The Louvre

By Grant Allen


The Louvre is the noblest monument of the French Renaissance. From the time of St. Louis onward, the French kings began to live more and more in the northern suburb, the town of the merchants, which now assumed the name of La Ville, in contradistinction to the Cite and the Universite. Two of their chief residences here were the Bastille and the Hotel St. Paul, both now demolished--one, on the Place so called; the other, between the Rue St. Antoine and the Quai des Celestins. But from a very early period they also possest a chateau on the site of the Louvre, and known by the same name, which guarded the point where the wall of Philippe Auguste abutted on the river. Francois I. decided to pull down this picturesque turreted medieval castle, erected by Philippe Auguste and altered by Charles V. He began the construction in its place of a magnificent Renaissance palace, which has ever since been in course of erection.

Its subsequent growth, however, is best explained opposite the building itself, where attention can be duly called to the succession of its salient features. But a visit to the exterior fabric of the Louvre should be preceded by one to St. Germain l'Auxerrois, the parish church, and practically the chapel, of the old Louvre, to which it stood in somewhat the same relation as the Ste. Chapelle to the home of St. Louis. Note, however, that the church was situated just within the ancient wall, while the chateau lay outside it. The visitor will doubtless be tolerably familiar by this time with some parts at least of the exterior of the Louvre; but he will do well to visit it now systematically, in the order here suggested, so as to gain a clear general idea of its history and meaning….

Begin by understanding distinctly that this court is the real and original Louvre; the rest is mere excresence, intended to unite the main building with the Tuileries, which lay some hundreds of yards to the west of it. Notice, first, that the Palace as a whole, seen from the point where you now stand, is constructed on the old principle of relatively blank external walls, like a castle, with an interior courtyard, on which all the apartments open, and almost all the decoration is lavished. Reminiscences of defense lurk about the Louvre. It can best be understood by comparison with such ornate, yet fortress-like, Italian palaces as the Strozzi at Florence. Notice the four opposite portals, facing the cardinal points, which can be readily shut by means of great doors; while the actual doorways of the various suites of apartments open only into the protected courtyard. This is the origin of the familiar French porte- cochere.

Again, the portion of the building that directly faces you as you enter the court from St. Germain is the oldest part, and represents the early Renaissance spirit. It is the most primitive Louvre. Note in particular the central elevated portion, known as a Pavilion, and graced with elegant Caryatides. These Pavilions are lingering reminiscences of the medieval towers. You will find them in the corners and centers of other blocks in the Louvre. They form a peculiarly French Renaissance characteristic. The Palace is here growing out of the Castle. The other three sides of the square are, on the whole, more classical and later.

Now across the square directly to the Pavilion de l'Horloge, as it is called, from the clock which adorns it. To your left, on the floor of the court, are two circular white lines, enclosed in a square. These mark the site of the original Chateau of the Louvre, with its keep, or donjon. Francois I., who began the existing building, originally intended that his palace should cover the same area. It was he who erected the left wing, which now faces you, marked by the crown and H on its central round gable, placed there by his successor, Henry II., under whom it was completed. To the same king are also due the monograms of H and D (for Diane de Poitiers, his mistress), between the columns of the ground floor. The whole of the Pavilion de l'Horloge, and of this west wing, should be carefully examined in detail as the finest remaining specimen of highly decorated French Renaissance architecture. (But the upper story of the Pavilion, with the Caryatides, is an age later.) Observe even the decoration lavished on the beautiful chimneys. Pierre Lescot was the architect of this earliest wing; the exquisite sculpture is by Jean Goujon, a Frenchman, and the Italian, Paolo Ponzio. Examine much of it. The crossed K's of certain panels stand for Catherine de Medici.

The right wing, beyond the Pavilion, was added, in the same style, under Louis XIII., who decided to double the plan of his predecessors, and form the existing Cour du Louvre.

The other three sides, in a more classic style, with pediments replacing the Pavilions, and square porticos instead of rounded gables, are for the most part later. The south side, however, as far as the central door, is also by Pierre Lescot. It forms one of the two fronts of the original square first contemplated. The attic story of these three sides was added under Louis XIV., to whom, in the main, is due this Cour du Louvre. A considerable part of Louis XIV.'s decorations bear reference to his representation as "le roi soleil."

Now, pass through the Pavilion de l'Horloge (called on its west side Pavilion Sully) into the second of the three courts of the Louvre. To understand this portion of the building, again, you must remember that shortly after the erection of the Old Louvre, Catherine de Medici began to build her palace of the Tuileries, now destroyed, to the west of it. She (and subsequent rulers) designed to unite the Old Louvre with the Tuileries by a gallery which should run along the bank of the river. Of that gallery, Catherine de Medici herself erected a considerable portion, to be described later, and Henri IV., almost completed it. Later on, Napoleon I. conceived the idea of extending a similar gallery along his new Rue de Rivoli, on the north side, so as to enclose the whole space between the Louvre and the Tuileries in one gigantic double courtyard. Napoleon III. carried out his idea. The second court in which you now stand is entirely flanked by buildings of this epoch--the Second Empire. Examine it cursorily as far as the modern statue of Gambetta.

