Monnaie de Paris was founded by Charles the Bald in 864 and included within the Edict of Pistres, making it France's oldest institution. For 1,150 years, it has been responsible for the sovereign function of minting coins. It has moved several times before relocating to Paris’ left bank, at 11, quai de Conti. The building was designed to welcome the Mint of Paris, the building was built by Jacques-Denis Antoine during the reign of Louis XV (1715-1774) and inaugurated on 20 December 1775.
The building was commissioned by the king, yet the plans had the different rooms, rather than being traditionally organized around the chapel, distributed around the "Salle du Grand Monnayage" (Minting Room), the heart of the institution, where coins are struck. Its industrial origins have been preserved to the present day and the Monnaie de Paris remains the last functioning factory in the heart of Paris.
Monnaie de Paris is a superb example of French Neo-Classical architecture, one of the first public buildings which adopted an "à l'antique" style, in vogue in the 1750s. Re-establishing the architectural vocabulary of Antiquity, Jacques-Denis Antoine's style is closer to classical architecture, popular during the reign of Louis XIV, rather than the Rococo style which was in fashion from the Regency to the beginning of Louis XV's reign. Jacques-Denis Antoine opted for rectilinear forms and for an ornamental repertoire inspired by the Antiquity.
A sculpted decor
On the top of each ionic column on the façade sits an allegorical sculpture, which were made by the most talented sculptors of the time: Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1714-1785), Louis-Philippe Mouchy (1734-1801) and Félix Lecomte (1737-1817). Jean-Denis Antoine (1735-1802), the architect's brother, made the other ornamental sculptures on the façade.
The central arcade of the avant-corps is dominated by a monumental door which includes Louis XV's emblem and a door knocker with a lion's head. The tympanum is decorated with a sculpture by Jean-Denis Antoine, the architect's brother, of Mercury, god of commerce, and Ceres, goddess of earthly wealth.
The peristyle was considered to be a great technical success and consists of five galleries. Barrel vaults with caissons harmoniously alternate with flat vaults, all of them supported by twenty eight Doric columns.
The two intermediate spans are covered by flat vaults, identical to those developed by Victor Louis for the Palais Royal galleries. The portico is supported by six ranks of partially fluted Doric columns, demonstrating the architect's knowledge of the antique architecture.
The Grand Staircase
With its grand dimensions and its rich decoration, the Grand Staircase allowed the architect to express himself in that could be realized only within a royal commission. The Monnaie de Paris staircase shows what a Grand Staircase would have looked like under Louis XV's reign.
This staircase is covered with a pierced cupola, decorated with window-dressing caissons. It leads to the first floor, the piano nobile. The gallery around the staircase presents many decorative elements. Above doors and windows, bas-reliefs by Jean-Denis Antoine represent sitting women, the Chemistry and the Wealth, surrounded by cherubs.
Salon Guillaume Dupré Vestibule
The vestibule gives access to the Great Salon, the Salon Guillaume Dupré, where the first monetary museum was installed from 1833 to 1983. A decorative frieze runs all around the top of the walls. Ordered by the July Monarchy, it shows blazons of French cities which had minting factories from the age of François I to Napoleon I. A work by Jean-Denis Antoine showing two angels crowning a globe with lilies was erased in 1793 and was replaced by a shining sun.
From Philippe August's reign (1180-1223) and to a greater degree during Saint-Louis' reign (1226-1270), the royal coins became more prevalent than those used in feudal zones. This restrained the influence of local lords . Even though many local currencies disappeared, a few minting factories keep functioning until the 18th Century. During the Ancien Regime, the minting factories were funded by a contract between the King and the merchant. The King would loan the building to the merchant and sets up the production whereas the merchant was responsible for finding the metal and running the minting process.
The mural in the vestibule shows an inventory of the French cities with minting factories at the time. Some of these factories, like those in Bordeaux and Nantes, were reconstructed by Jacques-Denis Antoine, after he finished the Parisian mint.
The Salon Guillaume Dupré
The Great Salon bears the name of Guillaume Dupré (1576-1643), one of the greatest medal artists in France. The salon was originally intended to host the Coins Court, the royal court of jurisdiction for litigation involving the use of precious metals and coin minting. Before the end of Ancien Regime, Balthazar-Georges Sage was authorized to give the public chemistry classes in the Salon. These lessons were institutionalized with the creation of the Ecole des Mines in 1793. In 1833, the first monetary museum was inaugurated by Louis Philippe. The salon's dimensions are remarkable, being an area of 200 square meters and 13 meters high under the vaults.
Au dessus de chacune des portes latérales de la salle Dupré, des médaillons donnent à voir les initiales de trois contrôleurs généraux et d’un intendant des finances, ici Monsieur de Fleury; ailleurs, Messieurs de L’Averdy, de La Boulaye et d’Ormesson. De part et d’autre des médaillons, des petits génies ailés s’adonnent à des opérations chimiques, rappelant l’usage que Balthazar-Georges Sage fit de cette salle.
Two plaster busts designed by Nicolas-Pierre Tiolier (1784-1853) and realized by Etienne-Pierre-Adrien Gois stand above the fireplace and the opposite door and the alcoves are decorated with crowns of leaves and oak branches. They respectively represent Louis XVIII and Louis XVI.
A monumental canvas across the ceiling by the History painter Jean-Joseph Weerts (1847-1927) replaced the original fake sky in 1893. This painting represents the Pont d'Iéna and the Palais des Beaux Arts of the Universal Exhibition in 1889, while in the sky, female allegories of Peace and Commerce spread the gold rains of Fortune over a scene of jubilation. With this work, Jean-Jospeh Weerts illustrates the triumph of the Universal Exhibition of 1889 and symbolising for the moral recovery of France after the defeat in 1870.
Jacques-Denis Antoine conceived a complex composing of a main structure situated on the banks of the Seine and a factory at the back, with a total area of 35 000 square meters. The main courtyard, or Cour d'Honneur, represents a transition between the rooms along the river and the factory workshops. At the end of the courtyard, a four columns portico marks the entrance of the "Grand Monnayage" (Minting Room), the historical place of minting.