The National Academy of Sciences of Italy

Founded in 1782

The National Academy of Sciences of Italy (the "Academy of Forty") was founded in 1782 as the 'Società Italiana' by the mathematician Antonio Mario Lorgna. Some of those who played an important role in the founding of the Society, such as Lorgna, the mathematician Ruggero Boscovich, and the mathematician Gianfrancesco Malfatti, already have biographies in this archive. However, before giving some details of the founding of the Society, let us give some information on those who do not have biographies in our archive.

Although Lorgna was the driving force behind founding the Society, nevertheless four other men played an important role as founder members. Two of these are Boscovich and Malfatti while the other two are Carlo Barletti (1735-1800) and Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729-1799). Barletti, an ordained priest in the Piarists (a Roman Catholic educational order), was the professor of physics at Pavia University. Spallanzani served as professor of logic, metaphysics, and Greek, then as professor of physics at the University of Modena before gaining worldwide recognition as a physiologist while holding a chair at the University of Pavia. These four were Lorgna's friends and they discussed setting up a Society over many years. On 28 June 1766 Lorgna wrote to Malfatti saying that it was important for Italy to have a scientific journal. Over the following ten years discussions went on and by 1776 Lorgna and Malfatti were discussing Lorgna's "idea of forming an Academy for all Italian scholars". Malfatti thought the idea "noble and glorious" but was worried that they wouldn't get deep enough contributions from mathematicians and other scientists. Barletti was also worried that they might not get the highest quality research, but Lorgna, who was confident that the project would succeed, pushed their doubts aside..

On 1 March 1781, Lorgna went ahead with his proposal sending out a circular letter to leading scientists. He proposed that they formed "a body united only by the cement of love of our country and of free natural genius." He emphasised that the new Society would have a journal which would publish contributions rapidly, thus avoiding the delays that Italian scientists encountered by publishing abroad. He also promised that the journal would be printed to the highest quality, and promised to provide personal funds to ensure that these aims were met. [Lorgna had sold his private collection of paintings by leading artists a few months earlier, and it is almost certain that he did so to fund the Society and its journal.] He didn't explicitly state that papers in the journal would be written in Italian, but this was implicit in the circular. Boscovich and others worried that papers written in Italian would not be read by foreign scientists. Boscovich emphasised this in several letters when he wrote, "Italian is unknown to mathematicians in Paris, England and Germany". Lorgna, however, was confident in his proposal and advised all his friends to "stay calm". He published the first part of the 'Memorie', the Society's Memoirs, in 1782 the year the Society was founded in Verona. Lorgna wrote in the Preface to this first part that "the disadvantage of Italy is that its forces are divided" and that it was necessary "to start combining the knowledge and work of many famous separated Italians" in a single association that "was not of any one State but of all of Italy". His Società Italiana, the Society of the XL, would restrict membership to forty top Italian scientists. In addition to the Italian scholars, he proposed that twelve foreign scientists should be elected to the Society (this was later increased to 25). The Society, he wrote, "belongs to the whole of Italy, not just to a single city." Lorgna was the first President of the Società Italiana, holding this role until his death in 1796. Only after his death was the Society renamed the "Italian Society of Sciences known as Society of the XL". The second President was Antonio Cagnoli (see below). It is worth realising that this "Italian Society" was proposed by Lorgna about 100 years before the unification of Italy which took place in 1861. Originally set up in Verona, the Society relocated to Milan, then to Modena, and in 1875, when Rome was declared the capital of Italy, the headquarters of the Society moved there where it remains to this day.

Here is a list of 28 Italian scientists who became members of the Società Italiana, the "Academy of Forty", when it was founded in 1782. The Academy did not have 40 members at this stage.

Original members of the Società Italiana.

Carlo Barletti (1735-1800). A physicist who studied electricity, he held the chair of experimental physics at the University of Pavia.

Teodoro Bonati (1724-1820). An hydraulic engineer and mathematician, he worked at Ferrara. He argued with Napoleon concerning plans to divert the course of the river Po.

Ruggero Giuseppe Boscovich (1711-1787). A mathematician and physicist, he has a biography in this archive.

Sebastiano Canterzani (1734-1818). A mathematician, physicist, and astronomer, he was professor of mathematics at the University of Bologna. He was secretary of the Academy of Sciences in Bologna. Calculated the orbit of Venus.

Angelo Cesaris (1749-1832). A Jesuit astronomer, he worked at the Brera Observatory in Milan. Main work was in observing but he wrote an interesting history of science in Lombardy.

Felice Fontana (1730-1805). A physicist who made contributions to chemistry, he worked at Bologna and Pisa where he taught logic, then physics. Created a museum of physics and natural history in La Specola beside the Pitti Palace in Florence. He was the brother of Gregorio Fontana.

Gregorio Fontana (1735-1803). A mathematician who introduced polar coordinates and held the chair of mathematics at the University of Pavia, succeeding Boscovich. He was the brother of Felice Fontana.

Michele Girardi (1731-1797). An anatomist who made contributions to both human and animal studies, he was professor at the University of Parma.

Marsilio Landriani (1751-1815). A chemist, physicist and meteorologist, he held the chair of experimental physics at the Brera Ginnasio. He studied chemical applications of electric phenomena.

Antonio Mario Lorgna (1735-1796). A mathematician and engineer, he worked at the Military College of Castelvecchio in Verona. He has a biography in this archive.

Vincenzo Malacarne (1744-1816). A physiologist who studied the electrical activity in the human brain, he worked first at Turin and later at Padua.

Gianfrancesco Malfatti (1731-1807). A mathematician who worked at the University of Ferrara, he has a biography in this archive.

