The BnF Museum collections

Outstanding works on display at the Museum include such unique items as the Great Cameo of France, the Throne of Dagobert and Charlemagne’s chessboard. It also has illuminated manuscripts and works representative of founding moments in thought and literature, prints, photographs, artefacts and costumes on exhibition.


Some of the collections’ treasures

  • Neck-amphora, Heracles battles the three-bodied giant Geryon

    Neck-amphora, Heracles battles the three-bodied giant Geryon, circa 530 BC.

    Attributed to the Inscription Painter Rhegion (Italy). Found in Vulci (Italy) in 1828-1829. Terra cotta, Black-figure painting, Donated by Luynes in 1862
    BnF, Department of Coins, Medals and Antiques

    Found in an Etruscan tomb and dated circa 540-530 BC, this coloured amphora is a major work by the Inscription Painter – all the characters are named – whose workshop in southern Italy enjoyed great success in the West.

    One of Heracles’ lesser known labours has him confronting the three-bodied giant Geryon who ruled over the island of Erythia, at the western limits of the world. With three bodies but only one pair of wings and one pair of legs, Geryon defends his herd of oxen, the subject of the dispute. The goddess Athena protects the hero, who wears a lion’s skin on his head and has already slaughtered the herdsman and his dog.


    View this document in Gallica

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  • The Great Cameo of France

    The Great Cameo of France, circa 23 AD.

    Rome, circa 23 AD. Five-layered sardonyx cameo; H 31 cm, L 26.5 cm
    BnF, Department of Coins, Medals and Antiques

    The Great Cameo of France, a major piece from the Sainte-Chapelle Treasury created in the 13th century by King Saint Louis IX around the relics of the Passion of Christ, is the largest cameo that Antiquity has bequeathed us. It is also the most famous example of Roman glyptic art (the art of engraving on fine stone).

    Despite its tumultuous history, the cameo has always been highly prized and so preserved. Pledged by Philip VI to Pope Clement VI in 1343 and returned to the Sainte-Chapelle by Charles V in 1379, it was transferred to the Cabinet des Médailles on 1 May 1791, on Louis XVI’s orders. Stolen in 1804, it was found in Amsterdam, without its gold frame (which had been melted down), and returned to the Cabinet des Médailles in February 1805.


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  • Berthouville Treasure

    Berthouville Treasure, 1st–3rdcentury

    Overview of the treasury, Italy and Gaul, between the 1st and early 3rd century AD. Silver, gilt silver
    BnF, Department of Coins, Medals and Antiques

    Discovered in 1830 by a Norman farmer who was ploughing his field, it comes from a Gallo-Roman shrine dedicated to Mercury. It contains masterpieces of Roman and Gallo-Roman silverware dating from the 1st to the 3rd century and offered to the god, with a total weight of over 25 kg of pure silver: two statuettes of Mercury, a richly decorated drinking set, cups, vials, goblets, spoons and other artefacts…

    The Berthouville Treasure has been on display in the Library’s Cabinet des Médailles since June 1830, and is one of its showpieces.


    View this object in the Medals and Antiques’ catalogue

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  • The 120 Days of Sodom

    The 120 Days of Sodom by Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, 1785

    Donatien Alphonse François de Sade (1740-1815), The 120 Days of Sodom, Paris, 1785. Handwritten manuscript
    BnF, Arsenal Library

    The manuscript scroll of the 120 Days of Sodom, written by Sade during his imprisonment in the Bastille, is an inherently revolutionary work. Sade was first and foremost a victim of the royal capriciousness and absolutism finally done away with on 14 July 1789. He was not simply a contemporary of the French Revolution: his writings made him an actor in it. In the 19th century, science turned its attention to this disturbing work. Sade’s name came to label a sexual perversion, a mental illness. He became a subject of study under the scientific revolution that drew the border between normal and pathological, so marking the emergence of the human sciences. Rediscovered by the 20th-century avant-garde, Sade was no longer viewed as a monster beyond the social pale but integrated into the aesthetic and political revolution at the heart of modernity. The very embodiment of transgression and creative freedom, he inspired writers and artists.

    In his Bastille cell, Sade spent 38 evenings copying out (but never completing) the work he had first conceived in Vincennes: 33 sheets, each 11.3 cm wide, glued end-to-end to form a strip 11.88 metres long, covered on both sides with microscopic writing between two margins. Difficult to read, easy to conceal once it was rolled up, the work has had a storied history: never given a title by Sade, stolen, hidden away for a century, then sold and exhibited as the last word in sexual deviations before becoming a surrealist totem, stolen once again and then raised to the rank of National Treasure, it finally made its way back into the “Bastille collection” conserved at the Arsenal Library from which it had been snatched.

