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Type of Item
Carmen. Opera in Four Acts, Based on the Short Story by Prosper Mérimée
Although Carmen is today one of the world’s most popular operas, it opened at the Paris Comic Opera on March 3, 1875, to a mixed reception, much to the disappointment of its composer, Georges Bizet (1838-75). Bizet was one of the leaders of a new generation of French composers, and Carmen was the pinnacle of his career. The libretto, adapted from Prosper Mérimée’s short story by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, seemed scandalous to many who attended the opera. Célestine Galli-Marié (1840-1906), who played the role of Carmen ...
Franc à cheval, John II
The franc à cheval was ordered issued on December 5, 1360 to finance the ransom of King John II (born 1319; reigned, 1350–64), who had been taken prisoner by the English at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, during the Hundred Years’ War. The ransom totaled a vast 3 million écus, and the fact that the coin was used to secure the release of the king gave rise to the name by which it was known: franc, meaning free. The value of the coin was set at one livre ...
“Sublime spirit! Vast and profound genius! Divine being! Accept the homage of my weak talents... Oh, Newton!” With these words, French architect and designer Étienne-Louis Boullée (1728–99) dedicated his design for an imaginary cenotaph (empty tomb) in honor of the English physicist Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727). Like many intellectuals of his day, Boullée was fascinated by Newtonian physics. His design illustrates perfectly the general characteristics of his work and that of the architecture of the end of the 18th century: large simple masses free from any superfluous decoration ...
Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle (1760-1836), a French army engineer, wrote the words and music to the “Marseillaise,” the national anthem of France, in the course of a single night in April 1792. He intended the song to be used as a marching song by the French Army as it entered the Rhineland, following the outbreak of war between France and Austria and Russia. This recording, made circa 1898-1900, is one of the earliest recordings made of the song. In 1893, Henri Lioret (1848-1938), a watchmaker by trade, developed a conical ...
The Game of France
Pierre Duval (1619-83) was a nephew of the great French geographer Nicolas Sanson (1600-67) who rose to become “geographer to the king” in his own right. In the 1660s and 1670s he published a large number of atlases and geographic works. Duval was the first in France to conceive of geographical games that aimed to inform and instruct while providing entertainment. Jeu de France (The game of France) is a chutes-and-ladders game made up of 63 squares, each representing a province, except for the last, which contains a map of ...
Geographical Distribution of the Population in France, or Population Density by Commune
Victor Turquan (1857-19?) headed the French Statistical Bureau from 1887 to 1896. He wrote numerous works on economic and demographic statistics, which included maps with graded coloration and iso-lines (lines connecting points with equal values). For Turquan, “the study of population distribution within the territory of a country belongs as much to geography as to statistics.” In an era in which color rarely was used even in statistical charts, he created this map of the population distribution in France using isopleths (lines surrounding zones with similar features) and “pitches of ...
Plan for the Improvement and Beautification of the City of Paris, in Accordance with the Designs Already Outlined by the Government
Charles de Wailly (1730-98) was a French architect who is known today for the buildings he designed, rather than for his plans for urban redevelopment. The work he carried out as an urban planner was limited to the environs of the Paris Opera and the new Port-Vendres, in Roussillon. De Wailly nevertheless had a great many ideas for urban redevelopment that never advanced beyond the planning stage. He devised at least two general concepts for a renovated Paris. One of these seems to have disappeared; the other, acquired by the ...
Sarah Bernhardt: Puzzle in Ten Postcards Depicting Sarah in Her Different Roles
Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) was a French stage actress who was arguably the most famous actress of the 19th century. She deliberately cultivated an aura about herself using every form of media, earning such titles as “the Divine Sarah” and the “Sacred Monster.” In France and other countries, her image was endlessly circulated in paintings, engravings, photographs, statues, posters, advertisements, and satirical drawings. This puzzle, consisting of ten postcards, displays her silhouette in her most famous roles, female and male, tragic and dramatic. Throughout her career, Bernhardt reinterpreted many classic roles ...
Jean Fouquet (141?-80?) was the greatest French painter of the 15th century. His genius is reflected in his illustrations of Jewish Antiquities, which Fouquet created for Jacques d’Armagnac, the Duke of Nemours. Fouquet traveled to Italy as a young man, where he learned to paint with great precision of detail and to use aerial perspective, but he continued to draw upon his native Touraine for many aspects of his art, especially forms and color. In these illustrations, his depiction of the siege of Jericho evokes a city on ...
Letter to Guillaume Budé, March 4, 1521
François Rabelais (1494?-1553) was a French Renaissance writer remembered for his comic masterpiece, Gargantua and Pantagruel. This letter is the first known text by Rabelais. It was written in 1521, when Rabelais was a young monk at the Franciscan monastery of Fontenay-le-Comte, and deeply immersed in the study of Greek and the humanities. The letter is addressed to Guillaume Budé, a classical scholar whom Rabelais admired. Intended to attract Budé’s attention and elicit his encouragement, the letter employs the conventional motifs of classical humanism. Rabelais left the cloister ...
Monument Dedicated to the Exercise of Sovereignty of the People in Primary Assemblies
This design for a monument to popular sovereignty was produced by the French artist and designer Jean Jacques Lequeu (1757–1826) at the time of the French Revolution. After gaining a solid education as an architect and making a promising start to his career, Lequeu failed to channel his architectural and philosophical ideas into concrete projects that would ensure him fame. Lequeu was a man of his times in his faith in science and his religious eclecticism, but he was also a troubled visionary, known to be unorthodox and eccentric ...
