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Desargues, Gérard

1. Dates
Born: Lyon, 21 Feb. 1591 (DBF says 2 March)
Died: Oct. 1661
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 70
2. Father
Occupation: Government Official
His father was Investigating Commissioner of the Seneschal's court in Lyon (1574), the collector of the tithes on ecclesiastical revenues for the city of Lyon (1583), and for the diocese of Lyons (85-91). He was royal notary (85-91) though his signature continues to appear on documents until 1605.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: French
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: No University
Probably studied at Lyon. I am not aware of a university in Lyons; this must refer to secondary education.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic (assumed)
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mth (Geometry)
Subordinate: Music
His geometrical works marked an essential stage in the rationalization of graphical techniques. He also introduced the principal concepts of projective geometry, trying to integrate the projective methods into the body of mathematics. His work was rediscovered and fully appreciated by the geometers of the 19th century.
His works were collected in L'oeuvre mathématique de Desarques (Paris, 1951).
7. Means of Support
Primary: Engineering
Secondary: Personal Means, Schoolmastering
How he supported himself from 1630-45 is a bit of a mystery. Although he was later an architect, this did not begin until 1645. He gave private instructions at Paris to reveal his graphical procedures, but this did not produce much income. He did have an inheritance, but only enough to support him at the subsistence level. Nevertheless he lived quite comfortably. Thus Taton assumed that Desargues was an engineer and technical consultant in the entourage of Richelieu, although positive evidence is lacking.
Because he designed primarily detail work, such as staircases, it is difficult to know how much architectural work he did.
Some sources say that he was technical adviser and engineer at the seige of la Rochelle in 1628. Taton doubts this.
Architect in Paris, 1645-1649, 1657-1661.
Architect in Lyon, 1649-1657.
8. Patronage
Type: Government Official
Richelieu appreciated his talent as an engineer.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Architecture, Hydraulics, Applied Mathematics
His architectural creations were numerous. He participated in planning several private and public buildings in Paris and Lyons.
As an engineer, he designed many projects. One of them was a system for raising water that he installed near Paris. The system was based on the use, until then unknown, of an epicycloidal wheel.
He communicated his diagrams and his knowledge to the workmen, and tried, through mechanics, to extend his graphical method to several areas of technique.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
About 1630 he had become friendly with Mersenne, Gassendi, Mydorge, and perhaps Roberval. In 1635 he regularly attended the meetings of Mersenne's Académie parisienne.
In 1638 he had contact with Descartes and in 39 with Pascal.
After 1644 the evidence of his scientific activity became much rarer. In 1660 he was again active in the Montmor's Academy.
He had a bitter dispute with Sieur Curabelle which led him to return to Lyon.
  1. Dictionaire de biographie francaise, X (1964), pp.1183-1184.
  2. A.Birembaut, "Quelques documents nouveaux sur Desargues", Revue d'histoire des sciences, 14 (1961), pp.193-204.
  3. A. Machabey, "Gérard Desargues, geometre et musicien," XVIIe siecle, no.21-22 (1954), pp.346-402.
  4. René Taton, "Introduction biographique," in Desargues, L'oeuvre mathématique, (Paris, 1951), pp. 1-67.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

©1995 Al Van Helden
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