In the early part of the 12th century, a French king commissioned the first building of what eventually became the Louvre. It was originally built to serve as a fortress to protect Paris while the king was on crusade in the Holy Land. After standing for over 500 years as a fortress, in the 16th and 17th century, the fortress was mostly destroyed to be replaced by a comfortable and elegant palace which would serve as the residence for the kings. During the reign of each king an addition was added to the palace. It served as a palace until the French Revolution in 1789. After the French Revolution, the Louvre became the great museum that it is today. The most recent addition to the palace is the pyramids, built in the late 1980s.
The library of Charles V - installed in one of the towers of the original fortress of Philippe August - was eventually dispersed. François I began a new collection of art with 12 paintings from Italy. These included works by Titian, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci, the most famous being the Joconde - or Mona Lisa. The royal collection grew and by the reign of Louis XIII, numbered roughly 200 pieces. Henri II, and Catherine de Médicis continued to enlarge the collection, as did others. When Louis XIV died in 1715, there were 2,500 pieces of art and objects.
Until the Revolution, this collection was strictly for the private pleasure of the Court. Finally, the idea of a museum (originating with Louis XVI) was realized on 10 August 1793, when the Musée de la République opened to the public.
Napoléon greatly increased the collections by exacting tribute from the countries he conquered, but most of these were returned in 1815 after his defeat at Waterloo. Under Louis XVIII the Venus de Milo was aquired (for 6000F) shortly after it was rediscovered on the Island of Melos in 1820.
In 1848 the museum became the properly of the State. With an annual budget devoted to acquiring new art, the collections continued to grow. Private donations also augmented the Museum's holdings.
In 1947 the impressionist paintings were moved to the Jeu de Paume and l'Orangerie. (In 1986 these were transfered to the Musée d'Orsay.)
Today, the catalogue lists nearly 300,000 works, only a fraction of which are on display at any one time. Le Grand Louvre - begun in 1981 is transforming the museum once again enlarging it substantially. The Richelieu Wing - which had temporarily housed part of the Ministry of Finance since the 18th century - was opened in 1993.