    National Treasure acquired thanks to Emmanuel Boussard’s sponsorship


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“Revolutions”: The BnF museum’s new annual theme

The BnF Museum puts on a new face every year so that all the treasures in the Library’s collections can be displayed to visitors. For its second year of activity, it has mounted a presentation focusing on the theme of revolutions, awaiting your discovery from 16 September 2023 to 8 September 2024. Although it is mainly housed in the Mazarin Gallery, a good many items from the Library’s collections also echo the “revolutions” theme in the Museum’s other rooms.

A history of our civilisational changes

The collections’ new presentation is organised around the theme of revolution, amplified by the diversity of fields covered in the Library. Taking in scientific, technological, aesthetic and political revolutions, the new itinerary invites visitors to acquaint themselves with famous and little-known works and documents, and by doing so, gain greater understanding of the history of our civilisational changes from a unique perspective. They can spend time contemplating series of items that bring together manuscripts, drawings, maps, precious objects, photographs and costumes which tell the stories of some of the turning points in a western period made up of disruptions, accelerations and rebounds. In chronological order, from the 14th century to the 2000s, astronomers, philosophers, artists, cartographers, photographers, writers and composers reveal and leave us to meditate on the traces and images of these upheavals, often brought about by their encounters with foreign lands, their confrontations with other civilisations. The BnF’s treasures provide us with an undoubtedly simplified overview of this complex dynamic, which stratifies different timelines that depend on the fields involved, but which the selected works and documents recreate with a power all their own.

From Victor Hugo to Édouard Glissant

Hence two aspects of the French Revolution are depicted: women’s struggle for recognition of their rights and the unique, provocative figure of the Marquis de Sade, whose manuscript of the 120 Days of Sodom, written while he was imprisoned in the Bastille, is on display to the public for the first time since the BnF acquired it in 2021. A daughter of the Revolution, the revolution of ideas and values promoted by the romantics is illustrated by juxtapositions of works by Victor Hugo, Goethe, Delacroix and Beethoven. The social effects of the 19th century’s industrial and capitalist revolution can be read in Émile Zola’s manuscripts. And finally, some of the 20th century’s many revolutions are exhibited in the Gallery’s last display cases, from futurists’ and surrealists’ works/manifestos to the student and worker revolts of May 1968, Niki de Saint Phalle’s feminist art, and works of liberation by writers upholding black and Creole causes, such as Léopold Sédar Senghor, Aimé Césaire and Édouard Glissant.

Each thematic display case, each and every treasure on exhibition is a window onto other works in our collections, works that cannot but extend their meanings. Their alignment in the itinerary created for the three rotations set to succeed each other over the course of the year is above all an invitation to curiosity and the joys of discovery, to continue exploration of the Library’s physical and digital areas.

Download the Press Release « Musée de la BnF. Thème pour la saison 2023 - 2024 :“Les révolutions” »

Practical information

Opening times

Tuesday (late-night opening): 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Wednesday to Sunday: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Closed on Mondays and select bank holidays*
The Museum is open on 8 May, Ascension Thursday, and 1 and 11 November.
* The Museum is closed on 1 January, Easter Monday, 1 May, Whit Monday, 14 July, 15 August and 25 December

Please note: due to the fragility of certain artworks, some pieces on display in the Mazarin Gallery and Rotunda are rotated every four months, showcasing the breadth of the BnF’s collections. These spaces are closed to the public while the pieces are rotated.

Mazarin Gallery closing dates: From Monday 2 to Friday 31 May 2024 inclusive and from Monday 9 to Friday 20 September 2024 inclusive.

Rotunda closing dates: From Monday 7 to Friday 11 october 2024 inclusive


Site Richelieu
5, rue Vivienne
75002 PARIS


Group activities

Reservation obligatory at or on 01 53 79 49 49 (from Monday to Saturday, 9 am to 5 pm)


Full price entry:
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During the Mazarin Gallery’s closure period, Museum admission rates are lowered to 7 € (full rate), 5 € (reduced rate), 10 € (full rate coupled with an exhibition) and 7 € (reduced rate coupled with an exhibition).


Museum map


The Museum is located on the 1st floor, accessible by lift.

  1. Column Room
  2. Valuables Cabinet
  3. Luynes Room
  4. Barthélemy Room
  5. Louis XV Salon
  6. Glass Gallery
  7. Rotunda
  8. Mazarin Gallery
  9. Roux-Spitz Hall
  10. Mazarin Chamber
  11. Conference | Events Room

Find out more about the museum’s various rooms

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