Louvre Collections

A Comprehensive Guide to the Louvre Collections

If you are interested in finding out about the history of the Louvre, please check out my earlier post here.

Now, it’s time to explore the collections! Neil and I did a skip-the-line highlights tour of the Louvre, which was led by a really personable young Canadian, who had just finished work for his Ph.D. at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie. I would definitely recommend taking a tour such as this one, as the Louvre is massive. (Also, all the information signs are in French!) There are so many amazing things to see, and it’s really easy to get overwhelmed. Our guide gave us a lot of context and historical reference, which I think added a lot of value to our experience.

After the tour, we were able to go off and explore on our own for as long as our feet held out. In this post, I’m going to share the highlights of what we saw in this order: paintings, sculpture, antiquities from Egypt and Mesopotamia, historic armour, items from the collection of French Crown Jewels, and the apartments of Napoleon III.

A view of the Louvre from inside the glass pyramid.

We’ll start with the Louvre’s most popular painting, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Please accept my apologies for all of the reflections in the photo below. The painting is protected behind a sheet of bullet, fire, and explosion-proof glass!

Mona Lisa. Leonardo da Vinci, 1503.

The Mona Lisa is a portrait of Lisa Gherardini del Giacondo, an Italian noblewoman. She was born in Florence on June 15, 1479. She was the eldest of seven children, and named after her paternal grandmother. On March 5, 1495, at the age of fifteen, she married Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo. The couple had five children. Francesco was a cloth and silk merchant of modest means, who later became a city official. Giocondo is thought to have commissioned the portrait of his wife in 1503, to celebrate the birth of their third child and the purchase of a new family home.

Leonardo da Vinci worked on the portrait between 1503-1506, but considered it unfinished. He did not end up giving Lisa and Francesco their commissioned work, and so he was not paid for it. Instead, he carried the portrait with him for the rest of his life. He brought it to the Loire Valley in 1516 when he was invited to live there by François I, and that is where (and when) he is said to have finished painting it. When the artist passed away in 1519, François I purchased the painting (as well as several others) from the executor of Leonardo da Vinci’s estate. This  is how the Mona Lisa ended up in France and part of the Louvre’s collection.

You can see the protective panel of glass, as well as a few of the painting’s many admirers, in the photo below.  There is a rope that keeps everyone a few steps back from the wall. Our guide told us that the wall is equipped with a motion-sensitive alarm so that if anyone tries to tamper with the painting, the wall will descend into the floor—taking the painting with it. The doors to the room will close, trapping the would-be-perpetrators within. A loud alarm and flashing lights will alert the Louvre’s security team. It sounds very dramatic!

Our guide told us that the Mona Lisa is considered to be literally priceless. The Mona Lisa is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as having the highest-ever insurance value for a painting, citing an assessment value in 1962 of $100 million USD. Adjusting for inflation, that value would have been $830 million in 2018. Some people argue that this number underscores the Mona Lisa‘s actual worth, saying it would be more appropriate to consider its value lying closer to a billion dollars. Suddenly, the motion-triggered sliding wall and the bullet-proof glass seem entirely appropriate.

Why is the Mona Lisa so famous and worth so much money? It’s a nice painting, sure, but there doesn’t seem to be anything in particular that distinguishes it to the tune of one billion dollars. For centuries after its creation, the Mona Lisa remained largely unknown. In the 1860s it began to achieve a little acclaim when art critics started to hail it as a masterpiece of Renaissance painting. But its renown was still restricted to an elite academic circle.

All of this changed on the morning of August 12, 1911, when three Italian handymen smuggled it out of the Louvre under a blanket. The painting wasn’t even missed until 28 hours later, when a still-life artist noticed its absence and brought it to the attention of a security guard. The Mona Lisa made international headlines when the Louvre announced its theft. American tycoon and art lover J.P. Morgan was questioned, as was Pablo Picasso. The Louvre was closed for a week, and it was mobbed by the curious upon its reopening.

The actual perpetrator was later discovered to be Vincenzo Perugia, who had worked as a handyman to install the Mona Lisa‘s protective glass case. He was probably hoping to sell it, but all the attention made the Mona Lisa too hot to move. Perugia hid the painting beneath the false-bottom of a trunk in his Paris boarding-house. Two years later, he was caught when he tried to sell it to an art dealer in Florence. Perugia plead guilty to the theft and served eight months in prison. By the time the Mona Lisa returned to the Louvre, she had become legendary.

A lot of people express surprise at how small the Mona Lisa actually is when they see it in person. I’m certain nobody has the same criticism when they see The Wedding Feast at Cana by Paolo Veronese, which hangs on the wall facing it. This painting is the Louvre’s most expansive piece, measuring 6.77 metres (22.2 feet) x 9.94 metres (32.6 feet) and weighing 1, 500 kilograms (1.5 tonnes).

The scene depicts the biblical scene of the Marriage at Cana, where Jesus was said to have conducted his first miracle by transforming water into wine. The painting was commissioned on June 6, 1562 by the Venetian Black Monks of the Order of Saint Benedict. They wanted it to decorate the wall of their new dining hall.

Veronese completed and delivered the painting in September 1563. On September 11, 1797, it was taken as war booty by Napoleon’s French soldiers. They cut the canvas and rolled it up like a carpet to transport it to Paris, where it was re-stitched and reassembled. The Venetians tried to get the painting back after Napoleon’s downfall in 1815, but the Louvre’s then-Director Dominique Vivant Denon (who had been appointed by Napoleon) claimed the painting was too delicate to move. A painting by Charles Le Brun, Feast at the House of Simon (1563), was given to Italy as recompense.

The Wedding Feast at Cana. Paolo Veronese, 1562-1563.

Our guide led us on a short tour that provided an overview of the development of Western art as seen in thematic portraits of the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus. The tour began with this painting by Cimabue, which was painted around 1280. Although beautiful, our guide pointed out that the subjects of the painting are relatively flat and two-dimensional. There is not a lot of depth to the scene, nor do they look all that realistic.

The Virgin and Child in Majesty Surrounded by Six Angels. Cenni di Pepe, called Cimabue. Around 1280.

What distinguishes some of the Renaissance painters as true masters of their craft was the complexity and depth with which they painted their subjects. In the painting below, done by artist Alessandro Filipepi (known as Botticelli), the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus look fuller in dimension and more realistic. The figure of Saint Jean the Baptist may have been painted by another artist collaborating with Botticelli, which explains why it looks a little different and arguably of lesser quality.

The Virgin and Child with the Infant Saint Jean the Baptist. Sandro Botticelli, around 1445.

You can see also the advance in painting technique below in La Belle Jardinière (the Beautiful Garden), also known as Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist by Raffaello Santi (known as Raphael).

La Belle Jardinière. Raphael, 1507.

We’ll finish this mini-series on the Virgin and Child with an expansion on the theme by Leonardo da Vinci. Again, you can see the progression in painting technique through the use of perspective and richer detail. The scene below features Jesus, his mother, and his grandmother Saint Anne, who died prior to Jesus’ birth. Leonardo began this piece in 1503 and worked very slowly on it, leaving it unfinished at the time of his death in 1519.

The Virgin and Child with St. Anne. Leonardo da Vinci, 1503.

