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Staff Pick: The Grand Louvre


Name: Mohammad Faridzuan bin Abd Rahman
Position: Executive, Communications & Publications
Book: The Grand Louvre – From the Fortress to the Pyramid
Authors: Catherine Chaine & Jean – Pierre Verdet
Publisher: Hatier
Year: 1989
Book Language: English

The Grand Louvre: From the Fortress to the Pyramid

Since the close of the 12th century, when King Philip Augustus erected “the highest tower of Paris”, the saga of the Louvre, one of the world’s richest museums, has been combined with the history of France. Now, eight centuries later, the palace of the Louvre – a perfect expression of classic architecture – has been enriched with a glass pyramid as pure as crystal. A challenge to the imagination, a masterly technical achievement, an opening to a thoroughly modern reorganisation of the museum, the pyramid designed by Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei generated much controversy and brought new life to a great institution.

Staff Comments:
The Grand Louvre; one of the most iconic pieces of architecture in modern times. The Louvre’s glass pyramid, designed by I. M. Pei, has become a landmark ever since it’s completion in 1989. I first came to know of the Grand Louvre after seeing it in the movie adaptation of one my favourite book, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Prof Robert Langdon, played by the ever so talented Tom Hanks, claims that Mary Magdalene is buried beneath the small pyramid which is directly below the inverted pyramid (known as the Pyramide Inversée) in Louvre. Of course, the book is a work of fiction so it should not be treated as a guidebook for tourists who may want to visit the museum.

There is however, nothing fictional about ‘The Grand Louvre – From the Fortress to the Pyramid’. At first glance, I thought the book contains photos of arts and paintings featured in the museum, however it turns out that the featured paintings are depictions of the Louvre across its 800 years history. And so, a huge portion of this book is actually a history lesson. To briefly summarise, the Louvre hasn’t always been the magnificent museum we know today. It was first built by King Philip Augustus in 1190 as Louvre Castle, a fortress. Hundreds of years passed until its defensive purpose was no longer needed, and in 1546 King Francis I turned it into the primary residence for the French Kings. During its 136 years as a place of residence, it has been extended many times to be as large as it is today. Then in 1682, King Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles to be his house, leaving the Louvre as a place to display the royal collection of arts. 10 years later, the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (a French learned society dedicated to the study of humanities) and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (the Royal Academy of Arts & Sculpture) made the Louvre their home for the next 100 years.

The Louvre first officially opened as museum during the French Revolution. But it closes and reopens many times over the remaining course of its history due to many reasons including war, structural inefficiencies, damages, and others. Today however, the museum is very much open to the public, displaying more than 35,000 work of arts in eight different departments/ sections.

In the earliest part of the ‘The Grand Louvre – From the Fortress to the Pyramid’, the author interviewed the architect I. M. Pei, asking him many questions such as his architectural upbringing and inspirations, but none so memorable as the questions regarding the glass pyramid. While it has become an iconic piece of architecture today, it wasn’t as beloved or well-received by Parisians at first. Because of its modern design, the project has been called a sacrilege or blasphemy by many. The architect expected the gruesome critiques, but he maintained that his work is honoring and showing respect to the French culture. In my opinion though, I believe that the glass pyramid is a symbol of modern revival and is just what the Louvre needed. If it were not for the current pandemic situation, the Louvre would have continued to receive upwards of 30,000 visitors daily. I sincerely hope that one day I would be able to make my way there, and see the beauty with my own two eyes.

“Wounded, yes, but not really surprised. The Louvre is the most important monument in France, more so than Versailles or Chartres since it is in the heart of Paris and in the center of France. It is not surprising therefore that it creates passionate controversies, cultural no less than political. The moment one lays a hand on the Louvre, one is accused of sacrilege. But the success of the project was at this price. I suffered when I failed to convince people.”
– I.M. Pei, when asked whether he was surprised with the backlash that he received. Page 21.

“A pyramid that the architect wanted to be transparent, the most transparent possible. This requirement along with many others later were first regarded as a whim or stylishness on the part of a famous architect, whereas it was simply evidence of one of Pei’s great qualities, namely, the concern for perfection down to every detail of the execution of his projects. French architects practically lose mastery of the work once their designs have been submitted and contractors are little accustomed to this desire for perfection. But how did this ideal transparency pose problems to a handful of industrialists who produce such great panes of glass? Are not the glass panes of our apartments perfectly clear and colourless?”
– A Technical Adventure. Page 147.

This book is available at the Perdana Library. If you wish to borrow it, please contact us at 03-88858961 (Library Counter).