Imaging a Career in Science: The Iconography of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier

Imaging a Career in Science: The Iconography of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier

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Beretta, Marco, 2001, xvii + 126 pp., cloth bound and jacketed, illustrations in black and white and color

In December 1788, the painter Jacques Louis David completed his famous portrait of Lavoisier and his wife. While it has long been believed that this portrait is the only authentic image of Lavoisier, on the basis of some unpublished or little-known iconographic representations, this book questions the truth of this opinion and shows that Lavoisier had in fact been the subject of iconographic attentions prior to 1788. The book also offers a new interpretation of the portrait by David, identifying the function of the five instruments shown and their role in Lavoisier’s scientific career. The book ends with an examination of the iconography depicting Lavoisier after the publication ofTraité élémentaire de chimie, where the growing idealization and mythicizing of the work of this French chemist became increasingly evident.

 “Science/Art has replaced Science/Literature as the fashionable pair, formerly opposed, for interdisciplinary historians to explore and integrate. Marco Beretta is to be congratulated on producing this innovatory, well-illustrated book. His thoughtful, comprehensive account is valuable because it not only catalogues but also analyses the images of Antoine Lavoisier . . .”  —Ambix

“This most welcome volume is both a meticulous historical study and a handsome example of fine book production. The author is one of the world’s leading experts on the life and work of the 18th-century chemist Antoine Lavoisier, and this gem of scholarship is informed throughout by his detailed knowledge of the vast printed, archival, and iconographic sources on his subject. The text is heavily annotated and provides a singularly valuable guide to the all the literature, much of it quite recent, on images of Lavoisier and his wife, Marie Paulze. Many of these images are still in private hands, yet Marco Beretta has been able to obtain and reproduce copies of practically all of them. The major visual representations, including the well-known double portrait by Jacques Louis David on display in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, are reproduced in unusually clean illustrations, many in color, and their supporting commentaries are well organized and informative. None of this comes easily, and the author deserves great credit for the dedication and skill he has lavished on this study . . . Those already familiar with narrative accounts of the Lavoisiers' lives, times, and achievements should read through this catalog as well, for it will add a vivid visual supplement to the well-known but inexhaustibly fascinating story of the foremost scientific couple of the 18th century. ”  —Chemical Heritage

“Although its focus is narrow, this work would be of substantial value to scholars and an important addition to the history of science holdings of any balanced collection. Graduate students, faculty, researchers, and professionals.” —CHOICE

“ . . . I have found much of value here and it is an important contribution to Lavoisier studies . . . It is worth the price for the reproduction of the many Lavoisier images alone.” —HYLE