Chapter

Portrait of a Man of Science

in The Man Who Flattened the Earth

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2002 | ISBN: 9780226793603
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226793627 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226793627.003.0001
Portrait of a Man of Science

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Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis sat for his portrait. The finished picture represented this rather eccentric man of science to the cosmopolitan world of letters and to the smaller world of his immediate friends, admirers, and enemies. The subject of the painting was a senior member of the Paris Academy of Sciences and the author of numerous technical and polemical books and papers, connected socially with prominent families in the capital and with men and women of letters across Europe. The picture also domesticates the difficult and dangerous work involved in making astronomical observations in remote corners of the world, by dressing up the result in luxury. The man of science presents himself as a denizen of high society. The portrait crystallizes a moment in the convoluted story of how Maupertuis rose to prominence in a society where such arcane practices as precise astronomical measurements could translate into a variety of rewards, including status and honor.

Keywords: Maupertuis; Sciences; picture; painting; society

Chapter.  6932 words. 

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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