Ramiro Lodovico Rampinelli

Quick Info

9 August 1697
Brescia, Venetian Republic (now Italy)
8 February 1759
Milan, Austrian Lombardy (now Italy)

Ramiro Rampinelli was a member of the Olivetan Order and an outstanding teacher of mathematics, most famed as the teacher of Maria Gaetana Agnesi. He flourished in Italy in the early 18th century at a time when much mathematical learning was led by those in religious Orders.


Ramiro Rampinelli was given the name Lodovico Rampinelli when he was born and only when he became a novice in the congregation of San Benedetto sul Monte Oliveto in 1722 did he take the name Ramiro. For simplicity, however, we will refer to him as Ramiro Rampinelli throughout this biography. We also note that his date of birth is given in various sources as 10 August and as 16 August but the date we have given is that on his baptismal certificate which states that he was baptised on 19 August having been born to Marchesio and Angelica Rampinelli at 3 a.m. on 9 August. Ramiro's parents were wealthy merchants and he was the second of their of their five children.

Ramiro certainly found problems in his education due, almost certainly, to the fact that he wanted to follow a different route from that which his father had planned for him. He studied literature and philosophy with the Jesuits in the Collegio delle Grazie in Brescia but, according to Cesareo Pozzi's obituary of Rampinelli in [2], his education was mediocre and, for a while, he wasted time hunting game and birds. His father put pressure on him to train for a legal career but this was not to his liking since he had begun to become passionate about military architecture and mathematics. He had two friends Francesco Torriceni and professor Giovanni Battista Mazzini (1677-1743), and they were able to give Rampinelli some mathematics books. For example, they obtained for him Federico Commandino's Latin translation of Euclid's Elements (1572), Francesco Maurolico's Admirandi Archimedis Syracusani mounmena omnia mathematica (1685), a collection of Archimedes' works, and some books by Niccolo Tartaglia and Andrea Tacquet. This angered Rampinelli's father who set fire to the mathematics books and Rampinelli's reaction was a sudden decision to run away from home and enlist in the cavalry.

If it had not been for the elderly Jesuit Gerolamo Bornati, a scholar of philosophy, we would not be writing about Rampinelli's contributions to mathematics today. It was Bornati who managed to prevent the boy running away from his home and skilfully reconciled him with his family. He directed him to the study of algebra through the texts of Niccolo Tartaglia, Girolamo Cardano and François Viète. This choice of works show considerable knowledge by Bornati for the texts of Viète were important works which, at that time, were little read in Italy. With the help of Torriceni and Mazzini, he also studied geometry, trigonometry, conical sections and mechanics, and in 1720 he went to Bologna to complete his training. His choice of Bologna was so that he might be instructed by Gabriele Manfredi, who taught mathematics at the University of Bologna having been appointed as professor there in 1720.

Rampinelli had not developed any systematic methods of study and had little idea about how to approach his studies. Gabriele Manfredi, however, saw the potential in his student and so took care of him, treated him very gently and instructed him more effectively than was his custom. Under Manfredi's guidance, he took his university course on the differential and integral calculus using Leibniz's approach, and his course on Cartesian geometry. Rampinelli spent two years studying under Gabriele Manfredi at the University of Bologna during which time the two recognised they had certain similarities in their characters, something which greatly helped Rampinelli to adopt the good learning methods that his professor was working to instil in him. It is worth commenting at this point that Rampinelli would become an outstanding teacher of mathematics so it is interesting to consider whether his own difficulties in his education were actually a positive influence on his later abilities as a teacher. Carlo Succi writes in [2]:-
But the rigorousness of scientific studies, and perhaps also the clarity of the conceptual foundations of mathematics, were decisive for Rampinelli's new and revolutionary attitude towards life: and in him a decisive and sure religious vocation arose.
In November 1722 he entered the congregation of San Benedetto sul Monte Oliveto in Bologna as a novice, taking the name Ramiro. In the following year he took his vows as a priest in the Monastery of San Michele in Bosco. He spent the years 1723-1726 at San Michele in Bosco situated in a panoramic location in the hills surrounding Bologna having a courtyard with a magnificent terrace overlooking the city and having views across the plains as far as the Alps [2]:-
There he made it known that he had not only the desire for tranquillity and retreat, but much more for the desire to have had a just and good soul had led him to the Cloisters. Accuracy in the duties of the Order, modesty in all its acts, fervour in piety, and severity with oneself were his steadfast, and indisputable witnesses.
In 1727 Rampinelli moved from San Michele in Bosco to San Elena in Venice. This was to be a very significant move for his mathematical career since he had been asked to deliver a letter to the mathematician Jacopo Riccati who lived on his large estate at Castelfranco Veneto, a small town about 30 km north of Padua and about 40 km north west of Venice. The letter was from Eustachio Manfredi, the brother of Gabriele Manfredi. Jacopo Riccati's two sons Vincenzo Riccati and Giordano Riccati both studied in Bologna and Jacopo Riccati had visited the city frequently and was friendly with both Eustachio Manfredi and Gabriele Manfredi. Rampinelli contacted Jacopo Riccati in September 1727 and, in addition to delivering the letter, he had been asked to find out how his latest research was progressing. When Jacopo Riccati saw that Rampinelli was enthusiastic about learning more mathematics he offered to give him some lessons. As a result Rampinelli spent several weeks at Castelfranco in both 1728 and 1729 studying documents and looking at various mathematical problems advised by Jacopo Riccati. From Venice, Rampinelli moved to the monastery of San Benedetto in Padua and while he was there he attended lectures at the University of Padua, in particular the hydraulics lectures of Giovanni Poleni, as well as the lectures of the physician and naturalist Antonio Vallisneri (1661-1730), of the classics professor Domenico Lazzarini (1668-1734), and of the theologian Jacopo G Serry.

