“It took 800 years for the Louvre to become the Louvre, and it only took 10 years for another Louvre to be born in Abu Dhabi.”
Jean-Luc Martinez Director of the Louvre, Paris

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A Monument Rises From the Sand: Louvre Abu Dhabi

In March 2007, the UAE and France entered into an unprecedented partnership.

These two countries, separated by thousands of miles, would unite in cultural exchange.

The jewel in the crown of this agreement would be the Louvre Abu Dhabi.


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The Origins

History of the Louvre

Tate Britain. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Rijksmuseum. Each of these world-renowned establishments has helped define culture and enlighten minds in the countries they inhabit.

The tale of the world’s newest cultural monument is tied to one of its oldest, though their evolutions bear little resemblance. To understand why Abu Dhabi would choose to embark on such a progressive and expensive partnership, you must first understand the legacy of France’s most famous museum.

The Louvre’s rich history spans 800 years. Once a fortress on the outskirts of the city, it’s now one of the world’s most popular museums, welcoming 7.4 million visitors in 2016.

The Grand Gallery (rooms 5, 8 and 12) - © 2013 Musée du Louvre / Olivier Ouadah
Expert Voice
Laurence des Cars
President, Musée d'Orsay, and former curatorial director of Agence France-Museums
At Agence France-Museums, des Cars worked on the Louvre Abu Dhabi project until 2014. She was named president of the Musee d’Orsay in 2017.
Read more
“This idea of education, of giving to the people the possibility of opening their minds, their hearts, in front of a work of art, is really at the core of what the mission of national museum like the Louvre is”
“This idea of education, of giving to the people the possibility of opening their minds, their hearts, in front of a work of art, is really at the core of what the mission of national museum like the Louvre is”

12th Century
1190: Protecting Paris

The Louvre was originally built around 1190 by King Philippe Auguste as a fortress on the outskirts of Paris to protect the city from invaders.

A drawing of The Great Gallery circa 1625 - Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The Louvre as seen from the Pont Neuf circa 1700 - Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

16th Century
1528: A Royal Residence

As the city grew around it, the Louvre became a place where French kings would stay when travelling between their homes. King Charles V was the first to transform the building from fortress to palace, but it was François I who officially made it his main residence in 1528.

An engraving of the Louvre by the Rouargue Brothers circa 1500 - Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The Louvre medieval dungeon - © 2011 Musée du Louvre / Olivier Ouadah

18th Century
1793: The French Revolution

After the French Revolution, the Louvre was opened as a museum on August 10, 1793. Under the rule of Napoleon III, who took office in 1848, the Louvre became known as the “People’s Palace.” This era was one of major construction and restoration, and the so-called “New Louvre” became an emblem of Napoleon III’s reign.

A painting of the Campana Gallery by Sebastien Charles Giraud (1866) - Photo by Leemage/Corbis via Getty Images
Galerie d'Apollon - © Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN, Grand Palais / Olivier Ouadah

20th Century
1911: A famous Heist

In 1911, Leonardo da Vinci’s 16th-century masterpiece the “Mona Lisa” was stolen by an Italian handyman named Vincenzo Peruggia. It was recovered two years later.

Officials gather around “Mona Lisa” in 1914 - Photo by Paul Thompson/FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Mona Lisa Room - © 2010 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

1989: The Louvre Pyramid

Completed in 1989, the Louvre Pyramid was designed by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei. Made of glass and metal, it serves as the museum’s main entrance.

Architect I.M. Pei at Louvre Pyramid Site - Photo by THIERRY ORBAN/Sygma via Getty Images

21st Century
2016: The Largest Museum in the World

In 2016, the Louvre welcomed approximately 7.4 million visitors. With 38,000 exhibited artworks and a total gallery space of 782,910 square feet (as of 2014), it is widely recognized as the largest and most famous museum in the world.

