The Louvre is the national museum and art gallery of France, an epitome of the nation's history and culture. The first building on the site, begun c. 1190 by Philip-Augustus as a fortress and arsenal, held the royal treasures of jewels, armour, illuminated manuscripts, etc. It was enlarged and beautified by Charles V (reigned 1364-80), and his successor Charles VI used it as a residence for visiting royalty. Francis I began to demolish it in the 1520s and in 1546 commissioned the architect Pierre Lescot to build a new palace of four wings around a square court, roughly of the same size as the old castle and on the same site. Only the west and half of the south wings were completed by Lescot, but his work forms the heart of the present vast structure, and his elegant and sophisticated classical style set the tone for all the future additions, which were made by virtually every French monarch up to Napoleon III.
Under Louis XIV the royal collection increased from some 200 pictures to over 2,000. In support of the policy for state control of the arts and taste, some of the king's pictures were opened to public view in the Louvre from 1681 and the exhibitions of the new Académie were held there from 1673. The court had moved into the Louvre in 1652, but it transferred to Versailles in 1678.
Under Louis XVI the conversion of the Grande Galerie into a museum was begun and as a result of the democratic fervour incidental to the Revolution the Louvre was opened as the first national public gallery in 1793 (though as a public gallery it was preceded by others, including the Ashmolean in Oxford and the Vatican). Napoleon renamed the Louvre the Musée Napoléon in 1803 and exhibited there the works of art he had gathered from conquered territories. Most were restored after his fall from power. The Louvre was reopened by Napoleon III in 1851 with the addition of the Rubens's Medici cycle from the Luxembourg Palace. In addition to one of the world's greatest collections of paintings, the Louvre houses many other treasures, including large holdings of Greek and Roman antiquities. Among the famous ancient statues are the Borghese Warrior, the Venus de Milo, and the Victory of Samothrace. To relieve congestion after the Second World War a special museum for Impressionist art was formed at the Jeu de Paume in the gardens of the Tuileries. The paintings from the Jeu de Paume, together with certain other works from the Louvre, have now been moved to the Musée d'Orsay in Paris (opened 1986), which is devoted to the art of the late 19th century, c. 1848 - c. 1905.
You can find more information at the Louvre's home page.
Recommended viewing from the collection:
The Web Gallery of Art contains 1633 images of artworks exhibited in the Musée du Louvre. From these images