Arts: Revamped Louvre dusts off its fusty old image

Sixteen years ago President Francois Mitterrand decreed that the dusty, musty old Palais du Louvre should be opened up to the light and air. Today, President Chirac opens the last stage of a pounds 600m expansion and re-design which makes the Louvre one of the largest, and most modern, art museums in the world.

It has taken 206 years but the ambition of the revolutionaries who evicted the French royal family from the Louvre in 1791 has finally been achieved. From today, the entire, immense, lobster-shaped complex beside the Seine will be opened to the public - an artistic city within a city in the heart of Paris.

More than 10,000 square metres of new exhibition space will be reopened, mostly in the older, eastern part of the Palace, the Sully Wing. The museum's vast collection of Greek, Roman and Egyptian art and artefacts will be displayed fully for the first time, making the Louvre the world's second largest museum of Egyptology.

Apart from a few finishing touches, the internal rebuilding and re-fitting of the Louvre ordered by President Mitterrand in 1981 will be complete.

A new, underground entrance hall, topped by a controversial glass pyramid, was opened in 1989. The artistic colonisation of the northern, Richelieu, wing - occupied by the Ministry of Finance for 170 years - was finished in 1993.

The final stage, also including a restored "long gallery" for Italian and some French 16th- and 17th-century paintings, will be opened by President Jacques Chirac today.

Although hugely expensive, the restoration of the Louvre is already a thumping, public success. Since work began in the mid 1980s, the number of visitors has double to more than 5,000,000 a year. The "old" Louvre was a labyrinth of dusty rooms with cramped and jumbled displays, defended by legendarily grumpy attendants.

The average visit time was scarcely more than an hour (typically spent searching for the Mona Lisa) compared to three hours in comparable museums around the world.

The re-modelled Louvre is larger, more spacious but easier to navigate and has a revolutionary system of indirect, natural lighting, using mirrors and ultra-violet filters to reveal, but protect, the works of art. It also has an underground car-park, lecture-theatre, shopping-centre and several restaurants.

Among the works on display for the first time, will be a restored statue of the Empress Sabina, wife of the Emperor Hadrian (2nd century AD), parts of which were lost at the bottom of the Mediterranean until two years ago. The ship bringing the statue to France, from an archeological dig near Carthage, caught fire and sank off Toulon in 1874. Parts of the statue were recovered but not the head.

A diving team recovered the missing items in 1995 and the rebuilt statue will go on public display from tomorrow, most probably for the first time in nearly 2,000 years. Another of the displays contains a painted wooden sarcophagus of Marcus Antinous, a friend of Hadrian who drowned in the Nile.

The centrepiece of the 30 new rooms devoted to ancient Egyptian artefacts will be an immense stone head of the Pharaoh Amenophis IV. Elsewhere, an almost entire interior of a 4th-century Coptic church - presented to France by the Egyptian government - has been reassembled in a former amphitheatre. It is thought to be the only church-within-a-museum in the world.

The "Great gallery" for 16th and 17th-century paintings, restored to its full 300-metre glory (the length of three football pitches) will include works from the museum "reserve" not displayed before. They include The Annociation by Giorgio Vasari and Camille delivering the school-master to his pupils", by Nicolas Poussin.

The new galleries will be open from today and free to the public on Sunday and Monday from 6pm to 10pm.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
A bartender serves beers
news
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
film
Life and Style
The finale at Dolce and Gabbana autumn/winter 2015
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?