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Art and art history

From the Berthouville Treasure to Degas’s notebooks, exceptional works... and a major center for resource materials on art.

Art and art history: see works

As well as books and manuscripts, the Library holds works of visual art: drawings, ceramics, silverwork, sculptures, paintings, prints and photographs, etc. These can be found in collections held at the Richelieu Library (Site Richelieu) and the Arsenal Library (Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal).


Chalcidian black-figure amphora found at Vulci: Athena helping Heracles fight against Geryon

Chalcidian black-figure amphora found at Vulci: Athena helping Heracles fight against Geryon

BnF’s Coins, Medals and Antiques Department holds several of the world’s most extensive collections:
  • Antique ceramics (France’s second-largest collection after the Louvre), with around 1,300 vases, including many black- and red-figure attic vases, from the golden age of Greek ceramics.
  • Cameos and intaglios: this collection illustrates the entire history of glyptics, from the end of the fourth millennium B.C. to the 19th century; it includes more than 10,000 engraved stones and exceptional pieces like the Grand Camée de France.
  • Medals: 100,000 pieces tracing the development of medallic art from its origins: Italian Renaissance medals (from Pisanello to Caradosso), 16th century Germanic medals, early French medals, royal medals (by Guillaume Dupré and the Rœttiers), and 20th century medals (Roty and Chaplain); drawings and original models in stone, wood, wax and plaster (draft red chalk drawings by Bouchardon, wax models by Depaulis, and plasters by David d’Angers).
  • Renaissance bronze plaques on mythological and religious subjects.
  • Sculptures, including in particular a collection of antique marble busts, more than 3,000 antique bronzes (Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, Roman, and Byzantine), and renaissance bronzes.
  • A few ivory articles such as consular diptychs, horns, the Trésor de Saint-Denis’s famous chess pieces, and pawns from ancient sets.
  • A collection of bronze seals and seal matrices (a Jean de Berry seal, a matrix of the city of Dijon, etc.).
  • Silverwork, including one of the most important collections of Roman art: the Berthouville Treasure, large antique silver ceremonial platters, and medieval and modern pieces such as Sassanian and Arabic platters.
  • Jewelry (approximately 1,000 jewels, mostly ancient but also Renaissance and 18th century), such as Madame de Pompadour’s jewels, bequeathed to the king in 1764.

Drawings, paintings, and decorative arts

François II, dauphin. François Clouet

François II, dauphin. François Clouet

There are also extensive collections of drawings, most of which are held by the Prints and Photographs Department. Among other things, these collections include the following:
  • royal portraits by François Clouet
  • drawings from the School of Fontainebleau from the Félix Herbet collection (16th century)
  • painters’ notebooks belonging to Edgar Degas, Pierre Bonnard, Jean Hélion, Marcel Gromaire, etc.
  • drawings by Gabriel de Saint-Aubin
  • topographical drawings from the François-Roger de Gaignières collection (Paris and the provinces in the 17th and 18th centuries)
  • drawings from the Destailleur collection (Paris and the provinces in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries)
  • architectural drawings (Robert de Cotte, Boullée, Lequeu, Labrouste, etc.)

The Library also holds paintings. Visitors can view a few independent works such as a portrait of Proust by Jacques Emile Blanche, watercolors by Albrecht Dürer in the Prints and Photographs Department, and a portrait of Wagner by Renoir in the Opera Library. Paintings incorporated into the buildings’ decor – Hôtel Tubeuf at the Richelieu Library (Site Richelieu) and the Cabinet des Femmes Fortes at the Arsenal Library (Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal) – can be viewed on heritage days.

The Prints and Photographs Department holds works of decorative art such as samples of fabrics from the first half of the 18th century belonging to Marshal de Richelieu and wallpapers from the time of the Revolution.

The Arsenal Library still houses furniture inherited from its premises’ former occupants (the Marquis of Paulmy and the Count of Artois) and confiscated during the Revolution (e.g. a 17th century bookwheel), as well as items that belonged to Prosper Enfantin and José Maria de Heredia. The Cabinet de la Maréchale de la Meilleraye hosts tours organized by the Centre des Monuments nationaux.

Friday, January 5, 2018

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