Everything about the painting shown below is a bit of a mystery: the artist, the title, the model. It was most likely painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the late 15th century, and it is usually attributed to him. If it wasn’t painted by Leonardo, then it was done by someone else in his Milanese circle. The title of the painting, La Belle Ferronnière, is even less clear. It wasn’t assigned to the painting until the 18th century. It translates into English as “the beautiful iron worker.” However, the woman in the painting doesn’t look like she’s about to build us a bridge. Some people have proposed that the title refers to the fact that the woman is a wife or daughter of an iron worker. Others say that the title references the headband with its central jewel. That style of headband was originally popular in Italy in the late 15th century, at the time that this painting was made. As fashion is cyclical, it experienced a comeback in the late 19th century (1875 onward). Some say that at this point the headband style was christened a “ferronnière“, taking its name from this painting. Still others (including the Louvre’s catalogue) say that the painting is so named because the woman is wearing something that was already called a ferronnièreIt’s a chicken-egg situation; which came first? Another theory posits that the painting is named after someone who may have been its model: a woman who was a reputed mistress of François I, who was married to a man known as Le Feron.

La Belle Ferronniere. Leonardo da Vinci, 1490-1496.

Further muddying the situation is the fact that the title of the above painting, La Belle Ferronnièrehas also been used to refer to the painting below. The painting below is known to be by Leonardo da Vinci, and is usually called Lady with an Ermine (this painting can be found at the National Museum in Kraków, Poland). As you can see, the women in the two paintings look very similar, and may even possibly be the same person. They are also both wearing a ferronnière. If both portraits are by Leonardo and they feature the same woman, who was the model? There have been a couple of other suggestions, in addition to François I’s purported mistress. The model could be Cecilia Gallerani or Lucrezia Crivelli; both women were mistresses of Ludovico Maria Sforza, the Duke of Milan. The model may also be Beatrice d’Este, Sforza’s wife. Sforza was a patron of Leonardo da Vinci, and is most famous for commissioning Leonardo’s mural painting of The Last Supper.

Lady with an Ermine. Leonardo da Vinci, 1489-1490.

The fresco below, Venus and the Three Graces Presenting Gifts to a Young Woman, originally came from the Villa Lemmi, a property near Florence that belonged to the Tournabuoni family. Botticelli may have been commissioned to create this work to celebrate the marriage of one of these family members. The “young woman” referred to in the title and depicted in the mural in a red dress may be Nanna di Nicolò Tournabuoni or Giovanna Albizzi. Venus, the goddess of love, is shown dressed in pink. She is attended by the Three Graces, who are each meant to represent an aspect of generosity: the giving, receiving, and returning of gifts. Venus is placing a bouquet of flowers into a white cloth that is being held out by the woman in red. Cupid can be seen on the right.

Venus and the Three Graces Presenting Gifts to a Young Woman. Sandro Boticelli, 1483-1486.

Liberty Leading the People is a famous French Romantic painting by Eugène Delacroix that commemorates the July Revolution of 1830, which saw the overthrow of Charles X of France. Liberty is depicted as a woman of the people, leading them over the barricades and the bodies of the fallen while hoisting the symbols of revolution: the French tricolour flag, a Phrygian cap, and a musket. In France, this personification of Liberty as a woman and/or goddess is a popular national symbol, and she has been given the name Marianne. This painting inspired Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, popularly known as the Statue of Liberty. On the subject of this painting, Delacroix said (in a letter to his brother): “And if I haven’t fought for my country at least I’ll paint for her.” Note how the fighters depicted seem to be of different social classes, and how the colours of the French tricolour are repeated in the clothing of the man who can be found at Liberty’s feet.

Liberty Leading the People. Eugène Delacroix, 1830.

On July 2, 1816 the French naval frigate Méduse ran aground on a sandbank 97 kilometers (60 miles) off of the coast of Mauritania, a country in northwest Africa. Although the ship was carrying 400 people, there was only space for 250 in the lifeboats. A raft was hastily built to carry the rest, with the intention that it would be towed by the lifeboats. On July 5, 147 people climbed onto the raft. It became partially submerged as soon as it was loaded. After only a few miles, the raft was turned loose from the boats. Only 15 people of the 147 who originally climbed onto the raft survived the thirteen days it took for them to be rescued (which happened July 17). They endured starvation, dehydration, and resorted to cannibalism. The event became an international scandal, with blame falling on the incompetence of the French captain, Viscount Hugues Duroy de Chaumereys, who had been given the appointment despite having scarcely sailed in 20 years. Artist Théodore Géricault was fascinated by the event, and set about painting The Raft of the Medusa. He depicts the moment when the fifteen survivors, on the thirteenth day, glimpse a ship approaching in the distance. Géricault interviewed two survivors and built a scale model of the raft to assist with his extensive research into the subject. The painting, extremely controversial, became an icon of the French Romantic movement.

The Raft of the Medusa. Théodore Géricault, 1818-1819.

Another view of the painting.

Napoleon’s coronation took place on December 2, 1804 at Notre Dame Cathedral. Although Pope Pius VII was present and part of the events, Napoleon broke with tradition by crowning himself and then crowning his wife, Josephine. By doing so, he meant to show that he was becoming Emperor based on his own merits and the will of the people, rather than as an act of religious consecration. The painting below was completed in 1807 by Napoleon’s official painter, Jacques-Louis David. It depicts Napoleon crowning his wife, Josephine.

The Coronation of Napoleon. Jacques-Louis David, 1805-1807.

The painting is large, measuring almost 10 metres (33 feet) wide by a little over 6 metres (20 feet) tall. Below is a closer detail view of Napoleon and Josephine.

I didn’t know this at the time we were visiting the Louvre, but David’s work was actually originally painted to show Napoleon crowning himself. It was repainted at some later point in the process. If you stand in front of the painting and look closely, you can see the original outline. A prepatory sketch (also at the Louvre), shown below, indicates what that original figure would have looked like.

Sketch of Emperor Napoleon Crowning Himself. Jacques-Louis David, 1805-1807. From Wikipedia.

The Portrait of Louis XIV is a painting of the famous Sun King at the age of 63 in his coronation robes. The King was so pleased with the work that it became his official portrait, and a number of copies were made. The original piece is on display at the Louvre. Note that in his time, Louis XIV was considered to be the epitome of power and masculinity. Modern viewers might be taken aback when we see the high heels and the bold display of his legs, but this is more a reflection on how fashion and the performance of gender changes over time.

Portrait of Louis XIV. Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701.

It’s now time to move onto sculpture! The Louvre has a large and diverse collection of statues that are displayed in several beautiful galleries and sculpture terraces, such as the one below.


Athena, daughter of Zeus, was the Greek goddess of wisdom and war. She was the protector goddess of the Greek city state of Athens. When the Parthenon was completed in Athens in the 5th century B.C.E., a large statue of Athena standing 12 meters (39 feet) tall was placed in the temple. She was the focal point of the temple, designed by Geek sculptor Phidias (whose sculpture of Zeus at Olympia was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World). The original statue was destroyed at some point, possibly looted for the gold and ivory that decorated it. However, the Romans had made several copies of it, one of which is on display at the Louvre. The statue is named after the wide collar she is wearing, which features an image of the Gorgon Medusa. She would have been originally armed with a lance in her missing right arm, and holding a shield with her missing left arm. This statue was purchased from the Borghese collection in 1807.