Land Planisphere Showing Longitude
This 1696 polar projection world map by Jacques Cassini (1677–1756) is the replica and only surviving representation of the large, 7.80-meter diameter planisphere by his father, Jean-Dominique Cassini (1625–1712). The first director of the Paris Observatory, the elder Cassini had designed the planisphere on the floor of one of the observatory's towers, using astronomical observations performed by correspondents of the Academy of Sciences. The map shows 43 places, from Quebec to Santiago, from Goa to Beijing, each marked with a star, with latitudes accurately measured using ...
A Modern and Complete Map of the World by the Royal Mathematician Oronce Fine of the Dauphiné
An astronomer and mathematician, from 1531 the first chair of mathematics in the Collège Royal (the present-day Collège de France), Oronce Fine (1494–1555) was one of the first French scholars to work with cartography. His world map in the shape of a heart belongs to a group of 18 heart-shaped projection maps published between 1511 and 1566. Inspired by one of the projections described by the second-century geographer, Ptolemy, this projection system was codified by a mathematician in Nuremberg, Johannes Werner (1468–1522), in an opus written in 1514 ...
The Most Fearsome Life of the Great Gargantua, Father of Pantagruel
François Rabelais (circa 1494–1553) published his comic masterpiece Pantagruel, most likely in 1532, under the pseudonym Alcofribas Nasier (an anagram of the author’s real name). Prompted by the immediate success of this work, Rabelais went on to write the life and adventures of Pantagruel’s father, Gargantua. The events of the later book thus take place before those narrated in the first book. The character of Gargantua was already known in popular literature, but Rabelais composed a new tale that reworked the themes of Pantagruel. Through the story ...
The Master of Arms, or the Exercise of the Sword, Alone in Its Perfection
The first attempts to codify the art of fencing were writings by Renaissance Italians, which then influenced later French works. These included the 1573 Traicté contenant les secrets du premier livre sur l’espée seule (Treatise containing the secrets of the first book on the sword alone) by the Provençal Henri de Saint-Didier and the 1628 L'Académie de l’épée (The school of the sword) by Girard Thibault of Antwerp. Le Maistre d'armes, ou l'Exercice de l'épée seule, dans sa perfection (The master of arms, or ...
The Defense and Illustration of the French Language
Joachim Du Bellay was born in Anjou, western France, in about 1522. In 1549, he published l'Olive (The olive), his first collection of sonnets and the first cycle of love sonnets in the French vernacular. That same year, he put forward his ideas on the French language and poetic practices in this work, La Deffence, et illustration de la langue francoyse (The defense and illustration of the French language). Du Bellay shared his essay with friends, who later formed the group of 16th-century poets known as the Pleiades. His ...
The Characters of Theophrastus
Jean de La Bruyère (1645–96) was a French essayist and moralist whose Les caractères de Théophraste, traduits du grec, avec les caractères ou les moeurs de ce siècle (The characters of Theophrastus, translated from the Greek, with the characters or the morals of this century) is a masterpiece of French literature. Employed as a tutor in the royal household of Louis XIV, La Bruyère observed first hand the vanity and pretensions of the aristocratic society around him. His work consists of a translation of the treatise by the Greek ...
Arthurian and Other Romances of the 13th Century
This 13th century manuscript, with text in two columns and superbly decorated, is an anthology of romances from the Middle Ages. The first two texts, L'Estoire del Saint Graal (The history of the Holy Grail) and L'Estoire de Merlin (The history of Merlin) are dedicated to the Arthurian legends and are attributed to Robert de Boron (circa 1200). The third text, Le Roman des Sept Sages de Rome (The romance of the seven wise masters of Rome), is a work of ancient Eastern origins, deriving from the Book ...
The Book of the City of Ladies
Christine de Pisan (circa 1364–1430) was born in Italy and came to France at the age of four with her father. Arguably the first woman in Europe to earn a living as an author, she is widely regarded as an early feminist who spoke out for the rights of women and espoused female achievement. She wrote poems and prose texts that were often allegorical and philosophical and that reflected her own original and engaged personality. She prepared the books with the aid of copyists and illuminators and offered them ...
The Most Memorable Strange Tales Observed from the Birth of Jesus Christ to Our Century
After studying law in several French universities, Pierre Boaistuau (1517–66) spent much time travelling throughout Europe in the service of different ambassadors, which gave him the chance to examine the curiosities of the contemporary world. Upon his return to Paris, he wrote and published his complete works in the brief period between 1556 and 1560. His books were the origin of two dominant genres in the second half of the 16th century: the histoires tragiques (tragic stories) and the histoires prodigieuses (strange tales). Histoires prodigieuses (Strange tales) was the ...
French author Pierre-Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos (1741–1803) published Les Liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous liaisons) in 1782, signed only with his initials. Widely regarded as scandalous work, the epistolary novel etched the name of Laclos in the literary tradition of the 18th century, in which fiction in the form of purportedly discovered letters and memoires flourished, and in which debauchery and anonymity were interlinked. In the novel, the characters Merteuil and Valmont, aristocratic members of an overly mannered, rarified society near the end of the ancien régime, hatch an infernal ...