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Peiresc, Nicolas Claude Fabri de

1. Dates
Born: Belgentier, Var, 1 December, 1580
Died: Aix-en-Provence, 24 June 1637
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 57
2. Father
Occupation: Aristocrat, Government Official
His father was Raynaud de Fabri, sieur of Callas and conseiller in the Parlement of Provence. Peiresc's family descended from a line of high magistrates who had formed alliances with the great families in the kingdom.
Everything about his life indicates that he grew up, at the least, in affluent surroundings. I suspect that wealthy might be more accurate.
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: French
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: Padua; Montpelier, LD
He began his education in Aix and Avignon and continued it at the Jesuit college at Tournon. At Tournon he made his first contact with astronomy. In 1599 he travelled to Padua where he met Pinelli and Galileo. During the following year he travelled in Italy, Switzerland, and France visiting galleries, libraries, and meeting learned men. He finally settled down to serious legal studies at Montpellier under the teaching of Julius Pacius. He completed his degree in 1604.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
He was granted an abbacy by Louis XIII at Guitres. In 1624, after he took the tonsure, his position as abbé was regularized.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Astronomy, Scientific Communication
Subordinate: Botany, Natural History, Paleontology
Pinelli and Pacius inspired in Peiresc a curiosity about the natural world. In 1610 his patron, du Vair, acquired a telescope with which Peiresc and Joseph Gaultier were the first in France to see the satellites of Jupiter and the Orion nebula described by Huygens in 1658. Peiresc spent most of his time recording the times of planetary events (1610-12). Among his assistants Jean Lombard travelled widely recording the positions of the satellites of Jupiter. Peiresc used these observations to calculate terrestrial longitudes.
Peiresc, with Lombard and Gaultier, saw to it that the lunar eclipse of 28 August 1635 was more widely observed than any previous one by supplying instruments and the know-how to priests, merchants, and secretaries at various embassies. With these observations he was able to correct the considerably over-estimated length of the Mediterranean.
Peiresc was a patron and amateur of the sciences, art, and erudition. During the seven years he was in Paris he sponsored or assisted in the publication of important books. He surrounded himself with able and devoted assistants who carried out many experiments and voyages while Peiresc carried on his correspodence and observation at the Hotel Callas. Gassendi, who lived in Peiresc's home from 1634-7, carried out several observations for and with Peiresc.
Peiresc collected and studied fossils and recognized the importance of ancient coins for establishing historical sequence.
Peiresc sponsored the dissection of cadavers in his house by local surgeons who found the chyliferous vessels in the human body. His speculations on vision led him to conduct several dissections of various animals with local surgeons and his own assistants.
Peiresc took great pleasure in collecting animals and plants. His garden at Belgentier was the the third largest in France.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means, Government, Church Life
After receiving his degree in law, Peiresc returned to Aix to take over his uncle's position as conseiller in the Parlement of Provence. In 1605 he travelled to Paris as secretary to Guillaume du Vair, president of the Parlement of Provence. The following year he accompanied Le Fevre de la Boderie to England where he met L'Obel, William Camden, Henry Savile, and other amateurs of the arts and sciences. From 1607-15 he carried out his magisterial duties in Aix. He returned to Paris with du Vair and remained there for the next seven years before returning to Provence as a senateur of the sovereign court.
8. Patronage
Types: Government Official, Court Official, Aristrocrat
He was secretary to Guillaume du Vair, president of Parlement of Provence. He was granted the abbacy of a monastery at Guitres by Louis XIII. He accompanied Le Fevre de la Boderie, a French ambassador to England. Upon his return to Provence, he became senateur of the sovereign court.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Cartography
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
In 1616 on his second trip to Paris he was introduced to the "cabinet" of the Dupuy brothers through whom he met many learned men. Like Mersenne, Peiresc developed a large network of correspondents. He contacted people in Paris, Rome, Naples, Padua, Cairo, Aleppo, and Quebec. Sometimes his contact was to urge amateurs to make astronomical observations and other times it was to share information from Paris or Provence, or to pass on results from the investigations of others.
  1. G. Cahen-Salvador, Un grand humaniste: Peiresc 1580-1637, (Paris, 1951). DC36.98 .P3C2 Pierre Humbert, Un amateur Peiresc, (Paris, 1933). DC36.98 .P3H9 ________,"Les astronomes françaises de 1610 à 1667," Bulletin de la Société d'études scientifiques et archéologiques de Draguignan et du Var, 42 (1942), pp. 5-72.
  2. Jonathan L. Pearl, "Peiresc and the Search for the Criteria of Scientific Knowledge in the Early 17th Century," Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Western Society for French History, 6 (1978), 110-19.
  3. ________, "The Role of Personal Correspondence in the Exchange of Scientific Information in Early Modern France," Renaissance et Reforme, 20 (1984), 106-13.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Agnès Bresson, Lettres [de Peiresc] à Claude Saumaise et à son entourage (1620-1637) (Le corrispondenze letterarie, scientifiche ed erudite dal Rinascimento all'età moderna, 3), (Firenze, 1992). Lisa Sarasohn, "Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc and the Patronage of the New Science in the 17th Century," Isis, 84 (1993), 70-90.
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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