The Louvre is undoubtedly the oldest example of the Universal Survey Museum. With it's routes in the French Revolution, it's aim was always to display the wealth of the nation whilst educating the public in the history of art. The museum's history is long and complex, with each political era impressing it's values onto the museum in order to make certain statements. I shall examine whether or not these changes have effected the basic functions of the Louvre as a Universal Survey Museum.
Although the Louvre provided the prototype for the public art gallery, other examples of the type have emerged throughout Europe and America over time, and the Universal Survey Museum has become an essential part to any large city. Is the Louvre still in line with these museums in terms of its aims and iconographic program? As the biggest and best art museum of its type today, how comprehensive is the collection in reality, and what does this mean for the museum? Beyond this, what does the Universal Survey Museum, and the Louvre in particular mean for the history of art? How has it effected the way in which we see artists, and the links we make between different periods? The Universal Survey Museum as we know it today evolved from the royal art gallery. Royalty would collect and display art as en expression of their wealth, taste, and cultural knowledge; a collection would be representative their status. Any visitor to that went to see the works would be a guest of the king or prince; they would be humbled by the magnificence of the works that he saw, and of the power of their owner. In the 18 th century, royal collections all over Europe were being opened to the public, but the ceremony and insinuations of power that had been at work continued within the public art gallery.
Whist the royal art gallery identifies the nation as the King's realm, the universal survey museum identifies the nation as the state; the people. The concept has now become abstract, as instead of direct ownership by one person, it is now technically the property of the public. How far is this general history true of the Louvre? The Louvre actually opened to the public as a result of the French Revolution; when the King fell from power and was executed, his collection of art that was housed at the Louvre was made the property of the nation. Before the revolution, plans were already being made to open the Louvre to the public, but it was the shift in power that gave the project more urgency and made these plans a reality; The change in ownership of the artworks meant that the visitor's role became quite different.
Instead of being a subordinate, he now became a citizen, and technically a shareholder in the state. No longer was he marveling at the status of the King, but at the wealth and culture of the nation of which he was a part. I also wish to look much further back into the past in order to help explain certain aspects of the Universal Survey Museum. In ancient Rome, war trophies would be paraded through the city in a triumphal procession. These items would then often be donated to the public by wealthy benefactors and placed on display for all to see. This change in ownership from the wealthy and powerful individual to the public is directly echoed in the origins of the Universal Survey Museum.
In its early days, the Louvre deliberately evoked this Roman tradition. Not only were captured enemy arms displayed alongside the works of art, but the works were often loot themselves. Around this period, Napoleon was conquering many European countries from which he took valuable and important artworks. Whist these pieces were taken towards the Louvre in triumphal processions, the galleries themselves were records of the power of the conquered nations that now belonged to France.
Many of these pillaged works were returned to their respective countries in 1815, and although some were later reclaimed, they are now no longer displayed in such a triumphal manner. Despite this, Universal Survey Museums throughout Europe and America still have echoes of these triumphal processions in their permanent displays of Oriental, Native American, African and Pre-Columbian Art. The Louvre itself has such a department; Oriental antiquities form a major part of the collection. They testify to world domination and the superiority of the Western world. Since the initial opening of the Louvre during the French Revolution, each regime to take power over France has made their mark. As a symbol of triumph and the civilization of the country, it was important for each emperor or King to be seen as presiding over it.
Although some were more aware of this than others, the Louvre generally underwent a series of decorative changes with each new ruler. As an area traditionally showing the gods presiding over the building in ceremonial architecture, the ceilings of the Louvre often saw key changes. It is significant that when Louis-Phillipe came to the throne and wanted to be seen as the people's King, the old ceilings which had shown the Louvre as an extension of the royal palace were changed to show the Louvre as the people's property. Continual changes were made after this, and the Louvre constantly switched from being the King's property to the people's.
These changes however, saw little change to the functions of the museum. Once the Louvre had been established, such changes were merely symbolic; they were propaganda, the aims and effects of which were purely political. Today, any remaining iconographic ceiling decorations are only of interest to the visitor as events in the history of art; the Louvre well and truly belongs to the people. Apart from this, there have been many other changes to the Louvre as a museum.
