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Title: Royal Academy of Inscriptions and Literature
Original Title: Academie Royale Des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres
Volume and Page: Vol. 1 (1751), p. 52
Author: Unknown
Translator: Reed Benhamou [Indiana University, benhamou@indiana.edu]
Original Version (ARTFL): Link
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URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0000.217
Citation (MLA): "Royal Academy of Inscriptions and Literature." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Reed Benhamou. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0000.217>. Trans. of "Academie Royale Des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 1. Paris, 1751.
Citation (Chicago): "Royal Academy of Inscriptions and Literature." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Reed Benhamou. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0000.217 (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Academie Royale Des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 1:52 (Paris, 1751).

Royal Academy of Inscriptions and Literature. Whatever degree of glory that had been attained by France in the reigns of Henry IV and Louis XIII, and especially after the Peace of the Pyrenees and the marriage of Louis XIV, not enough effort had yet been made to leave posterity with a true idea of its grandeur. The most brilliant actions, the most memorable events, were forgotten, or ran the risk of being forgotten, because these memories were not committed to marble and bronze. In fact, there were few public monuments, and until then even this small number had been left to the ignorance or interest of a few individuals.

The King thus saw an advantage for the Nation in the establishment of an Academy that would develop inscriptions, epigrams and medals, and extend to all such memorials the good taste and noble simplicity that are their true glory. He formed this Company with a few men chosen from the French Academy, who began to meet in the library of M. Colbert, from whom they received His Majesty's commands.

The meeting day was not fixed; but, at least in the winter, it was usually Wednesday, because this was the most convenient for M. Colbert, who was almost always in attendance. In summer, this Minister often took the academicians to Sceaux, so that their conferences were in more pleasant surroundings and so he himself could enjoy them in greater peace.

Among the first products of the Academy can be counted the designs for the King's tapestries, as these are seen in the published Collection of engravings and descriptions.

M. [Charles] Perrault was then personally charged with the description of the Carrousel; and after this was approved by the Company, it and the figures were also printed.

The Academy then began to develop mottos for the tokens used by the royal Treasury, les Parties casuelles [Bureau receiving fees for changes in administrative office], Bâtiments and the Navy; and new ones were issued every year.

Finally, a complete History of the major events in the King's reign through medals was undertaken. The subject was vast and admirable, but [the project] was difficult to implement. The Ancients, from whom we have so many medals, left no rules other than those of the medals themselves which, until then, had been scarcely studied except for the beauty of the workmanship and the historical knowledge they conveyed. The Moderns, who have struck many [medals] over the last two centuries, have been little concerned with rules: they have followed none, prescribed none; and in collections of this kind, one can find barely three or four in which inspiration had complemented technique successfully.

Under M. Colbert, the difficulty of swiftly perfecting so neglected an art was not the only reason that kept the Academy from making much progress on the History of the King through medals: he used the knowledge of the Company for a thousand other purposes. He had it continually creating or examining the various proposals for paintings and sculpture that were to embellish Versailles. It regulated the choice and arrangement of statues; it was consulted on proposals for the decoration of apartments and the embellishment of gardens.

The Academy was even charged with seeing that the plan and principal views of the royal houses were engraved, and with developing descriptions [for these figures]. The engravings were quite far along, and the descriptions almost completed, when M. Colbert died.

It was even supposed to engrave the plan and views of conquered places, and to add a history of each city and conquest; but this project came to no more than the one that preceded it.

M. Colbert died in 1683, and M. de Louvois succeeded him as Superintendant of the Bâtiments. Knowing that Abbé [Paul] Tallemant was charged with the inscriptions that were to be placed beneath the paintings in the gallery at Versailles, and that were to be in place at the King's return, this minister immediately had him brought to Fontainebleau (where the court then was), to make a full report on the state of things. Abbé Tallement gave his report, and showed him the inscriptions that were ready. M. de Louvois then presented him to the King, who himself ordered that these inscriptions be installed immediately at Versailles. They have since undergone some changes.

M. de Louvois hosted the first few meetings of the "little Academy" at his residences in Paris and Meudon. We call it the little Academy , because it was composed of only four persons: M. Charpentier, M. [Philippe] Quinault, Abbé Tallemant, and M. [André] Félibien the elder. He later moved them to the Louvre, to the same place where the French Academy held its meetings; and he decreed that members assemble twice a week, on Monday and Saturday, from 5 o'clock in the evening until 7.

M. [Jean] de La Chapelle[-Besse], who had become Inspector of Bâtiments after M. Perrault, was charged with attending the meetings and recording the deliberations, and thus became the fifth academician. M. de Louvois soon added two others, whose help he judged necessary to the Academy for the History of the King: these were M. [Jean] Racine and M. [Nicolas Boileau-] Despréaux. Finally, there was an eighth, M. Rainssant, a man knowledgeable about medals and who was the director of His Majesty's collection of Antiques.

