Henri-II

© Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier

09The Salle Henri II

The Salle Henri II was created in the 17th century by merging together the king's anteroom and dressing room, both of which had been designed by Pierre Lescot for Henry II in the Renaissance palace. It separated the royal apartment from the guardroom. The central part of the ceiling, richly sculpted by the Italian artist Scibec de Carpi in 1557, bears the monogram of Henry II, while the extension added in 1660 features that of Louis XIV. In 1953, a large composition by Georges Braque, The Birds, was hung there.

How to get to the next stop:
Go to the end of the room to enter the Bronzes room.

Salle des Bronzes (salle 32)
Salle des Bronzes (salle 32)

© Musée du Louvre / Revault

10The Bronzes room

This other vast room, dating from 1551-1553, was originally designed by Pierre Lescot. Rebuilt by Fontaine under the Restoration, it was decorated and raised in order to house royal audiences for the meetings of the Chambers. When it became part of the museum, the room was used to house the antiquities collections of the Marquis Campana, purchased in 1863 by Napoleon III. In 1938 it regained its original dimensions and has since housed the bronze antiquities.

How to get to the next stop:
Cross the Bronzes room. Beyond the door you will find yourself on the middle landing of the Escalier Henri II (Henri II staircase).

Escalier Henri-II
Escalier Henri-II

© Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier

11The Escalier Henri II

This staircase built by Lescot is one of the finest of the Renaissance. The sculpted decoration of the barrel vaults was executed by the workshop of Jean Goujon between 1551 and 1555. It features the monogram and moon-crescent emblem of Henry II along with references to hunting and the goddess Diana. The window on the landing offers one of the most beautiful views of the Cour Carrée. The staircase leads down to the Salle des Caryatides and up to the rooms devoted to French painting on the second floor.

How to get to the next stop:
On the other side of the landing is the former chapel of the Palais du Louvre, then the Escalier Henri IV (Henri IV Staircase), built on the model of the Escalier Henri II. The Salles du Conseil d'État depart from here.

Salle du Conseil d'Etat - Del Duca (salle 65)
Salle du Conseil d'Etat - Del Duca (salle 65)

© Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier

12The Salle du Conseil d'Etat

This series of four interconnected rooms containing collections of furniture and objets d'art occupies the first floor of the Aile Lemercier, begun in 1639 on the model of the Aile Lescot. The wing originally housed courtiers' apartments; in 1827, under the Restoration, it housed the meeting rooms and offices of the Conseil d'État (Council of State). The decoration of the ceilings illustrates this function, with references to the legislative sovereigns and allegories relating to law and government.

How to get to the next stop:
Retrace your steps and cross the landings of the two staircases, the Bronzes room and the Vestibule Henri II. Then turn left into the Salon des Sept Cheminées, and proceed to the rooms of the Musée Charles X.

Musée Charles X - L'Egypte sauvée par Joseph
Musée Charles X - L'Egypte sauvée par Joseph

© Musée du Louvre/E. Revault

13The Musée Charles X

The Musée Charles X is housed in nine rooms in the south wing of the Cour Carrée (built by Lescot and Le Vau), where the queen's apartment was originally located. The architect Fontaine decorated this wing under the Empire, but it was not until the reign of Charles X that the best artists of the time (Ingres, Heim, Vernet, and Alexandre-Evariste Fragonard, among others) were commissioned to execute the decoration, inspired by the Antiquities collections. Their works are still visible today. The painted ceilings of the first four rooms evoke Homer, Pompeii and Herculaneum. Beyond the Salle des Colonnes in the center of the gallery, the ceilings of the next four rooms depict Egypt and Renaissance architecture in Rome, as well as "The Arts Paying Tribute to Charles X". The windows of these rooms offer the best view of the Renaissance façade of the Aile Lescot on the Cour Carrée (to the left).

How to get to the next stop:
At the far end of the Musée Charles X is the monumental Escalier du Midi. Cross the landing and proceed to the Aile de la Colonnade.

Le Nouvel Empire (anciennement Salle des boiseries) (salle 26)
Le Nouvel Empire (anciennement Salle des boiseries) (salle 26)

© Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier

14The Salle des Boiseries

The Aile de la Colonnade (Colonnade Wing), thus named because of the columns which adorn the palace façade opposite the Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois church, was built by Louis Le Vau and Claude Perrault between 1668 and 1678. In 1831-1832, a committee including the architect Fontaine decided to install a series of rooms to house elements of wood-paneling and a number of ceiling decors. These came from the Palais du Louvre (former drawing room of Henry II and bedchamber of Louis XIV) and from the Chambre du Conseil in the Queen Anne of Austria Pavilion at the Château de Vincennes, which featured ceiling compositions by Dorigny.

How to get to the next stop:
Retrace your steps and cross back over the landing. In the first room of the Musée Charles X, turn left to enter the Galerie Campana, on the Seine side.

