Duval, Mathias Marie

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Duval, Mathias Marie

(b, Grasse, France, 7 February 1844; d. Paris, France, 28 February 1907)

histology, physiology, comparative anatomy, embryology.

The son of Joseph Duval, the botanist and naturalist, and Marie Jouve, he spent his childhood in Grasse, Algiers, and then Strasbourg, where his father had been appointed school inspector. Duval studied medicine there from 1863 to 1869. His doctoral thesis was entitled “Étude sur la valeur relative de la section du maxillaire supérieur.” He was a student of Joseph Alexis Stolz, Charles Basile Morel, and Émile Küss; he became an anatomy assistant in 1866 and a prosector in 1869. During the Franco-Prussian War he served under General Charles Bourbaki. The loss of Alsace forced him to pursue his career first in Montpellier and finally in Paris. After defending a thesis entitled “La rétine; structure et usages,” he became agrégé in anatomy and physiology in 1873.

From 1873 until 1899 he taught—among other subjects—anatomy for artists at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. His course, greatly influenced by Guillaume Duchenne, dealt mainly with the physiology of the face, the muscles of physiognomy, and the expression of strong emotions. In 1880 Duval succeeded Pierre Paul Broca as professor of zoological anthropology and became director of the anthropology laboratory at the École Pratique des Hautes Études. In December 1885 he was appointed professor of histology at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Paris. His clear, precise, and efficacious teaching method was highly appreciated by students. In 1882 Duval was elected to the Académie Nationale de Médecine. In 1889 he was president of the Société d’Anthropologie de Paris. Blinded by bilateral cataract, he was forced to reduce and finally to discontinue his teaching activity. He died probably of cancer and was buried in Neuville-les-Dames, near Dieppe.

Duval’s work was strongly influenced by that of Charles Darwin and the French histologist Charles Robin. In histology his most important original works involve the microscopic structure of the central nervous system and sensory organs, as well as the true origin of the cranial nerves. Duval declared: “Embryological studies can have no guiding hypotheses other than those expressed in transformist doctrine.” He did a great deal to disseminate Darwin’s theory of evolution. His research in this area reflects his training as a histologist and physiologist: it concerned the formation of the gastrula, development of the blastoderm, the three primitive germ layers and their derivatives in the various species, segmentation of the egg, and embryonic appendages of birds and mammals. Extremely well-versed in anatomy, he defended the concepts of “animal colonies” and of the invertebrate origin of higher forms of animal life; among other homologies he established relationships between the “primitive lineage” of birds and the “Rusconian orifice” of batrachians. He was also interested in teratology based on fertilization anomalies. His written didactic works exerted tremendous influence both in France and abroad.


I. Original Works. Between 1868 and 1900 Duval published more than 250 papers, works, and articles in various dictionaries and journals of anatomy, physiology, anthropology, general biology, and even history and ethnography. A complete list may be found in the two Notices sur les titres et travaux scientifiques de M. Mathias Duval (Paris, 1885, 1896) and in E. Retterer, “Mathias Duval; sa vie et son oeuvre,” in Journal de l’anatomie et de la physiologie de l’homme et des animaux, 43 , no. 3 (1907), 241–331.

His main didactic works are Cours de physiologie, which appeared in eight eds. from 1872 to 1897 and was translated into English (Boston, 1875), Spanish (Madrid, 1876, 1884), Greek (Athens, 1887), and Russian (St. Petersburg, 1893); Manuel du microscope dans ses applications au diagnostic et à la clinique (with L. Lereboullet, 1873, two eds.); Précis de technique microscopique et histologique (1878); Manuel de l’anatomiste (with C. Morel, 1882); Leçons sur la physiologie du système nerveux (1883); Précis d’anatomie à l’usage des artistes (1882, three eds.; English trans., London, 1884 and 1905); Dictionnaire usuel des sciences médicales (with Dechambre and Lereboullet, 1885, two eds.); Le Darwinisme (1886); Atlas d’embryologie (1889); L’anatomie des maîtres (with A. Bical, 1890); Anatomie et physiologie animales (with P. Constantin, 1892, two eds.); Le placenta des carnassiers (1895); Précis d’histologie (1897; two eds.; Italian translation by Fusari, Turin, 1899); and Histoire de l’anatomie plastique (with E. Cuyer, 1899).

II. Secondary Literature. On Duval and his work see A. Gautier, “Notice nécrologique sur M. Duval,” in Bulletin de l’Académie nationale de médecine, 57 (1907), 343–344; G. Hervé, “Mathias Duval,” in Revue de l’École d’anthropologie, 17 (1907), 69–74; and H. Roger, “Mathias Duval,” in Presse médicale, 15 , no. 19 (1907), 145–146.

Charles Coury