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Belon, Pierre

1. Dates
Born: Soutière, 1517
Died: France, 1564 (murdered)
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 47
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
Belon came from an obscure family. Practically nothing is known of his ancestry.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: France
Career: France
Death: France
4. Education
Schooling: Wittenberg; Paris, M.D.
Before 1535 he was apprenticed to an apothecary of Foulletourte, René des Prez, apothecary to Guillaume du Prat, bishop of Clermont.
Later, when he became the protégé of René du Bellay, Bishop of Le Mans, he was able to go the university of Wittenberg and study under the botanist Valerius Cordus.
He never acquired the doctorate, but in 1560 he obtained the licentiate in medicine from the Paris Faculty of Medicine. I am treating this as an M.D. I assume a B.A. or its equivalent.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Zoology, Botany
Subordinate: Pharmacology
Belon can be considered the originator of comparative antomy. He drew parallels between human and bird skeletons. By the same token, he depicted a porpoise embryo and set forth the first notions of embryology.
He was one of the first explorer-naturalists.
He was the first to bring order into the world of feathered animals, distinguishing between raptorial birds, field birds, diurnal birds, river birds, etc.
He published nine works during the years between 1551 and 1558.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Patronage
About 1535 he became assistant to the apothecary to Guillaume du Prat, Bishop of Clermont, and then the protégé of René du Bellay, Bishop of Le Mans. In 1542 he went to Paris, where du Prat recommended him as an apothecary to François Cardinal de Tournon.
Du Bellay doubtless supported Belon's study trip to Germany and supported his study in Paris (1542).
In Paris, Belon entered the service of François, Cardinal of Tournon. He may have been engaged in a diplomatic mission for the Cardinal when he travelled to Switzerland in 1542; he was imprisoned in Geneva for six months. Still in the service of the Cardinal, he accompanied M. d'Aramont on a diplomatic mission to Constantinople (1546-9) and the Middle East. He left the Cardinal's service in February 1560.
Henry II "accepted" the dedication of Histoire des Oiseaux (1555).
After the Cardinal of Tournon, Belon's next major patron was Odet de Chatillon, Cardinal de Chatillon. He left the Cardinal in 1553 for M. de Vieilleville, whom he served as physician and apothecary.
8. Patronage
Types: Eccesiastic Official, Aristrocrat, Court Official, Government Official
Bishop Guillaume du Prat. See above. He owed his position at Paris to du Prat's recommendation.
Bishop Bellay. See above. He owned the opportunity to go to the university to Bellay.
About 1556 Belon came up with a plan to acclimate exotic plants to France, and was granted a 600 livres pension from the king, Henry II. Like Rudolf II, Henry appears to have been remiss in seeing that there was money to cover this in his coffers. While he was waiting to be paid, Belon travelled to Switzerland and Italy and around France (1557-8). He did eventually received the pension, and he lived off it.
He dedicated his Remonstrances sur le défault du labor et culture des plantes . . . and a sonnet to Jehan de Thyer, knight, seigneur de Beauregard, counsellor to the king, secretary to the État du Roi, etc.
Cardinal de Tournon was his most significant patron.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Pharmacology
Belon's duties on the diplomatic mission to the East were largely concerned with finding what sort of merchandise and especially drugs were available in Turkey. This trade was monopolized by the Venetians at that time.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. Paul Delaunay, Pierre Belon, naturaliste, (Le Mans, 1926).
  2. _____, L'aventureuse existence de Pierre Belon du Mans, (Paris, 1926). J.P. Niceron, Mémoires pour servir a l'histoire des hommes illustres, 24, 36-45.
  3. J.A.Hazon, ed., Notice des hommes les plus celebres de la Faculté de Médecine en l'Université de Paris, Paris 1778, pp. 71-2.
  4. P.-A. Cap, Études biographiques pour servir à l'histoire des sciences. Premier serie. Chimistes-naturalists, 2 vols. (Paris, 1857), 1, 70-83.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. "La cronique de Pierre Belon, du Mans, médecin", Paris, Bibliotheque de l'arsenal, MS 4561, fols.88-141. Note: a manuscript.
  2. Paul Delaunay, "Les voyages en Angleterre du médecin naturaliste Pierre Belon," Proceedings of the Third International Congress of the History of Medicine, London, 1922, (Anvers, 1923), 306- 8.
  3. _____, "Un adversaire de la réforme. Les idées religieuses de Pierre Belon du Man," Bulletin de la Commission historique et archéologique de la Mayenne, 2nd ser. 38 (1922), 97-117. Also printed separately in Laval, 1922.
  4. R.J.Forbes, Pierre Belon and Petroleum, Brussels, 1958.
  5. J.A.Hazon, ed., Notice des hommes les plus celebres de la Faculté de Médecine en l'Université de Paris, (Paris 1778), pp. 71-2.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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