The Louvre's Hidden Gems

After fascinating tours of both the Musée D’Orsay and Versailles, my next rendez-vous with certified guide and art-historian, Marjorie, is at the Louvre. This Museum is not just gargantuan in terms of its scale and the collections of art that are housed inside it − the history of the palace itself is vast, stretching back more than 800 hundred years.

Marjorie is keen to point this out as we stand in the main courtyard beside the iconic glass pyramid, designed by architect I.M. Pei and built in 1989. The black marbled tri-angular fountains that flank the pyramid remind me of black magic symbols I have seen in books. I say this to Marjorie and she mentions a legend that says the glass panes installed in the pyramid supposedly add up to the number 666. This, fortunately, has been disproved.

Despite the murky legends associated with it, the pyramid as the newest addition to the Louvre, has become a Parisian icon, and follows a long tradition of demolitions, additions, and renovations, by Kings, Emperors and Presidents. The Louvre is itself an architectural index of French power during the past few centuries. It was the seat of French power until 1682, when Louis XIV moved his government and court out to Versailles.

During the 1980s when the grand building project was taking place and a shopping mall and ticket hall were built under the courtyard of the Louvre, parts of the original medieval structure were unearthed. Marjorie brings me to see these massive foundations first, the evidence of which is testament to a large fort knox-like edifice that would have been the first line of defence for Parisians against troops advancing from the west. It was under Philippe-Auguste that the Louvre was constructed during the 13th century as a fortress. It formed one of the defensive points of a large wall that surrounded Paris.

The Golden Ages of the Louvre

It was only later under Francois I that the medieval structure was raised and a palace was constructed that would be added to by each successive King. Before he departed for Versailles, Louis XIV constructed the Cour Carée with its dramatic neo-classical colonnade that greets visitors approaching the Louvre from the eastern side.

The two later additions, Le Cour Napoléon, and Cour du Carrousel, built by the two respective Emperors Napoléon I and III, are distinguishable by the road that separates them. Napoleon III built the final wing of the Louvre during the 19th century by joining the Palais des Tuileries to the Richelieu wing and thus completing the grand Louvre project that had been originally envisaged by Henri IV. This was not to last long − the Palais des Tuileries was burnt to the ground in 1871 by the Commune de Paris.

Marjorie tells me that there is a section in the basement of the Sully wing dedicated to the history of the palace in which models, paintings, and diagrams show the evolution of the construction of the palace. Our main focus today, however, is the Egyptian section and the Napoleon III apartments. She tells me that focusing on one or two things during one visit is better way to maximize one’s time.

Napoleon III’s Apartments – The Emperor’s Bling

After a stroll through the Egyptian rooms, we head over to Napoleon III’s apartments in the Richelieu wing of the Louvre. Built in the 1850's and like the elaborately decorated almost baroque, Opéra Garnier, the Napoleon III apartments embody this eponymous style. A walk around these lavishly decorated apartments gives a sense of the kind of lifestyle the Emperor and his wife would have been accustomed to.

The walls of one small room near the entrance are beautifully upholstered in pastel-blue silk. In every room the wooden mouldings on doors, ceilings, and mirror frames, are intricately gilded in gold. The liberal use of red velvet on the furnishings, and the cut-glass chandeliers dripping with gold give these rooms a sense of pomp and circumstance that was particular to someone like Napoleon III.

Like An Egyptian in the Louvre

Beginning with the Huge Sphinx (2000 BC), the Egyptian section stretches over two floors and is organised by theme into 30 separate rooms. It is regarded as being one of the largest and most important collections of Egyptian artefacts in the world. The collection has its origins in the Royal collection, but began to expand to its current size during during the Napoleonic expedition to Egypt and subsequent archaeological expeditions during the 19th century.

The Louvre has divided its collection into themes as varied as daily life, the home, death and the afterlife. One of the most important artefacts (among many) in the collection is the Book of the Dead, which is a large papyrus scroll that depicts life in the after-world.

Marjorie shows me the Seated Scribe − an incredibly life-like limestone and alabaster statue from 2600BC. This has been described as one of the most important pieces in the collection.

Star Attractions of the Egyptian Section

  • The Seated Scribe (2600 BC)
  • Statue of Ramses II (1279 BC)
  • Amenophis IV (1550 BC)
  • The Godess Hathor welcomes Sethi
  • Mummy of A Man (232-30 BC)
  • The Mummy Portraits

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