The Louvre is packed to the rafters with art that has stories to tell. It’s also one of the largest museums in the world with one of the largest attendances. For a museum of such immense proportions, resources and manpower are essential to its smooth running. The following list gives a rundown of some of the behind the scenes information that makes a museum like the Louvre function. Also essential to this is the artwork itself, which sometimes tells a very different story from the original.
The Louvre in Numbers
800 years of history
60,600square meters of floor space
9.7 million visitors per year (most visited museum in the world)
35,000 objects exposed, 380,000 objects in storage
8 curatorial departments
$350 million to fund the Louvre each year
Anecdotes about The Louvre
The Coronation of Napoleon (1807) by Jacques Louis David
One of the largest paintings in the Louvre’s collection is said to represent a moment from history - the fabled coronation of Napoleon as emperor of France. While this event did happen, the painting itself verges on fiction. It is a masterstroke in propaganda. The painter at the time, Jacques Louis David, was ordered by the Emperor to make certain additions that were not true to the events in question. The most glaring addition was the Emperor’s mother who famously did not attend the ceremony due to a falling out with her son. The setting in which the crowd finds itself looks more classical than the dark gothic interior of Notre Dame Cathedral. The Emperor himself looks much taller than in reality and the Pope who overlooks the scene, serenely blessing the coronation, is not altogether how one would imagine his reaction moments after Napoleon takes the crown from his hands and crowns himself emperor.
The Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819) by Théodore Géricault
This giant canvas, which is panoramic, or cinematic in scale, shocked and awed the crowds who had gathered for the salon of 1819. It’s a depiction of real events: the wreck of the royal military frigate Meduse off the coast of Senegal and the abandoned survivors who are left clinging to a raft. When news of the event travelled to France it caused outrage and scandal when people learned that the inexperienced captain who had caused the wreck, abandoned ship on one of the only lifeboats available. The scale of the painting was the first thing that marked it out as different. It was very unusual to give such gravity in art to a tragedy that happened to ordinary people. The pyramid like structure of bodies culminates with a black figure, it is thought that this elevation of the black figure is a nod to Gericault’s abhorrence of slavery, which had been reinstated only a few years earlier. Lastly the painting is seen as a thinly veiled critique of the French state, as an allegory for the failures and decadence of the elites and the dire consequences for the people whom they rule over.
Louvre during the World War II
The great risks posed to the Louvre’s vast collections were anticipated well in advance of Germany’s declaration of war on France in 1939. The museum’s custodians assured that the Louvre’s innumerable treasures were secreted away to hiding places - chateaux and monasteries - found in the four corners of the country. The chateau of Chambord, with it’s cavernous spaces provided an ideal warehouse for the main body of the collection. This is where the Mona Lisa was taken to before she moved on to another more a secure location. The Louvre re-opened its doors in 1940. Only a few works remained, and part of the museum was taken over by the Nazis where they received and negotiated the sale of looted Jewish art.
Theft of the Mona Lisa
The biggest crowd-puller in the museum, the Mona Lisa, has had an interesting past, one that has determined much of her fame. In what is generally agreed to be the art heist of the century she was stolen in 1911 by Italian painter and decorator, Vincenzo Peruggia, who hid her under his coat, as he strolled out nonchalantly from the museum undetected by the complacent security. To the great amusement of the Parisians and the consternation of the Louvre’s officials, the Mona Lisa was missing from the Louvre for a period of two years. She was finally recovered in Florence where Peruggia tried to sell her on to an art dealer. The dealer, recognizing immediately the famous painting, reported Peruggia to the police. When arrested, Peruggia made the claim that he had stolen the painting with the intention of restoring her to her homeland. Before she returned to her home in Paris, she did a tour of Italy, and her fame now even larger than before, ensured she attracted record crowds.
Bloodshed at the Louvre
The Louvre’s bloodiest story remains it’s most infamous - the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. Believed to have been instigated by the King’s mother Catherine de Medici, the wave of Catholic mob violence against the Protestant Huguenots saw it’s most horrific culmination at the Louvre. On the morning of the day’s bloody events, the noble Protestants who resided at the Louvre were thrown out onto the streets and courtyards where they were massacred by the Royal Swiss Guard.
Napoleon Assassination Plot
Despite his military success on the battlefield and the restoration of France’s reputation as a world power, Napoleon had dangerous enemies at home. With memories of the French Revolution still fresh for the royalist and catholic anti-Bonapartists, a plot to kill Napoleon was hatched. It was decided to try and kill the Emperor by planting a bomb in the courtyard of the Louvre. On the 24th of December 1800, the bomb was timed to explode as the Emperor’s carriage was leaving the courtyard to go the opera. Due to confusion the bomb was set off too late and Napoleon escaped unscathed. Many innocent bystanders were either killed or injured and damage to surrounding buildings was extensive.