Openings Museums France

Louvre’s new wing gets royal seal of approval

Islamic art wing under billowing golden canopy funded by Arab rulers and Saudi prince

Mario Bellini and Rudy Ricciotti’s billowing, gold glass and steel covering for the Louvre’s Islamic artcollection has inspired poetics

Is it a veil, is it a sand dune? No, it’s a dragonfly’s wing. Mario Bellini and Rudy Ricciotti’s billowing, gold glass and steel covering to the historic Visconti courtyard, giving a new space for 2,500 pieces from the Louvre’s collection of Islamic art, has inspired poetics. “The creation and integration of the [new Islamic art galleries] presented a formidable architectural challenge… on a site steeped in history at the heart of the Louvre,” says its director, Henri Loyrette.

The galleries open on 22 September and are the first major architectural intervention in this former royal palace since I.M. Pei’s pyramid of 1989.

There is no doubt that the showy, 3,000 sq. m structure trumps the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Islamic galleries of 2011, however well displayed they may be.

The Louvre’s galleries also represent a diplomatic triumph: the €98.5m project has been funded 30% by government, 30% from private sponsors, but the Islamic powers have rallied round: the foundation of the Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal gave €17m (among his assets is the George V hotel in Paris); other donors are the rulers of Morocco, Kuwait and Oman, and the Republic of Azerbaijan. Corporate donors include Lafarge, Total and Bouygues. Parts of the collection are very ancient, from medieval churches or from the kings of France, such as the Baptismal font of Saint Louis, a 14th-century Mamluk brass bowl inlaid with gold and silver.

Wrongly believed to be the baptismal font of the 13th-century saint and king, Louis IX, it was used for the christening of the princes of France from 1601 to 1856. The museum is seeking sponsors to cover a €10m shortfall in funding.

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