Richelieu-Louvois Library

The Richelieu-Louvois Library is one of four Paris locations of the National Library of France, which in French is called the Bibliothèque nationale de France, abbreviated BnF. The other three Paris sites of the BnF are:

  • The François Mitterrand Library (13th arrondissement)
  • The Arsenal Library (4th arrondissement)
  • The Library-Museum of the Opera (in the Opéra Garnier, 9th arrondissement)

The Richelieu-Louvois Library takes up a large rectangular block in the second arrondissement of Paris, bounded by Rue Vivienne, Rue des Petits Champs, Rue de Richelieu and Rue Colbert. This is where the BnF’s special collections are kept: performing arts, maps and plans, prints and photographs, manuscripts, coins, medals and antiquities.

Renovation work on the Richelieu Library was begun in 2010 and is scheduled to take most of the decade, but the building remains open for researchers and for the general public.

The historic Oval Reading Room, dating from 1875, is one of the unique features of the building and is in constant use by students and researchers. (No photos are allowed there, sorry.)

In her autobiography, the author Simone de Beauvoir wrote that she came to this library nearly every day for fourteen months while she was researching and writing her monumental two-volume work Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex), which was published in 1949.

Busts in the library

The halls of the library are lined with busts of men (only men, no women) who presumably are famous or at least used to be famous, though in most cases I had never heard of them.

King François I (1494-1547)

Finally I found a bust of someone I ‘know’, the French king François I, who lived from 1494 to 1547. He ruled as King of France from 1515 until his death. The reason I ‘know’ him is that he was the title figure of a play by Victor Hugo called Le Roi s’amuse (The King Amuses Himself), which was banned by the French authorities after the first performance in 1832 and remained banned for the next fifty years.

The composer Giuseppe Verdi later used this play — without asking the author’s permission — as the basis for his opera Rigoletto. But Verdi also had problems with the censors, so he had to change the King of France into the Duke of Mantua before the opera had its world premiere in 1851.

The Grand Staircase in the library

The Grand Staircase, like the Oval Reading Room, dates from 1875. At the top of the Grand Staircase there is a museum of coins, medals and antiques as well as space for temporary exhibitions.

Museum of coins, medals and antiquities

Here are a few of the exhibits in the museum of coins, medals and antiques. The display case in the foreground shows ivory carvings that were given to French kings and presidents at various times, before ivory was banned to protect the elephants.

Location, aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr.

My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2018.

See also: Dionysian frenzy.

6 thoughts on “Richelieu-Louvois Library”

    1. Thanks, Sarah. Yes, the Oval Reading Room is truly spectacular, but I can understand the reason for the photo ban, namely to protect the privacy of the people who are working there.

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