Encyclopaedia Britannica 11th Edition


(1770-1847), French mineralogist and geologist, son of the eminent architect who designed the Bourse and other public buildings of Paris, was born in that city on the 5th of February 1770. At an early age he studied chemistry, under Lavoisier, and after passing through the École des Mines he took honours at the École de Médecine; subsequently he joined the army of the Pyrenees as pharmacien; but having committed some slight political offence, he was thrown into prison and detained there for some time. Soon after his release he was appointed professor of natural history in the Collège des Quatre Nations. In 1800 he was made director of the Sèvres porcelain factory, a post which he retained to his death, and in which he achieved his greatest work. In his hands Sèvres became the leading porcelain factory in Europe, and the researches of an able band of assistants enabled him to lay the foundations of ceramic chemistry. In addition to his work at Sèvres, quite enough to engross the entire energy of any ordinary man, he continued his more purely scientific work. He succeeded Haüy as professor of mineralogy in the Museum of Natural History; but he did not confine himself to mineralogy, for it is to him that we owe the division of Reptiles into the four orders of Saurians, Batrachians, Chelonians and Ophidians. Fossil as well as living animals engaged his attention, and in his studies of the strata around Paris he was instrumental in establishing the Tertiary formations. In 1816 he was elected to the Academy; and in the following year he visited the Alps of Switzerland and Italy, and afterwards Sweden and Norway. The result of his observations was published from time to time in the Journal des Mines and other scientific journals. Wide as was the range of his interests his most famous work was accomplished at Sèvres, and his most enduring monument is his classic Traité des arts céramiques (1844). He died in Paris on the 7th of October 1847.

His other principal works are :—Traité élémentaire de minéralogie, avec des applications aux arts (2 vols., Paris, 1807); Histoire naturelle des crustacés fossiles (Paris, 1822); Classification et caractères minéralogiques des roches homogènes et hétérogènes (Paris, 1827); the Tableau des terrains qui composent l'écorce du globe, ou Essai sur la structure de la partie connue de la terre (Paris, 1829); and the Traité des arts céramiques (1844). Brongniart was also the coadjutor of Cuvier in the admirable Essai sur la géographie minéralogique des environs de Paris (Paris, 1811); originally published in Ann. Mus. Hist. Nat. (Paris, xi. 1808).