THE Louvre as a museum dates from the Revolution. Its chief splendors are due to the three kings we have already mentionedFrancois I, Louis XIV, and Napoleon Bonaparte. Francois was the genuine amateur, Louis the rapacious collector, and Napoleon the prodigious robber, whose magnificent appropriations make the crowning feature of the collections. To these three chief figures it is only fair to add that rare altruist, Alexandre Lenoir, of whom we have talked so much, the artist who risked even his life to save for France and for posterity the treasures which the Revolutionists were doing their utmost to destroy.
When the Tuileries became the uneasy seat of the royal family during the Reign of Terror, the Louvre was turned over as a storage house for the royal collections which the government was seizing and making national property. To the riches of the Cabinet du Roy pouring in from Versailles were added in a short time those of the Convent of the Petits-Augustins. On August 10, 1793, the Convention decreed the foundation of the national museum.
As Francois dominates as the first genuine patron of the arts, so the pictures which remain from his collection at Fontainebleau speak from the walls of the present museum with a special appeal, as paintings bought not solely for the aggrandizement of a monarch, but selected by a man of taste because of their intrinsic merits. That Francois was innately an artistic personality seems evident from his portraits alone, but that his natural tastes were stimulated by his wars in Italy there can be no question. Amongst the painters and sculptors invited to his court were Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea del Sarto, Benvenuto Cellini, Primaticcio, and Nicola del Abbate. In his enthusiasm he had cast a bronze reproduction of Trajan’s column, and even, with something of Napoleon’s greed, strove to remove from the walls of the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, at Milan, Leonardo’s famous Last Supper, only desisting for fear of injury to the fresco.
The famous Joconde of Leonardo da Vinci formed the clou of the collection at Fontainebleau; to this the king added the Saint-Jean-Baptiste, found at the chateau of Cloux in the painter’s atelier after his death, La Vierge aux Roehers, and the large canvas depicting the Virgin with the Infant Jesus and Sainte-Anne, as well as the portrait commonly known as the Belle Ferronniere, but now thought to be Lucrezia Crevelli, the favourite of Ludovic le More.
Leonardo is also thought to have painted the smaller canvas, which is now labelled La Belle Ferronniere, but in which some experts have thought to trace the features of Marguerite de Valois, the sister of Francois I. This came to the royal collections under Louis XIV. La Belle Ferronniere was a mistress of Francois I, a woman of some importance, since the untimely death of the gallant monarch was attributed in-directly to her.
To Francois I we owe also the supremely beautiful Charite, by Andrea del Sarto, painted for the king in 1518. This lovely madonna is one of the glories of the Louvre and in harmony of colour and elegance of composition exemplifies Renaissance painting at its most detached from all religious inspiration. The lines of the little nude bodies of the children seem to flow together, so charming are the poses, so freely childlike their abandon. The head of Charity is noble; the drapery is painted with Greek feeling. In colour and quality this picture seems to stand apart; and had Francois given us nothing else this contribution would still have been great and memorable.
But from Fontainebleau came also the great Visitation, of Sebastiano del Piombo (Luciani), acquired by the king, in 1521, a work of power and dramatic intensity; the Belle Jardiniere of Raphael and by the same master the large Saint Michel and the Dragon and the Holy Family given by Lorenzo de Medicis to Francois and the queen of France. Francois’ collection contained the celebrated portrait of the king, said to have been painted after a medal, by Titian, and the two more delightful portraits of the monarch by the contemporary French painter Jehannet Clouet. The Nymph of Fontaincbleau, a lunette in relief, was modelled by Benvenuto Cellini for the entrance of the palace, but never placed; Diane de Poitiers begged it of Henri II for her Chateau d’Anet. It hangs amongst the Italian sculpture of its epoch in the Louvre.
As early as the beginning of the XVIIth century the royal collections numbered about two hundred works and formed, in the Palace of Fontainebleau, a museum which was the chief source of inspiration and study for the young French painters of the day.
Under Louis XIV the general collections were assembled and enriched by the king’s enterprising minister, Colbert, who brought to the completion of the royal cabinet the energy which characterized all his undertakings. But this was no longer the labour of love that Francois had commenced. One suspects Louis XIV of having but mediocre artistic judgment, if by no other proof than his making Le Brun supreme at Versailles. Colbert had the real collector’s passion, as we now understand ittime, trouble, and expense were not spared. Ready-made collections had also already begun to change hands, and the minister was able to add, in 1661, with one gesture the splendid collection left by the death of cardinal Mazarin, who was a real connoisseur; and ten years later he purchased the magnificent collection of the banker, Jabach, of Cologne, rich in great works bought at the sale of the collections of Charles I, of England. Colbert systematized the business of making Louis XIV’s cabinet one of the most notable of all time, and posted agents in all the chief cities with instructions to miss nothing avail-able. Naturally the royal collection grew apace.
When all was ready the pictures were carried to Paris and installed for the first time in the old palace of the Louvre. The Mercure Galant of December, 1681, gives an account of the affair from which we learn that the exhibition occupied seven very large and very high halls of the Louvre itself and four others in the ” old hostel de Grammont,” adjoining. The pictures were hung solid to the cornices and the Mercure notices sixteen by Raphael, ten by Leonardo, eight by Giorgione, four by Palma Vecchio, twenty-three by Titian, eighteen by Paolo Veronese, fourteen by Van Dyck, etc. An inventory enumerates 2403 paintings.
Louis XIV made an official visit. One can see him with his curled wig, his long coat, his silk hose, his frills and furbelows, walking grandly through the rooms, with that l’etat-c’est-moi expression and the pompous air of a connoisseur. He seems to have made one memorable remark to Colbert, who accompanied him : ” Otez-moi ces magots la ” was the royal comment upon the marvellous collection of Teniers upon which his minister particularly prided himself. But Colbert knew better and they now form one of the chief boasts of the gallery.
How England must regret the rash dispersal of Charles I’s treasures ! From his collections came to the Louvre such masterly canvases as the portrait of himself with his horse, by Van Dyck ; the Jupiter and Antiope, the Entombment, the exquisite Laura de’ Dianti, with Alphonse de Farrare, of Titian; the Antiope of Correggio; the Fete Champetre and Holy Family, of Giorgione.
From Mazarin’s collection came Correggio’s beautiful Mystic Marriage of Sainte-Catherine of Alexandria; Raphael’s portrait of the Count Balthazar Castiglione and the two tiny pictures of Saint-Michel and Saint-Georges with the dragons.
Lenoir’s contributions to the museum were mostly sculpture and one finds the rooms devoted to Renaissance and XVIIIth century monuments filled with the treasures which his intervention secured.
Under the Directorate, the Consulate, and the First Empire the Louvre was a scene of great activity. Each armistice and treaty of peace was followed by the arrival in Paris of numerous precious objects, which, hastily installed in the Louvre, became the Musee Napoleon. The Act of Restitution of 1815 restored most of this valuable loot to its various owners, but a catalogue of Napoleon’s museum has preserved the memory of that remarkable assemblage. Amongst the more noteworthy souvenirs of the affair is Veronese’s Marriagc of Cana, from the refectory of the Convent of the Benedictines of Sari Giorgio Maggiore, of Venice. This canvas, despite its enormous proportions, Napoleon had brought to Paris, in 1799. In 1815 on account of the difficulties and dangers of transport the Austrian representative consented to leave the painting at the Louvre and to take in its place a large canvas of Le Brun.