History of the Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal Library in Paris

The history of the Arsenal building actually dates back to the 1600s when it was occupied by the Master General of the Ordnance, yet over the years much changed, and during the French Revolution the building was turned into a library, which has meant that even the collections have a rich history of their own, that can still be viewed today with exhibitions held as well.

History of Arsenal Building and its Architecture

The location of the first building of the Arsenal was constructed on a site that had belonged to the Celestins Convent, and running along the city walls of Charles V, it meant it had a rather unusual oblong shape.
Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal tables and chairs
But it was actually in the earlier part of the 1600s that the Master General of the Ordnance resided within the building and there is an incredible apartment called La Meilleraye Cabinet painted towards 1640, which shows the importance of the person who resided here, while overseeing the buildings that extended as far as the Bastille.

Even today, the facade that you can see looking onto the Rue de Sully was erected in the 17th century, but this is the only true part of the Arsenal that relates to those first buildings, as a new building was constructed by the architect Boffrand on the side of the River Seine back in the 1700s.

So this is where the building itself and the collections start to get intertwined, as it was Marc Antoine Rene de Voyer, the Marquis de Paulmy, that had his own personal library installed within the Arsenal.  It is from this period in the 1700s that the ornaments on the upper part of the building have been preserved, plus the panelling inside is also original.
During the French Revolution, the building was transformed into a public library, which meant that in the 1800s two different wings were erected, reading rooms were implemented, along with storage spaces for books.

But things did not stop there, as during the 1900s numerous modifications took place, although thankfully, much of the original decoration of the building and its interior was still intact.

This meant that in 2009 a magnificent room called the Salon de Musique could be fully restored to its former glory, and located on the first floor of the building that had been designed by Boffrand, which we mentioned earlier, a set of impressive panelling's are just like they were that have musical attributes, and that is in addition to the four columns in grisaille that illustrate the season.

Additionally, the facade that was rebuilt by Theodore Labrouste in the 1800s and the roof of the Bibliotheque d’Arsenal have been fully restored as of 2012 for all to continue to admire when visiting the city and exploring more of the history of Paris.
Wall deco of Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal
Books held within Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal

History of the Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal Collections

The collections of the Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal can be traced all the way back to the early part of the 1700s with the library that belonged to Marc Antoine Rene d’Argenson, the Marquis of Paulmy.

He installed his own very extensive private collection into the Arsenal building within the residence of the Master of the Artillery, also known as the Master General of the Ordnance, but having come into financial difficulties, he ended up selling the entire collection to the brother of King Louis XVI, called the Count of Artois, in 1785.

And even though the Marquis of Paulmy still had the right to utilise the collection and add to it, this historical library was seized during the French Revolution.
Sculpted ceiling inside Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal
During this time it was added to tremendously, especially with other confiscations from abbeys along with the archives from the Bastille, and it was turned into a public library, which in turn meant that the collections were added to even more during the 1800s, especially in the areas of literature and theatre.

There are also two major collections that have been deposited to the Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal and these are the Oulipo archives and the archives of Georges Perec, and in more recent times, the library has become a part of the Bibliotheque National de France, or BNF for short.

With these along with old printed books, handwritten and printed music scores, plus thousands of manuscripts that make up some of the items available at this library, which continues its work to enrich the specific collections, the collections are there for the benefit of everyone.