Jacquin, Nikolaus Josef

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Jacquin, Nikolaus Josef

(b. Leiden, Netherlands, 16 February 1727; d. Vienna, Austria, 26 October 1817)

botany, chemistry.

Jacquin was the grandson of a Frenchman who had immigrated to the Netherlands in the second half of the seventeenth century. His mother came from a noble Dutch family; his father, a distinguished cloth and velvet manufacturer, was an admirer of the great writers of antiquity and was responsible for his son’s attaining a thorough classical education, even though the latter was expected to become a merchant. Jacquin therefore completed the course at the highly reputed Jesuit Gymnasium in Antwerp. His father’s business failure and death obliged Jacquin to direct his studies toward a specific profession. He began to study theology but soon changed to medicine. In Paris, where he continued his studies, Jacquin realized that his lack of funds would never permit him to obtain the M.D. In need of help, he turned to his father’s friend, Gerard van Swieten, who as Protomedicus and Director of the Medical Faculty of the University of Vienna, invited him to Vienna.

At Vienna, Jacquin continued his medical studies, supported by Van Swieten, on whose recommendation he was sent by Francis I on a trip to the West Indies and South America for the purpose of enlarging the imperial natural history collections. The trip lasted from the end of 1754 to the middle of 1759, with stops at Martinique, Curacao, Santo Domingo, Jamaica, Cuba, Venezuela, and Colombia. In 1763 Jacquin was appointed professor of ldquo;practical mining and chemical knowledge” at the Mining School in Schemnitz, Hungary, and in 1768 he was appointed to the chair of chemistry and botany in the Medical Faculty of the University of Vienna. He occupied this chair until 1796 and in 1809 was appointed rector of the university. His home, at which Mozart was a frequent visitor, played a not insignificant role In Viennese scientific and social life. In 1774 he was Elevated to the nobility and in 1806 he was made a Baron. The Royal Society, the Academy of Sciences In Paris, and the Netherlands Academy of Sciences Elected him to foreign membership.

Jacquin’s significance for chemistry lay in his Acceptance of Joseph Black’s revolutionary concepts Concerning the chemical events occurring in the Burning of lime. At this time the balance was not yet University used in the interpretation of a chemical Reaction, and chemists were far from unanimous in Accepting the idea that “air” can enter into combination With a solid body, thereby markedly changing It. The predominant interpretation was that something Was added to lime upon combustion and that this Something gave the “fiery” property of slaked lime. Black, however, came to the conclusion, based on Careful weighings of the initial and final products and On collection of the escaping air, that the change Of lime on burning should be explained by the escape Of some special type of air. This concept provoked Opposition because of the then almost universal Acceptance of the phlogiston theory.

Among the writings opposed to Black, a work by I. C. Meyer gained special significance. Meyer sought To prove, by examining Black’s experiments, that the Changes in lime during combustion are caused by The addition of a substance consisting of fire material With some other substance. Meyer’s work was the Occasion for a careful experimental investigation by Jacquin, in which he proved conclusively that Meyer Was wrong and that Black’s interpretation was correct.

A further contribution by Jacquin to chemistry Is a chemistry textbook which he designed specifically For the instruction of pharmacists and physicians; Enlarged and modified by his son and successor at Vienna, Josef Franz, Baron von Jacquin, the work Became a widely known textbook of general chemistry. It appeared in several editions and determined the Direction of chemical instruction in Austria for two generations; it was also translated into English and Dutch.

As a botanist Jacquin was the most important of the younger contemporaries of Linnaeus. He was the first writer in German to utilize to any large extent Linnaeus’system of binary nomenclature, and was foremost in his time with respect to the number of new species descriptions are still valid today. Jacquin’s interest in botany had been stimulated while he was a student at Leiden by Theodor Gronovius, of the scholarly Gronovius family who were acquainted with Jacquin’s family ; and also his seeing a blooming of Zingiber, a pharmaceutical plant then known as Costus speziosus or Costus arabicus. His monumental floral works, containing colored illustrations by him and by other artists using his models, are among the most beautiful of their kind. At this time Antoine and Bernard de Jussieu were developing the natural system of botanical classification. Jacquin had known the Jussieus during his Paris sojourn, although he did not contribute to the development of the natural system.


1. Original Works. A list of Jacquin’s botanical works is in G. A. Pritzel, Thesaurus literaturae botanicae (Leipzig, 1872). Jacquin’s botanical quas in insulis Caribaeis, vicinaque Americes continente detexit novas, aut iam cognitas, emendavit (Leiden, 1760); Selectarum stirpium americanarum historia (Vienna, 1763; 2nd ed., ca. 1780); Flora Austriacae sive plantarum selectarum in Austriae Archiducatu sponte crescenticum icones, 5 vols. (Vienna, 1773-1778); Hortus botanicus Vindobonensis, 3 vols. (Vienna, 1781-1793); Oxalis, monographia iconibus, illustrata (Vienna, 1784); Collectanae ad botanicam, chemiam et historiam naturalem spectantia, 5 vols. (Vienna, 1786-1796); plantarum rariorum horti caesarei Schoenbrunnensis descriptiones et icones, 4 vols. (Vienna, 1797-1804); Stapeliarum in hortis Vindobonensibus cultarum descriptiones (Vienna, 1806); and Fragmenta botanica figuris coloratis illustrata (Vienna, 1809).

There is a Jacquin MS, “Genera ex Cryptogamia, Linnaei figuris ad vivum expressis illustrata,” in the Botanical Institute of the University of Vienna.

A chemical work is Examen chemicum doctrinae Meyerianae de acido ingui, et Blackianae de aero fixo, respectuculcis (Vienna, 1769).

Two textbooks are Anfangsgrunde der medizinisch-park--tischen Chemie zum Gebrauch seiner Vorlesung (Vienna, 1783; 2nd ed., 1785); and Anleitung zur Pflanzenkenntnis nach Linne’s Methode (Vienna, 1795; 3rd ed., 1840).

II. Secondary Literarure. For a list of unpublished material and for older biographical literature, see Wilfried Oberhummer, “Die Chemie an der Universitat Wien in der Zeit von 1749 bis 1848 und die Inhaber des Lehrstuhls f ür Chemie und Botanik,” in Studien zur Geschichte der Universität Wien, III (Graz-Cologne, 1965), 126-202. On Jacquin’s botanical activities, see J. H. Barnhart, Biographical Notes Upon Botanists (Boston, 1965); August Neilreich, “Geschichte der Botanik in Niederoesterreich,” in Verhandlungen der Zoologisch-botanischen Vereins in Wien, 5 (1855), 23; and Ignatius Urban, Symbalae Antillanae seu fundamenta florae Indiae occidentalis, I (Berlin, 1898).

Wilfried Oberhummer