Louvre, (properly, Musée du Louvre), national art museum of France and the palace in which it is housed,
is located in Paris, on the right bank of the Seine River. The structure, until 1682 a residence of the kings of France, is one of the largest palaces in the world. It occupies the site of a 13th-century fortress. The building of the Louvre was begun in 1546 in the reign of Francis I, according to the plans of the French architect Pierre Lescot. Additions were made to the structure during the reigns of almost every subsequent French monarch. Under Henry IV, in the early 17th century, the Grande Galerie, now the main picture gallery, which borders the Seine, was completed. Under Napoleon III a wing on the north side (along the rue de Rivoli) was finished. By the mid-19th century the vast complex was completed; covering more than 19 hectares (48 acres), it is a masterpiece of architectural design and sculptural adornment.
In 1793 the Louvre was opened as a public museum, and the French painter Jacques-Louis David was appointed head of a commission to administer it. In 1848 it became the property of the state.
The nucleus of the Louvre collections is the group of Italian Renaissance paintings—among them several by Leonardo da Vinci—which were owned by Francis I, a collector and patron of note. The holdings were significantly enriched by acquisitions made for the monarchy by Cardinal Richelieu and by Cardinal Mazarin, who was instrumental in purchasing works that had belonged to Charles I of England. Napoleon deposited in the Louvre the paintings and works of art seized during his European conquests; after his downfall, however, many of these works were restored to their original owners. Since that time increasing numbers of gifts, purchases, and finds brought back from archaeological expeditions have permanently enriched the museum. Among its greatest treasures are two of the most famous sculptures of the ancient world, the Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo, and Leonardo's famous portrait, Mona Lisa. The Louvre also holds works by the other Italian masters Raphael and Titian and paintings by the northern artists Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt. Protection of all the Louvre's priceless masterpieces during the two world wars was effected by their removal to secret depositories outside Paris.