Athena Parthenos, called “Minerva with the necklace.” Unknown artist, 1st or 2nd century B.C.E.

The statue of Joan of Arc shown below was originally commissioned in 1845 to be a part of the series of “Queens and Illustrious Women” on display at the Jardin du Luxembourg. Instead, it was displayed as part of the Salon of 1852. The statue shows Joan of Arc (1412-1431) “listening to her voices.” According to her own testimony Joan, at the age of 13, heard the call of Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Marguerite urging her to go and deliver France from the English; at this point in the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), the English had invaded France as far south as the Loire Valley. In 1429, Joan was sent to the Siege of Orléans as part of a relief army. When the siege was lifted only nine days later, she became a national hero. There was a surge in French morale that led to continued victories and the coronation of Charles VII. Sadly, Joan was captured in 1430 by a group of pro-English French nobles, and turned over to the English. She was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431, at the age of nineteen. Joan was canonized in 1920, and is a patron saint of France.

Joan of Arc Listening to Her Voices. François Rude, 1852.

Below are some of Joan’s neighbours on the sculpture terrace.

The statue below, Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, is one of the highlights of the Louvre. According to legend, Psyche was a young and beautiful mortal who was worshiped like a goddess. This made Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, jealous. Venus ordered her son, Cupid, to get rid of Psyche. But when Cupid saw Psyche, he fell hopelessly in love with her. The two became lovers, with Cupid visiting Psyche each night. However, he forbid her from seeing his face. One night, Psyche was overcome by her curiosity and lit a lamp while Cupid was sleeping so she could look at him. Cupid woke up and caught her. Feeling betrayed, he fled. Psyche tried to find him, and sought Venus’ help. Venus made Psyche perform several challenging ordeals, including sending Psyche to see Proserpina, the goddess of the underworld. Psyche’s mission was to bring back a flask that she was told not to open. Of course, Psyche submitted to her curiosity once more and opened the container to smell it. The fumes caused her to faint into a deep, deathlike sleep. Cupid saw this happen and rushed to her, pulling Psyche into his embrace. This is the moment depicted in the sculpture. The gods were moved by the couple’s devotion, and granted Psyche immortality as the goddess of the soul. This permitted the lovers to be together forever. In Greek, psukhē means soul and butterfly.

Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. Antonio Canova, 1777.

Another angle.

The bust shown below is that of Maria Barberini, niece of Pope Urbain VIII and wife of Tolomeo Duglioli. In 1621, Barberini died in childbirth at the age of 22. Her uncle ordered this portrait of her, as well as that of other deceased members of his family, by Gianlorenzo Bernini. The bust was carved around 1626 by one of Bernini’s collaborators, Giuliano Finelli.

Maria Duglioli Barberini (1599-1621). Giuliano Finelli, 1626.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace, also called The Nike of Samothrace, was created around the 2nd century B.C.E. to commemorate a sea battle. It depicts the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, in flowing drapery, as if she has just landed on the prow of a ship and is standing in a rippling breeze. It is believed that prior to the loss of her arms the goddess was portrayed raising a cupped hand around her mouth to give out a cry of “Victory!” It is not known for certain who the sculptor was or what sea battle the goddess was meant to be celebrating. One of the most likely theories put forward is the Battle of Cos (fought somewhere between 262-255 B.C.E.), in which Antigonus II Gonatas of Macedonia defeated the fleet of Ptolemy II of Egypt. The Greek island of Samothrace, which is where the statue was found in 1863, was an important sanctuary for the Hellenistic Macedonian kings.

Winged Victory of Samothrace. Unknown artist, circa 190 B.C.E.

The statue is one of a small number of major Hellenistic (323 B.C.E. – 31 B.C.E) works to survive in the original, rather than as a Roman copy. Some have described The Winged Victory of Samothrace as the “greatest masterpiece of Hellenistic sculpture.”

The statue’s right wing, shown below, is a symmetrical plaster version of the original left one.

The left wing, shown below, is original to the sculpture.

In 1950, the missing right hand of the statue was found. It had slid out of sight under a large rock near where the sculpture had been discovered. The tip of Nike’s ring finger and her thumb were recovered from the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna, where they had been placed in a storage drawer. The finger fragments have since been reunited with the hand, as can be seen in the picture below.

Below is the Venus de Milo, one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. It was created sometime between 130-100 B.C.E. by Alexandros of Antioch. The sculpture depicts Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty (known as Venus by the Romans). However, there are some scholars who say that the statue is of Amphitrite, the Greek goddess of the sea, who was worshiped on the Greek island of Milos where the sculpture was discovered in 1820.

Venus de Milo. Alexandros of Antioch, 130-100 B.C.E.

The statue measures slightly larger than life-size at 2.03 metres (6 feet, 8 inches) in height. The statue was in ruins when it was found, and there were fragments of an arm and a hand accompanying it. As the statue was being reassembled, these pieces were discarded, possibly because they were in rougher shape. The now-lost left hand was holding an apple.

Holes in the marble indicate that the statue was once decorated with a bracelet, earrings, and a headband. The accessories were probably stolen, especially if they contained gold or precious gems.

Why is the Venus de Milo so famous? Previously, Napoleon had looted the Venus de’ Medici from Italy, and France was forced to give it back in 1815. In 1820, the Venus de Milo was gifted to Louis XVIII. The Louvre wanted to fill the hole that the absence of the Venus de’ Medici had created, and so it claimed that the Venus de Milo was the better sculpture. Worked like a charm!

The Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Venus de Milo, and Michelangelo’s Slaves were sheltered together at the Château de Valençay during World War II, after being evacuated from the Louvre.

The Venus of Arles is a 1.94 metre (6 foot, 4 inches) sculpture of the goddess Venus. It was created in the 1st century B.C.E. by an unknown artist, and may be a copy of an earlier work known as the Aphrodite of Thespiae by Praxiteles. This statue was discovered in a Roman theatre in the French city of Arles. She was found in 1651, and gifted to Louis XIV in 1681. The statue was seized from the royal collection during the French Revolution, and has been on display at the Louvre since it first opened on August 10, 1793.

Venus of Arles. Unknown sculptor, 1st century B.C.E.

The Athena of Velletri is a 1st century Roman copy of a lost Greek bronze sculpture; the original was possibly made around 430 B.C.E. by Greek sculptor Kresilas. It towers at 3.05 meters (10 feet) in height. It was discovered in the ruins of a Roman villa in a vineyard near the Italian town of Velletri in 1797.

Athena of Velletri. Unknown artist, 1st century C.E.

All right, with the sculpture covered, let’s move onto a few exhibits from the departments of Egyptian and Near-Eastern Antiquities!

The Great Sphinx of Tanis is a granite sculpture of a sphinx, a creature who has the body of a lion with a human head. It dates to the 26th century B.C.E. It was discovered in the ruins of the Temple of Amun-Ra in Tanis, which served as the capital of Egypt during the 21st Dynasty (1069 B.C.E. – 945 B.C.E.) and the 23rd Dynasty (837 B.C.E. – 728 B.C.E.). Sphinx is actually a later Greek term that was applied to these statues; the Egyptians referred to them as a shesep-ankh (living image). The statue was a symbolic representation of the close relationship between the human king (the head) and the sun god, Ra (the lion body). The statue was thus a “living image” of the king’s power and association with Ra. A sphinx was positioned as a recumbent guardian and protector in places where the gods appeared, such as at the entrances to temples.

