In his fluent and fact-rich account of the building’s many stages James Gardner, an American art and architecture critic, deftly combines the niceties of bricks, mortar and changing architectural styles with telling anecdotes and the broader historical context. It is a mixture that gives the stately edifice a sense of pace. As he points out, although most of what can be seen today dates from the mid-19th-century overhaul under Napoleon III, when the emperor ordered not just new buildings, but also the harmonisation of existing structures, the Louvre has been subject to about 20 separate building campaigns. Each reflected the necessities facing the country.
Despite the author’s efforts, the stupefying massiness of the Louvre gets the better of him. At times the book becomes a trudge through an endless enfilade of kings, architects, painters, pavilions, columns and stucco-workers. Building books needn’t be heavy. Think of Ross King’s brisk and brilliant Brunelleschi’s Dome: 192 pages about the great cathedral in Florence and every one a turner. As the centuries piled up, I began to feel crushed under the weight of several thousand tonnes of French masonry. Enough! Get me out through the tearoom and gift shop.