The project involved making improvements to both the room itself and the presentation of the artworks held within. Three new display cases have been created for the French Crown Jewels, which are now shown together, offering a complete overview of their history.
It was with the presentation of the French Crown Jewels in mind that the Galerie d’Apollon renovation project was launched. The collection was first assembled by François I in 1532. It was then passed down from monarch to monarch, added to by each successor, surviving struggles of history until 1887, when the French State unfortunately decided to sell it almost in its entirety. From their entry into the Louvre, the remaining jewels and precious stones were presented in the Galerie d’Apollon. However, as the museum’s collection had continued to grow since the 1990s, the Department of Decorative Arts had no choice but to split its display between the gallery and room 550 on level 1 of the Richelieu wing.
The 23 pieces held by the Louvre are now reunited in one place, displayed in three cases in the center of the gallery and grouped by period: pre Revolution, including the “Regent” and “Sancy” diamonds, which adorned the crown used at the coronation of King Louis XV in 1722; the First Empire, the Bourbon Restoration, and the July Monarchy; and, finally, the Second Empire, including what remains of Empress Eugénie’s jewelry sets. Several protective cases designed to hold the items are also presented nearby.
The former large gilt-wood display cases, and those along the walls and under the windows, continue to hold Louis XIV’s collection of hardstone vessels, but several changes have been made to their presentation. Further examples have been added for informational purposes, along with parts of another artwork of royal origin and made of an equally rich variety of materials: a centerpiece given to Napoleon I by Charles IV of Spain.
The project also provided the perfect opportunity to carry out conservation work on the gallery’s decor and return the room to its former glory: the paintings and stuccoes—dating between the 17th century and Third Republic—were dusted, along with the tapestries—masterpieces commissioned from the Gobelins manufactory by Félix Duban and put in place in 1852. New lighting and an improved security system were installed, and a second entrance was opened, making the gallery accessible by both the Rotonde d’Apollon and the Salon Carré.
History of the Galerie d’Apollon
Originally designed as a reception hall for Louis XIV, the Galerie d’Apollon was decorated by some of the greatest artists in French history (including Le Brun, Girardon, Lagrenée, and Delacroix) and served as a model for the Hall of Mirrors at the Château de Versailles.
The gallery has a total surface area of 600 m² (61.34 m long and 15 m high). It was built over 350 years ago and decorated over the course of two centuries.
A ceremonial gallery in honor of the Sun King
The Galerie d’Apollon is a unique masterpiece that bears witness to 200 years of art history, showcasing 105 artworks (41 paintings, 36 sculpture groups made up of 118 sculptures, and 28 tapestries) along the vaulted ceiling and walls.
After it was destroyed by a fire in 1661, Louis XIV ordered the reconstruction of the Galerie d’Apollon as a reception hall, in line with the fashion of palaces and noble houses at that time. The lengthy project began under the direction of architect Louis Le Vau and the first painter to Louis XIV, Charles Le Brun, and continued for two centuries until 1851. Le Brun designed a painted and sculpted decor on the theme of the sun and its movement through space (earth, water, and continents) and time (zodiac). The myth of the sun god Apollo, also evoked by the procession of the Muses, glorifies the Sun King, Louis XIV. The overall program offers an idyllic vision of the universe in harmony, governed by Apollo.
Dozens of French artists contributed to this exceptional interior: Le Brun authored three large paintings, while the stuccoes were made as of 1663 by Girardon, followed by the Gaspard brothers, Balthasar Marsy, and Thomas Regnaudin, resulting in the majestic, dynamic ensemble we see today.
The gallery was left incomplete during the reign of Louis XIV and was filled with paintings by members of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in the 18th century. The project was finally completed between 1849 and 1851; drawing on the initial plans, architect Félix Duban carried out complex conservation work and asked Eugène Delacroix to adorn the central section of the ceiling, which had been left blank since Le Brun had worked on the room. He thus created the spectacular Apollo Slays the Python.
A setting for royal treasures
Since 1861, the gallery has housed Louis XIV’s collection of hardstone vessels, joined as of 1887 by the legacy of centuries of monarchs: the French Crown Jewels. Presented in custom-made display cases created in the 19th century, they are some of the most precious artworks in the Louvre. Their tale is an epic saga; their fates determined by the monarchs who successively owned them and had them remounted to their liking. Initially formed by François I, the inalienable collection grew under Louis XIV and reached its peak under Louis XV, who acquired the “Regent”: a white diamond “the size of a Reine Claude plum” (Saint-Simon), the largest of its kind known to exist in Europe.
During the French Revolution, the items were dispersed but they were brought back together by Napoleon I. In 1887, however, the French State decided to sell almost the entire collection—luckily, the “Regent” was not included in the auction. Since then, the Louvre has made every effort to recover these artworks, acquiring the prestigious items for the Department of Decorative Arts whenever the opportunity has arisen.
Opening hours: every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (except Tuesdays). Late-night opening on Wednesdays and Fridays until 9:45 p.m.
Time-slot bookings ensuring entry in less than 30 min: €17 at www.ticketlouvre.fr
Further information: www.louvre.fr/en