Great Sphinx of Tanis. Unknown artist, 26th century B.C.E.

Mesopotamia is a historical region of Western Asia that roughly corresponds to most of modern Iraq, Kuwait, parts of northern Saudi Arabia, the eastern parts of Syria, southeast Turkey, and regions along the Turkish-Syrian and Iran-Iraq borders. It was dominated by the Sumerians and Akkadians (including Assyrians and Babylonians) from 3100 B.C.E to the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C.E, when it was conquered by the Achaemenid Empire (also known as the First Persian Empire). That empire then fell to Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.E. Upon Alexander’s death, it became part of the Greek Seleucid Empire. Around 150 B.C.E. it became part of the Parthian Empire, and then the Romans and the Parthians fought over it for a few centuries. It is an area extremely rich in human history, and could be considered one of the cradles of human civilization. It was the site of many of the earliest developments of the Neolithic Revolution around 10,000 B.C.E, in which humans transitioned from their hunting and gathering lifestyle towards one of agriculture and settlement. This is where the wheel was invented, where cereal crops were first planted, and where mathematics, astronomy, agriculture, and cursive script were developed. The Louvre had a few fascinating displays that touch on the history of this area.

The lion below was part of a processional way that led from the Temple of Marduk to the Temple of Akitu. The lion was associated with the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar. A group of priests would pass by this lion during their New Year’s Eve ceremonies, which took place during the Spring Equinox. The processional path, which was uncovered during the German excavations of Babylon, is partially reconstructed at the Vorderasiatisches Museum of Berlin.

Brick panel of Lion. Unknown artist, circa 604-562 B.C.E.

In 716 B.C.E., Sargon II of Assyria (reigned 722-705 B.C.E.) ordered the construction of a new city that he wanted to serve as his new capital. Over the next decade, the city of Dur-Sharrukin, which translates as “Fort Sargon”, was built (present-day Khorsabad, located in northern Iraq). The city had a rectangular layout, and measured 1.7 by 1.6 kilometers (1.05 by 1 miles). An area of three square kilometers (1.86 square miles, or 288 hectares) was enclosed by a massive brick city wall that contained seven entrance gates and 157 towers. A walled terrace contained temples and the city palace, the Cour Khorsabad.

A reconstructed model of Dur-Sharrukin.

From Wikipedia.

The Cour Khorsabad palace was richly decorated with sculptures and wall reliefs. The gates of the palace were flanked by a pair of protective genie guardians known as shedu or lamassu. These guardians had bodies that combined the features of men, bulls, and birds. Two of these winged bulls are on display at the Louvre, shown below. They were excavated in 1843.

Winged Bull from the Cour Khorsabad of Sargon II. Unknown artist, 713-706 B.C.E.

The winged bulls stand more than 4 metres (13 feet) high by 4 metres wide, are 1 meter (3.28 feet) in depth, and weigh up to 40 tons. They stood at the Androcephalus Wing of the Cour Khorsabad, at city gate number 3. The shedu/lamassu guardians were a characteristic decoration of Assyrian palaces, making their first appearance at the city of Nimrud during the rule of Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 883 – 859 B.C.E.); two of the winged bulls from this palace are on display at the British Museum.

Winged Bull from the Cour Khorsabad of Sargon II. Unknown artist, 713-706 B.C.E.

Below are some wall reliefs from the Cour Khorsabad. In the scenes below, ceremonial furniture is being paraded before the King.

Relief from the Cour Khorsabad of Sargon II. Unknown artist, 713-706 B.C.E.

Below is a detail from a larger scene depicting the transportation of timber. Assyria lacked the quality building timber it needed to construct its monumental palaces, and so had it imported from Lebanon. Transport of the wood from Lebanon’s famed cedar forests took place by boats that sailed north along the Phoenician coast. In the frieze below, boats loaded up with timber are sailing over seas swarming with sea creatures. Each boat features a horse’s head at its prow and a fish’s tail at the stern.

Detail from Frieze of the Transportation of Timber. Unknown artist, 713-706 B.C.E.

One of the most interesting things we saw in the Department of Near-Eastern Antiquities was the Code of Hammurabi. The Code of Hammurabi is a Babylonian code of law from ancient Mesopotamia, dating to around 1754 B.C.E. A nearly-complete copy of the code was found carved onto a 2.25 metre (7.5 foot) tall stone slab (known as a “stele”), shown below. The stele was discovered in 1901 in the ancient city of Susa, located in the Khuzestan province of modern-day Iran.

Code of Hammurabi. Unknown artist, circa 1754 B.C.E.

The code was enacted by Hammurabi, a Babylonian king who reigned from 1792 -1750 B.C.E. It is one of the first forms of law, and also one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length in the world. The code consists of 282 laws that contain scaled punishments, which are graded depending on social status and gender. It contains one of the earliest examples of presumption of innocence, and suggests that both the accuser and the accused have the opportunity to present evidence. The principle of “an eye for an eye” is first referenced in the Code of Hammurabi, which predates the Hebrew Bible. In addition to the legal content, the code is also an exceptional source of information about the society, religion, economy, and history of this period. It also contains a catalogue of the towns and territories annexed to the kingdom of Babylon.

Many copies of the Code of Hammurabi were placed in cities throughout his kingdom. The code is divided into three parts. The first section consists of a prologue that details Hammurabi’s list of achievements and the formation of his empire, setting him in his role as “protector of the weak and oppressed.” The second section is the main text, and lays out 288 laws and legal decisions. The third section is a lyrical epilogue that sums up Hammurabi’s legal work and prepares for its use in perpetuity. The code was a political testament aimed at future princes, for whom Hammurabi wanted it to serve as a model of wisdom and equality. It also became a literary model for scribes, who would make copies of it for the next one thousand years.

An excerpt from the prologue reads: “When the sublime Anu, King of the Gods, and Entil, the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth […] had pronounced the revered name of Babylon and made it preponderant among the regions of the world […] so they named my name, Hammurabi […] to serve justice in the country, to eliminate the wicked and the perverse, to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak, to rise as Shamash, the sun above men, to illuminate the country […] First among Kings, I am […] the mighty King, the sun of the city of Babylon, who spreads the light over the land of Sumer and Akkad […] When Marduk ordered me to bring justice to the people, I established truth and justice […] I assured the well-being of the people.”

The legal text uses simplified, everyday language because Hammurabi wanted it to be understood by everybody. Criminal and civil laws are covered. Prices and salaries are set out. A large section on family deals with engagement, marriage, divorce, adultery, incest, children, adoption, inheritance, and the duties of children’s nurses. Slavery is discussed. Professional, commercial, agricultural, and administrative law are covered. Hammurabi sets out a selection of the wisest legal decisions that he has made or ratified.

A few example Sentences of Justice:

1 – If a man accuses another man and charges him with homicide, but can not bring evidence against him, his accuser will be put to death.

22 – If a man commits a robbery and is caught, he will be put to death.

129 – If a man’s wife is caught sleeping with another male, they will be bound and thrown into the water. If the owner of the wife allows her to live, then in turn the King could save his servant.

196 – If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye. If one break a man’s bone, they shall break his bone. If one destroy the eye of a freeman or break the bone of a freeman he shall pay one gold mina. If one destroy the eye of a man’s slave or break a bone of a man’s slave he shall pay one-half his price.

