After the Louvre: My Favorite Paris Museum, Musee des Arts et Metiers
La Salle Mechanique by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France; Wikimedia Commons
Editor's Note: Because of a recent operation (a complete shoulder replacement, actually), the museum quickly supplied me with a wheelchair that husband and youngest daughter used to spin me around the most amazing and beautiful collections, floor to floor in various elevator conveyances enjoying the spectacular scenes.
The Musée des Arts et Métiers houses one of the world's most outstanding collections of scientific and industrial instruments.
Founded by anti-clerical French revolutionaries to celebrate the glory of science, it is no small irony that the museum is now partially housed in the former abbey church of Saint Martin des Champs. The museum's collection originated with a selection of mechanical contraptions bequeathed to Louis XVI by the mechanical engineer Jacques Vaucanson, inventor of the most renowned automaton of the 18th century, a talking, flapping mechanical duck. (The duck is no longer in existence, though a modern replica exists in the Museum of Automatons in Grenoble, France.)
The Arts et Métiers collection soon grew to include machines of industry like the Jacquard loom, chronometers, the first steam-powered automobile, the chemist Antoine Lavoisier's laboratory, calculating machines, and other marvels of the Enlightenment.
"The origin of the Musée des Arts et Métiers' collections of scientific instruments can be traced back to the 'physics cabinets' that appeared in the mid-18th century. Veritable high-society salons attended by a chosen elite, these cabinets were sometimes theatres of spectacular experiments demonstrating advances in scientific knowledge in the century of the Enlightenment. With the aid of ingenious and usually remarkably well-made instruments, scientists succeeded in explaining the hitherto elusive or imperceptible, such the measurement of long distances, falling bodies and the existence of electricity. Alongside the Renaissance astrolabes were the instruments that Abbé Nollet then Jacques Alexandre César Charles had amassed in their famous cabinets, acquired in part by the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in 1807, and Ferdinand Berthoud's clock collections. This prestigious ensemble was gradually enriched with instruments from the Académie des Sciences and major collections. At the end of the 18th century, with weights and measures classified according to the new decimal system, scientists such as Lavoisier created the laboratories and defined rigorous procedures for their scientific work. From the mid-19th century onwards, this laboratory science enabled major experiments such as the demonstration of the Earth's rotation and the measurement of the speed of light by Léon Foucault. But science also provided industry with innumerable applications in fields as diverse as clockmaking, nautical instruments and optics. There was a massive adoption of precision instruments and electrical machines by factories, workshops and engineering consulting firms to accelerate calculations and observations."
Lavoisier's Laboratory, Musée des Arts et Métiers, Paris; Wikipedia
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