Carlo Lodovico Morozzo (1743-1804). A chemist and naturalist, he worked in Turin.

Pietro Moscati (1739-1824). A physician who worked at the Ospedale Maggiore in Milan. Later he became a senator of Napoleon's Kingdom of Italy and president of the health department.

Pietro Paoli (1759-1839). A mathematician who taught at the universities of Mantua, Pavia and Pisa, he has a biography in this archive.

Tommaso Perelli (1704-1783). An astronomer and hydraulics expert, he held the chair of astronomy at the University of Pisa.

Ermenegildo Pini (1739-1825). Member of the Barnabite religious order, he was a geologist, mineralogist, naturalist, mathematician, architect, philosopher and theologian.

Giordano Riccati (1709-1790). A mathematician and physicist who also worked on the theory of music and architecture, designing many interesting buildings. He was the fifth son of Jacopo Riccati.

Giuseppe Angelo Saluzzo (1734-1810). A military man who did good work on physics and chemistry. He founded the Academy of Sciences of Turin.

Antonio Scarpa (1752-1832). He was a was a surgeon, anatomist and physician working in Pavia.

Giuseppe Slop De Cadenberg (1740-1808). He worked at the Observatory in Pisa and succeeded Tommaso Perelli as Professor of Astronomy at the University of Pisa. Made extensive studies of Uranus after its discovery in 1781.

Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729-1799). A Catholic priest who was also a biologist and physiologist. He worked at the universities of Reggio and Modena as professor of logic, metaphysics and Greek, then at the University of Pavia as professor of natural history.

Giuseppe Toaldo (1719-1797). A Catholic priest and physicist, he edited Galileo's works and later became professor of astronomy at the University of Padua.

Giuseppe Torelli (1721-1781). A mathematician and literary man, he worked at Verona and produced an important translation of works by Archimedes. He also wrote on solving accounting problems for merchants.

Alessandro Volta (1745-1827). A physicist known for the invention of the battery and work on electrical capacitance, he also made important contributions to chemistry discovering methane. He was professor of physics at the Royal School in Como and later professor of experimental physics at the University of Pavia.

Leonardo Ximenes (1716-1786). A mathematician, engineer, astronomer and geographer, he worked in the Tuscany region. The astronomical observatory, Osservatorio Ximeniano, is named after him.

Eustachio Zanotti (1709-1782). An astronomer and engineer, he was director of the Observatory in Bologna. He observed the 1761 transit of Venus in Bologna and made many observations of the moon, the sun and the planets.

Giovanni Verardo Zeviani (1725-1808). A physicist who made important contributions to medicine. Wrote important medical texts and made one of the first studies of infant mortality.

Second membership phase of the Società Italiana.

By 1786, 13 new Italian members had been added. This did not take the total over 40 since a couple of the original members had died. Here is the list of the next 13 members. Note that Joseph-Louis Lagrange, who was born in Turin, was considered an Italian mathematician by the Italians.

Giovanni Arduino (1714-1795). A geologist who was an expert in mining and land surveying. He worked as a Public Engineer in Vicenza, and then in Venice.

Antonio Cagnoli (1743-1816). An astronomer, mathematician and diplomat, he worked in Paris and Verona. He set up an observatory in Verona and succeeded Antonio Lorgna as President of the Academy of Forty.

Leopoldo Marco Antonio Caldani (1725-1813). An anatomist and physiologist, he was professor of practical medicine at the University of Bologna and then professor of theoretical medicine at the University of Padua.

Giovanni Francesco Cigna (1734-1790). A physician and chemist, he became professor of anatomy at the University of Turin.

Domenico Cirillo (1739-1799). A physician and botanist, he successively held the chairs of practical and theoretical medicine at the University of Naples. Strongly opposed to the French after their Italian conquest, he was hanged.

Domenico Cotugno (1736-1822). A physician who worked on metaphysics, mathematics, physics and natural sciences, he became professor of anatomy in Naples.

Luigi Lagrange (1736-1813). Mathematician better known under his French name of Joseph-Louis Lagrange, he has a biography in this archive.

Paolo De Langes (-1810). A mathematician who worked on statics and its application to the construction of buildings.

Pietro Ferroni (1745-1825). A mathematician who was professor at the University of Pisa. He wrote on e and logarithms, but used the notation C for the exponential e.

Vittorio Fossombroni (1754-1844). A mathematician, economist and hydraulic engineer, he became Minister for Foreign Affairs in the government of Tuscany. He became prime minister of Tuscany.

Barnaba Oriani (1752-1832). A priest who was interested in mathematics and astronomy. He worked at the Observatory of Brera in Milan, becoming its director in 1802.

Pietro Rossi (1738-1804). An entomologist who was professor of logic at Pisa, becoming professor of natural history there in 1801. He was the world's first professor of entomology.

Leonardo Salimbeni (1752-1823). An engineer and mathematician, he worked in the Military Academy of Castelvecchio at Verona.

Simone Stratico (1733-1824). He was professor of Mathematics and Navigation at the University of Padua, then taught nautical science at Pavia. He was Inspector General of Bridges and Roads while Napoleon ruled Italy.

Giuseppe Vairo (1741-1795). He was professor of chemistry at Naples and professor of philosophy at the Jesuit College in Naples.

Giovanni Battista Venturi (1746-1822). A priest who was a physicist, literary man, diplomat and historian of science who discovered the Venturi effect. He worked at the University of Modena.

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References (show)

  1. G Scorza Dragoni, Mathematics in the memoirs of the Academy of the Forty (Italian), Rend. Accad. Naz. Sci. XL Mem. Mat. Sci. Fis. Natur. (5) 6 (1-2) (1982), 67-90.

Last Updated January 2013