Exhibition titled A Kingdom of Images. French Prints in the age of Louis XIV at the French National Library

By Vanessa Selbach et Rémi Mathis

Displaying more than 160 exhibits, mostly from its exceptional prints collections, the BnF is holding the first large-scale exhibition dedicated to the golden age of this technique in France. Printmaking reached its peak during the reign of Louis XIV: Paris was established as the most important printmaking location in Europe, taking over from Rome, Anvers and Amsterdam, at a time when printing was the only way of circulating images.

The exhibition presents an overview of French printmaking – mainly in Paris – which saw unprecedented growth during the reign of Louis XIV, from 1660 to 1715. Through its themed exhibition route the display presents all the variation in printmaking from this period, from great masterpieces to more modest productions, as well as the different uses of prints. It was at the time the most popular technique for portraits, celebrations books, ornament or architecture books, fashion prints and large multi-plate prints such as topographic views, religious pictures, illustrated wall calendars or theses charts. Such large dimensions as those used during the latter half of the 17th century had never been matched.

Un avare, édité chez Gabriel Landry / Portrait de Michel Le Tellier par Robert Nanteuil

During this period, Parisian printers such as Robert Nanteuil, Gérard Edelinck, Girard Audran, Sébastien Leclerc and the Lepautre family perfected the technique of copperplate engraving, burin engraving and etching, which became a benchmark for European printmakers in the 18th and 19th centuries.

This remarkable production was encouraged by official policies and the desire to promote the fine arts and decorative arts as symbols of the French taste that was spreading through Europe at the time, as well as to reflect the glory of the Ultimate Monarch. For example, during the first decade of the reign of Louis XIV a chalcography room was created, the Cabinet du Roi, an enterprise for the official publication of unique prints in Europe glorifying the residences, collections and conquests of the Sun King. At the same time the royal library bought the works of great contemporary art lovers, thus assembling the first collections of prints that now constitute the historical core of the current Prints and photographs department of the BnF.

L'entrée du Roi et de la Reine à Paris le 26 aout 1660

Practical information:

A Kingdom of Images. French prints in the age of Louis XIV (1660 - 1715), from 3rd November 2015 to 31st January 2016.

BnF, François-Mitterrand site
Quai François-Mauriac, Paris 13th arrondissement. Galerie I

Tuesdays to Saturdays 10am - 7pm, Sunday 1pm – 7pm. Closed on Mondays and national holidays
Admission: €9, discounted rate: €7
Reservations: FNAC by calling 00 33 (0)892 684 694 (€0.34 including taxes/min) and at www.fnac.com

Vanessa Selbach Curator at the National Library of France , the former head of the Print Service and Reserve and et Rémi Mathis Curator at the National Library of France, in charge of the seventeenth century prints and editor of the print news.