Louvre, (properly, Musee du Louvre), national art museum of France and the palace in which it is housed, located in Paris, on the right bank of the Seine River. The structure, until 1682 a residence of the kings of France, is one of the largest palaces in the world. It occupies the site of a 13th-century fortress. The building of the Louvre was begun in 1546 in the reign of Francis I, according to the plans of the French architect Pierre Lescot. Additions were made to the structure during the reigns of almost every subsequent French monarch. Under Henry IV, in the early 17th century, the Grande Galerie, now the main picture gallery, which borders the Seine, was completed. Under Napoleon III a wing on the north side (along the rue de Rivoli) was finished. By the mid-19th century the vast complex was completed; covering more than 19 hectares (48 acres), it is a masterpiece of architectural design and sculptural adornment.
In 1793 the Louvre was opened as a public museum, and the French painter Jacques-Louis David was appointed head of a commission to administer it. In 1848 it became the property of the state.
The nucleus of the Louvre collections is the group of Italian Renaissance paintings – among them several by Leonardo da Vinci – which were owned by Francis I, a collector and patron of note. The holdings were significantly enriched by acquisitions made for the monarchy by Cardinal Richelieu and by Cardinal Mazarin, who was instrumental in purchasing works that had belonged to Charles I of England. Napoleon deposited in the Louvre the paintings and works of art seized during his European conquests; after his downfall, however, many of these works were restored to their original owners. Since that time increasing numbers of gifts, purchases, and finds brought back from archaeological expeditions have permanently enriched the museum. Among its greatest treasures are two of the most famous sculptures of the ancient world, the Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo, and Leonardo’s famous portrait, Mona Lisa. The Louvre also holds works by the other Italian masters Raphael and Titian and paintings by the northern artists Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt. Protection of all the Louvre’s priceless masterpieces during the two world wars was effected by their removal to secret depositories outside Paris.
The collections of the museum are administered by seven curatorial departments. The Department of Egyptian Antiquities was formed in 1826 to study and display the objects brought back to France during Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt. The Department of Oriental Antiquities is famed for its collections of Mesopotamian and Islamic art. Other departments include Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities; Objets d’art (including the crown jewels of France); and Drawings and Prints. The Department of Paintings, considered by many scholars the most important in the world, includes several thousand works of the various European schools. Its enormous collection of French paintings ranges from the Middle Ages to the early 19th century. Since 1986, however, works of the French impressionists and postimpressionists, many dating from 1848 to 1914 and formerly housed in the Musee du Jeu de Paume (Tennis Court Museum) adjacent to the Louvre, have been included in the collection of the Musee d’Orsay on the left bank of the Seine River.
The museum publishes catalogs and brochures. In addition it publishes the Revue de Louvre, which contains articles on new acquisitions and provides information on museum projects and on other French museums.
In 1993 the Richelieu Wing was opened by President Mitterrand of France. The north wing of the Louvre Palace, formerly occupied by the Ministry of Finance, was vacated and transformed into exhibition areas. This ended the second phase of a project in progress since 1981 that included the addition of the glass pyramid entrance designed by American architect I.M. Pei, an auditorium, galleries for temporary exhibitions, displays on the history of the Louvre, moats of the medieval Louvre, restaurants, shops, and parking facilities.