Galerie Campana
Galerie Campana

© Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier

15The Galerie Campana

Built by the architect Fontaine in 1819 in part of the wing (left unfinished by Le Vau in the 17th century), the nine rooms on the Seine side were originally used for art exhibitions. In 1828-1833 they were reorganized to house the French painting collections: the painted decoration of the ceilings illustrates the history of France, the nation's monarchs, and the arts. Napoleon III's purchase of Marquis Campana's collection gave Lefuel the opportunity to rebuild the gallery in 1863. Since then, it has been given over to the collection of Greek ceramics. The windows afford a fine view of the Seine, the Île de la Cité, the Pont des Arts and the Left Bank (with the façade of Le Vau's Institut de France).

How to get to the next stop:
Cross back through the Salon des Sept Cheminées, the Grand Cabinet du roi and the Vestibule d'Apollon. When you reach the Escalier Daru, pass in front of the Victory of Samothrace and take the stairs up to the Vestibule Percier.

Salles Percier et Fontaine (salle 1)
Salles Percier et Fontaine (salle 1)

© Musée du Louvre / P. Philibert

16The Salles Percier et Fontaine

The architects Percier and Fontaine originally built the large staircase at the entrance to the museum (between 1809 and 1812). It has since been replaced by the Escalier Daru, which has provided access to the rooms housing the painting collections (Salon Carré and Grande Galerie). The Salles Percier et Fontaine, which constitute the former museum vestibule, are all that remain of the magnificent original decoration commissioned by Napoleon, with marble columns, sculpted ceilings decorated with allegorical paintings and trompe l'oeil bas-reliefs. Today they house frescoes marking the beginning of the presentation of Italian paintings. The windows on the right look out over the whole Cour du Sphinx.

How to get to the next stop:
On leaving the two rooms, proceed to the Salon Carré via the Salle Duchâtel, with its ceiling illustrating the Triumph of French Painting.

Salon Carré
Salon Carré

© Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier

17The Salon Carré

Although rectangular in shape, this large hall redecorated by Le Vau after a fire in 1661 was named the Salon Carré (Square Hall). In 1725 it was given over to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture and used for the exhibition of works by Academy members - whence the name "Salon" by which these events are still known. In 1789, the hall was covered with a glass roof. However, the present state of the ceiling, decorated with stuccoes by Simart, is the result of work carried out by Duban between 1849 and 1851, when the hall was used to house painting masterpieces, before being devoted to masterpieces of the first Italian Renaissance.

How to get to the next stop:
The Salon Carré occupies the eastern end of the Grande Galerie, which opens up to the right.

Grande Galerie (salle 5)
Grande Galerie (salle 5)

© Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier

18The Grande Galerie

Built between 1595 and 1610, this long gallery originally linked the Palais du Louvre to the Palais des Tuileries, which was destroyed by fire during the Commune (1871). With an (unfinished) decor by Nicolas Poussin, it was used as a reception area, and throughout the 18th century housed the royal collection of relief maps of fortified towns. On Louis XVI's accession to the throne, it was reserved for the presentation of the future royal museum, which did not open until the French Revolution was well under way, on August 10, 1793. Under the Empire, Percier and Fontaine divided up the gallery with groups of columns. Under the Second Empire, its length was reduced by a third, and two rotundas were added, decorated with stuccos by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse. Today, the gallery houses the Italian painting collection.

How to get to the next stop:
In the middle of the Grande Galerie, turn right to enter the Salle des États, where the Mona Lisa is on display. Continue to enter the Salon Denon.

Salon Denon (salle 76)
Salon Denon (salle 76)

© Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier

19The Salon Denon

Built by Lefuel, the Salle des États was used from 1859 onwards to hold the great legislative assemblies under Napoleon III. The room was incorporated into the museum in 1878 under the Third Republic in order to house the 19th-century French painting collection, and lost its original allegorical decoration. This was not the case of its vestibule, the Salon Denon (named after the first director of the Louvre Museum under Napoleon I), located at the other end of the room, whose extraordinary ceiling painted by Charles-Louis Müller glorifies state patronage in France. This vestibule associated the dual function of the Palais du Louvre, monarchic and artistic, for it also led to two galleries of paintings (now the Salle Daru and the Salle Mollien).

How to get to the next stop:
On the right, the Salle Daru leads back to the Victory of Samothrace Staircase. Turn left instead into the Salle Mollien, which leads to the Escalier Mollien. Both the Salle Daru and the Salle Mollien are devoted to large-format 19th-century French paintings.

