Pellicier, Guillaume

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(b. Mauguio [near Montpellier], France, probably late 1490s, likely 1498 or 1499; d. Montferrand [later Saint-Mathieu-deTréviers], 1568), diplomat, classical scholar, patron of natural sciences and medicine.

A diplomat, a book collector, and a protector of the University of Montpellier, Pellicier was interested in medicine and natural sciences, the renewal of which he fostered in Montpellier. Born at an unknown date, probably in the late 1490s (1498 or 1499), in Mauguio (east of Montpellier), Pellicier studied philosophy and canon law at the nearby University of Montpellier, and was a protégé of his uncle Guillaume Pellicier, the bishop of the diocese of Maguelone (south of Montpellier, later Villeneuve-lès Maguelonne). Appointed a canon of the cathedral of Maguelone by his uncle, he then succeeded him after his uncle resigned as bishop in 1527. A classical scholar, Pellicier drew the attention of King Francis I (r. 1515–1547) and his sister Marguerite de Navarre (1492–1549), the most educated and literate woman known from this time. The king and his sister entrusted Pellicier with several delicate diplomatic missions: the conclusion of the war with Austrian Emperor Charles V in 1529 (Treaty of Cambrai); the marriage of the king’s son (the Duc d’Orléans) with Catherine de Medici in 1533; and a mission to Pope Paul III, from whom Pellicier obtained the transfer of the See of Maguelone to Montpellier in 1536.

In 1539 Pellicier became the ambassador of France to Venice, where he was in a good position to collect information and convey instructions between Paris and Constantinople in the continued conflict between France and the German Empire. Caught for his activity as a spy by the Venetian authority, he was recalled to France in 1542. After Francis I’s death in 1547 and a brief stint the same year at a session of the Trent Council held in Bologna, he stayed in Montpellier and exerted his functions of bishop, particularly the patronage of the university, as his predecessors had done. Accused of sympathy to the Reformers and other criminal charges, he was jailed (1551), put on trial, and eventually exonerated (1557). In 1559 a first Protestant church was built in Montpellier and, in 1561–1562, the city was controlled by the Reformers. After the Amboise Pacification (1563), Pellicier regained Montpellier, but could not oppose the sack of the cathedral in 1567. He then retired in the castle of Montferrand (later Saint-Mathieu-de-Tréviers), where he died in 1568.

Promotion of Science and Medicine Early in his life Pellicier was interested in the natural sciences and medicine. Before his diplomatic mission in Venice he was in contact with François Rabelais (1494–1553), who studied medicine at the University of Montpellier and taught there in 1531, commenting on Hippocrates’s Aphorisms and Galen’s Ars parva. Both were in Rome in 1535, and Rabelais wrote some letters to Pellicier (1540 and 1541) while the latter stayed in Venice. Pellicier is not known, however, to have left any original scientific work, although at one time he was credited with the authorship of a book on fishes (Libri De piscibus marinis, 1554–1555) published under the name of Guillaume Rondelet. Pellicier did write notes of commentary on Pliny’s Natural History, which were praised and used by later editors of Pliny’s Latin text from Adrien Turnèbe (1512–1565) to Jean Hardouin (1646–1729); these notes remain unpublished as of 2007.

Pellicier’s main scientific endeavor was the renewal of interest in medicine and natural sciences at the University of Montpellier. Because Pellicier was classically educated, Francis I entrusted him with the task of collecting manuscripts for the Bibliothèque royale while in Venice. Pellicier secured the purchase of many manuscripts and printed versions of classical texts (particularly in Greek) on the Venetian marketplace; he also employed several Greek copyists to construct a personal collection of manuscripts. Simultaneously, Pellicier purchased many of the available printed versions of ancient scientific texts, some through his personal contacts with the heirs of Aldo Manuzio, who founded the Aldine Press. Significantly, he acquired for his personal collection one or more copies of many of the Greek texts available at that time in the fields of medicine and natural sciences, including works by Hippocrates and Galen, encyclopedias and compendia of the mid- and late-Byzantine periods, and fourteenth-century Byzantine translations of Arabo-Persian treatises.

In a 1534 reform made under Pellicier’s supervision, the University of Montpellier limited the teaching of Arabic authors. After his return from Venice in 1542, the availability of these materials was further reduced. The works of Persian physician Avicenna (Ibn Sina), which were taught every year during the 1530s, seem to have been taught for the last time in 1545 (with one exception in 1565). Simultaneously, the work of ancient Greek physician Dioscorides appears in the program from 1545 on, together with herborisations (collecting plants in the field). Rabelais probably collected plants in nature during his years in Montpellier, as he credited his character Gargantua with such training; Pellicier also is believed to have personally done so, with Rondelet. This new orientation was confirmed in the so-called Grands Jours de Béziers of 1550, which transformed the teaching activity of the university. Supposedly inspired by Pellicier, but more probably authored by the university chancellor Antoine Saporta, this new program divided the academic year into two major terms: the study of botany (in the field) from Easter to Feast of Saint Luke (October 18), and the study of anatomy during the rest of the year—that is, during winter. Rondelet, who was instrumental in the construction of the first theater of anatomy at the University of Montpellier in 1556, has also been credited (without clear evidence, however) with the creation of a botanic garden, antedating that of Pierre Richer de Belleval (created in 1593).

By this new organization of medical studies, Pellicier concretized the epistemological program promoted by Nicolao Leoniceno, which had started to be realized in Germany with the publication of such works as Herbarum vivae eicones(Strasbourg, 1530) by Otto Brunfels and, even more, by the Historia Stirpium(Basel, 1542) of Leonhart Fuchs. It was in Italy, however, that the program was fully realized, exactly during the period of Pellicier’s diplomatic mission in Venice, with the creation of botanic gardens in Pisa and Padua, and the anatomical demonstrations of André Vésale (1514–1564) and the publication of the De humani corporis fabrica libri(Basel, 1543). The similarity between the new organization of teaching at Montpellier and the innovations in north Italy is too strong to be casual and suggests that Pellicier exported from Venice not only books and their knowledge, but also the practice of science. In this, Pellicier anticipated in a certain sense the Republic of Botanists best represented somewhat later by the Italian physician Pietro Andrea Mattioli (1501–1577) in his translation of and commentaries on Dioscorides’s De materia medica (first published in 1544, with many revised editions).

Pellicier was a man deeply involved in the transformations of his time. In politics, he was on the forefront of the reshaping of Europe with the war between France and the Holy Roman Empire, and the relatively new presence of the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean. In culture, he encouraged the return to the classical heritage, thus minimizing the contribution of both the Arabic world and the Latin Middle Ages. Contributing to the diffusion of knowledge, he purchased ancient manuscripts (so as to recollect the heritage of the past) and, at the same time, frequented the world of printing, acquiring an important collection that he used as a tool for the production of a new knowledge. In promoting the scientific method, Pellicier fostered a shift from the medieval comment on canonical texts to direct observation, be it in the field (botany) or in an ad hoc demonstration room (the theater of anatomy). Under Pellicier’s guidance, the University of Montpellier quickly attracted students in medicine and the natural sciences from across Europe, from Charles de l’Ecluse (1526–1609) to Felix Platter (1536–1614) to Johann Bauhin (1541–1613).


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Alain Touwaide

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Pellicier, Guillaume

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