The vast Objets d'art section, on the first floor of the Richelieu wing, presents the finest tapestries, ceramics, jewellery and furniture commissioned by France's most wealthy and influential patrons, beginning with an exquisite little equestrian sculpture of Charlemagne (or possibly it's Charles the Bald) and continuing through eighty-one relentlessly superb rooms to a salon decorated in the style of Louis-Philippe, the last king of France. Walking through the entire chronology is an enlightening experience, giving a powerful sense of the evolution of aesthetic taste at its most refined and opulent. The exception is the Middle Ages section, of a more pious nature, which includes carved ivories, Limoges enamels, and three precious vases commissioned by Abbot Suger, the mastermind of the Gothic basilica at St-Denis.
Numerous rooms have been partially recreated in the style of a particular epoch, and in these surroundings it's not hard to imagine yourself strutting through a Renaissance chamber or gracing an eighteenth century salon, especially as whole suites are often devoid of other visitors. The apotheosis of the whole experience comes towards the end, as the circuit passes through the breathtaking apartments of Napoléon III's Minister of State, full of plush upholstery, immense chandeliers, gilded putti, caryatids and dramatic ceiling frescoes, in true Second Empire style.
An astounding outpost of the Objets d'Art collection awaits in the Apollo Gallery (Denon wing, first floor, room 66), though restoration works will keep the room closed for 2003 and much of 2004. Set amid a glorious golden decor symbolizing Louis XIV (the Sun King) as Apollo (the sun god), are the crown jewels of France, including the mammoth Regent diamond sported by Louis XV, Louis XVI, Charles X and Napoleon I. The central ceiling painting, by Delacroix, depicts Apollo Defeating the Python.