“The Collège de France Opens Its Doors”: Virtual Exhibition (Episode 4)
Translated by Liz Carey Libbrecht.
Go to Episode 1 by clicking here.
The Collège de France in the nineteenth century
Following the Chalgrin constructions, the building remained unchanged until the reign of King Louis Philippe I. In 1830, Rue des Écoles did not exist, and the Collège de France was wedged between the Priory of Saint-Jean de Latran, a dozen individual households, the Collège du Plessis (currently the Lycée Louis-le-Grand), and the lanes of the Saint-Benoit et Fromentelle cemetery.
François Guizot (1787-1847), Minister of the Interior, granted the Administrator of the Collège de France, Antoine-Isaac Silvestre de Sacy (1758-1838) authorization and financing for expansion projects. Hyppolite Lebas (1782-1867), a renowned architect, was responsible for the first project to expand onto the former land plot of the Collège de Cambrai. He was replaced in 1832 by Paul-Marie Letarouilly (1795-1855), who was granted a significantly larger budget in 1833.
Letarouilly, a graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts, started his career in Paris, in particular with the construction of the Odéon Theatre in 1819, before travelling around Italy to train on antique and classical architecture. Upon his return to France, he published Les Édifices de Rome moderne1 [the buildings of modern Rome], a collection of watercolours and drawings that influenced French architecture of the second half of the nineteenth century. In addition to various positions as an architectural inspector in Paris, he became the head architect of the Collège de France.
A new project was initiated at the time, consisting in completely opening up the Chalgrin building and reorienting it towards Rue Saint-Jacques. In particular, this involved purchasing the houses surrounding the building. Letarouilly created new classrooms and lecture halls. Two courtyards were built, opening onto Rue Saint-Jacques, separated by a portico connecting numerous teaching areas. The work started in 1834 and was completed in 1841.
Gros plan sur quelques documents
Letter from Administrator Antoine-Isaac Silvestre de Sacy to the Count of Montalivet, Minister of Public Education, 29 March 1831.
Following the creation of three new Chairs, Antoine-Isaac Silvestre de Sacy reminded the new Minister of Public Education of the urgency of expanding the Collège de France’s buildings. In addition to the lack of space, he did not hesitate to mention that the state of the facilities gave “the foreigners attending our classes a miserly idea of the interest France pays to its foremost institution of the highest education”.
Letter from administrator Antoine-Isaac Silvestre de Sacy to François Guizot, Minister of Public Education, 12 July 1833
The 1831 request did not go unheeded, as work started in 1833. The month of July brought excellent news: the lands of the Collège de France were extended to Rue Saint-Jacques to the west, allowing it to undertake a more ambitious construction policy than previously planned.
In 1833, work was underway to build a new wing on Jean-François Chalgrin’s building. In collaboration with the professors, architect Paul Letarouilly built a wing to meet their needs. The idea was to adapt the construction as closely as possible to the research carried out within its walls.
Note on the inadequacy of lecture halls, prior to 1848
Despite the existence of three lecture halls, teaching spaces were inadequate. The two science lecture halls were exclusively reserved for two professors, whereas their nineteen other colleagues shared the third one, described as “inadequate, uncomfortable and unhealthy, and inconvenient.” It could accommodate an audience of only 300, some of whom had to stand, “pushed up against one another”. Space was lacking to the extent that “the students besieged the professor right up to his chair.” It is worth noting that in the 1840s, a large public attended the classes of popular professors, such as historians Jules Michelet and Edgar Quinet, or poet Adam Mickiewicz.
- Letarouilly, Paul, Édifices de Rome moderne, ou Recueil des palais, maisons, églises, couvents, et autres monuments publics et particuliers les plus remarquables de la ville de Rome, Paris, F. Didot frères, puis Bance, 1840-1857. Available on Gallica : https://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb32378916d [↩]