Portraits of Roman emperors in a queen’s apartmentsAnne of Austria’s Summer Apartments
These rooms initially served as the summer apartments of Anne of Austria, mother of Louis XIV. In 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte used them to showcase antiquities. Today, visitors can admire the Louvre’s ancient Roman collections in this sumptuous setting beneath the original ceilings.
New apartments for the queen mother
New apartments, but even more dazzling! That was the wish of Anne of Austria, mother of Louis XIV. When her husband Louis XIII died in 1643, she took over the regency for a spell, living in what had been the Queen’s Apartments since the 16th century, when Catherine de’ Medici was on the throne.
When Louis XIV became old enough to reign, tradition held that Anne should leave the Queen’s Apartments to her daughter-in-law. The queen mother moved into the ground floor, where between 1655 and 1658 she had ‘summer’ apartments fitted out. Facing eastward, they were cooler and did not need a fireplace.
An Italian décor
The architect Louis Le Vau was hired to do the work. After he finished, he went upstairs to help create the Galerie d’Apollon, then off to Versailles to work on the palace there. Here in the Queen’s Apartments, the decoration is by the painter Giovanni Francesco Romanelli and the sculptor Michel Anguier. For inspiration, the artists looked to Italian palaces, like the Palazzo Farnese in Rome and the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. The ceilings, which you can still marvel at today, give a glimpse of just how magnificent these apartments were.
The themes chosen for each room evoke the key role of the person who commissioned the work: Anne of Austria. Ancient gods and goddesses mingle with allegories of the seasons, elements, heavenly bodies and virtues and Biblical figures to celebrate the queen mother.
After the French Revolution in 1789, the former royal apartments were gradually turned into a museum. This space is ideal for housing the ancient sculpture collection from Italy: the decoration is a perfect fit, and their location on the ground floor is a big plus for bearing all the weight of this marble!
The architect Jean-Arnaud Raymond oversaw renovations of the new ‘Antiques gallery’ from 1798 to 1800. He knocked down walls and doors to open up the rooms one after the other and created columned porticoes and large arcades to make the long row of rooms even more majestic.
When the First Empire fell in 1815, many statues were returned to their country of origin. But ancient masterpieces are still displayed in these stately rooms, which now house the Roman collections: at first marble and bronze statues and reliefs, and then wall paintings from Pompeii. Visitors can admire works from the end of the Roman Republic, with the so-called Domitius Ahenobarbus relief and philosopher-emperors from the 2nd century, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius.
At the Louvre, the ancient Greek and Roman collections were installed little by little. First, Louis XIV moved a part of his collection into the Salle des Cariatides in 1692. Then, other ancient works seized during Napoleon’s Italian campaigns arrived in 1798. That is when the Antiquities gallery was created in the former apartments of Anne of Austria. Later still, in 1807, Napoleon I purchased the collection of his brother-in-law, the prince Camillo Borghese. The emperor had work done to join the Antiquities gallery with neighbouring rooms that now house, among other masterpieces, the Venus de Milo.
Roman artworks at the Louvre
Fragment of a wall painting: winged genius
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Did you know?
To each emperor his do
Augustus, Caligula, Nero… To make themselves instantly recognisable across their vast empire, Roman emperors put their portraits everywhere. Their features are usually idealised, often adding a dose of gravitas and grandeur to embody all the virtues of a leader. If you want to know who’s who, you have to look at… their hairdo! Each emperor is systematically depicted with his own distinctive do. You can’t miss the beardless Augustus with his signature forked locks falling on his forehead, and Marcus Aurelius always sports a beard and a mass of curls on his head.
This red, known as Pompeian red, is typical of ancient Roman paintings found in Pompeii. From 1748, when the first major archaeological excavations were carried out, the city buried under the ashes of Vesuvius became a must-see of the budding tourism industry. And the wall paintings there became a source of inspiration for many an artist. In fact, it is this red that inspired the colour of some rooms here in the Louvre: the so-called Salles Rouges (‘red rooms’).