Within the Louvre’s exceptionally rich history, the Enlightenment period seems to represent a hiatus—no new construction project was launched and, despite a few timid efforts, the palace complex remained the unfinished, grandiose ruin that Louis XIV had left behind. And yet the Louvre, which Marc Fumaroli has called “the monarchy’s wide-open art academy,” liberally hosted a broad range of leading thinkers and activities, becoming a veritable hotbed of reflection on the issues confronting a society undergoing self-examination. Some issues were urban, hinging on the completion of a palace in the heart of Paris (during the marquis de Marigny’s tenure as director of the Office of Royal Works); other issues concerned the social role of art and intellectuals (notably under Marigny’s successor, the comte d’Angiviller, who launched plans for a museum that would eventually become, during the Revolution, the embryo of the Louvre that we know today).
While the Louvre prompted Enlightenment thinkers to daydream, it also existed as a disorganized, unfinished home of everyday life. As a royal residence, the adjacent Tuileries Palace (no longer extant) still hosted the king during his stays in Paris, which were infrequent under Louis XV but enforced and permanent for Louis XVI from 1789 to 1792. Also occupying the Louvre complex was everything the monarchy desired to house, from administrative offices to grace-and-favor lodgings for nobles and artists, thereby making the palace a kaleidoscope of Enlightenment society.
The Louvre as envisaged, the Louvre as actually experienced: such is the subject of this exhibition, based essentially on architectural drawings, paintings, and a medal.