The Galileo Project
site map

Homberg, Wilhelm

1. Dates
Born: Batavia, Indonesia, 3 Jan. 1652
Died: Paris, 24 Sept. 1715
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 63
2. Father
Occupation: Soldier
His father, from a noble family of Saxony, upon the loss of his property in the Thirty Years' War, entered the service of the Dutch East India Company as a soldier. Jaeger makes is clear that he was considerably more than a common soldier. He was in fact commander of the arsenal in Batavia. When Wilhelm was still a boy, his father returned to Amsterdam.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Indonesia--i.e., Dutch
Career: French
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: Jena, Leipzig, Padua, Wittemberg; M.D.
His education was neglected before the family settled at Amsterdam. Later he studied law at Jena and Leipzig and was accepted as a practicing lawyer at Magdeburg in 1674. He was introduced to experimental physics by Otto von Guericke, and abandoned law for science. He studied medicine at Padua, worked with Boyle in England, studied anatomy under de Graaf in Holland, and took his M.D. at Wittenberg.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist, Catholic
He was from a protestant family (which I assume was Calvinist). In 1682 he was converted to Catholicism to please Colbert, and was promptly disinherited.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Chemistry
Subordinate: Physics, Botany
All Homberg's work was published in the form of Mémoires of the Académie royale des sciences (1692-1714), mainly on chemical subjects. He also published on pneumatics and botany.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Government, Patronage, Medicine
After taking his M.D, he worked with Hiaerne in the chemical laboratory established in Stockholm by the king of Sweden. He then went to Paris, (no date is given, but from other evidence it had to be about 1681-2) where he was supported by Colbert. Upon the death of Colbert in 1683, he went to Rome to practice as a chemist and physician.
He was appointed a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences in 1691, and settled in Paris. In 1702 the Duke of Orleans gave him a pension and a laboratory.
1704, premier médecin to the Duke d'Orleans.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristrocrat, Government Official, Eccesiastic Official, Court Official
Colbert, French stateman, controller general of finances, supported Homberg from c. 1681-2 until his death in 1683.
After the death of Colbert, he became linked to the Abbé de Chalucet, later Bishop of Toulon, who was interested in chemistry.
In Rome he was particularly linked to Marc-Antoine Celeo, a Roman gentleman.
Abbé Bignon engineered his appointment to the Académie in 1691.
Abbé du Bois was responsible for Homberg's position with the Duke of Orleans.
Philippe II, Duke of Orleans, in 1702 gave him a pension and a laboratory, and bought him a burning mirror made by Tschirnhausen.
In 1704 Homberg was wooed by the Elector of the Palatinate, but he chose to remain the the Duke d'Orleans.
In 1704 he was named primary physician to the Duke but could not accept the position because it was incompatible with the rules of the Académie. Louis XIV granted him an exception so that he was able to hold both position.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Chemistry, Pharmacology, Medical Practice, Instruments
In addition to his work of chemistry, part of which had a practical bent, he developed a new sedative.
Homberg made his own microscopes and his own pneumatic machine. Apprently he developed the split ring socket tripod support for the microscope. More importantly, he made an instrument to measure the specific gravity of fluids.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Académie Royal des Sciences, 1691-1715
  1. F.M. Jaeger, "Willem Homberg. (1652-1715)," in Historische Studin. Bijdragen tot de kennis van de geschiedenis der natuurwetenschappen in de nederlanden gedurende de 16e en 17e eeuw, (Groningen, 1919), pp. 171-97.
  2. Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, "Éloge," in Histoire et mémoires de l'Académie royale des sciences, 1715.
  3. Hélène Metzger, Les doctrines chemiques en France, (Paris, 1923), passim, see esp. pp.340ff. QD18.F8M58.
  4. Nouvelle biographie générale.
  5. J.P. Niceron, Mémoires pour servir a l'histoire des hommes illustres (1700s). [Lilly]
  6. Nieuw Nederlandsch Biographisch Woordenboek.
  7. Silvio A. Bedini, "Seventeenth Century Italian Compound Microscopes," Physis, 5, (1963), 383-422.
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
Last updated
Home | Galileo | Biography | Chronology | Family | Portraits |
Science | Christianity | Library | About | Site Map | Search

Please note: We will not answer copyright requests.
See the copyright page for more information.