Over the following years Rampinelli moved around various monasteries but this gave him the opportunity both to meet other mathematicians and also to begin teaching mathematics and physics [6]:-
From June 1731 to the spring of 1732, Rampinelli stayed at the monastery of Santa Maria Nuova in Rome. During this stay, he had the opportunity to exchange ideas with Celestino Galiani and Antonio Leprotti and also to teach mathematics to Giuseppe Orlandi, with whom maintained correspondence for many years.
Let us give a few brief details about the three people mentioned in this quote. Celestino Galiani (1681-1753) was born as Nicola Simone Agostino, and changed his name when he entered a religious order. He studied both theology and science and was a lecturer at the La Sapienza University in Rome between 1729 and 1731. Antonio Leprotti (1685-1746) had studied mathematics and astronomy at Bologna under both Eustachio Manfredi and Gabriele Manfredi before going on to study medicine. He became the personal doctor of Cardinal Davia in Rome but continued his interests in mathematics and astronomy, corresponding which the Manfredis. Giuseppe Orlandi (1713-1776) had entered the Congregation of the Celestines at the monastery of San Croce in Lecce in 1724. He showed such academic promise that his superiors sent him to the monastery of San Eusebio in Rome to study theology and Newtonian physics.

While based in Rome, Rampinelli made a trip to Naples in 1731 where he met Nicola De Martino (1701-1769), the author of Elementa Statices in tyronum gratiam (1729) [6]:-
... whose merit lay in his ability to unite the Galilean tradition with the most recent theories and results of Newton, Leibniz, the Bernoullis, J Hermann and P Varignon that particularly interested Rampinelli.
Rampinelli lived at the convent of San Bartolomeo in Pavia for about a year, arriving there in June 1732. Then [6]:-
... from May 1733 to the summer of 1740 he resided at the monastery of San Michele in Bosco, Bologna, where he taught courses in mathematics, analysis and physics to the young monks; he often turned to the Riccatis for help and advice on matters of hydrostatics and mathematical physics. Among his students from this period we find Cesareo Giuseppe Pozzi and Cesareo Maria Sommariva.
Both these students went on to have highly successful careers in mathematics. Cesareo Giuseppe Pozzi (1718-1782) clearly benefitted greatly from Rampinelli's teaching since he became professor of mathematics at La Sapienza University in Rome. Cesareo Maria Sommariva (1718-1763) also clearly benefitted since he went on to become professor of mathematics and physics at the colleges of Lucca and Bologna. He was later called to the chair of mathematics at the University of Pavia. He revised and printed Rampinelli's treatise on optics. After leaving Pavia, Rampinelli then spent six months, July 1740 to December 1740, at the Franciscan monastery of San Francesco in central Brescia, living in buildings from the 13th and 14th century.

