The room was originally called the 'Petite Galerie' of the Louvre and was decorated by the artists of the Second School of Fontainebleau, most notably Charles Le Brun, Toussaint Dubreuil, Jacob Bunel and his wife Marguerite Bahuche according to designs by Martin Fréminet, for Henri IV of France.
After a fire in the small gallery destroyed much of it on 6 February 1661, Louis XIV ordered this part of the Louvre to be rebuilt. Architectural work was entrusted to Louis Le Vau, who carried out reconstruction activities between 1661 and 1663, while Charles Le Brun was assigned responsibility for decorations by Colbert. Le Brun's main theme for the room resolved around the movement of the sun through time and space, with the figure of Apollo glorifying Louis as the sun king. The sculptor François Girardon was responsible for the stucco sculptures. This was the first Royal Gallery for Louis, which served as a model for the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles.
The gallery had not been completed by the time of Louis' death in 1715, and subsequent generations of artists continued to improve the room, such as Gaspard and Balthazard Marsy, and Thomas Regnaudin. It was not until the mid-19th century when the room's decorations were finalized under architect Félix Duban, with painter Eugène Delacroix contributing Apollo Slays the Python for the center of the ceiling, Joseph Guichard painting Triumph of the Earth or Cybele, and Charles Louis Müller supplying Aurore.
Having seen the Gallery in 1856, a 13-year-old Henry James wrote:
the wondrous Galerie d'Apollon...drawn out for me as a long but assured initiation and seeming to form, with its supreme coved ceiling and inordinately shining parquet, a prodigious tube or tunnel through which I inhaled little by little, that is again and again, a general sense of glory. The glory meant ever so many things at once, not only beauty and art and supreme design, but history and fame and power, the world in fine raised to the richest and noblest expression.
Besides the sumptuous decoration of the room itself, the gallery's main attractions are the remaining pieces of the French Crown Jewels. In 1887, the Third French Republic sold most crown jewels to quell fears of a royalist coup d'état, from which only jewels of historic significance were exempted. All 23 remaining pieces of jewellery are today in the Galerie d'Apollon, presented in 19th-century display cases and grouped by historical period. The most significant pieces include:
- the crowns of Louis XV and Napoleon;
- the 13th-century Coronation Sword used in the coronations of French kings;
- the medieval sceptre of Charles V of France;
- the Hortensia, an orange-pink 20-carat diamond purchased by Louis XIV;
- the Regent, a white 140-carat diamond widely considered one the purest diamonds ever created;
- the Sancy, a pale yellow 55-carat diamond formerly part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.
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