The History of the Louvre on DisplayThe Pavillon de l'Horloge
Discover the Louvre’s eventful past in the Pavillon de l’Horloge at the heart of the palace: from the different stages in its construction to the people and events that have shaped – and continue to shape – its history and collections.
A historic building
The Pavillon de l’Horloge is the architectural heart of the Louvre palace. Designed by the architect Jacques Lemercier, it was built during the reign of Louis XIII (1610–1643) but only acquired the name ‘Pavillon de l’Horloge’ (‘Clock Pavilion’) in the 19th century, when clocks were added to the two main facades.
At 40 metres high, it is the highest point of the Louvre – a reminder of the keep belonging to the original medieval fortress, demolished in the 16th century when King François I converted the Louvre into a Renaissance palace. The historic Pavillon de l’Horloge is the ideal location for a presentation of the Louvre’s 800-year history. Four rooms, distributed over three floors, tell the story of the museum, its collections and its current activities.
The architecture of the Louvre
The story begins near the remains of the first Louvre, a medieval fortress built by King Philippe-Auguste in about 1200. Follow the fortress wall to find the Salle de la Maquette, dedicated to the architecture of the Louvre. The presentation explains the many transformations that have marked the history of the palace and the ornamental additions made by great artists, from Jean Goujon who carved many decorative elements in the 16th century to Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux who designed sculptures for the Pavillon de Flore three centuries later. There are also traces of the Tuileries palace, commissioned by Queen Catherine de’ Medici during the Renaissance and burned down in 1871 during the Paris Commune.
The Salle Saint-Louis: the oldest room in the palace
The foundations of the keep that was demolished in 1528 are still visible. The nearby room known as the Salle Saint-Louis is the oldest in the palace; its name derives from traces of decoration that have been dated to the reign of Saint Louis (1226–1270). The room displays everyday objects found during the archaeological excavations that were carried out between 1983 and 1993 as part of the Grand Louvre project; the finds range from a gilded parade helmet attributed to King Charles VI to a simple pair of children’s shoes.
The organisation of the collections
The Salle de la Chapelle, on the first floor of the pavilion, is now a museum room; its name is the only trace of the chapel built here between 1655 and 1659 on the orders of Louis XIV.
Its display presents the history and diversity of the museum’s collections, how they were formed and how they are organised within the palace. Each collection – Egyptian Antiquities, Decorative Arts, Paintings, Sculptures, Islamic Art, etc. – is represented by a selection of artworks.
The Salle de la Chapelle also offers one of the finest views of the Pyramid, the gardens and, in the distance the Champs Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe and the business district of La Défense.
The Louvre : 800 years of history
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A living museum
The Salle d’Actualité (‘news room’) on the second floor of the Pavillon de l’Horloge presents the museum’s current activities and missions: conservation projects, new acquisitions, research, and news of the Louvre’s national and international outreach, through the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Louvre-Lens in particular.
The museum obviously has to provide the best possible conditions for its artworks – but another priority is to make its visitors feel welcome. People have flocked to the Louvre for over two centuries; from art specialists to novices, in crinolines or jeans, visitors are an essential part of the museum’s life! And sometimes they become works of art in their turn, featured in paintings as they explore the museum and admire its displays…
Art in the museum or the museum in art
Hubert Robert, The Salle des Saisons at the Louvre, about 1802-1803
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Did you know?
From château to chapel
The former first-floor chapel has an impressive wrought-iron gate dating from the 17th century. It came from the Château de Maisons (now Maisons-Laffitte) near Saint-Germain-en-Laye to the west of Paris, and was added to the chapel in 1819 by Pierre Fontaine, an architect who worked on most of the Louvre’s construction projects from the First Empire until 1848.
Another gate from the same château guards the entrance to the Galerie d’Apollon.