In January 1741 moved to the monastery of San Vittore al Corpo in Milan which had originally been a Franciscan monastery but had been transferred to the Olivetan Order at the beginning of the 16th century. His transfer was specifically so that he could teach mathematics and physics to the monks. He was also appointed as a public professor and taught more widely. Perhaps Rampinelli is best known today as the teacher of Maria Gaetana Agnesi and he took on this role soon after moving to Milan. Here is Rampinelli's own description written in a letter he wrote to Giordano Riccati on 9 June 1745:-
Shortly after, when I came to Milan, I had the pleasure of meeting Signora Contessa Donna Maria Agnesi who was very well versed in Latin, Greek, and even Hebrew languages, as well as other more familiar ones; moreover, she was very learned in the best Metaphysics, and in the Physics of the day, in Geometry, and in Mechanics for the purposes of Physics; she had some knowledge of Cartesian algebra, but she has acquired that by herself, because she had no one here who could enlighten her. She therefore wanted me to assist her in this study, as I did, and in a short time with extraordinary strength and depth of talent she mastered the Cartesian algebra, and the two infinitesimal calculi, to which she has added the application of them to the most sublime physical matters. I assure you that I have always been and still am amazed to see so much talent, and such depth of knowledge in a woman, that would be remarkable in a man, and especially to see the accompaniment of a very particular Christian moral virtue. She has taken note of all the chit-chat I have heard about Analysis, she has improved it making it much better, ordered, and increased it with her own contributions, and with the reading of books, in sum she has formed a body of it, which can be called an accomplished foundation of Analysis. Her father would love that this work be published; but both because I am incapable and also because in some way I have a small part of it, do not want to judge it; so I ask you and Conte Jacopo, that you kindly would take the trouble to go and read the manuscript, which apart from the other I would send you, when I feel you are to do me the favour, of which I beg.
Maria Gaetana Agnesi, herself, wrote to Jacopo Riccati on 20 July 1745. In it she is full of praise for Rampinelli:-
Among the enormous feelings of obligation I hold towards my esteemed teacher Father Don Ramiro Rampinelli, I count also the honour your Lordship has granted me by deigning to cast your expert eye, and that of your worthy son Count Giordano, over the little that my meagre talents have allowed me to produce under the title of 'Instituzioni analitiche' following the guidance and direction of a man with such great mathematical faculties, with the aim of as far as possible making the study of such a difficult and laborious study in itself easier for the young, by stripping it down to the order and clarity it is capable of, which task, as far as I am aware, none have yet so much as attempted. The fact is that I have in this succeeded at least tolerably well and therefore I turn to the infallible oracle of your Lordship, of whose immense knowledge and learnedness I am assured not only by your public reputation but also by the authoritative testimony of the aforementioned Father Don Ramiro who - oh, how many times! - has worthily and honourably remembered your powers, not without envy towards all those who have the great benefit of communicating with and revering you at close quarters and thus admiring your exceptional gifts. Therefore I beg your most excellent Lordship to honour me with your sage criticisms and at the same time oblige me by placing your corrections in the margins, since Father Rampinelli, as my overly biased - or rather my overly modest - tutor, refuses to pass judgment on my work and has referred me to your infallible and unbiased opinions, advice and aid.
Agnesi was not the only one to give Rampinelli the highest possible praise as a teacher. Antonio Brognoli writes [3]:-
As he completely committed himself to teaching the young, I must add in his praise that is something which appears rather difficult, and is seldom found in those deep thinkers, who, absorbed by their own arcane thoughts do not know how to adapt their intelligence to others with lesser abilities. He was easily accessible, had remarkable modesty, I could say was of an almost childlike bashfulness, full of respect towards his colleagues and totally distant from any controversies; he had nothing more to give of himself than the bending and lowering of his genius to the level of others, seeking the easiest ways to communicate his ideas to others and transmitting his knowledge by following the method he believed best suited and most fitting to the various intellects of his followers. He always tried to encourage and comfort his pupils if he saw that they had been so frightened by the complex horrors of algebra as to throw themselves down and pull back. He faced up to obstinate difficulties, which he endeavoured to overcome, so that many took courage and threw themselves wholeheartedly into overcoming the rough terrain that at first sight had so terrified them. ... Not every learned man makes a good teacher, nor is he able to transmit to others what he knows. Rampinelli, however, was marvellously endowed with this talent.
In 1747 Rampinelli was appointed to the chair of mathematics at the University of Pavia, which he continued to occupy until his death twelve years later. It was on 10 April 1758 that he suffered what, from the description, must have been a stroke. He left Pavia and went to Brescia to try to recover his health [2]:-
Here, having thrown away all his treatments, he had regained his strength and almost recovered the vivacity of his soul and body ...
With his health greatly improved, he went back to the San Vittore al Corpo monastery in Milan but died after having a second stroke.

