The legacy of a passionate bibliophile
The Duke of Aumale devoted his entire life to his two passions: his love of books and fine art. In 1848 he started a remarkable collection of paintings, drawings and, above all, books. In a letter to a friend he admits: "I think I'm suffering from bibliomania!". The reading room was designed by architect Honoré Daumet at the end of the 19th century to house the Duke of Aumale's rare book collection.
An exceptional collection
The Duke of Aumale acquired a large number of books from all over Europe, from booksellers and at auctions. The Duke was a wealthy, enlightened man and advised notably by Antonio Panizzi, the director of the British Library, and Léopold Delisle, the General Administrator of the National Library of France, he put together an exceptional collection of precious books and illuminated manuscripts, including some major works of medieval art.
Of the 60,000 volumes contained in the Chantilly collection, almost 19,000 volumes are exhibited in the Reading Room, including 1,500 manuscripts and 17,500 printed documents on the subjects of universal knowledge. The manuscripts, the oldest of which dates from the 11th century, include 200 medieval manuscripts of which many are illuminated. The printed documents include approximately 300 incunables (pre-1501) and 2,500 books printed in the 16th century.
Functional, sober architecture
The metal structure with two levels and a gallery is typical of library architecture in the second half of the 19th century. The iron shelving units are trimmed with leather to minimize contact between the bindings and the shelves.
As a space for reading and working, the Reading Room was one of the Duke of Aumale's favourite rooms, as demonstrated in a painting by Gabriel Ferrier depicting him at the end of his life compiling a catalogue of his manuscripts with his friend and former tutor, Cuvillier-Fleury, who assisted him in acquiring books.
The most precious manuscript in the world
Almost 1,500 manuscripts are kept in Chantilly, making it the second largest library in France for illuminated manuscripts after the National Library of France.
The Très Riches Heures of Jean, Duc de Berry is one of the most precious manuscripts in the library and archives of the Condé museum of Chantilly. It is reputed to be the most beautiful manuscript in the world and referred to as "The King of Manuscripts" by the Duke of Aumale. This is the most famous and most admired "treasure" of the Château de Chantilly's collections.
This book of hours, commissioned by Duke John I of Berry from the Limburg brothers in the 15th century, was acquired by the Duke of Aumale in 1856.
For conservation reasons, the original manuscript cannot be viewed, visitors are invited to discover it in a facsimile and in a digital version that can be accessed freely and provides views of all the pages of the manuscript.
The central showcases of the Reading Room are used for temporary exhibitions that allow visitors to discover the exceptional collections of the library (letters, archives, precious manuscripts, historic accounts). See the programme.
You can log on to www.bibliotheque-conde.fr to discover the digital library, the catalogue and the virtual exhibitions.