The Secret Hearts of the Louvre

The Louvre Museum Paris 75001

I’ve got a little archaeology lesson for y’all today, something that I like to think of as my favorite Secret Paris Historical Detail since I learned of it in 2013 during a fieldtrip with my Histoire de l’Architecture Française class.

But first, a little FoUnDaTiOn! If you didn’t already know, there is an entire underground part of the museum dedicated to the foundations of the OG Louvre fortress that predates everything you see today, most of which is fairly recent dating from the 19th century.

Dating the Louvre Museum. The oldest parts are solid black and date from the 16th century. Mostly everything surrounding the pyramid is 19th century.

The Louvre Fortress was built by King Phillipe August II in 1190 and then destroyed during the Renaissance when King Francois I leveled it to begin creating the Louvre that we know today. The tricky thing about destroying fortresses is that they are built to withstand destruction, thus making them very difficult to erase. Fortunately for us, the foundation of the walls still exists and when you enter this part of the museum, you are actual walking in what used to be the moat. (see photo) Simply put, when the fortress was demolished, the walls were taken down and the moat filled in. No one bothered to take down the walls below the ground level. So this area, which today is found under the Cour Carré was just rebuilt upon with what we see today as the Louvre palace.

So my fieldtrip. Back then, I had been a pretentious little shit and I met my classmates that day thinking I had already seen everything there was to see at the Louvre, specifically in the Medieval Louvre section of the museum where we started.

The entrance to the Medieval Louvre in the Sully Section of the Museum

My professor herded all 15 of her students together and brought us to the first section of stone walled foundation, and asked us to tell her what we saw. It only took about 10 seconds for someone to hesitantly exclaim “Are those HEARTS?”

WELL SURE SHIT! There are hearts, like modern day cartoony Valentine’s Day hearts, carved on EVERY.SINGLE.STONE.BLOCK! My jaw dropped. I had never really thought about it, but I would have assumed the classic heart shape to be a relatively modern concept.

The hearts are everywhere but not really visible unless you are looking for them

It isn’t even the shape of a REAL heart after all. You would think something more appropriate for a 13th century shape would be more geometrical wouldn’t you? So what were they doing on 800+ year old fortress foundations? Our professor informed us that medieval stonemasons carved these hearts, and other shapes (marque de tâcheron) directly on their “canvas” for the same reason an artist signs their finished paintings.

marque de tâcheron examples

Each stonemason had a corresponding shape original to them so they couldn’t confuse the work (and bill) of one to another. Another reason was to create old fashioned publicity (I think this particular Stonemason would be very proud to see his work still admired in 2020).

As for me, whenever my foot isn’t in my mouth and I’m at the Louvre, I always take a few minutes to stop by the foundations and ask oblivious visitors (especially those who are already got that exhausted blank stare look that says they’ve already seen 453 pieces of art too many that day) to take a closer look. It never gets old to see their eyes widen in disbelief to see something as undistinguished as a derpy heart carved into each stone block making up the wall right in front of them.

You don’t see this mentioned in many tour guide books and it’s my favorite overlooked Paris detail. Of course everyone runs to see the Mona Lisa and the other Big Shots, but the Louvre Médévial trumps both of those in my opinion. It simply is a testament to the history found here, even if it ceases to exist in its original form.

Have you been to this section of the Louvre yet and seen these hearts, or did I just blow your mind?

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