Louvre Pyramid - © Pyramide du Louvre, arch. I. M . Pei, Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN - Grand Palais / Stéphane Olivier

The Deal

A new partnership

On March 6, 2007, France and the UAE signed an intergovernmental deal. As part of a larger $1.3 billion agreement with France's cultural authority, Agence France-Museums, the name of the Louvre would be loaned to Abu Dhabi for a reported $520 million.

While the Louvre Abu Dhabi would be an entirely separate institution, France would loan artworks and provide management expertise for a number of years. The deal would also see wider cultural exchange and high-profile collaborations between the two countries, including the establishment of an Abu Dhabi outpost of the Paris-Sorbonne University, and the renovation of the historic theater at Château de Fontainebleau.

But the idea for the museum – and the cultural district it would inhabit – came before the Louvre name was attached. It was just one facet of the country’s wider strategy to diversify the economy and, according to a statement by Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, to “inspire a new generation of cultural leaders and creative thinkers to contribute to our rapidly-changing and tolerant nation.”

The deal


Larger agreement


The name loaned for

30.5 yrs

Artwork loaned for

15 yrs

Pompidou art center - Photo by LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images

“You see the unity of collection and the dialogue between the French national collection, dialogue between the Louvre, Orsay and Centre Pompidou, for instance, but also dialogue with Louvre Abu Dhabi's own collection...”
Laurence des Cars

Courtesy Louvre Abu Dhabi

A Frank Gehry-designed outpost of the Guggenheim and a national museum designed by Norman Foster, would join the future Louvre on Saadiyat Island, off the coast of Abu Dhabi, along with universities and luxury hotels.

Next chapter

The Masterpieces

The Masterpieces

The artworks

“See humanity in a new light.” The Louvre Abu Dhabi’s tagline conveys a message for the global community. Much like the Louvre museum in Paris, the Louvre Abu Dhabi displays art and artifacts from throughout human history, originating from all over the globe. Through this wide-reaching collection they seek to examine the story of humanity through creativity.

The difference here is the museum’s head curator, Jean-François Charnier, has chosen not to arrange pieces by place of origin. Instead, he’s organized them chronologically and thematically. Museum staff hope this will allow visitors from anywhere in the world to identify with the stories being told, and form new connections.

The museum features more than 600 artworks, half of which are on loan from other institutions. For the last decade, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has been amassing its own collection, which includes a 1922 Piet Mondrian painting (the museum’s first acquisition) and a Bactrian princess from Central Asia (the museum’s oldest.) Contemporary artists Jenny Holzer and Giuseppe Penone were commissioned to create site-specific works, which have been incorporated into the building itself.

Below are six pieces from the museum's opening presentation we have chosen to highlight.

Expert Voice
Jean-François Charnier
Scientific director, Agence France-Museums
Charnier has worked with Agence France-Museums since 2008. He was appointed scientific director in 2013, and acts as head curator for the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
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“Louvre Abu Dhabi has a great ambition: The ambition of the building itself - it will be an icon of the 21st century architecture - but also the ambition of the narrative.”
“Louvre Abu Dhabi has a great ambition: The ambition of the building itself - it will be an icon of the 21st century architecture - but also the ambition of the narrative.”
Bactrian "princess"
End of 3rd beginning of 2nd millennium BCE

One of the museum's oldest artworks comes from the historical region of Bactria in Central Asia, which was known for producing these small statuettes. The figures are thought to be depictions of goddesses.

© Louvre Abu Dhabi / Thierry Ollivier
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Lion bracelet
8th-7th century BCE
© Louvre Abu Dhabi / Thierry Ollivier
Shiva Dancing
2nd half of 10th century AD

This bronze statue from southern India was previously in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia. Here, the Hindu god is represented in the guise of Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance “who celebrates the destruction of the universe and the victories of the god over the demons,” according to the catalog for the museum’s 2013 “Birth of a Museum” exhibition.

