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Perrault, Claude

1. Dates
Born: Paris, 25 Sept. 1613
Died: Paris, 11 Oct. 1688
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 75
2. Father
Occupation: Lawyer
His father was an advocate at the Parlement de Paris. It was a talented, versatile, and close-knit family. His brothers were Pierre, an hydrologist, lawyer, and receiver general of finances in Paris; Charles, a critic, an author of fairy tales and assistant to Colbert; and Nicholas, a noted theologian.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: French
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: Paris, M.D.
He was educated at the Collège de Beauvais and then trained as a physician. According to Hazon he received his bachelor's degree in 1639 at the University of Paris and two years later received his M.D.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
He is buried at St. Benoit.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Zoology, Anatomy, Physiology
Subordinate: Embryology, Botany, Engineering
He was the leader of a group of anatomists who undertook dissections and descriptions of various animals. He proposed two theories concerning the circulation of sap in plants and embryonic growth from preformed germs. These theories were highly influential in his lifetime and for many years thereafter. In 1681 he began to publish an all-embracing natural philosophy which comprehended his researches in anatomy, various aspects of animal and plant physiology, and acoustics. In his longest essay he explained sound as an agitation of air rather than by the concept of sound waves.
After twenty years of practicing medicine, Claude turned his attentions to architecture. Even at the height of his anatomical work he was more active as an architect. He translated Vitruvius' work on architecture at the request of Colbert. He published a work on the five types of columns in classical architecture.
He designed several machines to overcome the effects of friction. Many of his machines were used in the Louvre and by 1691 at Les Invalides.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Medicine, Government, Patronage
Secondary: Engineering
He practiced medicine for 20 years at Paris.
In 1666 he became a founding member of the Académie des Sciences. After 1667 he was involved in several architectural projects. In 1667 he was invited to join a committee that eventually produced the plan for the completion of the Louvre. In the years following he produced plans for the observatory, a house for Colbert, two churches, and the triumphal arch.
Although he stopped practicing medicine c. 1661 he continued to treat family, friends, and the poor.
8. Patronage
Type: Government Official
He may have owed his membership in the Académie, in part, to his brother Charles, who was then assistant to the chief minister, Colbert, patron of the Académie.
Both Charles and Claude advised Colbert on the talents of scientists who interested the Académie.
Colbert engaged Claude to translate the architectural work by Vitruvius.
Claude made plans for Colbert's house.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Architecture, Mechanical Devices, Instruments
He designed the colonnade of the Louvre, the observatory of the Académie, two Paris churches, and other projects.
He designed several machines to overcome the problem of friction. He also invented a pendulum-controlled water clock and a pulley system to rotate the mirror of a reflecting telescope.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Académie Royal des Sciences, 1666-1688
He was invited to become a founding member of the Académie in 1666, and soon became the leader of a group of anatomists who were involved in the project of animal dissections carried out by the Académie.
  1. J. Colombe, "Portraits d'ancetres: III. Claude Perrault," Hippocrate, 16, nos.4-5 (1949), 1-47.
  2. A.Hallays, Les Perraults, (Paris, 1926). PQ1877.Z5H18 Condorcet, Eloge, (1773). Q171.C746 1968 J.A. Hazon, ed., Notice des hommes les plus célèbres de la Faculté de Médecine en l'Université de Paris, (Paris 1778).
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Antoine Picon, Claude Perrault, 1613-1688, ou la curiosité d'un classique, (Paris, 1988).
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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