Often described as the greatest museum in the world, and rightly so, the Musee du Louvre houses more than 35,000 works over four floors and three wings: the Sully to the east, which was designed by Claude Perrault in the 17th century as part of an extension plan; the Richelieu to the north; and the Denon to the south. Another 350,000 priceless works are stored in specially created environments to help maintain their condition.
Among the collections are French paintings from the 14th century, Oriental, Greek and Egyptian antiquities, sculptures from throughout Europe and Islamic art. Its most famous works are Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, dated 1503, the celebrated Hellenistic sculpture Venus de Milo from the 2nd century BC, and Jan Vermeer's masterpiece the Lacemaker, painted around 1665. In all, almost 5,000 years of art are represented under one roof, from ancient to recent works.
Originally built as a castle in the 12th century by King Philippe-Auguste, Charles V, Henri II, Catherine de Medicis, Louis XIII and Louis XIV, among others, lived here. It was later remodelled to become a centre of art under Francois I. The remains of a keep, drawbridge, towers and dungeons of the medieval fortress still exist today under Cour Carree. Fortunately, the museum was not damaged in the Revolution and Napoleon I added greatly to its collection as Henri IV had done before him.
In recent years the museum has undergone a transformation. Among its newer features is the glass pyramid at its entrance that evoked mixed responses when it was unveiled. Designed by I M Pei in 1989, it resembles a massive cut diamond that catches the light during the day and is illuminated at night.
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