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2.3.05

New Centers for Art History in Paris

Societies that care about the arts and their cultural patrimony spend public money on these things. The French have done exactly that, by opening two new research institutes in Paris. The Institut national du patrimoine (INP) and the Institut national d'histoire de l'art (Inha) have been installed in newly refurbished historical buildings near the Palais-Royal. In an article (Un «campus urbain» de la culture, February 11) for Le Figaro, Anne-Marie Romero has the story of how this project came to fruition after 14 years (my translation):

Although separate, the two institutes share a magnificent location, at one time called the Colbert court, situated at the rotunda crossing of two covered passages, the Galerie Vivienne and the Galerie Colbert. All together, 16,000 square meters [172,224 square feet] were beautifully renovated on five floors, of which four are reserved for Inha and one for INP. The history of this marriage between two establishments, which have nothing in common except the use of a library, is due to a coincidence. A coincidence between the acquisition of this space by the Bibliothèque nationale in 1974, as a place for extra storage, the creation of the new Grande Bibliothèque at Tolbiac, and André Chastel's desire, expressed since the 1970s, to create a major art history library by bringing together several collections not widely enough available in their original locations.

In effect, art history has been split up in France between several institutions. Without counting the Ecole du Louvre, which has its own collection, it includes a very valuable collection, the Bibliothèque Jacques-Doucet, named for a fashion designer and passionate supporter of the arts who, in the 1900s, collection 150,000 works of art and archeology. That collection, which has continued to grow so that it contains 500,000 volumes today, was kept for better or worse in the Institut d'art et d'archéologie in the Rue Michelet.
The collection that is now being brought together will total some 1.3 million books, now that the BNF has vacated the space. The schools associated with the institute's library will offer educational programs in art history, archeology, and conservation, among others. By praising the French, I am really not criticizing my own government, since I love the Library of Congress, which is effectively our national library. Congress should double its budget.

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