Jean-Baptiste Tavernier: Merchant Extraordinary

George A. Rothrock introduces the son of a Protestant engraver, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier; a dealer in gems, Tavernier made six important journeys to Persia, India and Tonkin during the reign of Louis XIV

Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in oriental costume, 1679
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in oriental costume, 1679

Seventeenth-century France produced many strikingly original individuals - soldiers, philosophers, scientists, and statesmen. But one of the most dynamic of Louis XIV’s subjects neither entered public service nor followed an intellectual career. Jean-Baptiste Tavernier was a merchant, a dealer in gems, a man largely overlooked in the annals of a turbulent period, but surely one of the more interesting figures of his century.

The Taverniers were a Protestant family of petty bourgeois background who moved to Paris from Flanders toward the end of the sixteenth century. At the head of the family were two brothers, Gabriel and Melchior, both engravers. Their shop in Paris prospered, and Melchior achieved some modest fame for his maps and portraits.

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