An excerpt from the Epilogue reads: “Such are the rulings of justice that Hammurabi, the competent King, has established to engage the country in accordance with the truth and the just order […] That the unjustly treated man, who is implicated in a business, should come before the image of myself, the King of justice, and have my stele read to me, that he should thus hear my precious ordinances; that my stele tells him his business, that he sees his case, that his heart is alleviated […] I am Hammurabi, the King of Justice, to whom Shamash has granted the truth.

Our final exhibit from the department of Near-Eastern Antiquities is another stele, shown below. This particular kind of stone stele is known as a kudurru, which is carved with inscriptions that record gifts of land made by Babylonian rulers to members of their family or high-ranking civil or religious dignitaries. The kudurru below, dated to 1186-1172 B.C.E, commemorates a gift of land made by King Meli-Shipak II to his son, Marduk-Apal-Iddina. Like the Code of Hammurabi, this kudurru was found in the ancient Iranian city of Susa.

Kudurru of King Meli-Shipak II. Unknown artist, 1186-1172 B.C.E.

The back of the kudurru.

The Louvre has a few really cool exhibits of armour on display. Below is a set of parade armour that features scenes from the history of Roman leader, Pompey the Great (106-48 B.C.E.), as part of its decoration. It was made around 1560, possibly for Henri II (1519-1559) of France or one of his sons.

A side view.

Close-up of a battle scene.

From Wikipedia.

Below is another set of parade armour made in France or Flanders around 1570-1590, perhaps for Henri IV (1553-1610).

A close-up of the detail on the chest.

A close-up of the visor.

Another angle.

The helmet below was made for Charles IX (1550-1574, reigned 1560-1574) by Pierre Redon, a renowned goldsmith. It is decorated with war scenes from antiquity.

Morian of Charles IX. Pierre Redon, 1572. From Pixabay.

Now it’s time for something really fun: gladiator armour recovered from the gladiator’s barracks in Pompeii! There were different types of gladiators based on the various weapons and fighting techniques they specialized in. Some were prisoners of war, others were professional fighters. They wore different styles of armour as well.

The first photo below is that of a bronze Thracian gladiator’s helmet, dated to 79 C.E. A Thracian/Thraex gladiator was a prisoner of war who had been captured while the Romans were fighting the Thracian people of eastern and southeastern Europe (northeast Greece, in particular). Thracian gladiators often squared off against another type of gladiators who were also prisoners of war, the Mirmillones/Murmillo, who came from Gaul (France and Germany). Thracian gladiators wore these distinctive broad-rimmed helmets that covered their entire head. The helmets contained a stylized griffin; griffins were the companion creatures of Nemesis, the goddess of fate. Nemesis was venerated by gladiators, and there was a chapel dedicated to her inside the amphitheatre at Pompeii.

The helmet, shown again in a photo below from the Louvre’s official website, also features the decoration of a gorgon head on the front. The helmet was probably used by Thracian gladiators during the parades preceding the games in the amphitheatre at Pompeii, just before Vesuvius erupted in 79 C.E. Plume holders are located on either side of the helmet, which would have held large, fancy feathers. This bronze helmet is one of a number of pieces of armour given in 1802 to Napoleon by Ferdinand IV, King of Naples. They were buried when Vesuvius erupted on August 24, 79 C.E, and discovered during excavation work on the gladiator’s barracks at Pompeii in 1766-1767.

From the Louvre’s official website.

Thracian gladiators also wore bronze leg protectors, known as greaves. A pair of them are shown below. They were also discovered in the gladiator barracks at Pompeii, and date close to 79 C.E.

Another picture of them.

From Wikipedia.

A Thracian gladiator is depicted in the mosaic below on the left, wearing a distinctive Thracian helmet and greaves. He is fighting a Murmillo gladiator.

Detail of a Gladiator Mosaic. A Thraex (left) fighting a Murmillo (right). From the Museum Roemerhalle Bad Kreuznache in Germany. From Wikipedia.

A Retiarius/Retiarii gladiator was a type of gladiator who fought with the stylized equipment of a fisherman. The Latin word retiarius translates variously as net-man, net-fighter, or fisher-man. He carried a weighted net, a dagger, a three-point trident, and was only lightly armoured with an arm guard (a manica) and a tall shoulder guard (a galerus), the latter of which is shown below. The defensive armour was worn on the left/non-dominant arm and, by putting that shoulder forward, offered the fighter some protection for his head behind the curved sheet of metal. Three examples survive from the gladiator barracks of Pompeii, each weighing about 2.5 pounds. The one on display at the Louvre has a decorative medallion that features the head of Hercules, who was famed for his strength.

Another picture of the galerus.

From the Louvre’s official website.

The back of a Retiarius gladiator is shown on the right in the mosaic below. He wears a galerus on his left arm.

Detail of a Gladiator Mosaic. A Secutor (left) fighting a Retiarius (right). From Wikipedia.

Below is a bronze Corinthian helmet that dates to the beginning of the 7th century B.C.E. This style of helmet provided maximum protection with its fixed nasal and broad cheek plates. It was made in southern Greece, perhaps in the city of Argos.

Below are a couple of panels of stained glass from the 16th century that depict knights in their armour, holding pennants.

I like this guy’s billowing red sleeves. 

Here are some decorative details spotted around the Louvre. 

Beautiful floral tapestries. 

I can’t remember what this was, but it’s pretty. 

Some lovely doors. 

Next up is the Apollo Gallery, which is one of the most impressive spaces in the Louvre. When a fire broke out in the Petite Galerie in 1661, Louis XIV had the area rebuilt and richly decorated. When work was completed in 1677, this rebuilt area became the new Apollo Gallery and Cabinet du Roi, the latter of which makes up seven rooms that can be found west of the former. The Apollo Gallery and the Cabinet du Roi became the first part of the Louvre to exhibit artwork as a proto-art gallery/museum known as the Royal Gallery. The Apollo Gallery would serve as inspiration for Louis XIV’s famous Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

The Apollo Gallery, shown below, has a wealth of paintings and gilt decoration on the walls and ceiling.

Detail from the ceiling.

Louis XIV, the Sun King, doubtless approved of his association with Apollo, the Greek god of the sun.

A portrait of Louis XIV.

One of the many paintings on the ceiling.

You’re flying too close to the sun there, Icarus. 

The Sun or The Fall of Icarus. Merry-Joseph Blondel, 1819.

If the decoration of the Apollo room itself wasn’t enough to awe you, it also has the French Crown Jewels on display. As you can imagine, France’s turbulent political history has meant that many of the historic crowns, jewelry sets, and other shiny objects that were used to convey the wealth and power of the monarchy have been destroyed, stolen, and/or dispersed. The French Revolution in 1792 saw the disappearance of most of the French Crown Jewels. They were the spoils of a corrupt, inequitable, and oppressive system; the fledgling democratic republic had no use for them.

However, the pendulum soon swung back and the 19th century saw the return of authoritarian rule in the figure of Emperor Napoleon and then the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy¹. Jewelry has long been a key signifier of status and privilege, and new Emperors and restored Kings had a lot to prove. Most of the pieces that now make up the French Crown Jewels were added during this time.

