Treasures from the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Throughout French history the powerful have sought to harness culture to their own ends. They understood that the representation of power—what today we call "image"—is a form of power itself. They patronized artists, artisans, and intellectuals who produced works that proclaimed the legitimacy of their rule, reinforced their authority, and enhanced their prestige. At times, they stifled creative impulses incompatible with their ambition. The relationship between power—or politics—and culture in French history is thus an ambivalent one, defined as much by conflict and censorship as by cooperation and patronage.

Creating French Culture traces the history of this relationship from Charlemagne (b. 742?-d. 814) to Charles de Gaulle (b. 1890-d. 1970), through the prism of more than 200 magnificent "treasures" on loan from the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris. The Bibliothèque's generous collaboration has made possible a unique exhibition which includes many items never before seen outside of France. The choice of items was dictated as much by their historical importance as by their artistic value in the hope that they will provide insight into, and spark curiosity about, the complex history of the United States' oldest ally.

The dates given in parentheses after the names of kings are those of their reigns, as in "Frances I (1515-1547)." For all other individuals, unless otherwise indicated, the dates refer to their years of birth and death, for example "Cardinal Richelieu (b. 1585-d. 1642)."