Claude Perrault

Biography of Claude Perrault (1613-1688)

Claude Perrault (see the calculating machine of Perrault) was born in Paris on September, 25th, 1613, in the wealthy bourgeois family of a parisian advocate—Pierre Perrault (d. 1652), and his wife Pâquette Le Clerc (or Leclerc) (d. 1657). Perrault was a numerous and famous parisian family—Pierre Perrault originates from a wealthy merchant family from Touraine, and moved to Paris to work as an avocate at the Parliament.

After the marriage in 1608, Pierre Perrault and Pâquette Leclerc-Perrault had seven children, but 2 of them died young, so Claude had 4 remaining brothers—Jean (1609-1669), an advocate; Pierre (1611-1680), a lawyer and receiver general of finances in Paris, later famous scientist (he developed the concept of the hydrological cycle); Nicolas (1624-1662), a doctor of theology in Sorbonne; and the youngest—Charles (1628-1703), who is the world renowned author of the fairly tales like Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty. The only daughter—Marie, died 13 y.o., and François, a twin of Charles, died in July, 1628, only 6 months.

Claude PerraultClaude Perrault was educated at the prestigious Collège de Beauvais and then studied medicine at the University of Paris. He received his bachelor's degree in 1639 and two years later received his master degree.

After graduation he started a career as a doctor of medicine and later on became a leader of a group of anatomists, who undertook dissections and descriptions of various animals. He proposed two theories, concerning the circulation of sap in plants and embryonic growth from preformed germs. These theories were highly influential in his lifetime and for many years thereafter. In 1681 he began publishing of an all-embracing natural philosophy, which comprehended his researches in anatomy, various aspects of animal and plant physiology, and acoustics. In his longest essay he explained sound as an agitation of air, rather than by the concept of sound waves.

After twenty years of practicing medicine, Claude turned his attention to architecture and now he is best known as the one of the architects of the eastern facade of the Louvre (see the photo bellow), known as the Colonnade, built between 1665 and 1680 and cited everywhere as a example of the classicistic phase of the French baroque style. Perrault’s architectural career was actually inspired by the translation he had started of the ten books of Vitruvius (published in 1673), the only surviving Roman work on architecture, into french language. When King Louis XIV decided to rebuild the Louvre in the 1660’s, Perrault collaborated with the famous architects Louis Le Vau, Charles Le Brun and Francois d’Orbay to submit a worthy design for competition, and his design was selected. Perrault’s architecture projects include also several other building in Paris—the observatory of the Académie, the church of St-Benoît-le-Bétourné, the church of Ste-Geneviève, the altar in the Church of the Little Fathers, a triumphal arch on Rue St-Antoine, the château of Louis XIV's prime minister— Jean Baptiste Colbert, etc.

Eastern facade of the Louvre, designed by Claude Perrault

Eastern facade of the Louvre, known as the Colonnade (upper image), and the triumphal arch on Rue St-Antoine, designed by Claude Perrault

Eastern facade of the Louvre, designed by Claude Perrault

Claude PerraultClaude Perrault became a founding member of the French Academy of Sciences (Académie des Sciences), when it was founded in 1666.

Although Claude Perrault stopped practicing medicine c. 1661, he continued to treat family, friends, and the poor. Besides the calculating device, which is of a particular interesting for us, Perrault designed several other mechanical devices (a pendulum-controlled water clock, a pulley system to rotate the mirror of a reflecting telescope, etc.) and machines to overcome the effects of friction. Many of his machines were used in the Louvre and by 1691 at Les Invalides.

Claude Perrault died of an infection, caught during a dissection of a camel in the Botanical Garden of Paris on October, 9th, 1688.