Key figures behind these items on display at the Louvre include (in chronological order): Louis XV (1710-1774, reigned 1715-1774); Empress Marie-Louise (1791-1847, reigned 1810-1814), the second wife of Emperor Napoleon I; Marie-Thérèse (1778-1851), Duchess of Angoulême, daughter-in-law of Charles X (1757-1836, reigned 1824-1830); Marie-Amélie (1782-1866, reigned 1830-1848), wife of Louis-Philippe I; and Empress Eugénie of Montijo (1826-1920, reigned 1853-1870), wife of Napoleon III.

In 1885, the Third French Republic (1870-1940) voted to auction off most of the French Crown Jewels, opting only to keep a few pieces that were deemed to have significant historic value. Once more, a democratic republic decided it wanted to rid itself of the excess of a previous regime; this time, with less bloodshed. The sale eventually took place in 1887. Since then, some of the pieces that were sold have found their way back to France and the collection on display at the Louvre.

Below is one of the display cases in the Apollo Gallery that holds the current collection of the French Crown Jewels.

The Crown of Louis XV is the sole surviving crown (of a documented 20) from the Ancien Régime, which had ruled France from 1453-1789. This crown was made for Louis XV in 1722. It was used at his coronation and embellished with diamonds from the Royal Collection. It was made by jeweler Laurent Ronde. The Sancy diamond was placed in the fleur-de-lis at the top of the crown, and the Regent diamond took centre stage at the front of the crown. The crown also featured eight of the famous Mazarin diamonds that Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister to Louis XIII and Louis XIV, had bequeathed to the French crown upon his death in 1661 (there were 18 in total). The Mazarin diamonds were set in the fleur-de-lis that decorate the sides of the crown. Hundreds of other diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires also made up the decoration.

All of the other crowns from the Ancien Régime, which had been kept in the Basilica of Saint-Denis, were destroyed in 1793 during the French Revolution. The Crown of Louis XV was the only one to survive. When the French Third Republic decided to auction off the French Crown Jewels in 1885, they decided to keep the Crown of Louis XV due to its historic value. However, all of its precious stones were sold and replaced with coloured glass.

The Sancy diamond, shown below, is a pale yellow diamond of 55.232 carats. The cut of the diamond indicates that it likely originated in India. Its known history begins in 1570 when it was acquired by Nicolas Harlay de Sancy, Superintendent of Finance for Henri IV, the man for whom the diamond is named. de Sancy sold the jewel to James I of England in 1604. The jewel was inherited by James I’s son, Charles I. After Charles I was beheaded in 1649, it became the property of his son James II. James II was forced to flee England in 1688 and then again in 1690, where he sought shelter under Louis XIV. James II, destitute, had to sell the diamond to Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister of Louis XIV. Upon Mazarin’s death in 1661, Mazarin bequeathed the Sancy diamond to Louis XIV. The jewel was used in the Crown of Louis XV (1722), as previously mentioned. It was also used in the Crown of Louis XVI (1775), which did not survive the French Revolution.

The Sancy diamond disappeared during the French Revolution when the Royal Treasury was raided. The Regent diamond and the French Blue diamond (known today as the Hope Diamond) were also stolen. Over the years, the Sancy diamond would occasionally show up in a few different private collections before disappearing again. In 1906, it was purchased by William Waldorf Astor from a Russian collector. It was sold by William Waldorf Astor III, the 4th Viscount Astor, to the Louvre in 1978 for $1 million USD.

Today, the Sancy diamond is estimated to be worth over $100 million USD.

The Regent diamond, shown below, is a 141 carat diamond that is considered by many to be the purest and most beautiful diamond in the world. It was discovered in India, and began its documented history in 1702 when it was acquired by Thomas Pitt, Governor of Fort St. George. The diamond was purchased by Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, in 1717. Philippe II was the nephew of Louis XIV, and served as Regent of France until his cousin, Louis XV, reached his age of majority in 1723. This is why it’s mainly known as the Regent diamond, although it has also been called the Pitt diamond. The Regent diamond was used in the Crown of Louis XV (1722) and the Crown of Louis XVI (1775). It has also been used in the Sword of the First Consul (1801) and the Sword of Napoleon I (1812). It also featured in the crowns of Louis XVIII (1814), Charles X (1825), Napoleon III (1852), and the Greek diadem of Empress Eugénie. The Regent diamond was stolen during the French Revolution, but later recovered from the attic roof timbers of an old house in the Halles district of Paris, along with the Hortensia diamond. It was not sold off during the sale of 1887 due to its historic value. As of 2015, it was estimated to be worth more than $63 million USD.

The Hortensia diamond is an orangey-pink diamond of 21.32 carats. It was mined in India, and acquired by Louis XIV in 1643. The diamond was used in an epaulette braid by Napoleon I, which is an ornamental shoulder piece on a uniform. The diamond is named after Napoleon I’s step-daughter, Hortense. Hortense was the daughter of Josephine, Napoleon’s first wife². Hortense and Napoleon had a good relationship. She later married Napoleon’s younger brother Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland, and they had a son who would later become Napoleon III. The Hortensia diamond also served as the centrepiece of a diamond-encrusted comb/headband that was worn by Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III. Like the Regent diamond, the Hortensia diamond was not sold off in 1887 with the rest of the French Crown Jewels due to its historic value.

Louis XV had a diamond cross, shown below, made around the middle of the 18th century. The cross served as a badge for the Order of the Holy Spirit, which was a French order of chivalry founded by Henri III in 1578. This new order was reserved for princes and powerful nobles. Henri III dedicated it to the Holy Spirit in recognition of the fact that he had been elected King of Poland (in 1573) and had inherited the throne of France (in 1574) on two Pentecosts. Pentecost is the seventh Sunday after Easter, and is when the Holy Spirit, in the shape of a white dove, was said to have descended upon the Apostles. The white dove is the symbol of the Order, and is used in the badges that represent it. Louis XV’s diamond cross contains 400 diamonds and 1 ruby. He had the cross made to give to either his son-in-law Philippe, who was made a Knight of the Order in 1736, or his grandson Ferdinand, who was made Knight of the Order in 1762.

Louis XV is shown wearing the diamond cross of the Order of the Holy Spirit in the painting below.

Portrait of Louis XV bearing the cross of the Order of the Holy Spirit. Louis-Michel Van Loo, 1763.

All right, we’ve covered the oldest pieces of the French Crown Jewels that Neil and I saw while we were at the Louvre. This included a crown, a diamond cross, and three individual diamonds that were all acquired prior to the French Revolution of 1792. Next, we’re going to move onto the jewelry sets that were added to the French Crown Jewels collection after the Revolution. The first is an emerald set that was acquired during the First French Empire of Napoleon I (1804-1814; part of 1815). Napoleon I gifted the emerald necklace and matching earrings shown below to his second wife, Marie-Louise of Austria, on the occasion of their wedding in 1810. The original jewelry set also contained a matching emerald diadem and comb.

The necklace contains 32 emeralds cut in alternating oval, lozenge, and pear-shapes. The large central emerald is 13.75 carats. The necklace contains 1,138 diamonds, 874 of which are brilliants and 264 are rose diamonds. Each earring consists of a large pear-shaped emerald surrounded by brilliant diamonds and two smaller emeralds. They were made by jeweler François-Regnault Nitot. Marie-Louise bequeathed the emerald set to her cousin Leopold II of Habsburg, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and it remained in his family until 1953. Then the set was sold to a jeweler. The emeralds in the diadem were sold off individually and replaced with turquoise. An American collector, Marjorie Merriweather Post, purchased the diadem and donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1971³. The comb was disassembled, but the necklace and earrings were kept in their original state. In 2004, the Friends of the Louvre were able to purchase and add them to the museum’s collection.

