Collège des Quatre nations

The Institut de France is the seat of the Académie Francaise – French Academy.

Institut de France
Institut de France

You’ll find it by the Ponts des Arts, the footbridge that connects it to the Louvre Palace.

The building originally accommodated the Collège des Quatre Nations.

Its construction, funded with the legacy left by Cardinal Mazarin, lasted from 1662 and 1680 and was entrusted to Le Vau.

The architect demolished the Tour de Nesle, one of the watch towers of Philippe-Auguste Wall that commanded the Seine downstream, and erected the Institute’s eastern wing on its site.

Institut de France
Institut de France

In 2015, the construction of an auditorium brought to light new sections of this wall (a tower and a ditch in one of the courtyards.)

The Collège des Quatre Nations opened in 1688.

It provided tuition to 60 young noblemen from Piedmont, Alsace, Artois and Flanders for the following 101 years.

The school was spared from demolition at the French Revolution as it was converted into a prison.

The Institut de France was founded in 1795, but sat in the Louvre until 1805, when Napoleon transferred it to the former Collège des Quatre Nations.

Institut de France

Institut de France - La Coupole
La Coupole

The Institut de France’s semi-circular facade has become one of Paris’ landmarks!

Its two rounded wings flanked by two identical square pavilions frame a central chapel crowned by a dome that bears Mazarin’s coat-of-arms.

A few alterations took place over the years, but the building is pretty much as it was originally.

In the early 19th century, the architect Vaudoyer converted the chapel into a hall for the sessions of the academies.

Vaudoyer, however, accomplished this conversion while respecting the chapel’s original style and proportions.

La Coupole, as it is commonly called, is a true feat of architecture.

Le Vau indeed succeeded in creating a dome circular on the outside and oval on the inside.

Institut de France - Monumental entrance porch
Monumental entrance porch

In 1846, the architect Hippolyte Lebas built a new wing to connect the two pavilions of the Institute.

This building, which houses the rooms of the ordinary sessions of the academies, was classified historical monument in 1862.

One of the interesting original features of the College of the Four Nations is the sundial located on the chapel wall overlooking the Cour d’Honneur.

This sundial was formerly part of a double sundial.

It indicates the time of the morning, and the shadow of the ball at the end of its gnomon marks the equinoxes and solstices.

The second sundial is located on the wall of the Bibliothèque Mazarine.

Unfortunately, the section that indicated the time of the afternoon no longer exists.

Bibliothèque Mazarine

Institut de France - Bibliothèque Mazarine
Bibliothèque Mazarine

The Institut de France boasts one of the most complete libraries of Paris and a fantastic study and research library.

The Bibliothèque Mazarine is located in Mazarin’s private apartments.

Open to scholars in 1643 and is therefore the oldest public library of France!

It obviously contains Mazarin’s personal collections as well as thousands of books recovered during and after the French Revolution.

The reading room was restored between 1968 and 1974.

Mazarin’s tomb

Institut de France - Mazarin's grave
Mazarin’s grave

According to his last wishes, Cardinal Mazarin was buried under the chapel of the Collège of the Quatre Nations.

His ashes rest in a lavish tomb sculpted in 1693 by Coysevox, Tuby and Le Hongre.

They represented Mazarin surrounded by three allegorical bronze statues symbolizing Prudence, Peace and Fidelity, three virtues commonly attributed to the Cardinal.

Mazarin’s coat-of-arms, placed above his tomb, is framed by two allegories representing Charity and Religion.

Mazarin’s tomb was initially exhibited at the Louvre, but was transferred to the chapel of the Institut de France in 1962.

French Academy

The Institut de France regroups the Académie Française founded by Richelieu in 1635, the Académie des Inscriptions des Belles Lettres (Literature) and the Académie des Sciences founded by Colbert respectively in 1663 and 1666.

It also includes the Académie des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts) founded in 1816, and the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques (Moral and Political Sciences) founded in 1832.

Institut de France - Bibliothèque Mazarine
Bibliothèque Mazarine

The French Academy is a prestigious French academic foundation.

It has been composed of 40 members – Académiciens since 1980.

The Académiciens are elected by a college of their peers and approved by the President of the French Republic, their patron.

The Immortels, as they are known, are in charge of various missions.

One of them is to protect and ensure the proper use and evolution of French language and contribute to the addition of new words in the dictionary.

Late September 2010 the Immortels adopted a rule prohibiting the election of any person over 75 years of age to the status of Académicien in order to rejuvenate the ranks of its members.

It will make them more active and involved in the various missions they are more often assigned.

The French Academy follows the example of the Académie des Sciences which passed a similar law in 2002.

Half the available posts must be applied to by candidates aged 55 on 1st January in the year of election.

The women of the Académie Française

The prestigious Academy had only 6 women out of 40 members on December 19, 2010.

Jacqueline de Romilly, was Dean of the Academy until her death at the age of 97. 

Institut de France - Académicien's uniform
Académicien’s uniform

The renowned Hellenist was elected Académicienne in 1988, when she was the president of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres.

The first woman Académicienne was the novelist Marguerite Yourcenar, who was elected in 1980.

The third female Académicienne is Hélène Carrère-d’Encausse, a specialist of Russian history who was elected in 1990. 

She was also the first woman to wear the sword and the famous green coat of the Immortals. In 1999, she was elected Permanent Secretary of the Academy.

The novelist and screenwriter Florence Delay was elected in 2000.

In 2005 Assia Djebar, an Algerian-born novelist, became the first woman of North African origin elected to the Academy; French nationality is indeed not a selection criterion.

The last woman to be elected to this day was Simone Veil, in 2008. She pushed through a law legalizing abortion when she was Health Minister in 1975. 

She was not only a member of the Constitutional Council, but also the first woman to chair the European Parliament.

Directions: 6th district – Place de l’Institut – No.3 Quai Conti
Metro: Pont-Neuf on Right Bank on Line 7
Coordinates: Lat 48.857223 – Long 2.336976

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