Stand or take a seat by the railing of the garden opposite the Pavilion Sully. The part that now faces you forms a portion of the building of Francois I, and Louis XIII., redecorated in part by Napoleon I. The portions to your right and left are entirely of the age of Napoleon III., built so as to conceal the want of parallelism of the outer portions. Observe their characteristic Pavilions, each bearing its own name inscribed upon it. This recent square, tho quite modern in the character of its sculpture and decoration, is Renaissance in its general architecture, and, when looked back upon from the gardens of the Tuileries, affords a most excellent idea of that stately style, as developed in France under Francois I. The whole of this splendid plan, however, has been rendered futile by the destruction of the Tuileries, without which the enclosure becomes wholly meaningless.

Now, continue westward, pass the Monument of Gambetta, and take a seat on the steps at the base, near the fine figure of Truth. In front of you opens the third square of the Louvre, known as the Place du Carrousel, and formerly enclosed on its west side by the Palace of the Tuileries, which was unfortunately burned down in 1871, during the conflict between the Municipal and National authorities. Its place is now occupied by a garden terrace, the view from which in all directions is magnificent. Fronting you, as you sit, is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, erected under Napoleon I., by Percier and Fontaine, in imitation of the Arch of Septimius Severus at Rome, and once crowned by the famous bronze Roman horses from St. Mark's at Venice. The arch, designed as an approach to the Tuileries during the period of the classical mania, is too small for its present surroundings, since the removal of the Palace. The north wing, visible to your right, is purely modern, of the age of the First and Second Empire and the Third Republic. The meretricious character of the reliefs in its extreme west portion, erected under the Emperor Napoleon III., and restored after the Commune, is redolent of the spirit of that gaudy period. The south wing, to your left, forms part of the connecting gallery erected by Henri IV., but its architecture is largely obscured by considerable alterations under Napoleon III. Its west pavilion-known as the Pavilion de Flore--is well worth notice.

Having thus gained a first idea of the courtyard fronts of the building, continue your walk, still westward, along the south wing as far as the Pavilion de Flore, a remaining portion of the corner edifice which ran into one line with the Palace of the Tuileries. Turn round the corner of the Pavilion to examine the south or river front of the connecting gallery--one of the finest parts of the whole building, but far less known to ordinary visitors than the cold and uninteresting northern line along the Rue de Rivoli. The first portion, as far as the gateways, belongs originally to the age of Henry IV., but it was entirely reconstructed under Napoleon III., whose obtrusive N appears in many places on the gateways and elsewhere.

Nevertheless, it still preserves, on the whole, some reminiscence of its graceful Renaissance architecture. Beyond the main gateway (with modern bronze Charioteer of the Sun), flanked by the Pavilions de la Tremoille and de Lesdiguieres, we come upon the long Southern Gallery erected by Catherine de Medici, which still preserves almost intact its splendid early French Renaissance decoration. This is one of the noblest portions of the entire building. The N here gives place to H's, and the Renaissance scroll-work and reliefs almost equal those in that portion of the old Louvre which was erected under Francois I. Sit on a seat on the Quay and examine the sculpture.

Notice particularly the splendid Porte Jean Goujon, conspicuous from afar by its gilded balcony. Its crowned H's and coats-of-arms are specially interesting examples of the decorative work of the period. Note also the skill with which this almost flat range is relieved by sculpture and decoration so as to make us oblivious of the want of that variety usually given by jutting portions. The end of this long gallery is formed by two handsome windows with balconies. We there come to the connecting Galerie d'Apollon, of which these windows are the termination, and finally reach once more a portion of Perrault's facade, with its double LL's, erected under Louis XIV., and closely resembling the interior facade of the Cour du Louvre….

The Collections in the Louvre have no such necessary organic connection with Paris itself as Notre Dame and the Sainte-Chapelle, or even those in the rooms at Cluny. They may, therefore, be examined by the visitor at any period of his visit that he chooses. I would advise him, however, whenever he takes them up, to begin with the paintings and then to go on to the Classical and Renaissance Sculpture. The last-named, at least, he should only examine in connection with the rest of Renaissance Paris. Also, while it is unimportant whether he takes first Painting or Sculpture, it is very doubtful that he should take each separately in the chronological order.

At least six days--far more, if possible--should be devoted to the Louvre Collections--by far the most important objects to be seen in Paris. Of these, four should be assigned to the Paintings, and one each to the Classical and Renaissance Sculpture. If this is impossible, do not try to see all; see a little thoroughly. Confine yourself, for Painting, to the Salon Carre and Gallery VII., and for Sculpture to the Classical Gallery and to the three Western rooms of the Renaissance collection.

[4] From "Paris."