The urban Louvre

After having been ignored in the first half of the 18th century, the Louvre became a focus of interest again in 1748, when Louis XV and the city of Paris envisaged the urban development of a “royal square” featuring a statue of the king. The Louvre was ultimately not chosen as the site, but the idea that it might become the pivot of major urban expansion stuck in people’s minds, regularly spawning proposals under Louis XV, Louis XVI, and the Revolution. These ideas reflected contemporary notions of urban “embellishment” as developed by Enlightenment thinkers and architects, going far beyond mere questions of appearance to embrace issues of public health, economy, and culture.
In the 18th century the Louvre remained an unfinished—and largely uninhabitable—enclave within Paris, because Louis XIV had halted building work in favor of other construction programs. In certain wings, therefore, only the outer shell had been completed. While awaiting the hypothetical completion of the Louvre, court officers and many private individuals were allowed to erect small edifices in the palace courtyards and dry moats, on the understanding that these would be demolished once the palace was completed.
The idea of establishing an opera house in the Louvre was also discussed. Opera had become a veritable social and cultural institution back in the days of Louis XIV. Viewed as a “total artwork” comprising theater, music, song, and sometimes dance, opera would be dubbed the “Theater of Combined Arts” during the Revolution and was the subject of passionate debate. Opera performances took place in an annex of the nearby Palais-Royal, which not only lacked scope but suffered two deadly fires in 1763 and 1781. Thus the idea of creating a monumental opera house in the Louvre complex, notably the Tuileries Palace, arose on several occasions, notably after the second fire.