Under this new minister, the work on the Medals of the History of the King, interrupted during M. Colbert's last years, was taken up again with enthusiasm. Many different sizes were struck, but nearly all were larger than those than have been struck since that time, so that the unit that weighed them still calls them Medals of the Great History . The Company also began to develop mottos for the tokens used for ordinary and extraordinary military expenses, about which it had not yet been consulted.

In 1691, the King handed supervision of the Academies to M. [Louis-Phélypeaux] de Pontchartrain, then Inspector-General and Secretary of State, responsible for the royal Household and subsequently Chancellor of France. M. de Pontchartrain, born with a great deal of intelligence and a taste for literature that no Office could diminish, gave particular attention to the Little Academy, which became better known as the Royal Academy of Inscriptions and Medals. The King wanted the Count de Pontchartrain, [Pontchartrain's] son, to attend the meetings frequently, and thus fixed their days as Tuesday and Saturday. Finally, he gave oversight of this Company to Abbé [Jean-Paul] Bignon, [Pontchartrain's] nephew, whose genius and talent were already well known.

The places vacated by the deaths of M. Rainssant and M. Quinault were filled by [Jacques] de Tourreil and Abbé [Eusèbe] Renaudot.

All the medals whose designs had been interrupted during the time of M. de Louvois, even those that had already been completed and engraved, were carefully reviewed: many were revised; a great number were added; they were all reduced to the same size; and the History of the King was updated to include the succession to the Spanish throne of his grandson, Monseigneur the Duke of Anjou.

In September 1699, M. de Pontchartrain was named Chancellor. The Count of Pontchartrain, his son, came into the full charge of Secretary of State, whose right of succession he had long held, and Academicians stayed in his department. But the Chancellor, much attached to the History of the King through medals, whose own insights had directed and furthered its advancement, retained oversight of this work, and had the honor of presenting His Majesty with the first examples struck and the first examples of the Book containing the designs and explanations.

The establishment of the Academy of Inscriptions could not fail to find a place in this famous Book, in which all other Academies were mentioned. The medal seen there on this subject shows a seated Mercury, writing with an antique stylus on a bronze tablet. His left arm is supported on an urn filled with medals; others are spread in a carton at his feet. The legend, Rerum gestarum fides , and the epigraph Academia Regia Inscriptionum and Numismatum, institua M. DC.LXIII , means that the Royal Academy of Inscriptions and Medals, established in 1663, is to render a faithful account of great acts to future generations.

Almost the entire purpose of the Academy seemed to have ended with the Book of Medals, because later events, and epigrams for annual tokens, could not occupy eight or nine individuals who met twice each week. Abbé Bignon saw the problem in this lack of activity and believed he could use it to his advantage. But so that there would be no obstacle from within the Company, he kept a part of his plan from the Academicians, who might have been alarmed by any idea of change: he limited himself to saying that, the History through medals having been achieved, being in fact already in publication, and the King being highly content with what he had seen of it, there would be no better time to ask His Majesty if he would be pleased to assure the existence of the Academy by some public declaration of royal authority. He cited the example of the Academy of Sciences, founded by royal order about the same time as the Academy of Inscriptions; lacking authentic title for its establishment, it had just obtained from His Majesty (as we are going to say below) a ruling signed by his hand, which fixed the time and place of its assemblies, defined its duties, assured the continuation of pensions, &c.

The proposition by Abbé Bignon was extremely popular: a request was drafted immediately. The Chancellor and the Count of Pontchartrain were asked to support the entreaty with the King; and fully informed about the plan by Abbé Bignon, and as zealous as he for the advancement of Letters, they did so willingly. The King granted the Academy's request, and a few days later it received a new title, dated 16 July 1701.

By virtue of this initial ruling, the Academy received the King's orders through one of the secretaries of state, the same person who conveyed them to the Academy of Sciences. The Academy consists of ten honorary members, ten pensionnaires [members supported by the Crown], ten associates, all with voting privileges, and in addition ten students, each attached to one of the pensionnaires . It meets each Tuesday and Friday in one of the rooms in the Louvre, and holds two public assemblies a year, one after S. Martin's [12 November], the other after the Easter fortnight. Its recesses are the same as those of the Academy of Sciences. See Academy of Sciences. It has a few corresponding associates, some of whom are nationals and the others foreign. Like the Academy of Sciences, it also has a president and vice-president, taken from the honorary members, and a director and sub-director taken from the pensionnaires .

The student class has since been abolished and merged with the associates. The secretary and treasurer hold permanent appointments; and since being renewed in 1701, the Academy has given the public the many volumes that are the fruit of its labors. In addition to the Mémoires, deemed appropriate to print in their entirety, these volumes contain many other records, whose extracts are written by the secretary, and eulogies of dead Academicians. Some 15 years ago, the President [Jacques-Bernard] Durey de Noinville founded a literary prize that the Academy awards each year. It is a medal of gold, with a value of 400 livres .

The motto of this Academy is vetat mori. This entire article is taken from the History of the Academy of Belles-Lettres, vol. 1.