LOUVRE: NAPOLEON III APARTMENTS
Louvre is not just Mona Lisa. A visit to Napoleon III Apartments, to relive the pomp of that forgotten gilded age
Nowadays the Louvre is the biggest museum in the world. It has this primacy both for its space (19 hectares of exposition) and for the number of art pieces it contains. It opened to public as a museum in 1793, after king Luis XVI and queen Marie Antoinette’s beheadings. But even at the time the building already had a long story behind its shoulders.
Almost every king of France put hands in the Louvre. Adding and demolishing wings or changing the intended use of the building. Starting from Philipp August II that built a little fort on the Seine river in 1223. To Catherine ‘de Medici, that built Le Tuilerie Palace and used it as a royal residence for the first time. To Luis XIV that lived here while Versailles Castle was under construction. Until Napoleon III that lead the palace to the maximum extent, calling the whole ‘Cité Impériale’
And the current aspect of the Louvre is due to Napoleon III himself. During his reign, in the second half of XIX century, great architect such as Louis Visconti and Hector-Martin Lefuel re-designed the palace. Until that time the Louvre complex was formed by unattached building and the half of them were in ruin because of abandonment and riots.
THE GRAND PROJECT
Napoleon III, through the projects of these architects realized the so-called ‘Grand Dessein’ (Grand project) to make all the building of the complex communicating harmonious and symmetric. So the old Louvre was connected, through various buildings containing State Rooms, to the Tuileries Palace that became the residence of Napoleon III.
After Sedan defeat, in 1871, the wrath of the crowd came across Tuileries Palace that was burned and later destroyed. So, nowadays, the Sate Rooms in the wing that used to connect the old Louvre to Tuileries Palace, called Napoleon III Apartments, are the only survivors of the Napoleon III style within Louvre building.
THE STATE ROOMS
These state rooms, even if called Napoleon III Apartments, have never been personally used by the monarch, but by his State Minister Achille Fould, that personally took care of their decoration.
Napoleon III apartments open in the enormous state drawing room that encloses all the opulence of that time: gilded decorations, red damasks, and bronzes are the main decorative leitmotif. The ceiling has been frescoed by Charles-Raphael Marechal with a Napoleon III commemorative scene.
The state dining room is another example of decorative grandeur. The ceiling was frescoed by Eugéne Appert with exotic scenes. The table can sit up to 50 guests.
Next to these state rooms you find other rooms used form the minister for his everyday life. Nevertheless they have a still so rich decoration that the visitor can easy understand how the pomp was a regular attitude in that age. A time characterized by a recognizable and remarkable style. To use the answer that Charles Garnier, the designer of the namesake opera house in Paris, gave to the Empress Eugenia when she asked which would have been the expected architectonical style for the opera house : ‘Napoleon III style, Milady’
Words by Federico Sigali