The Bourbon Restoration saw the return of the monarchy in 1814 after Napoleon’s downfall. Louis XVI’s younger brother, Louis XVIII (1755-1824), reigned from 1814-1824 (give or take 100 days in 1815). Upon Louis XVIII’s death in 1824 another younger brother, Charles X (1757-1836), ascended to the throne. He reigned from 1824-1830.

While Charles X had no wife to adorn with jewels during his reign (Maria-Theresa of Savoy had died in 1805), he did have a daughter-in-law. In 1799 his son, Louis-Antoine, the Duke of Angoulême, married Marie-Thérèse of France. Marie-Thérèse (1778-1851), also known as Madame Royale, was the eldest child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and the only one to reach adulthood (her three younger siblings died before reaching the age of 11). When she married Louis-Antoine she became known as the Duchess of Angoulême. Yes, her father Louis XVI was the brother of her husband’s father, Charles X (ie: Marie’s uncle), making Marie-Thérèse and Louis-Antoine first cousins. ANYWAY. MOVING ON.

In 1816, a ruby jewelry set was made for Marie-Thérèse by Paul-Nicols Menière. The design for the set came from Menière’s son-in-law, Évrard Bapst, and reused rubies that had been part of an earlier jewelry set that had been made for Empress Marie-Louise (Napoleon I’s wife) in 1811. This new ruby jewelry set originally contained a large tiara, a small tiara, a belt, three necklaces, a pair of bracelets, earrings, and several brooches*. Sadly, the set was broken up during the sale in 1887. Only a pair of bracelets have made their way back to the Louvre, shown below.

The bracelets contain 72 rubies and 420 diamonds.

The tiara shown below was a gift from Louis-Antoine to Marie-Thérèse. It was made by jewelers Évrard and Frédéric Bapst in 1819-1820. It contains 40 emeralds that total 77 carats, and 1,031 diamonds that add up to 176 carats. It was a crown fit for a future Queen! But, wait, not so fast…

The July Revolution of 1830 resulted in the forced abdication of Charles X**. Charles X, Louis-Antoine, and Marie-Thérèse were out. Louis-Philippe I, cousin of Charles X, was now in. The tiara remained in France when Marie-Thérèse and her husband went into exile. It was sold in 1887, and made its way to Britain where it was displayed for a time in the Victoria & Albert Museum. In 2002, the Louvre purchased it and added it to their collection.

Louis XV’s cross of the Order of the Holy Spirit and the Duchess d’Angoulême’s bracelets are displayed together, shown below.

Louis-Philippe I (1773-1850) reigned as King of France from 1830-1848. His wife was Maria-Amélie of Naples and Sicily, whom he wed in 1809. Below is a sapphire jewelry set that belonged to her. It’s unknown when the jewelry set was made or whom it was made by. It may contain sapphires that originally belonged to Empress Josephine, the first wife of Napoleon I, because there is a record in 1821 of Louis-Philippe purchasing sapphires from Josephine’s daughter, Hortense.

The diadem contains 24 sapphires and 1,083 diamonds. The tiara is made up of five distinct sapphire and diamond elements. The tiara can thus be taken apart, with each part worn as a separate brooch. (In fact, this is how the diadem was made, by combining these brooches to make a tiara).

The necklace consists of 8 sapphires and 631 diamonds.

The earrings consist of 2 sapphires and 59 diamonds. The large brooch, on the lower left, contains 4 sapphires and 263 diamonds. There is a pair of small brooches, located on the bottom right, that each contain one large sapphire and 25 diamonds.

The February 1848 Revolution saw the forced abdication of Louis-Philippe I. Mindful of what had happened to Louis XVI, Louis-Philippe I and Marie-Amélie quickly skipped town with their family. The National Assembly of France had initially planned for Louis-Philippe’s nine-year-old grandson (Philippe, Comte de Paris) to take the throne. However, public opinion had once again turned against the monarchy and the French Second Republic was established instead. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was elected President on December 10, 1848 for a term that was meant to last until 1852. In 1851, when it looked like he wasn’t going to be re-elected, Louis-Napoleon seized power through a coup d’état and declared himself “President for Life.” In 1852, he became Emperor Napoleon III and the Second French Empire was established. The next few items in the collection of the French Crown Jewels belonged to the wife of Napoleon III, Empress Eugénie of Montijo, whom he married in 1853. We’ll go through them in mostly chronological order. 

The pearl diadem below was a wedding gift from Napeolon III to Empress Eugénie. It was made by Alexandre-Gabriel Lemonnier. It made use of stones that had been earlier worn by Empress Marie-Louise and Marie-Thérèse, the Duchess of Angoulême. The crown contains 212 pearls and 1,998 diamonds. It was auctioned off in 1887 with the rest of the Crown Jewels. In 1890, it was gifted by Prince Albert of the Princely House of Thurn and Taxis (a German noble family) to his new wife, Archduchess Margarethe Klementina of Austria, on the occasion of their wedding. The diadem stayed in the Thurn and Taxis family for generations. In 1992, the Friends of the Louvre purchased it for the museum’s collection.

The pearl shoulder brooch, shown below, was one of four identical brooches that were made to match Eugénie’s pearl wedding diadem. It was created by jeweler François Kramer. It consists of 7 pearls and 25 diamonds. 17 of the diamonds and all of the pearls were one part of a piece that belonged to Empress Marie-Louise. In 1887, this brooch was sold to Clementine of Orléans, the Princess of Saxe-Cobourg. She bequeathed it to her son Ferdinand I of Bulgaria.

The Reliquary Brooch was made by Frédéric and Alfred Bapst in 1855 for Empress Eugénie. It consists of 85 diamonds, including two of the famous eighteen Mazarin diamonds that were bequeathed to Louis XIV by his chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin, in 1661. Diamonds #17 and #18 are the pair that are positioned like butterfly wings at the centre of the brooch. The third largest diamond in the brooch was once a fourth button on a jerkin (a sleeveless jacket) belonging to Louis XVI, before it was made into an earring for Marie Antoinette.

The Diamond Bow Brooch was made for Empress Eugénie by François Kramer, for the occasion of the 1855 Exposition Universelle. Originally, the brooch consisted only of the diamond bow and was made to be worn as a buckle on a belt of diamonds. However, Eugénie asked to have the brooch transformed into something larger that would work as ornamentation on a stomacher (a decorated triangular panel located on the torso of a woman’s formal gown). Two long diamond tassels and five diamond fringes were added to the piece. The brooch was sold with the rest of the French Crown Jewels in 1887, and ended up in the collection of Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, better known as The Mrs. Astor who acted as New York society gatekeeper during the Gilded Age. In 2008, the Friends of the Louvre arranged to purchase the brooch for the museum’s collection. It consists of 2,438 old fashioned brilliant diamonds, and 196 small pink diamonds.

