Paris, City of Light, and of art. A playland for lovers and a painter's dream. What better place to situate the Louvre, considered by many to be the world's best museum of art? What makes this museum so worthy of that honor?
The museum building, or, more properly, the complex of buildings themselves is a good place to start. As with most Western and a few Asian and South American museums, large palaces or other traditional architecture are used to house museums of art and of natural science. In the case of the Louvre, officially known as Palais du Louvre (the Palace of the Louvre), the main building used today was formerly the fortress of King Philip Augustus in the 12th century. Not until 1546 did King Francis I begin to redesign and add onto the fortress. Subsequent kings did the same, especially during the 17th century with major additions by Louis XIII and Louis XIV. Not only did these kings and their ministers add to the buildings, they also stocked within their rooms the finest art that money could buy. After the French Revolution, the Palais du Louvre was opened to the public. In the early 19th century, both Napoleon and Napoleon III added to both the structures and the collections. A controversial see-through glass pyramid-shaped structure was added by the architect I. M. Pei in the 1980s. As a consequence of centuries of continuous construction and the amassing of art treasures, today the Louvre offers a world-class collection of both French and foreign art.
The outer shell of a museum, however, no matter how artistic or historic, cannot alone make a museum truly great. The inner collections are of course of paramount interest to both the art researcher and art lover alike. The Louvre does not disappoint them. Three of the West's premier works of art are here: the statues Victory of Samothrace and Venus de Milo accompany Leonardo da Vinci's most famous painting, the Mona Lisa. These alone attract art devotees from around the world, but far more awaits them. The French painting collection is, not surprisingly, unsurpassed. Other major painting collections include works from the middle ages and Renaissance. The treasures of the French royalty are on display here, too, such as their bronzes, miniatures, pottery, tapestries, jewelry, and furniture. Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian antiquities as well as early Christian artifacts are also considered important collections. This clearly is not a museum to be seen in one morning!
Finally, the site of the museum complex contributes to the mystique of the Louvre. Paris has long been considered one of the world's most charming cities, with its endless winding streets amidst spectacular royal and religious architecture. The fortress built by King Philip Augustus was situated on the right bank of the Seine, overlooking —— at that time —— splendid bucolic scenery. Today this prime location is within walking distance of many major Parisian tourist attractions, like the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Royal Palace, and the National Library. One could easily spend a whole week touring the heart of Paris centered around the Louvre.
Taken altogether, then, the Louvre holds its own as one of the best museums —— if not the best —— among the dozens of major and internationally famous art museums around the world. Its many and varied buildings, the unparalleled collection of prestigious works of art, and the delightful site of the grounds overlooking France's most famous river all contribute to make the Palais du Louvre a must-see attraction for the serious art connoisseur and art museum-goer alike. Meet you at the Louvre!