The BnF

The Richelieu-Louvois Library

Main entrance of Richelieu Library. © Alain Goustard / BnF
Today, the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France are housed in two different places: the François-Mitterrand Library and the Richelieu Library.
The Richelieu Library, also called the Richelieu quadrilateral area and located 5, rue Vivienne, at the heart of Paris city, is the historic cradle of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The building is being refurbished.


  • Dioscoride. De materia medica. Egypt- palestine, end of the 8th century. Manuscripts department
  • Jules Chéret. Saxoléine pétrole de sûreté [poster]. 1894. Prints and Photographs departement
  • Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Illustrated programme for Le Missionnaire, Théâtre Libre, 1893. Performing arts departement
  • Joseph A. Cirina. Mystery : schimmy jazz ou fox-trot pour piano [score]. F. Salabert, 1922. Music departement
  • Oronce Fine. Recens et integra orbis descriptio. Paris, 1534. Maps and Plans department
  • Workshop of Naxos. Tétradrachme. Naxos (Sicily) towards 460 BC. Coins, Medals and Antiques department

Click images for a larger view

The following collections are available at Richelieu Library.

  • Manuscripts: from the earliest human writing to manuscripts of contemporary writers;
  • Prints and photographs;
  • Collections of music and performing arts;
  • Maps and plans;
  • Coins, medals and antiques.


  • Main courtyard © Jean-Christophe Ballot / BnF
  • Oval reading room. Once renovated, it will be the major reading room of Richelieu Library. Collections from all the library's departments will be available there. © David Paul Carr / BnF
  • Once renovated, the Mazarine gallery will become the gallery of BnF' treasures. The most outstanding pieces of the library will be presented in the gallery. © Philippe Coriette / BnF
  • Reading room of the Manuscripts Department. The sculpted panellings dating back to the 18th century will be entirely restored. © Jean-Christophe Ballot / BnF
  • Reading room of the Maps and plans Department © Alain Goustard / BnF
  • Once renovated, this gallery will house some of the beautiful collections from the Performing arts Department. © Jean-Christophe Ballot / BnF

Click images for a larger view

The current quadrilateral area is organized around the rues de Richelieu, Colbert, Vivienne and des Petits-Champs. The Library has expanded its facilities over this area, from the 18th century until now.

During the second half of the 17th century, the quadrilateral area was made up of the Palais Mazarin, the Hôtel Tubeuf, the Mansart gallery and two buildings housing for the first time the Royal Library: ‘the houses at the end of the gardens’ belonged to Colbert.

The library was set up in the quadrilateral area during the first half of the 18th century.

From 1854 to 1875, it is architect Henri Labrouste, who had formerly designed the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, who creates the areas specifically adapted to the running of the library, mainly a reading room known as Labrouste reading room, as well as the main bookstore dedicated to printed books.

Then, from 1875 to 1932, Jean-Louis Pascal and Alfred Recoura build and complete a new reading room: the Oval room.

Between 1932 and 1955, to answer the growth of collections, infil operations (excavation, filling of courtyards, raising of certain places) are managed by Michel Roux-Spitz.

Eventually, a reading room housing the Manuscripts Department is created in 1958 and various fitting-outs are made until 1977 in order to provide enough storing areas for all the collections.

At last, the project of new building in the Tolbiac district allows to house the collections both at François-Mitterrand Library and at Richelieu Library. The re-organization of the departments’ collections left in the quadrilateral area was completed in 1997.

Renovation work of the Richelieu quadrilateral area

The Labrouste reading room during renovation; Richelieu Library

The Labrouste reading room during renovation; Richelieu Library

Major alterations concerning the Richelieu quadrilateral area have started in 2010; it is planned to last between 7 and 8 years.

The renovation programme aims to modernize and re-organize facilities to improve preservation conditions and offer researchers better working conditions. The refurbished quadrilateral area will also house the libraries of the recently created Institut de l’histoire de l’art and the one of the École nationale des Chartes.

Monday, April 18, 2016

See also