Louvre , foremost French museum of art, located in Paris. The building was a royal fortress and palace built by Philip II in the late 12th cent. In 1546 Pierre Lescot was commissioned by Francis I to erect a new building on the site of the Louvre. During his reign, several paintings by Leonardo, including the Mona Lisa,and works of other Italian masters came into the royal collections. In 1564, Catherine de' Medicicommissioned Philibert Delorme to build a residence at the Tuileries and to connect it to the Louvre by a long gallery. The Grande Galerie was completed in 1606 under Henri IV.
While Cardinal Richelieu collected art with state funds, work on the buildings was continued under Louis XIII. Lescot's architectural designs were expanded by Jacques Lemercier in 1624, and under Louis XIV the magnificent colonnade was brought to completion (1670) by Louis Le Vau and Claude Perrault . In 1750 part of the royal collections was put on view in the Luxembourg palace. In 1793 the Musée Central des Arts was created by decree and the Grande Galerie of the Louvre was officially opened. For many years the area beneath the Grande Galerie served as artists' studios and workshops.
Napoleon I added vastly to its collections by his conquests, and in 1803 the museum was proclaimed the Musée Napoléon. Many famous works were returned after his downfall. The grand architectural scheme of the Louvre was completed by Napoleon III. The museum is famous for its enormous collection of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian antiquities, and for its superb old masters, a collection especially rich in works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian, and Leonardo. Its most famous sculptures include the Nike, or Victory, of Samothrace and the Venus of Milo. A part of the museum building houses the Museum of Decorative Arts, a private institution.
In 1984 excavations began for the gradual expansion of the Louvre underground; construction was completed in 1993. A glass pyramid, designed by I. M. Pei and opened in 1989, sits atop the entrance to this new space. At first the pyramid caused considerable controversy between critics who considered it a defacement of the museum and those who judged it a continuation of the eclecticism of Parisian architecture; it has since become a nearly universally acclaimed landmark. Pei has also overseen the extensive renovations and expansions of exhibition space that have continued through the 1990s.