Langren, Michael Florent van

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Langren, Michael Florent van

(b. Mechlin or Antwerp, Belgium, ca. 1600; d. Brussels, Belgium, early May 1675),

engineering, cartography, selenography.

Very little is known of Van Langern’s life. He was the son of Arnold Florent Van Langren, archducal spherographer. His parents, who were Catholics, had left Holland before 1600 for the Spanish Netherlands and finally settled in Brussels in 1611. Like his father, Michael Florent became a royal cosmographer and mathematician. He married Jeanne de Quantere, by whom he had several children.

The primary goal of Van Langren’s research was to discover a method of determining longitude at sea. As early as 1621 he attempted to do this by means of lunar observations, basing his procedure on the darkenings and illuminations of the lunar mountains; this approach obviously required good maps of the moon and a precise toponymy. In 1625, at Dunkirk, he presented his method to the archduchess Isabelle. assistance to travel to Spain in order to present his method to the king and to call attention to his books Tábulas astronótemicas y hydrográphicas, which are now lost. The journey lasted from 1631 to 1634; the king promised to finance the publication of his observations. The Advertencias de Miguel Florencio Van Langred … a todos los professores y amadores de la mathemática … appeared in Madrid about 1634.

Van Langren continued his investigations in Brussels, publishing a Calendarium perpetuum… in 1636 and La verdadera longitud por mar y tierra … in 1644. Before 15 February 1645 he submitted to the Privy Council a manuscript map of the moon in support of his request for a privilege to publish it (entitled Luna vel lumina Austriaca Philippica; it is preserved in Brussels in the Archives Générales du Royaume, Cartes et Plant MS no. 7911). The map, engraved by Van Langren himself, appeared in May 1645. As is indicated by the title, Plenilunii/Lumina Austriaca Philippica, it presents the full moon and, as is stated in Van Langren’s long legend, it was to be a part of a series of maps showing thirty phases of the moon. These maps, a veritable selenography, were prepared but were never published, owing to the death fo Van Langren’s patron, Erycius Puteanus, and to the wars. Van Langren also published a text on the comet of 1652, Repraesentatio partis caeli quam cometa

Van Langren also drew geographical maps, several of which have been lost. They included one of a canal from the Meuse to the Rhine (entitled Fossa Eugeniana in the first printings and Fossa Sanctat Mariae in the following ones [1628]), one of the archdiocese of Mechlin, one of Luxembourg, and one of the three parts of the former duchy of Brabant; the latter three appeared in the Novus atlas of W. J. Blaeu. In addition he provided maps and plans for projects for large public works.

In 1640, in Brussels, Van Langren published Tormentum bellicum trisphaerium, concerning a threeshot cannon. His studies and projects for a port to be constructed at Mardyck, near Dunkirk, date from 1624; and in 1653 he published, again in Brussels, Description particulière du … Banc de Mardijick…, which ran to two editions. His work on the harborport of Ostend is set forth in Profytelijcken middel om … de Zee-Haven van Oostende te verbeteren (Burssels, 1650), in Briefve description de la ville et havrd d’Oostende… (Brussels, 1659), and in Copies de la VIe, XIe et XIIIe lettre que … don Juan d’ Austriche a escrit … á Micheal-Florencio Van Langren… (1667). In 1661 he wrote a short treatise on the cleaning of the canals of Antwerp: Bewys van de alder-bequaemste ende profytelyckste invntie… His works concerning Brussels dealt with fortifications, canals, and means of protecting the city from the flooding of the Senne: Invention et proposition que Michel Florencio Van Langren … a faict … pour empescher … le debordement de la rivière de Senne… (Brussels, 1644), Eenighe middelen om … Brussel van de inondacien … te bevryden (Brussels, 1648), and Michael Florencio Van Langren … sprekende … stadt Brussel … (Burssels, 1658).

Van Langren was in contact with most of the scientists of his time, including Erycius Puteanus, Gottfried Wendelin, the French astronomer Boulliau, Barthélémy Petit, the Jesuit Jean Charles de La Faille, and Huygens. He also knew the writings of Hevelius and Riccioli.

As an engineer, a cartographer, and an engraver, Van Langren occupied a leading place in Spanish Netherlands. As a selenographer he was, like Hevelius, a pioneer. Circumstnaces did not permit him to develop his talents fully, and only a thorough study of his work will allow us to arrive at a just appreciation of his achievements.


Eleven of Van Langren’s published works are described in Bibliotheca belgica, 1st ser., XIII (Ghent-The Hague, 1880-1890), see index; and in Binliotheca belgica, repub. under the direction of M. T. Lenger, III (Brussels, 1964), 674—677.

Secondary literature includes the following: D. Bierens de Haan, “Constantijn Huygens, als waterbouwkundige, Michael Florentz van Langren, in Bouwstoffen voor de geschiedenis der wis-en natuurkundige wetenschappen in de Nederlanden no. XXXIII,” in Verhandelingen der K. akademie van wetenschappen, sec. 1, 2 , no. 1 (1893); H. Bosmans, “La carte lunaire de Van Langren conservée aux Archives générales du royaume, à Bruxelles,” in Revue des questions scientifiques, 3rd ser., 4 (1903), 108-139, with fascimile; “Sur un pamphlet concernant les travaux à effectuer au port d’Ostende, publié en 1660 à Bruxelles,” in Revve des bibiliothèques et archives de Belgique, 1 (1903), 287-291; and “La carte lunaire de Van Langren conservée à I’ Université de Leyde,” in Revue des questions scientifiques, 3rd ser., 17 (1910), 248-264, with facsimile; L. Godeaux, Esquisse d’une histoire des mathématiques en Belgique (Brussels, 1943), pp. 19-20; J.-C. Houzeau, “Extrait des notes prises à la Bibliothèque royale, à Paris, en mars 1844,” in Bulletin de l’ Acadeacutemie royale … de Belgique. Classe des sciences, 19 , pt. 3 (1852), 498-507; G. des Marex, “Notice sur les documents relatifs à MichealFlorent Van Langren … conservés aux Archives de la ville de Bruxelles,” in Revue des bibliothèques et archives de Belgique, 1 (1903), 371-378, and 2, (1904), 23-31; W. Prinz, “L’original de la première carte lunaire de Van Langren,” in Ciel et terre, 24 (1903-1904), 9-105, 149-155, with facsimile; Erycius Puteanus, Honderd veertein Nederlandse brieven aan de astronoom Michael Florent Van Langren, with intro. by J.J. Moreau (Antwerp-Amsterdam, 1957); A. Quetelet, Histoire des sciences mathématiques et physiques chez les Belges, new ed. (Brussels, 1871), pp. 247-253; A. Tiberghien, “Contribution à la bibliographie de M. F. Van Langren. Documents existant à la Bibliothèque royale de Belgique,” in Revue des bibliothèques et archives de Belgique, 2 (1904), 1-14; and A. Wauters, “Langren (Michel-Florent Van),” in Biogrphie nationale … de Belgique, XI (Brussels, 1890-1891), cols. 276-292.

A. De Smet