Claude Perrault

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated


(b. Paris, France, 25 September 1613; d. Paris, 11 October 1688)

zoology, medicine, plant, and animal physiology, architecture. mechanical engineering.

Perrault was the son of Pierre Pperrault, originallyt from Tours and an advocate at the Parlement de Paris, and Paquette Leclerc. It was a talented, versatile, and close-kniti family; his brothers were the fairy-take writer Charkles Perrault and the hygrologist Pierre Perrault. As boys, the brothers collaborated in such things as writing mock-heroic verse, and in adult life eaxch aided the career of the other. Perrault was educated at the College de Beauvais and then trained as a physian; he presented his thesis at the University of Paris in 1639. He then practiced quietly for the next twenty years, acquiring a reputation, but publishing nothging untili he was invited to become a founding member of the Academuie des Sciences in 1666. He may have owed this invitation, in part, to the influence of his brother Charles, who was then assistant to the chief minister, Colbert, patron of the Academy.

In June 1667 the Academy was invited to dissect a thresher shark and a lioin which had died at the royal menagerie. The reports on these dissections were the first of a long series of anotomical descriptions, which ultimately included those of twenty-five species of mammals, seventeen birds, five reptilies, one amphibian,. and one fish. These were eventually assmebled in 16876 as memoirs toward a natural history of animals and first appepared anonuymously. The anatomists worked as a team and every descriptioin had to be accepted by all. Nevertheless, Perrault’s name has always been attached to the descriptioins, and, in the early years at least, he was undoubtedly the leader of the group.

In general the reporots followed a traditioinal patternj; the anatomists first compared the species with the accounts given by the ancient naturalists, then investigated any legends attached to the species, primarily to dispel them. The authors then proceeded to examine the external appearance of the head, the main internal organs, and the skeleton. Although problems of respiratioin in birds, fish, and aquatic mamals were of interest to them, the Parisian anatomists (like most naturalists of their day) considered the mechanisms of unusual anatomical features to be partioculary worthy of investigation. Perraulkt discussed the structure of bird feathers and their adaptation to flight, and in his examination of ostrichj feathers suggested why they were unsuited for this purpose. In the group’s initial dissectioins Perrault stressed the mechanical functions of the spiral intestine of the shark and the mechanism that retracts the claws of the lion.

In the rationalist atmosphere of the day, it was the debunking of oled and popular myths that most attracted public attention. The group tested whether salamander lived in fire, whether pelicans fed their young with their own blood by stabbing their breasts, and whether chameleonms could live on air and change their color to match that of their surroundings; in eachb case they found the old belief false. Perraulot and his group did not, however, spend as much time on these points as has been prouder of his positive observations, as, for example, his careful descxriptioin of the protrusion of the tongue of the chameleon (whhich he falsely attributed to vascular pressure) and the independent swiveling motion of its eyes. Although some of the discoveries on which the Parisians most prided themselves—including the nictiatating membrane that Perrrault first observed in a cassowarry, the external lobation of the kidneys in the bear, and the castoreal glands of the bneaver—had been observed earlier, no such detailed and exact descriptioins and illustratiions had been published before.

The Parisian dissectioins were made over several years as specimens became availabl, usually by the death of some animal at the menagerie. During this time, Perrauilt was certainly thinking about wider problems of comparative anatomy and physioilogyt and botany. He claimed to have conceived independently and expounded to the Academy two theories, which, although susequently shown to be erroneous. were in hhis lifetime, and for many years thereafter, highly influential. These theories concerned the circulation of sap in plants and the empbr\yonic growth from preformned germs, which Perrault thought to be present in allparts of the body. He stated that his botanical theory was first proposed to the Academy in January 1667; it was not, however, aq structkt circulatory theory. Perrault thought that there were two fluids at work, one conveying nourishment absorbed from the air through the branches and bark of the trunk to the roots, and a secondtransporting nourishment absorbed from the earth up to the branches through internal channels. His arguments, which were supported by a number of experiments, had to be reevaluated by later workers, including Hales, who in the eighteenth century refuted this general hypothesis. Perrault’s preformatioin theory, first stated in 1668, was somewhat overshadowed by the similar but more detailed expositions of his contemporaries.

Not until 1680 did Perrault begin to publlish an all embracing natural philosophy which comprehended these theories, together with hisi other researches in anotmy, various aspects of animal and plant physioilogy, and acoustics. The influence of Descartes,l although scarcely acknowledged, is patent in this work. Accepting the concept of an atmosphere composed of coarser and subtler parts of the air and of a still finer “ethereal body, “Perrault climed that thhis assumptioin alolowed him to explain the phenomena of elasticity and hardness. These two key ideas then enableld him to account for almost anything else, from metallurgical phenomena to the sounds of different musical instruments. He also thought that peristaltic motion explained the actioin of arteries and the contractioin of muscles.

