Argenville, Antoine-Joseph Dezallier D’

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Argenville, Antoine-Joseph Dezallier D’

(b. Paris, France, 1 July 1680; d. Paris, 29 November 1765)

natural history, engraving, art history.

D’Argenville was the son of Antoine and Marie Mariette Dezallier. His father owned the d’Argenville estate, near Bezons and Versailles, from which he took his name. After studying at the Collége du Plessis, he devoted himself to the fine arts under the direction of the engraver Bernard Picart, the painter Roger de Piles, and the architect Alexandre Le Blond. He also became interested in natural science. In 1709 his first work, Traité sur la théorie et la pratique du jardinage, was published. D’Argenville went to Italy in 1713, and upon his return in 1716 he purchased the post of secretary to the king; he was later named maitre des comptes (2 July 1733) and counsellor to the king (1748). After settling in Paris, he soon acquired a deserved reputation as an expert collector of objects of art and curiosities of nature. Trips to Germany, Holland, and England (1728) made it possible for him to enrich both his knowledge and his collections.

Today d’Argenville is known particularly through his Abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintres (1745–1752), a mediocre work. He also produced L’histoire naturelle éclaircie dans deux de ses parties principales, la lithologie et la conchyliologie (1742). This work, illustrated with beautiful plates, was a great success. D’Argenville profited from the eighteenth century’s infatuation with the natural sciences and, indeed, contributed to this vogue by publishing descriptions of the most notable exhibits of natural history in Paris and the provinces. His L’histoire naturelle was reissued in two volumes (1755, 1757), and there was also a third edition of La conchyliologie (1780).

In 1718 d’Argenville married Francoise-Thérèse Hémart; they had one son, Antoine-Nicolas. He became a member of the Société Royale des Sciences de Montpellier in 1740, of the Royal Society of London in 1750, and of the Académie de La Rochelle in 1758.


I. Original Works. D’Argenville’s writings include Traité sur la théorie et la pratique du jardinage (Paris, 1709); L’histoire naturelle éclaircie dans deux de ses parties principales, la lithologie et la conchyliologie (Paris, 1742), reissued in 2 vols. (Paris, 1755–1757), and, for La conchyliologie, a 3rd ed., 2 vols. (Paris, 1780); and Abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintres, 3 vols. (Paris, 1745–1752; 1762).

The Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris Département des Manuscrits, has a catalog of d’Argenville’s paintings, prints, and curiosities (n.a. 1564); corrections and additions to the Abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintres (19.094); and letters (n.a. 4814). The Bibliothèque d’Avignon, two letters addressed to Esprit-Claude-franç Calvet (2358, 3050). At the Royal Society of London are a letter to the Royal Society (MM. 3.85), and a copy and translation of another letter (L & P.11.160).

II. Secondary Literature. Other writings on d’Argenville appear under his name in Biographie universelle Michaud, new ed., X (Paris, 1855), 598–599; Dictionnaire de biographie française, III (Paris, 1939), cols. 581–583; Nouvelle biographie générale, XIV (Paris. 1855), 10–11; see also de Ratte, “Éloge de M. Desallier d’Argenville,” in d’Argenville’s La conchyliologie, 3rd ed. (Paris, 1780), I, ix-xxiv.

Yves Laissus