November 8, 2011

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. He designed several projects that were inspired by the new revolutionary era, none of which he managed to complete. Lequeu’s semicircular design is dated, in the title above the design, June 24, 1793, and, in the lower right-hand corner, Messidor 9, Second Year of the Republic. In its efforts to eliminate traditional influences from French life, the French Revolution instituted a new calendar that featured a set of renamed months, divided into three ten-day weeks. “Messidor 9” refers to the ninth day of the month of Messidor, the first month of the summer, named after the Latin word messis, meaning harvest. Years were numbered starting with the proclamation of the French Republic in September 1792. Napoleon abolished this system and restored the Gregorian calendar with effect from January 1, 1806.

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 method that relied upon observation of the moons of Jupiter. The longitudinal measurements on the map are less accurate, as the determination of longitude remained problematic until the installation on ships, in the second half of the 18th century, of marine chronometers. Their significance was that they could precisely measure the time at a known meridian when out of sight of land, which then could be used to determine longitude based on the rotation of the Earth. The map also displays uncertainties regarding the northern borders of Asia and America, which persisted until the discovery of the Bering Strait in 1728. The map is from the collection of the geographer Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville (1697–1782). It was given to King Louis XVI in 1782 and deposited in the National Library of France in 1924.

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. Fine’s map reflects the state of knowledge and the geographic hypotheses and uncertainties of its day. North America is joined with Asia, and a vast Terra Australis, a hypothetical continent that geographers posited had to exist to counterbalance the weight of the northern land masses, is drawn in the south. The map is from the collection of the geographer Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville (1697–1782). It was purchased by King Louis XVI in 1779 and deposited in the National Library of France in 1924.

Royal Coin, Philip VI, Chaise d'Or

The chaise d’or was a French gold coin, first issued in the early 14th century, bearing the figure of the king seated on a large throne. This coin, issued under Philip VI (born, 1293; reigned, 1328–50), shows the king in his majesty, seated facing forward on a Gothic throne, crowned, holding the scepter and hand of justice in a lobed trefoil. The reverse side has a four-lobed cross, with leaves and fleur de lis, curved at the heart, in a four-lobed trefoil bordered by four crowns. This type of coin originated in the royal seal and first appeared under Philip IV (born, 1268; reigned, 1285–1314). The period from the end of the 13th century to the first half of the 14th century marked the apex of the medieval monetary art in France. Coins, some in large denominations, were made with three different kinds of images on their front sides: representations of the king in civil or military costume; religious images such as the Paschal Lamb, Saint Michael, or Saint George; and regalia such as a crown. Images on the reverse sides were in many variations and often recalled the rose windows of Gothic cathedrals.

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 Tournois (Tours pound), so that the word franc came to be a synonym for pound and, at the time of the French Revolution, the franc became the national currency of France. The coin shows the mounted king in armor, galloping to the left, with his sword raised. The reverse side has a fluted cross with leaves emerging from it, and a four-lobed leaf at the heart, in an angled quatrefoil decorated with palmettes and bordered by four trefoils. The franc à cheval of John II was minted until his death in 1364. Charles V continued to issue the coin in 1364–65, but he also minted the franc à pied, showing the monarch on foot, which was continued by Charles VI in 1365–85. The franc à cheval reappeared briefly under Charles VII in 1422, and was imitated by many rulers, principally in the southern Netherlands, but also in Brittany and Orange.

Newton's Cenotaph

“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, and buildings whose forms express their purpose. Boullée was an academician who taught at the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées and the Académie Royale d’Architecture in Paris. He influenced many of his contemporaries by his works and his teaching.