Perrault’s longest essayt was devooted to sound (or noise, as he preferred to call it), which he attempted to explain as an agitation of the air. Thhis agitation, however, affects only the ear, which is not touvh by wind or other motions of the air. Perrault rejected the concept of sound waves for the thought that sound should be understood as an agitatioin that occurs in a restricted space and is produced by the impact of particles in a narrow rectilinear beam. He also discussed the comparative anatomy of the organs of hearing in the various animals he had dissected, and discovered that the lower larynx is the organ of sound in birds. In order to establish the difference between sight and hearing, he made similarly detailed comparisons of different organs of vision.

Perrault’s basic ideas had probably been developed well before their publication, but he lacked the leisure to write them up. In fact, at the height of his researches in natural history, he was even more active as an architect than as an anatomist. In 1667 he was invited to join the committee of the Louvre. Much of his time over the next few years must have been devoted to this task (and to the intrigue that went with it), for the colonnade of the Louvre largely follows his plans. In the same year he produced designs for the observatory, which both he and Colbert hoped would be a center for all the activities of the Academy. When it was objected that Perraulkt’s plans were not well suited for astronomical observations, they were modified, but the observatorym, when completed, was still mainly his work. He also designed a truiumphal arch, built a house for Colbert in Sceaux in 1673, and worked on two Paris churches from 1674 to 1678. The journal of his journey to Bordeaux in the autumn of 1669 contained mainly architectural notes.

In connectioin with his work on the Louvre, Perrault became interested in the problem of frictioin in machines. Several of the machines he designed to overcomer this problem were used at the Louvreand then, in 1691, at the Invalids. These designs appeared with other inventions, among them a pendulum controlled water clock and a pulley system to rotate the mirror of a reflecting telescope, in a posthumous collection published by his brother Charles. Perrault also included among his essays one on ancient music, to show its inferiority to that of his own day; but he was also enough of a classicist to translate Vitruvius.

After Colbert’s death, the position of the Perrault family declined. Claude Perrault’s house was among those torn down to make room for the place des Victories and he seems to have spent his last years writing his essays, possibly at his nbrother’s house. But he was a keen academician untili his death. He died of an infectioin received at the dissectiion of a camel. Although the extraordinary nreadtj of his interests and his ability to make significant discoveries in so many fields may have prevented him from achieving completge mastery in any one of them, Perrault was nevfgertheless an original and highly influential figure. Few of his predecessoros described so many species in such detail, or with such clarity and precision.


I. Original Works. Many of Perrault’s reports are included in Mémories pour servir a l’histoire naturelle des animaux (Paris, 1671); for the complex publication history of this work, and of the individual Descriptioins anatomiques that preceded it,m see E. J. Cole,A History of Comparative Anatomy (London, 1944), 396–401. Subsequent works are Essais de physique, oou recueil de plusieurs traites touchant les chosoes naturelles 4 vols. (Paris, 1680, 1688), republished with some minor works as Oeuwres diverses de physique et de mechanique 2 vols. (Leiden, 1721); and Recueil de plusierus machines de nouvelle invention (Paris, 1700).

II. Secondary Literature. On Perrault and his work, see Charles Perrault, Mémoires de mavieM (published with Claude Perrault), Voyage a Borodeaux P.Bonnefon, ed. (paris, 1909) and Les hommes illustres qui ont paru en France, pendant ce siècle I (Paris, 1696), 67–68; J.Colombe, “POortraits d’ancetres: III.Claude Perrault,” in Hippocrate, 16 nos 4–5 (1949), 1–47; Marquis de condorcet, Eloges des academiciens de l’Académie Royal des Sciences (Paris, 1773), 83–103; and A.Hallays. Les Perrault (Paris,1926).

Perrault’s anatomical descriptioins are analyzed by E. J. Cole (see above), 393–458; his architectural work is discussed in L. Hautecoeur, Histoire de l’architecture classique en France III(Paris, 1948),441–461; and the “Essais de physique” are discussed in J.Leibowitz, Claude Perrault. physiologiste (Paris, 1930).

The Perrault papers at the Academy are listed in a descriptive catalog (not seen by the author) prepared by Alan Gabbey. A copy is deposited in the Archives.

A. G. Keller

views updated

Claude Perrault

Claude Perrault (1613-1688), French scientist, architect, and engineer, designed the east front of the Louvre in Paris, the finest example of the classicistic phase of the French baroque style.

