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Vol. 31 No. 5
September-October 2009

Stamps International |

See also www.iupac.org/publications/ci/indexes/stamps.html


Lavoisier’s Better Half

Marie Anne Pierrette Paulze (1758–1836) was only 13 when she married a brilliant young member of the French Academy of Sciences, the chemist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794). She later became the celebrated scientist’s most important assistant and collaborator until his death at the height of the French Revolution. The extent of Marie Anne’s contributions to her husband’s career has often been underestimated and sometimes even completely ignored. However, it is clear that she played a key role in most of his research endeavors, from the critical experiments on combustion, respiration, and the composition of air and water to the development of chemical nomenclature and the law of conservation of mass. She translated from English to French Richard Kirwan’s Essay on Phlogiston, which Lavoisier and others systematically criticized, eventually leading to the demise of the infamous theory. She was a meticulous record-keeper and illustrator and singlehandedly produced the 13 plates contained in Elementary Treatise on Chemistry (1789), which presented an updated and unified overview of the subject and is usually considered the first modern chemistry textbook.

The stamp from the Republic of Maldives shown here was issued on 11 January 1990 to belatedly commemorate the bicentennial of the beginning of the French Revolution (i.e., the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789). There is no obvious reason why the Maldive Islands, a former British protectorate in the Indian Ocean that gained its independence in 1965 and is today the smallest and least populated country in Asia, took such an interest in the French Revolution. In any event, the stamp features the double portrait of Monsieur and Madame Lavoisier painted in 1788 by Jacques-Louis David, one of the leading representatives of the French Neoclassical period. The iconic painting shows the couple elegantly dressed next to a table with various pieces of contemporary glassware. It is now part of the permanent collection on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Written by Daniel Rabinovich <drabinov@uncc.edu>.


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