Projects for the Louvre

Isabel Smith

Bernini, "First Project for the Louvre, East Elevation," 1664, Paris, Musée du Louvre, (source--

Fig. 1. Bernini, “First Project for the Louvre, East Elevation,” 1664, Paris, Musée du Louvre, (source–



Between the years 1664 and 1665 Gianlorenzo Bernini produced four projects for the Louvre. In the fall of 1665 the foundation for Bernini’s Louvre was laid, but in the spring of 1667 construction stopped and a panel of French artists and architects was asked to submit a new plan. Although the Louvre was eventually finished by this French panel, King Louis XIV chose to establish his court in Versailles. Scholars have speculated that Bernini’s inability to adapt his style to the French  ideal as well as his overall attitude towards the French caused him to lose favor with the King and his court. To an extent these speculations are correct; however, Bernini was approached to draw projects for the Louvre during a time when French ideologies were changing: the Fronde had recently ended; Louis XIV had introduced an absolute monarchy; and nationalism was rising. As King of France it was Louis XIV’s goal to present himself as a grand monarch, but it was also important for the King to align himself with his people. Ultimately, Bernini’s plans for the Louvre and his sculptural works for the King failed because King Louis XIV and his advisor Jean-Baptiste Colbert believed allowing an Italian architect to build a French symbol of power would only hinder the Monarch’s success.



Important Figures

King Louis XIV

Bernini, Portrait Bust of Louis XIV, 1665, Versailles, France (University of California, San Diego)

Fig. 2. Bernini, “Portrait Bust of Louis XIV,” 1665, Versailles, Musée National de Versailles et des Trianons. (Source–University of California, San Diego)

Louis XIV,  (b. Sept. 5, 1638, d. September 1, 1715) was King of France from 1643 to 1715 although he began his personal reign in 1661. After the death of Chief Minister Cardinal Jules Mazarin in 1661, Louis announced that he would not appoint another Chief Minister and would rule France himself via an absolute monarchy. During his reign Louis focused on French domination of Europe and was primarily concerned with furthering his own glory. Louis was also a patron of the arts and his commissioned royal buildings and gardens were meant to mirror his own power and greatness.[1]








Jean Baptiste-Colbert

Philippe de Champaigne, "Jean-Baptiste Colbert," New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (source-Metropolitcan Museum of Art)

Fig. 3. Philippe de Champaigne, “Jean-Baptiste Colbert,” New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (source–Metropolitcan Museum of Art)

Jean-Baptiste Colbert (b. Aug. 29, 1619, d. Sept. 6, 1683) was appointed as Louis’s royal assistant in 1661 and was Louis’s most influential advisor until his death in 1683.[2] As well as being the King’s assistant Colbert was the Superintendent of Buildings, Controller-General of Finance, and Vice-Protector and Protector of the French Academy of Art.[3] As Controller General of Finance, Colbert had control over all important projects and as Vice-Protector and Protector of the French Academy of Art he established the formula for art: reason, rules, and the best masters. [4]









Louis XIV’s Louvre

After Louis XIV began his personal rule in the 1660s he expressed a desire to move the court from Paris to Versailles. His advisor, Jean-Baptiste Colbert knew how important it was to keep the court in Paris and attempted to engage Louis’s interest in the Louvre by completing it. Before Louis began his rule work continued steadily on the Louvre, first by Jacques Lemercier (b. ca. 1585, d. January 13, 1654) and then by Louis Le Vau (b. 1612, d. October 11, 1670).[5] Le Vau’s’ previous work for the Louvre made him an obvious choice to complete the royal palace. However, Colbert disliked Le Vau and asked François Mansart to finish the Louvre, but the two could not agree on a design. Colbert then sent out Le Vau’s plan to the architects of Paris hoping for a response. When that failed Colbert sent Le Vau’s plan to Italy and asked Italian architects, Pietro da Cortona, Carlo Rainaldi, Candiani, and Gianlorenzo Bernini to submit their own designs. Ultimately Bernini received the commission.[6]


[1] Bertrand Jestaz, “Louis XIV” in The Dictionary of Art, ed. Jane Turner (New York: Grove’s Dictionaries, 1996), 549-550.

[2] Patrick Le Chanu, “Jean-Baptiste Colbert,” in The Dictionary of Art, ed. Jane Turner (New York: Grove’s Dictionaries), 545-546.

[3] Robert Berger, The Palace of the Sun: The Louvre of Louis XIV (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993), 11.

[4] Anthony Blunt, Art and Architecture in France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 214.

[5] Anthony Blunt, Art and Architecture in France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 218.

[6]Blunt, 219.