Bibliothèque Richelieu looks great again

The main reading room, Salle Labrouste, is dedicated to Art history

Once I was looking at an exhibition for a sale at Drouot and I saw a piece I liked which had already been sold fifty years ago. I went straight to Bibiliothèque Richelieu to research the previous catalog on their microfilms. And there I found all the details I needed. Registering and finding the files were incredibly easy and I felt like a great scholar for one hour ! Well this has become even more luxurious and easy since the reopening on December 15 th of many reading rooms and direct access to the books.

The new reading room of Arts et Spectacles

Richelieu is a mine of treasures, “the largest art history library in Europe and maybe in the world”, said Laurence Engel, its director. With her colleagues, Michelle Bubenicek, director of Ecole des Chartes and Eric de Chassey, director of Institut national d’histoire de l’art, she was introducing us to the newly renovated and only partially completed, Bibliohthèque Nationale on rue de Richelieu.

Old style decoration with plugs for the computer and impeccable desks

And I was impressed. The library was first installed rue Vivienne by Colbert in 1666 and moved on the actual site, 58 rue de Richelieu, in 1721. It now hosts coins, medals, maps and plans, prints, photography and specialized books. Its manuscripts collection counts 370 000 pieces including papyrus and precious illuminated books.

Ecole des Chartes has kept its book original shelves

Six departments are now housed there, Arts du spectacle, Estampes and photography, Manuscripts, Monnaies, médailles et antiques, Music. The 400 seats in the Labrouste room (from 9 am to 7.30 pm) will enable researchers to work comfortably. Thanks to Jacques Doucet’s library,  the quality of documents is exceptional.

The glass passage between the two buildings

All public spaces are well renovated and have kept their 19 th century ambiance. And the glass passage which links the rooms devoted to Arts et Spectacles (with a nice little Sarah Bernhardt exhibition), to the manuscripts rooms, is a perfect link between buidings. The reading room is a light and happy space. But the large modern suspensions in Ecole des Chartes’ rotunda on rue des Petits Champs, and in the hall are so ugly that I will not show you any pictures. What is magnificent is the restored « magasins », book storage rooms, which have been open to self service consultation.

Maurice Chevalier’s archives

One can get a reader’s card for the year (for professionals and academics only) or for the month for people like you and me who are just curious to research a few themes.
It is a delightful place but exhibitions will only start in 2020 when the works is completed in all the spaces… Do take advantage of the open week-end visits on 13-15 January from 11am to 7pm with special conferences and film projections.

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3 Comments on “Bibliothèque Richelieu looks great again”

  1. Pamela H. Darling

    Thank you, Laure. This is wonderful information! I would like to take a small delegation of 12 to 15 prominent members of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art–including distinguished American architects–to visit in June.

    Would you kindly email me the contact information of the director to request a private visit?
    Looking forward to the pleasure of hearing from you,
    Pamela Huntington DARLING, Chargée de Mission & Patron Member; Institute of Classical Architecture & Art

  2. LESLEY VELTEN-JAMESON

    Dear Laure,
    How delightful. Thank you for showing us this incredible library. I remember my first experience with a French library when I studied at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris back in 1980/81. Coming from Canada where libraries are very accessible I had never experienced such an archaic system as that of the Ecole du Louvre. It took minimum a half hour to receive the book you thought of taking out. However, as you could not see the art book before passing the order you had no idea as to what type of book you were asking for. Quite confounding for a North American!
    Keep up the great work, Laure.
    Happy New Year to you, Lesley

  3. Blandine

    Thank you, Laure.

    To Lesley :

    We need you of course, because “time is money”.

    And you need us of course, because “tout vient à point à qui sait attendre”.
    Our stupid and interesting system is based on waiting. What we call “l’apprentissage de la frustration”.

    For the “open week end visits”, by advance, we know that waiting to enter that wonderful place will be the rule.
    It explains “how the French think”. Title of a very good book. They have time to think quickly, because of waiting very often.

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