© Louvre Abu Dhabi / Thierry Ollivier
play excerpt
Octagonal box
8th century AD
© Louvre Abu Dhabi / Thierry Ollivier
La Belle Ferronnière (1495-1499)
Leonardo da Vinci

This is the first time this painting, on loan from the Louvre in Paris, has left Europe. It is one of only 15 known paintings by the artist.

© Musée du Louvre, C2RMF / T. Clot
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Woman with a Mirror (c.1515)
Tiziano Vecellio, known as Titian
© Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Martine Beck-Coppola
A Young Emir Studying (1878)
Osman Hamdy Bey
The artist behind this piece was a Turkish archaeologist and painter who founded the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
© Louvre Abu Dhabi / Agence Photo F
Apollo Belvedere (1541-1543)
Francesco Primaticcio

This bronze statue was commissioned by a French king in the 16th century. It’s on loan from Château de Fontainebleau – a France palace that is home to countless artworks – which Abu Dhabi has helped renovate.

© Adrien Didierjean, RMN-GP Château de Fontainebleau
Horses of the Sun (1668-1675)
Gilles Guérin
© Château de Versailles, C.Fouin
Game of Bezique (1880)
Gustave Caillebotte
Caillebotte was an Impressionist painter, collector and patron. This work depicts his family and friends playing cards in his Paris apartment on Boulevard Haussmann.
© Louvre Abu Dhabi / Agence Photo F
Children Wrestling (1888)
Paul Gauguin
© Louvre Abu Dhabi / Agence Photo F
The Gypsy (1862-1867)
Edouard Manet
© Louvre Abu Dhabi / Thierry Ollivier
Artworks in the A Modern World gallery – Photo by Marc Domage / ® Louvre Abu Dhabi
The Sarcophagus of Princess Henuttawy (2nd half of 10th century BCE-beginning of the 22th dynasty) in The First Great Powers gallery – Photo by Marc Domage/ ® Louvre Abu Dhabi
Medieval French statue of the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus, Egyptian goddess Isis nursing Horus, and a 19th century figure from the Congo – Photo by Marc Domage/ ® Louvre Abu Dhabi
Visitors view “The Fifer” (1866) by Edouard Manet – Photo by Luc Castel/Getty Images
“Game of Bezique” (1181) by Gustave Caillebotte, ballerina sculptures by Edgar Degas and “The Gypsy” (1862-1867) by Edouard Manet in The World in Perspective gallery – Photo by Marc Domage / ® Louvre Abu Dhabi
The Civilisations and Empires gallery - Photo by Marc Domage / ® Louvre Abu Dhabi

Moving the “Apollo Belvedere”

The deserts of Abu Dhabi, where the air is often hazy with sand and dust, are not the ideal setting for housing priceless works of art. Add to this the fact that the museum would be surrounded by water, and you can understand why transporting and installing the masterpieces could be challenging.

In this clip, we see the “Apollo Belvedere” arrive at the Louvre Abu Dhabi after travelling some 3,100 miles from its home at the Château de Fontainebleau in France.


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The Architect

The Architect

Who is Jean Nouvel?

Joining the roster of architectural heavyweights on Saadiyat Island to design the Louvre Abu Dhabi would be Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel.

Before he was commissioned, the Frenchman was already known for his work with cultural institutions such as the Arab World Institute and Fondation Cartier in Paris, and the Culture and Congress Centre in Lucerne. Each of his buildings seek to embody their surroundings while fulfilling their intended purposes.

“He never does the same thing twice. You never see two buildings of (Nouvel’s that) look like each other,” explained Hala Wardé, a partner at Ateliers Jean Nouvel. “Working with situations – this is what he teaches – is to make every project specific to where it is in terms of all the context, including the cultural (context), the history and the place itself.”

