The Louvre, Paris

History of the Louvre From château to museum A visit to the Louvre and its collections lets visitors discover Western art from the Middle Ages to 1848, as well as a large number of ancient civilizations. Yet it also offers another history to explore. The grand palace that houses the museum, which dates back to the late twelfth century, is a true lesson in architecture: from 1200 to 2011, the most innovative architects have in turn built and developed the Louvre. Long the seat of power, this royal residence was also home to French heads of state until 1870 and is one of the major backdrops to the history of Paris and of France.


History of the Islamic art department

In 1893, a “Muslim art” section was created at the Musée du Louvre and in 1905 the first room dedicated to the Islamic collection was opened within the Department of Decorative Arts. The collection was expanded considerably under two curators, notably Gaston Migeon. The bequest of Baroness Delort de Gléon in 1912 enriched the section with prestigious objects from her husband's collection and led to the creation of the Salle Delort de Gléon in 1922 in the Pavillon de l'Horloge.

In 1932, the Department of Asian Arts was created and housed the Islamic collections. After World War II, in 1945, the Far Eastern works were transferred to the Musée Guimet, and the Islamic section was incorporated into the Department of Near Eastern Antiquities; the works were first exhibited in the Salle de la Chapelle of the Pavillon de l'Horloge and then in two rooms at the end of the Department of Near Eastern Antiquities.

In 1993, the creation of the Grand Louvre and the departure of the Ministry of Finance from the Richelieu wing made room for the Islamic collections in 1,000 sq.m of exhibition space.

In 2003, the Musée du Louvre created its eighth department dedicated to Islamic art.

Embracing new horizons, the department opened on September 22, 2012 to 3,000 sq.m of new exhibition space, nestled between the restored facades of the Cour Visconti. Led by Rudy Ricciotti and Mario Bellini, the project is the museum’s greatest architectural work since the Grand Louvre; soon visitors can admire the new glass veil of undulating gold metal covering the courtyard like the wing of a dragonfly.

Creation of the collection

Boasting 14,000 objects and admirably complemented by 3,500 works from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs — many of which are being exhibited for the first time — the department's collection reflects the wealth and breadth of artistic creation from Islamic lands.The history of the collections reflects both history in the broadest sense and the history of artistic taste.

The first Islamic objects exhibited at the Louvre came from royal collections, following the creation of the Museum Central des Arts in the wake of the Revolution, in 1793. Notable works include an inlaid metal basin known as the “Baptistère de saint Louis,” made in Syria in the 14th century, as well as Ottoman jade bowls that had belonged to Louis XIV. There are also the works from the royal abbey of Saint Denis (like the rock crystal ewer made in Egypt in the early 11th century).

From the final decade of the 19th century to World War I, Paris was a locus for the creation of Islamic art collections. The museum owes many of its finest acquisitions (the candlestick with ducks bequeathed by Charles Piet-Lataudrie, the Delort de Gléon family bequests, the Mughal miniatures from the Georges Marteau collection, etc.) to its public of art lovers and collectors. In addition to these generous gifts, the collections were enriched with prestigious purchases such as the Pyxis of al-Mughira, the Mantes carpet, the Barberini vase and the Mughal miniatures acquired from Mme Duffeuty, to name a few.

The collections still received large donations after World War I: bequests in 1922 from the Rothschild collection and from Mr and Mrs Koechlin in 1932 (including the Peacock dish). The movement subsided slightly thereafter but has gained momentum since the creation of the new department in 2003. The museum received over 100 artworks in 2009 (from the Pantanella-Signorini collection), the most important donation since that of Count François Chandon de Briailles in 1955.

Collections at the Musée du Louvre

The display of the department’s new exhibition spaces provides an overview of artistic creation from the dawn of Islam in the 7th century to the early 19th century, encompassing architectural elements, stone and ivory objects, metalwork, glasswork, ceramics, textiles and carpets, manuscripts and so on. Based on the juxtaposition of various cultures and the constant exchange between the different regions of the Islamic world, the installation highlights both the homogeneity of Islamic art (which makes it instantly recognizable) and its extraordinary creativity with regard to common themes expressed throughout the centuries.

A sustained acquisition policy as as well the major holdings of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs have enriched the collections in areas that had been less represented until now, such as the Maghreb and Mughal India, thus offering a more comprehensive view of the art of the last great Islamic empires.