There is only one published work by Rampinelli, namely Lectiones optica published posthumously in 1760 edited by his student Cesareo Maria Sommariva. This, however, gives quite the wrong impression about the number of texts that he wrote for use by his students. Manuscripts of his lectures still exist, for example Institutionum Mechanicarum Lectiones contains his lectures on mechanics, Lectiones Hydrostaticae contains his lectures on hydrostatics, Institutionum Trigonometricarum Libri contains his lectures on plane and solid trigonometry, and there is a manuscript version of Lectiones Opticae , his lectures on optics. These works are all written in Latin, but many Italian documents by Rampinelli still exist, containing exercises and notes, and also versions of his notes which he had clearly sent to the Riccatis, some having marginal notes in the hand of Giordano Riccati.

It is explained in [2] why he published so little and also why Lectiones optica was published posthumously:-
Every time, in fact, that he was stimulated to publish something, he jokingly used to say that, as long as he did not write, he optimally provided a benefit to literate society, which could not exist if some had not kept their hands away from writing. Obviously, when everyone writes about almost any subject, there would be a danger that the excessive multitude of writers would cause an extreme shortage of readers. Nevertheless he did break with his modesty to pay a debt, that is, to attest to the Senate, by which he had been so honoured and exalted, his veneration and respect, and to express in some way even publicly that feeling of gratitude that he had in his soul. Therefore he resolved to publish precisely this treatise on optics under the auspices of that very large Order, and was already preparing the edition, when he began to feel very ill ... Before his death he had highly recommended the edition of 'Lectiones optica' to the illustrious man Cesareo Sommariva, after having already earlier submitted the work itself to his judgment. For the same purpose, towards the end of his life, while still residing in Brescia, he had dealt with the matter with the printer, and for everything to be done with the utmost accuracy, he had requested that the illustrious man Giovanni Battista Scarella, regular cleric, famous for doctrine and for the writings, would preside over the correction of the press: something that ... he faithfully did with great diligence and skill.

References (show)

  1. S Mazzone, C S Roero and E Luciano, L'Epistolario di Jacopo, Vincenzo e Giordano Riccati con Ramiro Rampinelli e Maria Gaetana Agnesi, 1727-1758 (Museo Galileo, 2011).
  2. C Succi, Un matematico bresciano Ramiro Rampinelli: Monaco Olivetano; 1697-1759 (Centro Storico Olivetano Badia di Rodengo, 1992).
  3. A Brognoli, Elogio del P D Ramiro Rampinelli, in Elogi di Bresciani per dottrina eccellenti del secolo XVIII (Vescovi, Brescia, 1785), 63-88.
  4. S Giuntini, Ricordi di Gabriele Manfredi Presenti fra le Carte di Ramiro Rampinelli, Bollettino di storia delle scienze matematiche 30 (2) (2-10), 255-288.
  5. M Mazzotti, Maria Gaetana Agnesi: Mathematics and the Making of the Catholic Enlightenment, Isis 92 (4) (2001), 657-683.
  6. C S Roero, M G Agnesi, R Rampinelli and the Riccati family: A cultural fellowship formed for an important scientific purpose, the 'Instituzioni analitiche', Historia Mathematica 42 (3) (2015), 296-314.
  7. C S Roero and Francesca Vendola. Note e discussioni-Il sodalizio scientifico fra i Riccati e Rampinelli, Physis-Firenze 36 (1) (1999), 215-224.
  8. C S Roero, Ramiro Rampinelli, un maestro esemplare, Almum Studium Papiense Storia dell'Università di Pavia 2 (2015), 49-52.
  9. C S Roero, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Ramiro Rampinelli e la famiglia Riccati: dialoghi scientifici fra il 1745 e il 1780, in Maria Gaetana Agnesi Scienziata, umanista e donna di fede (Editoria Grafica Colombo, 2016), 213-233.
  10. C S Roero and R Vendola, Il sodalizio scientifico fra i Riccati e R Rampinelli, Rivista Internazionale di Storia della Scienza 36 (1999), 189-197.
  11. F Torriceni, De vita Ramiri Rampinelli Epistola, in Ramiri Rampinelli, Lectiones opticae (1760), xiii-xxxi.
  12. C Truesdell, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Archive for History of Exact Sciences 40 (2) (1989), 113-142.

Additional Resources (show)

Other websites about Ramiro Rampinelli:

  1. MathSciNet Author profile
  2. zbMATH entry

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update November 2020