Institut de France

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Institut de France

(ăNstētü` də fräNs), cultural institution of the French state. Founded in 1795 by the Directory, it replaced five learned societies that had been suppressed in 1793 by the Convention. These were the French AcademyFrench Academy
(L'Académie française), learned society of France. It is one of the five societies of the Institut de France. Development
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 (governing language and literature; founded by Richelieu, granted letters patent 1635); the Académie royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (fine arts; founded 1648 by Charles Le Brun, reorganized 1663 by Colbert); the Académie royale des Inscriptions et Médailles (public inscriptions, medal design, etc.; founded 1663), renamed (1716) the Académie royale des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres; the Académie royale des Sciences (founded 1666 by Colbert); and the Académie royale d'Architecture (organized 1671 by Colbert). The new organization was called at first Institut national des Sciences et des Arts; the name Académie was not used in the names of the sections because it was considered reactionary. After 1806 the title was changed to Institut de France. Originally the organization was divided into three classes (physical and mathematical sciences, moral and political sciences, literature and fine arts). In 1803 a decree of Napoleon I (a member since 1797) changed the division to four (physical and mathematical sciences, French language and literature, history and ancient literature, and fine arts), suppressing the second class (moral and political sciences) as subversive to the state. In 1816 there was another reorganization, based on the Institut of 1803, and the name Académie was again used in the names of the sections. In 1832, under the influence of Guizot, the second class of the Institut of 1795 was restored as a fifth academy. The Institut de France therefore finally came to be comprised of five academies—the French Academy, the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (history and archaeology), the Académie des Sciences, the Académie des Beaux-Arts, and the Académie des Sciences morales et politiques. Membership in one of the academies does not restrict an individual from being a member of any of the other academies. The academies are self-perpetuating, but the state has the right of veto over their elections. The awards and prizes given by the academies have encouraged endeavor in various fields.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Institut de France


the primary official scholarly institution in France, which brings together outstanding figures in science, literature, and the arts and pursues the aim of promoting progress in the sciences and arts. The institute consists of five academies: the Academie Française, the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, the Académie des Sciences, the Académie des Beaux-Arts, and the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques.

Prior to the French Revolution there were five specialized academies in the country, the Académie Française, the Académie des Inscriptions et Médailles, the Académie des Sciences Naturelles, the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, and the Académie Royale d’Architecture. The Convention abolished these in 1793, but in 1795 the Directory established the Institut National des Sciences et des Arts, consisting of three sections: physical sciences and mathematics, moral and political sciences, and literature and fine arts. In 1803 by order of Napoleon the second section was closed and the third was expanded into three new sections: French language and philology, ancient history and literature, and fine arts. In 1806 the title Institut de France was adopted. In 1816 the various sections had the title Académie restored to them, and in 1832 the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques was established as part of the institute.

Each academy belonging to the Institut de France has its own sphere of activity, charter, and funds. Each academy elects a president and an academic secretary. Members of one academy may also be elected to others. Directing the institute is a board whose president and members are elected annually.

The main activity of the institute is to hear and discuss scholarly reports, to publish scholarly works, and to award prizes. The prizes are financed by state and private funds, the management of which is entrusted to the institute. Issues affecting the interests of the whole institute are discussed once every three months at a combined general assembly of all the academies. The admission of new members is carried out at separate assemblies of each academy. Election results are confirmed by the president of the republic.

The Académie Française is the oldest academy in Europe, founded in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu. Its purpose is the perfection of the French language, protection of the purity of the language, and the compilation of a dictionary of the French language. From 1694 to 1962 there were nine editions of the dictionary, and this work is continuing. The academy awards many literary prizes, including the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix du Roman (for the best novel). The members of the Académie Française are called the “40 immortals” and include outstanding figures in literature, politics, and economics. Only French citizens can be elected to the academy.

The Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres was founded in 1663 by J. B. Colbert. The purpose of the academy is to study ancient and Oriental languages, medieval dialects, and all periods of history. It has 40 full members, 15 members at large (not voting in academy elections), 20 foreign members, and 70 corresponding members (including 40 foreigners). These members are Orientalists, historians, archaeologists, and linguists. The academy acts as a sponsor for a number of French educational institutions both within the country and abroad. Its publications include the Comptes rendus (since 1857, the Mémoires (since 1803), and the Notices et Extraits (since 1787).

The Académie des Sciences, which before 1793 was called the Académie Royale des Sciences Naturelles, is also referred to as the Académie de Paris. It was founded in 1666 by J. B. Colbert. It has five divisions dealing with the physical and mathematical sciences (geometry, mechanics, astronomy, geography and navigation, and physics), six divisions dealing with the chemical and other natural sciences (chemistry, mineralogy and geology, botany, zoology, agricultural economics, and medicine and surgery), and several divisions dealing with the application of science to industry (founded in 1918). In 1955 a committee on scientific terminology was established under the direction of the academy. The Académie des Sciences has 68 full members, 14 members at large, six members for the applied sciences, 12 French members not living in Paris, 20 foreign members, and 120 corresponding members. The academy awards prizes for the best scientific work, bestows the Lavoisier and Poincaré medals, and grants stipends to young scientists. Its publications are the Comptes rendus (since 1835), the Mémoires (since 1666), and the Notices et Discours (since 1924).

The Académie des Beaux-Arts was created in 1803 by the merger of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, founded in 1648 and suppressed in 1793, and the Académie Royale d’Architecture, founded in 1665. It includes sections for painting, sculpture, architecture, engraving, and musical composition. It has 50 full members, ten foreign members, and 50 corresponding members. Every year it sponsors the competition for the Prix de Rome. Its publication is the Bulletin de I’Académie des Beaux-Arts (since 1925).

The Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques is divided into several sections: philosophy; moral sciences; social sciences; legislation, public law, and jurisprudence; political economy, statistics, and finance; history and geography; and a general section. It has 50 full members, 12 foreign members, and 60 corresponding members. It publishes a regular review of its academic work entitled Revue des Travaux et Comptes rendus de ses séances (since 1842).

In addition to the academies constituting the Institut de France, there are in France a number of academies that are not part of it, such as the Académie de Médecine and Académie d’Agriculture.

The founding of the Institut de France was the beginning of a new era in the life of the country. To bear the title of member of the Institut de France is as great an honor for foreign scholars as it is for French. Among its members at various times the institute has counted A. Ampére, D. Arago, A. E. Becquerel, A. H. Becquerel, A. C. Becquerel, J. Becquerel, Voltaire, V. Hugo, C. Huygens, Pierre Curie, Marie Sklodowska-Curie, Iréne and Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Lagrange, P. Langevin, Laplace, E. Mariotte, H. Poincaré, and A. France. However, many prominent individuals were never elected to the institute for political reasons, for example, Balzac, Beaumarchais, Descartes, Diderot, Moliére, and Pascal. The first Russian to become a foreign member of the Académie de Paris was Tsar Peter I. Russian scientists who were members or corresponding members of the Académie des Sciences include K. M. Ber, V. I. Vernadskii, A. M. Liapunov, D. I. Mendeleev, E. Metchnikoff, M. V. Ostrogradskii, I. P. Pavlov, D. N. Prianishnikov, and P. L. Chebyshev. Soviet scientists who belong to the Académie des Sciences are V. A. Ambartsumian, I. M. Vinogradov, A. N. Kolmogorov, M. A. Lavrent’ev, L. I. Sedov, D. V. Skobel’tsyn, and S. L. Sobolev.

The Institut de France is the owner of lands and buildings both within France and abroad. It administers several museums and has a library with a rich and vast collection.


L’Institut de France: V’Académie des Sciences, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1968.
Chastenet, J. “L’Institut de France.” In L’Education nationale: Le Ministére, I’administration centrale, les services. Paris, 1965.
“Institut de France.” Les Cahiers français: Documents d’actualité, 1963, no. 81.
Annuaire de l’éducation nationale, 1970. Paris, 1970.
Institut de France. Annuaire pour 1972. Paris, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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