If there is a visual thread that unites Nouvel’s buildings, it’s the use of geometry and light. These elements would dominate his designs for the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

National Museum of Qatar (under construction) in Doha, Qatar The design draws inspiration from desert sand dunes and the sea, reflecting the Qataris’ Bedouin heritage. A series of large interlocking discs will form the roofs of the building, housing pavilions, terraces and a large courtyard. (Render by Artefactory)
White Walls (2015) in Nicosia, Cyprus This building comprises apartments, offices and retail space, and features a vertical garden of Cypriot plants on the south façade. The perforations on the east and west sides demonstrate Nouvel’s use of geometry and light. (Photo by Yiorgis Yerolymbos, courtesy Nice Day Developments)
The Burj Doha (2011) in Doha, Qatar With the intricate lattice work on the exterior, reminiscent of mashrabiya (traditional Islamic window screens made of carved wooden lattice), Nouvel attempted to fuse modern engineering with elements traditional Islamic design. (Photo by CSCEC)
Philharmonie de Paris (2015) in Paris, France Nouvel boycotted the opening of the museum in 2015, saying in a statement that it was “not finished.” The angular exterior features interlocking bird-shaped tiles, and the interior is characterized by cascading curves. (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
Arab World Institute (1987) in Paris, France The institute was commissioned by 19 Arab states. Its defining feature is its southern wall, where the windows are covered with hundreds of geometric motorized openings which control the amount of light entering the building. (Photo by Georges Fessy)
Expert Voice
Nicolai Ouroussoff
Architecture critic and professor, Columbia University
A critic for the New York Times from 2004 to 2011, Ouroussoff was previously nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.
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“He has a particularly sensitive reading of the relationship between the culture of the Middle East and the West.”
“He has a particularly sensitive reading of the relationship between the culture of the Middle East and the West.”

The Idea

Jean Nouvel’s concept

Like many of his designs, Jean Nouvel’s plan for the Louvre Abu Dhabi began as a simple sketch, drawn over lunch with Thomas Krens, the former director of the Guggenheim Foundation, who was involved in the initial planning stages for Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island.

The key facets were already there in those early moments: the concept of a neighborhood, a dome and a microclimate.

Meeting the building’s diverse needs would be a balancing act. It had to be visually stunning, enough to rival the skyscrapers on the horizon. It had to be fit for a challenging purpose, housing priceless artworks in the inhospitable desert. And it had to be culturally relevant, reflecting the lofty ideals of both the institution and the country.

Courtesy Atelier Jean Nouvel
Expert Voice
Jean Nouvel
The Frenchman has been awarded some of architecture’s top prizes, including the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (1989), the RIBA Gold Medal (2001) and the Pritzker Prize (2008).
Read more
“I am, at the same time, the museographer, so I work on the perfect adaptation of the content and the artworks inside.”
“I am, at the same time, the museographer, so I work on the perfect adaptation of the content and the artworks inside.”

The Inspiration

Nouvel first visited the site on Saadiyat Island in 2005, encountering only sand, the sea and the sky. These natural elements, combined with Arab culture and Abu Dhabi itself, would inspire the architect’s design.

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Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi – Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images

The Dome

He imagined a museum that would be more like a city. It would sit on its own island, topped by a huge dome - the structure’s defining feature. If the museum’s white, rectangular buildings represented a Middle Eastern madina, the dome would be its protection. Like palm fronds in an oasis, it would create a respite from the desert heat.

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View overlooking the sea – Photo by Mohamed Somji / © Louvre Abu Dhabi
Louvre Abu Dhabi’s exterior – Photo by Mohamed Somji/ © Louvre Abu Dhabi
Rain of Light

Rendered in steel, the dome’s complex geometric structure was inspired by patterns found in traditional Arab architecture. Sunlight passes through eight structural layers, appearing and disappearing throughout the day.

Light tests – Courtesy Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority

The patterns of light that dapple the museum’s floors and walls are the result of multiple tests and models, including the construction of a temporary building nearby that simulated the dome’s effect.

play excerpt
Courtesy Louvre Abu Dhabi

The Environment

Nouvel harnessed the elements – namely water and light – to create a microclimate within the museum. The buildings’ light colors, for example, reflect light, keeping the interiors cool, while the dome’s many layers lessen the intensity of the sun’s heat.

play excerpt
Courtesy Louvre Abu Dhabi
“I think every project is like a writer with a masterpiece. It's not the size of the thickness of the book, it's mainly the content and the spirit of that.”

