Barrande was born at Saugues, Haute Loire, and educated in the École Polytechnique at Paris. Although he had received the training of an engineer, his first appointment was that of tutor to the duc de Bordeaux (afterwards known as the comte de Chambord), grandson of Charles X, and when the king abdicated in 1830, Barrande accompanied the royal exiles to England and Scotland, and afterwards to Prague. Settling in that city in 1831, he became occupied in engineering works, and his attention was then attracted to the fossils from the Lower Palaeozoic rocks of Bohemia.
The publication in 1839 of Murchison's Silurian System incited Barrande to carry on systematic researches on the equivalent strata in Bohemia. For ten years (1840—1850) be made a detailed study of these rocks, engaging workmen specially to collect fossils, and in this way he obtained upwards of 3500 species of graptolites, brachiopoda, mollusca, crustacea (particularly trilobites) and fishes. The first volume of his great work, Système silurien du centre de la Bohtme (dealing with trilobites), appeared in 1852; and from that date until 1881, he issued twenty-one quarto volumes of text and plates. Two other volumes were issued after his death In 1887 and 1894. It is estimated that he spent nearly £10,000 on these works. In addition he published a large number of separate papers. In recognition of his important researches the Geological Society of London in 1855 awarded to him the Wollaston medal.
Barrande died at Frohsdorf on October 5, 1883.