Collections have been added to, reorganized and relocated throughout the years, but the aims of the museum still remain the same. The gallery is intended for the public; it aims to attract foreign visitors, and people from all backgrounds. The wish is, that as the property of the French nation, the collection should be seen by all, not just those who are educated. Whilst the Louvre continues to change and adapt in order to be relevant to modern day society, these original aims are still the same, and are being satisfied perhaps now more than ever.
Whilst there are undoubtedly always attempts to encourage visitors from less educated backgrounds, this is a preoccupation of many a modern Universal Survey Museum, and is both an original ideology, and a modern aim. The extent of the collection is also of course an important consideration when discussing the Louvre as a Universal Survey Museum. The intention of course, is to give a history of art covering the major mediums, schools and artists of the Western world in particular. As unquestionably the biggest and best of it's type, the Louvre's collection is massive, and covers a huge range. However, even the guidebook to the museum admits it is not a 'perfect, objective and comprehensive guide to the schools, cultures and techniques represented' (Pierre Quondam, The Louvre). Today, its seven departments include three representing areas of antiquity, as well as one each for sculptures, paintings, the decorative arts, and the graphic arts.
Whilst of course these departments do not give a complete or impartial view of the history of art, the way in which they are displayed gives a huge authority to the works. Despite huge gaps, a history of art has been created within the museum. All the works have been put into this story, and links and contrasts made between them in sometimes a very unnatural way. By being placed in a museum, the works are stripped of their function, and viewed in terms of their place in the story of art, and for their aesthetic value. Another phenomenon that is partly the product of the Universal Survey Museum is that of artistic genius. The idea became dominant around the 19 th century, and although there were many other factors in its occurrence, the museum really helped to enforce the idea.
At this time, the Louvre had the names and pictures of artistic geniuses painted on it's ceilings, biographies of artists became more and more common, and an artist's development could be easily traced through the history of art. These ideas remain prevalent today; all museums consist of the works of individuals. This is no more true of anywhere than the Louvre, which is home to the Mona Lisa. Whilst this one painting brings world wide fame to the Louvre, it now too has the power to make masterpieces out of paintings. The way that these works of artistic genius, and indeed the museum's story of art is arranged is perhaps the single most important part of the Universal Survey Museum today. As the visitor is guided through the story of art provided by the museum, they probably are unaware of the iconographic scheme that they are following.
Museums are set out with a very clear set of ideas in mind. In the Louvre, as with other major museums, the visitor has a number of possible routes through the collection. They are unconscious to the fact that each will take them on a path that gives an identical perspective on the history of art. The Salon Carre contains 15 th and 16 th century works, and sees the start of the chronologically arranged French art. The Grand Gallery continues this with 17 th century artists such as Poussin and Le Brun, and then 18 th century works. The walls are lined with niches containing Roman Statues.
The visitor can then continue down the Grand gallery or choose to follow French school. Whichever route is chosen will lead the visitor to an axis which runs through a series of rooms and ends with the classical Winged Victory. This way, the visitor is shown the French school to be linked to the great artistic periods of the past, Greece, Rome, and the Renaissance. This has the effect of showing French art as the culmination of these periods; the heir to classical civilization.
Whilst in some ways the museum's bias towards French painting hinders their role in giving a complete survey of the history of art, it allows this iconographic scheme to be clear and complete, and for France to take the leading role. To conclude, the way in which the Louvre was opened as a public art gallery; as a symbolic act of the French Revolution, meant that it's aim was to show the art as the property of the nation. Although changes in power meant that the symbolism changed, there was no real effect on the functions of the museum, and today it remains ultimately the property of the people. Whilst other Universal Survey Museums may not have a history that is quite so long and varied, this surely relates to the museum itself.
As the biggest and best of its type throughout time, the Louvre has always been a hugely important symbol of the triumph and civilization of France. Had it not been such a massive symbol, it is doubtful that France's rulers would have been so anxious to claim it as their own. In terms of the effect that Louvre and other Universal Survey Museums have had on the history of art, the means of display have two major effects. Firstly, works of art are stripped of their function, and seen simply as pieces that make up a single story.
Whilst this can give a strange and somewhat unrealistic view of the history of art, it also allows the museum to place their own country at the center of it all. As we have seen in the Louvre, the iconographic program shows France as the heir to civilization. Surely it is the Universal Survey Museum's ability to do this that has made the public art museum a symbol for a country; be it the realm of the people or the King.