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Type of Item
Fragment from Major Alfred Dreyfus's Memoirs
Alfred Dreyfus (1859−1935) was a French artillery officer of Jewish background who was wrongly accused and convicted of treason and espionage in 1894. As such, he became the main protagonist in one of the most famous political scandals of the beginning of the 20th century. In this voice recording of a fragment of his memoirs, made in 1912 at the Sorbonne by the Archives de la parole (Voice archives), Dreyfus recounts the events of July 20, 1906. Eight days after he was exonerated by the Cour de cassation (Court ...
Map of the Old World, 1752
Didier Robert de Vaugondy (1723−86) was from a line of famous geographers and cartographers. He was the great-grandson of Nicolas Sanson (1600−1667) and the son of Gilles Robert de Vaugondy (1688−1766), with whom he created a universal atlas of 108 maps. This atlas, which was first published in 1757, included the world map of 1752 presented here. The efforts by the great explorers notwithstanding, the world as drawn by the cartographers of this period remained very incomplete, especially with regards to the American and Australian continents. In ...
A Protester during the Riots of February 1848
This daguerreotype portrait of a protester was made at the end of the riots of February 1848 in Paris. The unidentified photographer was most likely inexperienced in the technique, as the text on the flag, “République Liberté Egalité Fraternité 22, 23, 24 février” (Republic Liberty Equality Brotherhood, 22, 23, 24 February), is reversed. A professional photographer would have used the mirror system invented earlier to correct the image in the dark room. Beyond this misstep, however, the viewer can sense the photographer’s intense desire to immortalize the face of ...
The tomb of Childéric, king of the Salian Franks from 457 to 481 and the father of Clovis, was discovered by chance in 1653 by construction workers near the church of Saint-Brice in Tournai, in present-day Belgium. The treasure found was given to Archduke Leopold William of Habsburg (1614−62), governor of the southern Netherlands (at that time under Spanish rule). The archduke asked medical doctor and antique specialist Jean-Jacques Chifflet to write a study of the find, which was published in Antwerp in 1655 under the title Anastasis Childerici ...
Piece of the Charlemagne Chess Set: The Pawn
The famous chess set called the Jeu d'échec de Charlemagne (Charlemagne’s chess set) was once part of the treasury of the Basilica of Saint-Denis. It was made near Salerno, Italy, at the end of the 11th century. It was long thought to have belonged to Charlemagne, who was said to have received it as a gift from Caliph Harun al-Rashid. In fact, this cannot have been the case, because the game of chess was only introduced to the Western world by the Arabs two centuries after Charlemagne’s ...
La Fontaine's Fables
Jean de la Fontaine (1621−95) was the author of 12 books containing a total of 243 fables in verse, published between 1668 and 1694. Inspired by fable writers of classical antiquity, and more specifically by Aesop’s Fables, Lafontaine created anthropomorphic animals. Each tale tells a vivid story, which always ends with a moral. Examples include “La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure” (Might makes right) in “The wolf and the lamb;” “On a souvent besoin d’un plus petit que soi” (A mouse may be of ...
Alphabet of the Five Parts of the World
This abecedarium, published in Paris in 1863, is made up of color lithographs, purportedly illustrating the people of the different countries of the world. Each letter is associated with a country, which is represented by individuals in traditional dress, usually a couple, who are supposed to reflect the place and its population. These representations, somewhat romantic, are more theatrical than anthropologically accurate. Many are very approximate, sometimes even unrealistic or inaccurate. For the letter Q, for example, “Quebec” is represented by a woman in oriental dress, and a minaret and ...
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 ...