Campaign of the Month: August 2011
Le Ballet de l'Acier
In the twelfth century King Philippe Auguste fortified Paris, building a rampart around the city in 1190 and constructing a fortress to the west of the walls to aid in the defense. The Louvre was not a royal residence; rather, it was a considerable defensive work, its high wall studded with tower bastions surrounding a massive keep, the Grosse Tour. As the city expanded , Philippe Auguste’s rampart was torn down and a new earthen wall built in the fourteenth century; the new work enclosed the Louvre and the fortress no longer served a defensive function.
In 1364, King Charles V commissioned royal architect Raymond du Temple to convert the fortress to a royal residence; apartments for the royal court were built and the Salle Basse (Lower Hall) repurposed as a grand palace. Elaborate windows and carvings were added to the existing structures, statuary and tapestries replaced military supplies, and a pleasure garden constructed within the walls.
The Louvre remained a redecorated and repurposed fortress for the next two centuries until King François I decided to make the Louvre his permanent residence. Enamored of Italian architecture, the king tore down the Grosse Tour and began construction of a contemporary royal palace in its place, work that would continue under his sons and their Bourbon successor, Henri IV. The medieval walls were torn down and replaced by wings to François’ palace, housing galleries and apartments for the royal court.
Through much of the 16th century, the Louvre was a towering pile consisting of a mix of the new palace and the old fortress. Catherine de Médicis, François’ queen and mother of three successive monarchs of France, grew tired of the work and built a palace for herself to the west of the Louvre, at the site of an old tilemakers’ foundry, the Tuileries. Her son, Charles IX, began construction of a long gallery to connect the Louvre to Catherine’s palace, the Palais des Tuileries, along the banks of the Seine; Henri IV would expand this gallery to include an upper floor, but work would languish following his death in 1610; his son and successor, Louis XIII, was a child and his regent, Marie de’ Medici, put her effort into construction of a palace of her own, the Palais de Luxembourg, to the south of the city. In 1624, Louis finally resumed work on the Louvre, continuing the trend started by François a century earlier, expanding the north wing of the palace and completing the decoration of the Grand Galerie.