Ecole Française du XVIIIème siècle : PORTRAIT DE MARIE-GENEVIEVE LE TONNELLIER DE BRETEUIL. Huile sur toile, rentoilée, 190 x 111 cm. Annoté : « Marie Geneviève Le Tonnellier de Breteuil, marquise de Chriffreville, Dame de Moncé le Ponceau La Ferriere Champmarin etc 1733 » Marie-Geneviève Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, née le 24 juin 1708. De Pierre Etienne Le Tonnelier de Breteuil et de Gabrielle Legras d’Azy. Epouse de François Louis Gaulther, marquis de Chiffreville.
Émilie du Châtelet (17 December 1706 – 10 September 1749)
Gabrielle Émilie le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise du Châtelet was a French mathematician, physicist, and author. She is most known for her translation and commentary on Newton’s Principia Mathematica which was published in 1759 after her death, and is still considered the standard French translation. This work contributed to the shift in France away from an acceptance of Cartesian physics, and towards the embracing of Newtonian physics. While her primary interest was in natural philosophy, she also worked in ethics, theology, and the source of human happiness, with her non scientific work occasionally touching on the subject of women’s social roles and their education.
Émilie du Châtelet was born in Paris in 1706 as the only girl amongst six children. Her father recognized her brilliance early, and arranged for her education with Fontenelle, the secretary of the French Academie des Sciences. She entered an arranged marriage at age 19 in 1725, which conferred her the title of Marquise du Chastellet, with whom she had three children. She later resumed her mathematical studies in 1733 at 26.
Châtelet lived an interesting personal life, and is known for having an affair and working relationship with Voltaire who lived with her in her country house at Cirey-sur-Blaise (her husband was apparently quite tolerant of this situation). These were some of Châtelet’s most productive years, and was where she and Voltaire collaborated with one another in a laboratory set up in the home. In 1748, she began an affair with the Marquis de Saint-Lambert and became pregnant. Voltaire and her were still close at this time, and with his and Saint-Lambert’s help manage to convince her husband that it was his child. However following the birth, she died at the age of 43.
“If I were king, I would redress an abuse which cuts back, as it were, one half of human kind. I would have women participate in all human rights, especially those of the mind.”