Although neither Eugénie or Napoleon III had a coronation ceremony, a pair of crowns were made for them in 1855 for the Exposition Universelle. Eugenie’s crown, shown below, was made by Alexandre-Gabriel Lemonnier. It contains 2,490 diamonds and 56 emeralds. In 1887, Eugénie’s crown was sold off while Napoleon III’s was destroyed. However, Eugénie’s crown was eventually given to her while she was living in exile. She bequeathed it to Princess Marie-Clotilde Bonaparte, Countess of Witt, the granddaughter of one of Napoleon III’s cousins. The crown came up for auction in 1988, and was donated to the Louvre by Roberto Polo.


Below is a better picture of the crown. 

From Wikipedia.

Below is a reproduction of the destroyed Crown of Napoleon III.

From Wikipedia.

There are a few miscellaneous items in the French Crown Jewels collection that I also photographed. 

The brooch in the shape of a Polish eagle, shown below, entered the collection during the time of Louis XIV in 1669. The white eagle is the emblem of Poland, and symbolized the close links between the French and Polish monarchies in the 17th century. The brooch is probably the work of a Parisian goldsmith. The wings are set with 38 rubies. 

The elephant pendant below is the insignia of the Danish Order of the Elephant. The Order was founded by King Christian I in 1478, to commemorate the marriage of his son to the daughter of the Duke of Saxony. The Order was modified in 1693 by Christian V, and he took inspiration from the ceremonies of the French Order of the Holy Spirit. The elephant was regarded as a symbol of chastity, modesty, and religious devotion. The elephant pendant was worn on a necklace during ceremonies. Louis XVIII was made a member of the Order. Évrard Bapst, jeweler to the French king, made the pendant  in 1822. It features enameled gold, rubies, and diamond brilliants.

Below is the Watch of Dey d’Algiers. It was made by Daniel de Saint-Leu, who served as clockmaker to the Queen of England. It consists of 265 diamonds and was made around 1815-1816. It was gifted to Charles X by Husseïn ben El-Husseïn, the Dey of Algiers.  

At long last, we’ll move onto the Apartments of Napoleon III. You’ll (hopefully) recall from my post on the history of the Louvre itself that Napoleon III finished the construction of the north wing that connected the Louvre with the Tuileries. This was done between 1852-1857. This building is now known as the Richelieu Wing, which is where you’ll find the apartments. It should be noted that the apartments were never personally used by the monarch; he and Empress Eugénie had their own suite of rooms at the Tuileries Palace. Rather, the rooms at the Louvre were used by Achille Fould, the Minister of State. After the Paris Commune of 1871, these rooms were allocated to the Finance Ministry.  

The hall leading to the Napoleon III Apartments. 

Below is a corner of the Grand Salon, also known as the State Drawing Room. 

The center of the Grand Salon/State Drawing Room. 

Another corner of the room. 

The room is heavily decorated with gold and crimson furniture, curtains, and wall hangings.  

There are beautifully painted ceilings and amazing chandeliers. 

I really liked the central couch.  

Below is a close-up of the decoration appearing on the walls and the lower ceiling. 

Another corner of the drawing room. 

A portrait of Empress Eugénie can be seen on the wall. 

Here is a close-up of that painting. 

Portrait of the Empress Eugénie. Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1853.

Another angle. 

From Pixabay.

Another corner of the room. 

There were some really interesting furniture pieces!

The sofa shown below, which seated three people, is called an “Indiscreet.” Apparently this style is named in honour of the “indiscreet society gossips” of the 19th century. I say if you make a sofa like the one below, you’re doing your bit to facilitate the spread of gossip.  

A close-up of a chair. 

The State Dining Room seats fifty people. 

Another angle.

From Pixabay.

Below is the bed of Charles X, which he had built for the Tuileries Palace. He asked that it be made to have the same dimensions as the bed of his predecessor, Louis XVIII, so he could reuse the blue and gold silk hangings. These hangings were woven by the House of Grand Frères in Lyon between 1817-1819, after a pattern by Louis de la Hamayde de Saint-Ange. The blue colour of the silk was dubbed “bleu Raymond” after the chemist who invented the process by which they were dyed. 

The bed frame, made of gilded walnut, was carved by Pierre-Gaston Brion in 1824. The canopy is mounted to the wall, rather than being supported by bedposts. The headboard bears the arms of France topped by a crown. 

The bed of Charles X was placed in the former bedroom of Napoleon I on the first floor of the Tuileries Palace. It stood on a raised dais, and was used for ceremonial purposes rather than for sleeping. In France, the royal bedchamber has always been a place of symbolic significance.  

Below is the Dressing Table of the Duchess of Berry. It was made by Marie-Jeanne Rosalie Desarnaud-Charpentier. It was presented at the Exhibition of French Industrial Products of 1819, where Desarnaud-Charpentier earned a gold medal. It consists of cut crystal fit on an iron frame, with rings and moldings of gilded bronze. 

Another angle. 

Following are a few pictures of some beautiful chairs that were on display in the apartments. 

I feel like an elaborate gown is necessary to sit in one of these. It would feel sacrilegious to be wearing something as casual as a pair of jeans (not that you’re allowed to sit on these chairs!). 

Whether dressed in a gown or denim, one would certainly feel very regal!

Below is the Sewing Box of the Countess of Mailly, made in Paris in 1816. 

Another angle. 

That is it for the Louvre! I hope you enjoyed this tour of the collections. Thank you for reading! 


¹ It should be noted that the Bourbon monarchy was restored on the condition that they were expected to be a constitutional monarchy. However, some royals were more on board with that idea than others. (Charles X was not, his cousin Louis-Philippe was, hence why the former was replaced by the latter in 1830). So the restoration of the monarchy was a mixed bag of democracy and authoritarianism. Two steps forward, one step back. There were a few kinks to work out. Still, we have Kings, and they wanted their wives to have pretty, shiny things. 

² Josephine was first married to Alexandre de Beauharnaise. They had a son, Eugène, in addition to their daughter Hortense. Josephine and Alexandre separated shortly after Hortense’s birth. Alexandre was executed during the French Revolution. Josephine was imprisoned during the Revolution as well, and narrowly escaped the execution block herself! 

³ Below is the tiara that belonged to Marie-Louise. The missing emerald stones were replaced with turquoise. It is now located at the Smithsonian Institution. More information can be found here.

From the official website of the Smithsonian Institute.

*Below are some pictures of other items from Marie-Thérèse’s ruby jewelry set. First up is a black-and-white picture of the complete set, taken prior to its sale in 1887. 

From Wikipedia.

Below is a picture of the necklace.

From Wikipedia.

The large tiara.

From Wikipedia.

**Charles X didn’t want to be a constitutional monarch, even though that had been part of the agreement when the Bourbon monarchy was restored in 1814. Charles X was a radical monarchist, and some of the actions he took while in power were a little troubling, and deeply unpopular. On August 2, 1830, he was forced to sign a document of abdication. He signed it with the intention of passing the throne onto his ten-year-old grandson, Henri. Henri was the son of Charles X’s youngest son, Charles-Ferdinand, Duke of Berry (who was assassinated in 1820). Louis-Antoine, Charles X’s oldest son, was not as keen on that idea. He initially refused to sign the abdication, and had a loud argument with his father. After twenty minutes had passed, he then signed the abdication as well. Technically, Marie-Antoinette’s daughter Marie-Thérèse, was Queen of France for twenty minutes. 

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