Charles de Bovelles (Latin: Carolus Bovillus; born c. 1475 at Saint-Quentin, died at Ham, Somme after 1566) was a French mathematician and philosopher, and canon of Noyon. His Géométrie en françoys (1511) was the first scientific work to be printed in French.

Geometrie practique, 1551
Geometrie practique, 1551

Bovelles authored a number of philological, theological and mystical treatises, and has been reckoned to be "perhaps the most remarkable French thinker of the 16th century."[1]


Joseph Victor has written the best intellectual biography of Charles de Bovelles, but got the date of his death wrong.[citation needed]

He studied arithmetic under Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples. His contemporaries knew him as widely travelled in Europe. It is known that he made a rebus for the year (1509) of the building of the hôtel de ville in Saint-Quentin. He gave a stained glass window in the town in 1521. In 1547, in the preface of La Geometrie practique, Bovelles acknowledges help from Oronce Fine with the engravings.

Maupin (end of nineteenth century) assigned dates 1470-1553, which confused many people subsequently. S. Musial in a careful study published in the Actes of the 500th centennial of his birth in Noyon in 1979 (published 1982) fixes the date of his death at 1567 (see also Margolin's Letters and Poems of Charles de Bovelles, 2002).


From his Proverbiorum vulgarium
From his Proverbiorum vulgarium

His first major work, Quæ in hoc volumine (1510/11), a collection of 12 works by Bovelles that constitute a major but still little recognized contribution to the philosophical thought of the Renaissance. Of these 12 works, the Liber de Sapiente is certainly the most significant, serving to summarize and synthesize the ideas presented in the other short treatises. In fact, the Liber de Sapiente is the only part of In Hoc Volumine that has had a modern edition having been translated once into Italian and twice into French. And yet this work still has no English translation. The Liber de sapiente is important to intellectual history because it exemplifies the transition between Medieval and Renaissance thinking. Ernst Cassirer considered the Liber de Sapiente, "perhaps the most curious and in some respects the most characteristic creation of Renaissance philosophy … [because] in no other work can we find such an intimate union of old and new ideas." (1927, p. 88). Cassirer even included a critical Latin edition of the de Sapiente prepared by his student as an appendix to The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy.

In geometry, Bovelles was a Pythagorean: objects and living beings take up regular shapes. Some of his chapters, on bells, physiognomy, machines, are representative of the period.

Michel Chasles, in his Aperçu historique... des méthodes en géométrie, points out Bovelles for his work on star polyhedra, a successor in this of Thomas Bradwardine.

His 1533 work Agonologiae Jesu Christi, libri quatuor has been cited in art history. For example, John North, The Ambassadors' Secret (2002), refers to it (p. 179, and elsewhere), in interpreting Holbein's picture The Ambassadors.


  1. ^ Albert Rivaud. Cf. French Wikipédia article.