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Dress Sword of Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis

Key data

Place of origin unknown, ca. 1750

Forged steel, polished, etched, cast and gilded bronze cup, fabric

Inv. 2014.147.


The French mathematician, geodesist, astronomer, and philosopher Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis was born near Saint-Malo in 1698. He abandoned a career in the military and studied mathematics in Paris instead. He was admitted to the Académie des sciences at the age of just twenty-five and became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1728. He visited Basel in 1729/30 in order to learn modern infinitesimal mathematics from Johan I Bernoulli, and while there struck up a friendship with his teacher’s third son, Johann II Bernoulli. The expedition to Lapland that Maupertuis led in 1736 enabled him to prove that the earth flattens out at the poles, a discovery that made him famous throughout Europe. Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, appointed him president of the Prussian Royal Academy of Sciences in 1740. Later, the controversy sparked by Maupertuis’s “principle of least action” escalated into a major scandal, especially following the intervention of Voltaire. After 1753, therefore, Maupertuis frequently sought respite from Berlin. Returning from leave in France, which owing to the Seven Years’ War he could do only via Switzerland, the mortally sick Maupertuis arrived at the home of his friend Johann II Bernoulli, the Engelhof in Basel, in the autumn of 1758 and died there on 27 July 1759. As a Catholic, he had wished to be buried in hallowed ground, which is why his grave and epitaph are to be found in the former church of St. Mauritius in Dornach.

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