Through a close study of anatomical practices in seventeenth-century Paris, Anita Guerrini has accomplished the tour de force of bringing epistemological dignity to the scientific culture of the court. Her book opens with a description of the Paris of the anatomists and the local characteristics of a professional world spread across different institutions (hospitals, the Faculty of Medicine, the royal college, the king’s garden and the Academy of Science). The first chapter discusses the relations between anatomists and courtiers. In the late sixteenth century, anatomy teachers had begun using bodies from the cemetery of the Saints-Innocents between Rue de la Ferronerie and Rue Saint-Denis on the right bank of the Seine. However, most dissection in the seventeenth century was done on animals, primarily dogs, cats and pigs. An employee of the Académie des Sciences had the job of collecting these from the Châtelet, the inner courtyard of which served as a morgue, while others came from the Hôtel-Dieu. The Faculty of Medicine did not open its anatomy theatre until 1620, subsequently becoming responsible for the administration of corpses. A geography of supply sites then developed, initially located in central Paris but gradually moving to the periphery with the cemeteries in Clamart and Saint-Denis. Paris became a centre for training in dissection when Colbert recruited four major figures: Claude Perrault, Marin Cureau de la Chambre, Jean Pecquet and Louis Gayant. Guerrini shows how these four physicians owed their rise to their networks of patrons and also to their ability to distance themselves from both the Faculty of Medicine and the Saint-Côme surgeons’ guild which were unified in 1656 and, since the mid-sixteenth century, had included well respected anatomists—of whom the most famous was Ambroise Paré. Some anatomists, such as Cureau de la Chambre, were central to several institutional networks, thus reducing the potential for rivalries and enhancing the status of the new royal and curial institutions. Reputations were also established through clever publication strategies that saw anatomical knowledge gain much of its prestige from its association with natural history in the market for printed materials. Perrault and Pecquet owed their success to both the Faculty of Medicine and the Republic of Letters. The development of scientific practice received institutional and political support: Guerrini describes the success of anatomist Jean Pecquet as due to his intellectual network and the patronage he received, first from the Condés and then from François Fouquet, who was interested in the new philosophy of nature. Threatened by the Faculty in Paris, Pecquet went to Montpellier. Guerrini’s study follows the four major figures: Cureau de la Chambre, who was interested in human and animal cognition, Pecquet, Louis Gayant and Claude Perrault. A second explanation for the success of the practice of anatomy in Paris relates to the research conducted within the Académie des Sciences, which led to the publication of Perrault’s natural history of animals in 1671 and 1676. Anatomy was a metaphor for a new scientific method based on description and observation, enabling the centre of scientific interest to shift from natural history to comparative anatomy. Guerrini draws up the intellectual genealogy of the various debates through which anatomical culture was updated in France (primarily about the circulation of the blood). In the years 1650–66, libertine scholars (Sorbière, Gassendi, Patin) who believed in the circulation of the blood added their support to dissection as a legitimate practice, enabling it to become institutionalised when the academy was founded. This strong position provided the first academicians with a joint project around the natural history of animals. Colbert brought the academic circles and those of the king’s library together in meetings at his personal residence. The project for anatomical observation appears in the minutes from 1667 and materialised in experiments on transfusion in dogs in the same year. But the academy’s activities are also reflected in the many dissections conducted in Paris by Gayant and Joseph-Guichard Duverney, at the royal menagerie established in Vincennes in 1654 and then at Versailles in 1663–4. There was a desire not only to promote the method but also to define animals as thinking, speaking beings, an issue that had been actively discussed in French philosophy since Descartes. The anatomists argued in favour of the singularity of animals. In Chapter Four, Guerrini gives us a detailed study of Perrault’s book, showing the degree to which it constitutes a literary technique of dissection—the description of the practice of dissection becomes an epistemic genre. She also notes the importance of the choice of exotic animals. The natural history of animals and the Philosophical Transactions thus proposed a set of established facts of nature. The other epistemological shift concerns the mechanistic interpretation of the living world. Focusing on Perrault’s association with the anatomist Duverney, Chapter Five discusses the importance of precision in the work of dissection and of illustrations. Duverney, who was to become tutor to the Dauphin in Saint-Germain and then in Versailles, enjoyed a reputation as the anatomist to the court. In 1682 he became anatomy teacher at the king’s garden with the title of demonstrator and operator. Guerrini discusses the collaboration between Duverney and Perrault. Since the 1660s Perrault had wanted to use Cartesian theory in describing how living things operate. For him, this was more a matter of method than ontological principle, and combined both mechanistic ideas and the corpuscular conceptions promoted by Gassendi. Perrault used Duverney’s dissections to ground these theories in the movement of animals. Duverney’s experiments included the study of digestion and respiration, using the ostrich and tortoise as examples and the Versailles menagerie as a laboratory. The Indian tortoise was captured on the Coromandel Coast by the East India Company. L’Histoire des animaux describes both the dissection and animal experimentation laboratory and the labyrinthine structure created by Colbert and Louis XIV in Versailles. Guerrini stresses the important role played in this anatomical research by both movement and the senses (sight and hearing), revealing the presence of notions of sensibility in descriptions of animal life well before the eighteenth century. There was a clear attempt to attribute a form of awareness to animals, hence their presence in research into music and harmony. Studies of this kind brought the worlds of court and science closer together, since their objects were present in both. Chapter Six considers Duverney’s work in the king’s garden and shows Colbert’s role in his appointment in the context of a study of fishing resources off the coasts of France. Later, Duverney was called on to dissect the large animals given as gifts to the king, such as the elephant and crocodile, with the idea of developing the public practice of anatomy from 1680 and creating a skeleton room. But Duverney was not only known as an anatomist, but also as a talented orator, whose lectures and published speeches resembled works of theatrical literature. Guerrini sees these practices as a contribution to the culture of the court and to a ‘moral anatomy’, echoing La Fontaine’s fables and Perrault’s fairy tales. By publishing these great stories of animals, the royal presses ultimately turned the savants into literary authors. The power of Guerrini’s argument lies in her ability to map the presence of practices relating to anatomy practices and to show the links between the scientific and political networks. The study of anatomical culture provides an opportunity to take a fresh look at known places (the Académie Bourdelot, the Académie des Sciences, the king’s garden and the Versailles menagerie). It was no coincidence that the practice of anatomy became legitimate and, indeed, gained cultural significance in the reign of Louis XIV, since it was supported by a network of powerful patrons. The processes of academisation and curialisation went in tandem. There are some bibliographical absences here (notably in French): there is little discussion of Katia Béguin’s work on the Académie Bourdelot and scientific patronage, Stéphane Van Damme on Paris as a scientific capital or the recent studies by Rafael Mandressi. Similarly, the colonial dimension and the opening up of Paris (see the work of Nicholas Dew and François Regourd) are not really explored, although there is discussion of the circuits of the East India Company. These comments do not change my decidedly positive assessment of Guerrini’s outstanding work. Grounded in solid research, as well as in-depth knowledge of works on history of medicine, the book helps to reassess the process of the academisation of the scientific world (building on the work of Roger H. Hahn, Alice Stroup, Richard Maber, David Lux and Mario Biagioli) and the royal administration of nature during the reign of Louis XIV. Recently, the history of science has tended to focus on processes of capitalisation, accumulation and acclimatisation with regard to understandings of nature, and to see Paris as a centre of accumulation and capital of sciences. This is a well-conceptualised book that sheds much-needed light on the local establishment of a scientific culture. Through the precise study of anatomy, Guerrini scrutinises the new epistemologies of certainty linked to scientific institutions, which tried to found absolute objectivity. © Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 3, 2018
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