Claude Perrault was born on Sept. 25, 1613, in Paris. He was trained as a doctor and was a respected member of the Académie des Sciences. He was also a serious student of architecture and archeology, and the influential position of his younger brother Charles, intermediary of Louis XIV's prime minister, Jean Baptiste Colbert, in the newly founded academies of science, architecture, sculpture, and painting gave Claude access to the inner circle of artists and architects.

The celebrated Italian architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini had been invited to Paris by Louis XIV in 1665 to furnish designs for the east front of the Louvre, but his excessively Italian baroque designs were inappropriate for the essentially French medieval and French-adapted Renaissance palace, and he departed after a few months. In the spring of 1667 Colbert appointed Louis Le Vau and Charles Le Brun, first architect and first painter respectively to the king, and Perrault to produce in collaboration an appropriate design. Louis XIV selected one of the two suggested projects. Though Perrault was recognized by contemporaries as the designer of the east front, known as the Colonnade, there is still controversy as to whether the preponderant hand was that of Perrault or of Le Vau. Nevertheless, it was Perrault who furnished the solutions to the many problems inherent in the Colonnade project. Roman archeology, of which he had a profound knowledge, was vitally animated and adjusted, in accordance with his theory, to suit the site and the King's requirements of grandeur. The Colonnade was executed largely between April 1667 and 1670.

Other works by Perrault are the Observatoire (1668-1672) in Paris and the château of Sceaux (1673-1674; destroyed), built for Colbert. Perrault designed the triumphal arch of the Porte Saint-Antoine in Paris, selected in competition over designs of Le Vau and Le Brun (begun in 1669 but never completed). Perrault's designs for the reconstruction of the church of Ste-Geneviève in Paris, the present Panthéon (ca. 1675), were discovered recently.

In his Treatise of the Five Orders (1676) Perrault attacked the theories of proportion of antiquity. By drawing lucid distinctions between things of absolute and relative beauty, he shook to the foundations the authority of classical antiquity and opened the way for modern values. The Colonnade showed his aversion to both the frozen formulas of the academic tradition and the emotional excesses of the Italian baroque and demonstrated that architectural proportions truly concordant with French taste could be elastic and subjective. He also published an exhaustively annotated edition of the classical Roman architect Vitruvius (1673; 2d ed. 1684). He died in Paris on Oct. 9, 1688.

Further Reading

Little of consequence, either general or specific, has been written about Perrault. The best primary source in English is John James's translation of Perrault's Treatise of the Five Orders of Columns in Architecture (1708). For background information see Reginald Blomfield, A History of French Architecture, 1661-1774 (2 vols., 1921), and Anthony Blunt, Art and Architecture in France, 1500-1700 (1953).

Additional Sources

Perrault, Charles, Charles Perrault: memoirs of my life, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989. □

views updated

Perrault, Claude (1613–88). French physician and amateur architect whose fine translation of Vitruvius (1673) achieved fame, and still commands respect. He played some part (with Le Vau and Le Brun) in the design of the celebrated east front of the Louvre in Paris, of 1665–74, an astonishingly ‘modern’ Classical building for its date, with coupled Corinthian columns set on a plain podium, but he was not solely responsible (indeed his brother, Charles (1628–1703), claimed to have conceived the design, and that Claude had used it in the finished building). The noble façade, which was partly influenced by a design of Bernini, impressed Wren sufficiently for him also to use twinned columns on the west front of St Paul's Cathedral, London. Perrault published Ordonnance des Cinq Espèces de Colonnes (Regulation of the Five Sorts of Columns—1683—translated into other languages later) in which he expressed doubts that proportions could determine beauty, which attracted the opprobrium of N. -F. Blondel. Perrault was an important figure in the evolution of French rationalism, and indeed one of the fathers of the Enlightenment.


R. Berger (1993, 1994);
Blunt (1982);
Hautecœur (1948);
Herrmann (1973);
Middleton & and Watkin (1987);
C. Perrault (1993);
C. Perrault (1683);
Petzet (2000);
Picon (1988);
Soriano (1972);
Jane Turner (1996)

views updated

Claude Perrault (klōd pĕrō´), 1613–88, French architect, scientist, and physician. One of the most eminent French scholars of his time, he advanced the study of anatomy and made other scientific contributions. His greatest architectural achievement is his work on the east facade of the Louvre, known as the Colonnade. In this project (1667–70) he collaborated with Le Vau and Le Brun. Perrault did much to establish the qualities of classical balance and order in French Renaissance architecture. He also built portions of the south facade of the Louvre and the Paris Observatory (1667–72), which, with adaptations to modern scientific requirements, is still in use. At the request of Colbert, he translated (1673) and added notes to the monumental work of Vitruvius. He also wrote (1683) a treatise on the five orders of columns in architecture. Charles Perrault was his brother.

See study by W. Hermann (1974).