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New space and layout for the Department of Decorative Arts at the Louvre

Giving the treasures a chance to breathe

With great relief the Department of Decorative Arts at the Louvre learned in 1981 that it would be granted new space occupying the whole of the first floor of the Richelieu wing, formerly occupied by the Ministry of Finance. In 1984 the Etablissement du Grand Louvre set out its proposals for the redeployment of the collections, which would also allow the department to retain its rooms around the Cour Carrée, and the galerie d'Apollon. The increase in space has been an impressive 3,330 square metres. The challenge was to maintain a chronological route through the collections. It has been decided to install the Middle Ages in the galerie Richelieu, then to move eastwards into the Renaissance collections so that there is a flow through into the later rooms in the Cour Carrée, which have been completely rearranged. Last, the area to the north of the Cour Marly, separated from the rest of the department by the Lefuel staircase on the east and the Napoléon III apartments on the west, house the nineteenth-century collections.

The new arrangement was dictated partly by the needs of the department as expressed to the Etablissement. M. Daniel Alcouffe, curator general of the department, says that the medieval to Louis XIII collections needed to be spaced out and arranged didactically, so that masterpieces could be singled out and objects from the treasury of Saint-Denis cathedral and from the Order of the Saint-Esprit, currently in the galerie d'Apollon, be reintegrated into the collection.

The curators wanted tapestries to be hung in the rooms showing objects appropriate to their date, and at eye level. Objects or groups of objects which had previously been in storage due to their large size can at last be put on show. These include stained glass windows and tapestries. For some of these, specially designed spaces have been created, for example, two large galleries to house the most important tapestry cycles, the Maximilian hunting series and "The History of Scipio", a room for the sixteenth-century Venetian, so-called Rothschild, ceiling and another for the chapel of the order of the Saint-Esprit. A reconstruction of Madame Recamier's bedroom has been created around her bed, bought by the Friends of the Louvre in 1991.

Forty new rooms have been opened. Following the Middle Ages, the Renaissance rooms begin with three devoted to bronzes then maiolica in the middle of the galerie des Chasses de Maximilien. Off this a room is given over to Italian glass and its influence. Two rooms are devoted to the French Renaissance followed by one on European jewellery and clockmaking. Flanders, Spain and Germany have separate rooms, with two for Italian Mannerism.

The department's extensive and growing collection of Empire furniture is arranged in seven rooms. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century tapestries cover the walls as in Napoleonic times. Porcelain is displayed in beautiful mahogany cases made around 1835 for the Louvre's naval museum, previously hidden away in stores of the Egyptian department. The new layout concludes with the Napoléon III apartments of which the reception rooms still contain their original furnishings.

Despite the constraints of the pre-existing architecture, the curators' visions have been turned into reality. Large wall surfaces and new showcases designed by architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte have allowed for far more objects to be shown. Wall colours have been chosen to blend in with the tapestries.

The Department will take over a further 1,000 square metres in the near future in the Rohan Pavilion. It will use this to display Restoration and Louis Philippe objects currently on show in the west wing of the Cour Carrée.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Decorative arts'