Calvet's Web: Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters in Eighteenth-Century France

By L. W.B Brockliss | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
The Antiquarian

1. COINS

A visitor or patient who entered Calvet’s house in the Rue Pugelle would have immediately realized that its owner was a collector of antiquities. The municipality’s dignitaries who came to make an inventory of Calvet’s possessions in August 1810 had no sooner crossed the threshold into the vestibule than they encountered ‘two large marble statues, one representing an angel [actually an unknown goddess], the other Hercules, five large stones bearing inscriptions, a large mosaic fragment, and a piece of marble’. Further colossal pieces of classical bric-a-brac—urns, busts, and statues—were found in the downstairs salon, while choicer pieces were on display in the first-floor rooms. The upstairs salon (where, presumably, Calvet did most of his entertaining) was filled with bronze statuary and sepulchral lamps decoratively arranged on table tops. The adjoining cabinet d’études was an Aladdin’s cave of statues, busts, utensils, lamps, bottles, and glass, which greeted the visitor from tables, cupboards, and row upon row of shelves surrounding the walls.1

The centrepiece and most valuable part of Calvet’s collection, however—his 12,000 coins—was not on display to the casual visitor, doubtless for security reasons.2 Rather, the coins were kept in two cabinets in the collector’s bedroom on the first floor.3 The first was a monstrous, free-standing piece of furniture, made of walnut, with a Chinese motif. It was divided into three sections, each with seventy-one drawers or trays, each drawer usually containing 100 coins. The second was a smaller piece, decorated with a pattern of an olive-tree root, and was placed on a side table. It had only two compartments, each with twenty-three shelves. At the time of the inventory, the bedroom also contained three other tiny and empty cabinets, which had been specifically made in Paris to house Calvet’s gold coins.4 Presumably, when a visitor wished to view this

1 BMA MS 5628, fos. 459–67: inventory, 20–2 Aug. 1810. The inventory of the natural-history collection was also taken at the same time: see below, Ch. 5, sect. 1. There were only a few books in Calvet’s cabinet because his collection was housed in the library on the second floor: see house plan, above, Fig. 1.3. For the statues in the vestibule, see below, n. 80.

2 Calvet had been burgled on several occasions during the Revolution: see above, Ch. 1, sect. 1. Today ownership of the coins is disputed between the Musée Calvet and the Bibliothèque Municipale and the collection is not on display to the public.

3 BMA MS 5628, fos. 449–59: inventory 18–20 Aug. The inventory does not list the exact number of coins, but the figure of 12,000 appears in Calvet’s wills.

4 The inventory says nothing about the decoration on the cabinets or the intended purpose of the three small ones: these details are given in Calvet’s wills of 1804 and 1806: BMA MS 5628, fos. 22Ir and 248v.

-193-

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Calvet's Web: Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters in Eighteenth-Century France
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • List of Illustrations xiii
  • List of Figures xv
  • List of Tables xvi
  • List of Abbreviations xvii
  • Biographical Note xviii
  • A Note on Terms xix
  • Currency Note xx
  • Introduction the Republic of Letters and Enlightenment 1
  • Chapter One - Esprit Calvet 20
  • Chapter Two - The Intellectual Milieu 69
  • Chapter Three - The Physician 126
  • Chapter Four - The Antiquarian 193
  • Chapter Five - The Natural Historian 242
  • Chapter Six - The Bibliophile 281
  • Chapter Seven - The Revolutionary Climacteric 335
  • Chapter Eight - Conclusion: Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters 390
  • Bibliography 413
  • Index 435
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