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The Creation

The Creation

The construction

The construction process, which took place over eight years, faced various delays and presented serious engineering challenges. “You have difficult marine works. You have difficult finishes. You have difficult electro-mechanical works. You have a gigantic steel structure and difficult concrete,” explained Shehab Taha, senior construction manager of Turner International.

One of the first major milestones, reached in 2010, was the laying of foundations, which saw 4500 piles driven into partly-reclaimed land. Another milestone was the flooding of the site in May, 2016 over the span of eight weeks in four carefully monitored stages – an ambitious feat of engineering.

Those who visited the site during its construction were often astounded by the scale of the job. Nick Leech, a journalist for The National (an UAE news service) who has been reporting on the museum’s construction since December 2012, commented: “Not only did you have 4,000 men working on the site all at the same time, but you also had them working at three different levels. You had guys who were working in the basement. You had guys who were working at ground level. You also then had guys who were effectively working in the air, who were building the early stages of the dome. It felt actually more like a hive, or an anthill.”

Site of the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Saadiyat Island - Courtesy Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC)

The site
97, 000 Square Meters

This is the total built up area of the museum island. The galleries make up 6,400 square meters of this.

The structures
55 Buildings

These include 23 galleries, which make up what the Louvre Abu Dhabi refers to as the “museum city.”

Courtesy EarthCam
About the Dome

The vast dome structure sits on four permanent piers hidden among the museum’s other buildings. During the construction process, the dome was separated into 85 parts, what staff call “super-size elements.” Each of these 85 elements weighed between 40 and 70 tons, and were initially supported by temporary towers, which were removed once the dome could finally support itself.

“What's brilliant about the dome is that it's carried only on four piers … it was the vision of Jean Nouvel that you wouldn't be able to detect them ... that you would see the dome floating on top of the buildings.”
Senior Construction Manager, Turner International

8 Layers

The dome is formed of four outer layers clad in stainless steel, and four inner layers clad in aluminium, separated by a steel frame five meters high.

Number of stars

The dome’s eight layers of cladding are made up of complex star-shaped elements.

Courtesy EarthCam
Lagest stars
13 Meters

These elements filter sunlight, creating what the museum describes as a "rain of light" effect throughout the museum.

Courtesy EarthCam

Diameter of dome
180 Meters

The dome, which has a circumference of 565 meters, took two years to complete.

Courtesy EarthCam
Courtesy EarthCam

Weight of dome
7, 500 Tons

Held up by four permanent piers, the dome weighs nearly as much as the Eiffel Tower.

1 - 1
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Jean Nouvel and his practice accept the commission to design the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

March 6: The intergovernmental agreement between the UAE and France is signed. The museum is slated to open in 2012.

February: The Louvre Abu Dhabi acquires its first piece, “Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow and Black” (1922) by Piet Mondrian, from the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé collection for $27.9 million.

Foundation work is completed on both the Louvre and the Guggenheim on Saadiyat Island.

Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) announces the museum's opening will be delayed.

The museum's opening is rescheduled for 2015.

Construction begins on the main phase of the museum.

May 2: “Birth of a Museum,” the first major exhibition of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection, goes on display at the Louvre in Paris.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi’s opening date is moved to 2016.

September: Manuel Rabaté is appointed director of the Louvre Abu Dhabi; Hissa Al Dhaheri is appointed deputy director.

November: The Louvre Abu Dhabi opens to the public.

Next chapter

The Tour

“Tolerance, acceptance... this is what the UAE is all about. The Louvre Abu Dhabi will act as a mirror to our viewpoints, that will educate people, that will help broaden their horizons, that will get us closer together.”
Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak

Chairman, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority.


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