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
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine