ismaël boulliau senior(s)
   

Call me Ismaël.  Ismaël Boulliau (1583-1625), the father (le père) of the astronomer Ismaël Boulliau (1605-1694) was a notary and procurer for the town of Loudun.  A horoscope for him found among his son's papers (BN Paris, f.fr. 13028, f.155v) gives the dates 22 December 1583 and 22 September 1625.  I confess I grow more suspicious of these dates each year, usually around solstice and equinox.  The more famous Boulliau characterized his father as having 'a very clever mind and a character suited both to seriousness and pleasantness.'  He married Susanna Motet, also a Calvinist, and they appear to have had their first child on 3 August 1604.  They called him Ismaël.  Unfortunately he did not survive.  Their next child, also a son, was born fourteen months later on 28 September 1605.  He would become a noted savant and arguably the most influential astronomer of his generation. They called him Ismaël.

We know little about Ismaël the father.  By all accounts he was intelligent, educated, and inquisitive.  There are indications he made several astronomical observations, among them, naked-eye sightings of planetary conjunctions and occultations, and perhaps most dramatically, observations of the comet of 1607 (later called Halley's Comet) and the Comet of 1618.   Young Ismaël was careful to record these observations for posterity in various manuscripts (B. Observatoire, Paris, MS B 12) and in his Astronomia Philolaïca (1645), which has been called the most important book in astronomy between Kepler and Newton.  But the observations, as every reader understood, were not recorded for their quality or importance.  Evidence suggests young Boulliau took pride in having learned astronomy from his father and at such an early age.  As Jacques de Valois later wrote to Marin Mersenne, the new astronomer in Paris was a 'very learned man, curious and diligent, who had carried astronomy in his head since the cradle.'

A final note of interest is that the elder Boulliau was associated with a prominent circle of Loudun intellectuals.  The centerpiece of this circle was  Scevole de Sainte-Marthe, a noted scholar and grammarian who hosted meetings at his famous Hotel.  This early learned circle appears to have included Théophraste Renaudot, a native of Loudun (founder of the Bureau d'Adresse and the Gazette de France), Louis Trincant, Urbain Grandier (the ill-fated Curé of Saint-Pierre du Marché), and numerous visiting scholars and dignitaries, among them President J-A de Thou I and, reportedly, the King of England.  It is likely young Boulliau attended these meeting and possible (though speculative) that here he made important Parisian contacts.  In any case, by 1632 young Boulliau had found his way to Paris.  Over the next three decades he enjoyed the patronage of two of the most prominent names in French learning, the family de Thou and the Brothers Dupuy.  Both families traced their roots to the area near Loudun, as did a dozen other prominent Parisian scholars.

Ismaël the father appears to have died in 1625.  But there may be room for some uncertainty about the precise dates of his birth and death.  For example, some documents in Loudun appear to have been signed with that name in May and August 1632, a difficult task even for Ismaël Boulliau.  There is little question, however, that Susanna died in August 1634.  There is good evidence that young Ismaël, now nearly 30, then returned to Loudun for four months to settle the family estate.  Equally clear, the elder Boulliau was by this time no longer living.

The Boulliau family appears to have included nearly a dozen children, most dying in childhood.  For a sketch of Boulliau's life and career, see Robert A. Hatch, The Collection Boulliau (f.fr. 13019 - 13059):  An inventory, American Philosophical Society, 1982 (lxxiv + 599 pp).


The opening illustration is a presumed likeness of Ismaël Boulliau, Sr. (1583-1625) and is derived from the portrait found in Loudun at the Musée Charbonneau-Lassay, 24 Rue du Martray, Loudun.  The original photo was taken in August 1984 with the permission and assistance of the museum curator.  To my knowledge the portrait has never been published and there appear to be few references to it in print.  M. N. Chauvineau has suggested the portrait reads:  <<M. Ismaël Boulliau Laisné, agé de 60 ans, en juin 1623>>.  The patient reader will quickly divine that problems persist in pin-pointing papa's life span.  In this case, however, it seems likely that '60' is a misprint for '40'.  There are, of course, alternative readings.  For example, is it possible that there was yet another Boulliau, perhaps a gran-pa-pa, they also called Ismaël? Do doubt.


rah.march.98 et seq

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