Salle Mollien (salle 77)
Salle Mollien (salle 77)

© Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier

20The Salle Mollien

Like the Salle Daru, the Salle Mollien (named after one of Napoleon I's ministers) was created and decorated in 1863 for the imperial museum, as conveyed by its red and gold decor. It leads to the upper landing of the Escalier Mollien. On the right, the terrace of the Café Mollien, with its statues of famous figures, overlooks the Cour Napoléon. The Escalier Mollien stands in the pavilion of the same name, built by Lefuel and opened in 1857 with Napoleon III's new Louvre. Its allegorical decoration (paintings by Müller and stuccos by Pierre-Jules Cavelier) celebrate the arts.

How to get to the next stop:
Take the Escalier Mollien down to the ground floor, where the Michelangelo gallery is located.

Galerie Michel-Ange (salle 4)
Galerie Michel-Ange (salle 4)

© Musée du Louvre / P. Philibert

21The Michelangelo gallery

The Galerie Michel-Ange (Michelangelo Gallery), with its magnificent marble floor, was built in the 19th century on the model of the Salle des Caryatides and served as the official access to the Salle des États on the first floor. Today, the gallery houses the Italian sculptures, notably Michelangelo's famous Slaves. The Vestibule Denon, which was originally the main entrance to the museum, gives on to the Galerie Daru on the other side. This is part of the Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities and leads to the Escalier Daru (Daru Staircase).

How to get to the next stop:
Retrace your steps towards the Escalier Mollien, walk through the Italian and Spanish sculpture rooms and out of the Denon wing. Walk towards the Richelieu wing. The Cour Puget is on your left-hand side.

Cour Puget
Cour Puget

© Musée du Louvre / P. Philibert

22The Cour Puget

The Cour Puget, designed by the architect Lefuel, formed part of the wing of Napoleon III's palace. It was initially given over to the Ministry of State, which was in charge of large-scale building projects, and later, from 1871 to 1989, to the Ministry of Finance. In 1872 a glass roof supported by iron columns was built over the counters of the Caisse Centrale du Trésor (Central Treasury Office). Since 1993, under a glass roof similar to that of the Cour Marly, it has housed outdoor statuary from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. A little farther on, a third, smaller court contains the remains of the Palace of Sargon in ancient Khorsabad (Department of Oriental Antiquities). Nearby, on the Cour Napoléon side, spectacular escalators designed by the architect Ieoh Ming Pei lead to the upper floors.

How to get to the next stop:
Retrace your steps to reach the Cour Marly, on the other side of the Crypte Girardon.

Cour Marly
Cour Marly

© Musée du Louvre / P. Philibert

23The Cour Marly

In 1852, the architect Visconti began extension work on Napoleon III's Louvre. Lefuel completed the work, building the courts on the rue de Rivoli side in the heart of the buildings housing the Ministry of State. Completed in 1857, these were occupied by the Ministry of Finance from 1871 to 1989. The Cour Marly was covered with a glass roof designed by Ieoh Ming Pei (the architect of the Pyramid) and opened in 1993. It now contains statues from the park at Marly, Louis XIV's favorite residence. The terraced floor provides a splendid setting for the works, bathed in constant natural light.

How to get to the next stop:
Climb up toward the Marly horses, and on the upper level take the Escalier du Ministre (Minister's Staircase) on the left. This was the ceremonial staircase to the private apartments of the Minister of State. The banister and the chandelier were made by Cristofle.

Appartements Napoléon III. Grand salon
Appartements Napoléon III. Grand salon

© Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier

24The Napoleon III Apartments. Large drawing room

The new Louvre opened by Napoleon III boasted a number of sumptuous reception halls. Those of the Palais des Tuileries have unfortunately been lost. However, the rooms in the Ministry of State, opened in 1861 in the Aile Richelieu, have retained their decor of gold, stuccos, marble, bronze, silk and velvet. They also feature ornate painted ceilings. Running parallel to the small rooms, the entrance gallery leads to the large hall (the "salon-théâtre"), the small dining room, and the large dining hall.

How to get to the next stop:
Leave the dining hall to the right via the service room. Pass through the collections of First Empire decorative arts to reach the Escalier Lefuel, a magnificent double staircase which originally led to the imperial Library.

Hall Napoléon et Pyramide
Hall Napoléon et Pyramide

© Musée du Louvre

25The Hall Napoléon and the Pyramid

Opened in 1989 (the bicentenary of the French Revolution), the new entrance to the museum has become the veritable symbol of the Louvre. Formal simplicity and high technology were the keys to this project conceived by architect Ieoh Ming Pei, both in the gossamer-like glass and metal structure and in the visitor reception area. The Pyramid stands almost 22 meters high on a base 30 meters wide. It is made up of nearly eight hundred diamond- and triangle-shaped glass panes especially designed by Saint-Gobain to offer an ideal transparency. Thanks to this, visitors can today admire the façades of the Cour Napoléon from the hall located in the center of this vast museum.

How to get to the next stop:
On the ground floor, go back across the Cour Marly to return to the Hall Napoléon, beneath the pyramid.

Author (s):
Geneviève Bresc-Bautier; Frédéric Morvan