The Louvre Prints & Drawings – (Mostly) Secret Treasures

We like to think of the Louvre's Prints and Drawings Department as a bit of a secret. Although it's one of the largest collections in the world, most of the collection never sees the light of day. The reason is that the drawings, pastels, miniatures, prints, books, and manuscripts are extremely fragile. Exposure to light and air would quickly destroy the delicate works of art.

In fact, this, the 8th department of the Louvre, is organized more like a library than a museum. The fragile works are kept in storage and only taken out in the reference room, exclusively by appointment or for temporary exhibitions. Even then, a strict protocol is followed. The artworks can only be exhibited for a maximum of three months at an exact temperature of 20°C, with a relative humidity of 50%, and then this must be followed by a rest period of three years. Let's learn more about this intriguing department of the Louvre.

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About The Louvre's Prints & Drawings Collection

Prints & Drawings Collection

There are three categories within the department — drawings, engraved plates, and the Edmond de Rothschild collection of prints. Temporary displays in the past have focused on Italian cartoons, French drawings, pastels, miniatures and new acquisitions. The Musée d'Orsay's collection of drawings also is held at the Louvre, to preserve that museum's holdings.

The royal collection of drawings was first established in 1671 with Louis XIV's purchase of 5,542 drawings from a private owner. By the end of the 17th century, the collection was enriched with works by court painters Charles Le Brun and Pierre Mignard and, like many collections in the Louvre, was doubled when artworks were confiscated during the French Revolution.

The engraved plates section was founded in 1797 and is home to copperplate engravings from the royal cabinet and the former Academy of Painting and Sculpture. In 1935, the vast Edmond de Rothschild print collection was donated to the Louvre, increasing the size of the department once again.

The Edmond de Rothschild Collection

Rembrandt drawing

The Rothschild collection includes an amazing 60,000 prints, drawings, manuscripts and rare books gathered by Edmond, starting in his childhood. Included in the collection are masterpieces by Rembrandt, da Vinci, Durer, Raphael, rare 15th century metal artworks created by Florentine goldsmiths and works illustrating the richness of 18th century French prints. One of the highlights of the collection are the 100 drawings and engravings by Rembrandt.

Over the years, select works from the collection have been shown in special exhibits. In 2004, seventy-four select drawings and prints from the 15th to 18th centuries were shown in Madrid, and then the Louvre. In 2009, Drawings from the Louvre: The Italian Renaissance in the Rothschild Collection were presented in Florence. The exhibition displayed 100 drawings by the masters of the Italian Renaissance.

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Access to the Louvre's Secret Collection

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Although the delicate works are not on display, extensive files are kept on the artworks and artists, exhibition catalogues, reference books and periodicals. The digital database holds a detailed inventory of the 200,000 artworks. In order to get access to the Reference Room, the Rothschild Collection or the Study and Research Center, you must send a request for an appointment. The good news is that there are no admission fees for the appointment.

Links to the 8 Departments of the Louvre


Egyptian Antiquities Greek & Roman Art
Near Eastern Antiquities Islamic Art
Paintings Sculptures
Decorative Arts Prints & Drawings

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