Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Barristers of Paris and their museum

The Musée du Barreau de Paris is a museum dedicated to the Paris bar and its lawyers. It features historical exhibits from the library of the Ordre des avocats which is based in the Palais de Justice. In 1979 the museum moved to separate premises at 25 rue du Jour, a small side road near the church of Saint-Eustache in the first arrondissement. The collections occupy the basement of the renovated Hôtel de la Porte, a fine 17th-century house with a carved facade, impressive vestibule and Renaissance-style staircase.

It is estimated that the Order owns some 500 manuscripts relating to legal history from the 17th century to the present, though unfortunately there is no catalogue available on the internet. The collection centres on barristers' notes from famous trials - that of Marie-Antoinette, Dreyfus, Madame Caillaux, the assassin of Jurès, Marshal Pétain. There  are also many related works of art, books, prints and ephemera. Emmanuel Pierrat, the Museum's curator since 2013, has pursued an active acquisitions policy and worked to make the collections more widely available.  The Museum was formerly restricted to invited groups, but is now open to the public on Sunday afternoons. An exhibition of famous 19th century trials, based on M. Pierrat's publication Les grands procès de l'histoire, is scheduled to run until May 2016. 

Some exhibits from the 18th-century

The barristers of Paris in their library - engraving by Gabriel Saint-Aubin (1776).

 The barristers' library was founded in 1709 by a bequest from Étienne Gabriau de Riparfons de Riparfont, a magistrate in the Parlement of Paris. In the 18th century it was situated in a gallery of the Archbishop's palace close to Notre-Dame. The Order held regular professional meetings or "conferences" there.  In Saint-Aubin's picture an orator reads a discourse to the assembled gathering. Above, an allegorical group features Justice, Truth and Eloquence. Truth holds out a mirror to Eloquence and indicates an open book, which can be identified as Montesquieu's L’Esprit des lois.

Allegories of Justice

In the earlier of these two paintings, which dates from the 17th century, Justice is depicted in the company of Piety. She is blindfolded, holds the fasces of office in one hand  and the scales of justice in the other.  In the second, later picture, which features the coat-of-arms of an unidentified lawyer, Justice is dressed in a  blue cloak and holds a sword in her right hand.

The barrister and his "bag"

During the Ancien Régime, barristers used cloth and leather bags to transport their dossiers;  The French expression "l'affaire est dans le sac" derives from the Judge's pronouncement at the end of a trial, that the case was "in the bag". The engraving shows a Procureur whose costume is entirely composed of bags,  from a  series of "Costumes grotesques" created by Nicolas Larmessin II in 1695. The Museum's display also features a mid 19th-century "sac".

The Magistrates of the Parlement of Paris

Many members of the Order of Barristers worked in the Parlement of Paris, and aspired to become magistrates. Several portraits of magistrates in the museum date from the 18th century.  In this engraving of 1787  by Pierre Duflos  the 16th-century president Achille de Harlay is depicted in his ermine-trimmed red robes signifying that he derives  his authority from the monarch.  At the time of the Revolution black robes were introduced for magistrates, similar to the costume of the Third Estate.

On the Museum's Facebook site, we learn that it has recently acquired a copy of an engraving by Poilly which depicts the famous lit de justice of 12 September 1715 (purchased in 2015) :


Malesherbes -
portrait of 1883

One of the functions of the Order's library is to act as a depository for barristers' preparatory notes for orations. The historical collection has developed over time, expanded by donations, for example from the family of Gambetta, the heirs of Berryer and  the widow of Raymond Poincaré.  It has also been added to by purchases. In 2011 the Order published a book by its archivist Yves Ozanam documenting seventeen historic grandes plaidoiries .The first three chapters  were devoted to the Calas case, to François-Denis Tronchet, who was one of Louis XVI's defence lawyers, and to Chauveau-Lagarde who represented Marie-Antoinette at her trial.  Unfortunately without access to the book, there are few further details. The display case below shows various exhibits relating to the trial of Louis XVI including engraved portraits of Tronchet and Raymond de Sèze.  A handsome 19th-century oil painting of Lamoignon de Malesherbes was acquired in 2015.

Among other recent acquisitions are two relating to Marat; a copy of the indictment against him, dated 2nd November 1792 and signed by Gersonné and Barère, and this painting depicting the arrest of Charlotte Corday:


Le Musée du Barreau de Paris:
Official website:
Facebook page:

Yves Ozanam, Les grandes plaidoiries: Archives et documents pour l'histoire, de l'affaire Calas au procès de Pétain (2011)

Background: "Le Tricentenaire de la Bibliothèque du barreau de Paris" pages archived from Avocat/ Barreau Paris:

Michael P. Fitzsimmons, The Parisian Order of Barristers and the French Revolution
(Harvard University Press, 1987)

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