Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

The Louvre

The Many Lives of the World’s Most Famous Museum

by James Gardner

The fascinating and little-known story of the Louvre, from its inception as a humble fortress to its transformation into the palatial residence of the kings of France and then into the world’s greatest art museum

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 416
  • Publication Date April 19, 2022
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4878-0
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $20.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 416
  • Publication Date May 05, 2020
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4877-3
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $30.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date May 05, 2020
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4879-7
  • US List Price $30.00

Some nine million people from all over the world flock to the Louvre each year to enjoy its incomparable art collection. Yet few of them are aware of the remarkable history of that place and of the buildings themselves—a fascinating story that historian James Gardner elegantly chronicles in the first full-length history of the Louvre in English.

More than 7,000 years ago, men and women camped on a spot called le Louvre for reasons unknown; a clay quarry and a vineyard supported a society there in the first centuries AD. A thousand years later, King Philippe Auguste of France constructed a fortress there in 1191, just outside the walls of a city far smaller than the Paris we know today. Intended to protect the capital against English soldiers stationed in Normandy, the fortress became a royal residence under Charles V two centuries later, and then the monarchy’s principal residence under the great Renaissance king François I in 1546. It remained so until 1682, when Louis XIV moved his entire court to Versailles. Thereafter the fortunes of the Louvre languished until the tumultuous days of the French Revolution when, during the Reign of Terror in 1793, it first opened its doors to display the nation’s treasures. Ever since—through the Napoleonic era, the Commune, two World Wars, to the present—the Louvre has been a witness to French history, and expanded to become home to a legendary collection, including such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, whose often-complicated and mysterious origins form a spectacular narrative that rivals the building’s grand stature.

Praise for The Louvre:

“Courageous and erudite . . . James Gardner is bold to take in, and take on, what few mortals have the chance or the stamina to do . . . Open the book and enjoy the visit.”—Washington Post

“Mysterious in effect, the Louvre is delightfully mysterious in history, too, as James Gardner shows in The Louvre . . .  Gardner relates the long story of the Louvre, starting around the thirteenth century, when it was simply a castle, through its elevation as a palace, and then, in the seventeenth century, its expansion into service as an office building for French royalty . . . Gardner’s muscular, impatiently expert prose recalls Robert Hughes in his city books.”—Adam Gopnik, New Yorker

“I hadn’t realized just how mythically resonant a museum could be until I read James Gardner’s eloquent encomium to the Louvre . . . This history is told with all the great verve, insight, and eye for detail that Mr. Gardner’s criticism is noted for . . . [His] passion also invites us to share his affection—and to plan a visit.”—Wall Street Journal

“An eye-opener . . . Gardner makes every phase and transformation vivid . . . Anyone curious about how the Louvre into its present configuration will find this diligent book richly informative.”—Boston Globe

“[An] extensive exploration of the Parisian cultural institution.”—Smithsonian Magazine 

“Chronicles the Parisian icon’s 800-year evolution from workaday fortress to beloved art institution.”—New York Post

“Magisterial . . . The whole book is enlivened by his stories of the people involved, and by the lyricism with which he describes certain rooms . . . The book does what all good books of this kind should do: it makes me want to go back to the Louvre and see some of the things he writes about and that I never noticed before.”—Midwest Book Review

“Engrossing . . . In elegant prose, Gardner describes how over the next 200 years [after 1793] the Louvre endured constant evolution and construction as its reputation as a leading repository for art treasures grew and it became the world’s most famous museum. Fast-paced and evocative, this is a must for Francophones as well as art and architecture lovers.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The evolution of the Louvre reflects the political, intellectual, and aesthetic history of France… The author offers a vivid chronicle of strife, wars, rivalries, and aspirations culminating in the present grand architectural complex… A richly detailed journey through a palimpsest of the past.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Comprehensive . . . Recommended for readers interested in the history of France, the history of architecture, and museology.”—Library Journal

“James Gardner makes the walls talk. He traces the many metamorphoses of the Louvre, revealing how from its humble origins as a fortress it has come to occupy the heart of Paris and the center of French—and indeed world—culture. His remarkable achievement is to show us how the building is every bit as spectacular and as fascinating as the treasures it holds.”—Ross King, bestselling author of Brunelleschi’s Dome and Mad Enchantment

“With its fast-moving and rich narrative, this truly excellent book needed to be written: the fascinating and turbulent story of the Louvre as a royal palace has been largely eclipsed by its much shorter and more famous life as a museum. Here both parts of its long history have been splendidly recounted.”—Philippe de Montebello, Director Emeritus, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Praise for Buenos Aires:

“Excellent… A treasure for those who have visited the city or plan to soon.”New Criterion

“You come away from Buenos Aires with a strong desire to visit Buenos Aires―or if you already have, to return and see all the things that escaped your notice.”Weekly Standard

“Gardner has written a love story for the second largest city in South America, and his account should be required reading for city planners, architecture students, or those who are interested in how a city goes from humble beginnings to the ‘Paris of the South.’”Library Journal

“A genial historical tour conducted by an affectionate docent with a keen eye.”Kirkus Reviews