Delisle, Léopold Victor
Léopold Victor Delisle
Valognes, Normandy, France; [near Cherbourg]
Curator of manuscripts and later head of the Bibliothèque Nationale, developed paleographic techniques used by art historians. Delisle was provincially and not extensively educated in Valognes. However, Charles Duhérissier de Gerville, a nobleman and collector of manuscripts, hired him to copy manuscripts in Gerville's collection. From Gerville, Delisle learned the basics of paleography gaining entrance to the école des Chartres in 1846. He published his first article in 1847 while still a student there. He witnessed the revolutions of 1848 and the destruction of medieval monuments. In 1851 he won the first Prix Gobert by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres for his piece, "Études sur la condition de la classe agricole et l'état de l'agriculture en Normandie au Moyen Age." After graduating in 1849, one of Delisle's teachers, Benjamin Guérard (1797-1854) was appointed to a position at the Bibliothèque Nationale and hired him for the Department of Manuscripts in 1852. In 1857 he married Louise-Laure Burnouf, the daughter of orientalist Eugene Burnouf (1801-1852). Madame Delisle took an interest in her husband's scholarship and, by Léopold's later admission, wrote some of the articles under his name as she knew more languages than he. When Delisle came to the Department of Manuscripts, none of the manuscripts was cataloged. In 1868 he began publishing his history of the manuscript collections, Le Cabinet des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque Impériale which was completed in 1881 in four volumes. Delisle rose rapidly through the ranks, making curator in 1871 and Administrator General of the whole library in 1874. His scholarship helped develop what is today the Catalogue général des livres imprimés as well as the principles on which it is based. He regularly contributed articles to the Bibliothèque de l'Ecole des Chartes and the Journal des Savants. As Administrator General, he courageously refused to leave his post when the Commune of 1871 attempted to replace him with an unqualified partisan. Vigorous beyond his years, he was forced into retirement in 1905 at age 79, learning of it only by reading of his successor in the newspaper. The event reportedly hastened Louise-Laure's death the same year. Delisle's used his paleographic analytical techniques for manuscript illumination, establishing "schools" of painting based upon a critical study of the painting and text.
L'Apocalypse en français au XIIIe siècle: (Bibl. nat. fr. 403). Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1901; Catalogue général des livres imprimés de la Bibliothèque nationale. Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1897- ; Monasticon Gallicanum: collection de 168 planches de vues topographiques réprésentant les monastères de l'ordre de Saint-Benoit, Congrégation de Saint-Maur, avec deux cartes des établissements bénédictins en France. Paris: V. Palmé, 1871.
Panofsky, Erwin. "The History of Art." In The Cultural Migration: The European Scholar in America. Introduction by W. Rex Crawford, p. 85, mentioned; WBD 404; Bates, David. "Léopold Delisle." Medieval Scholarship: Biographical Studies on the Formation of a Discipline. Volume 2: History. Edited by Helen Damico and Joseph B. Zavadil. New York: Garland Publishing, 1995, pp. 101-113, The Dictionary of Art.