The Accademia dei Lincei

Founded in 1603

The Accademia dei Lincei was founded in 1603 by Federico Cesi, the son of the Duke of Acquasparta, and a member of an important family from Rome. Cesi was interested in science, particularly in botany, and he was the leader of a group of four young men who set up the Academy. The name of the Academy requires a little explanation. It means 'Academy of Lynxes', a name chosen by the founders because the lynx was renowned for its sharp eyesight. The Academy had both an eagle and a lynx as symbols, the eagle like the lynx being famed for its sharp eyes. Cesi gave the Academy his motto:-
... take care of small things if you want to obtain the greatest results.
The Academy set out its aims which included finding truth based upon the mathematical and natural
sciences. It desired [2]:-
... knowledge and wisdom of things to be obtained not only through living together with honesty and piety, but with the further goal of communicating them peacefully to men without causing any harm.
The Academy struggled at first, partly due to Cesi's father who felt that members were experimenting with alchemy. However after Cesi's father's death he had the financial means to have the Academy flourish which it did.

The Academy's most famous members were Galileo, Luca Valerio and Giambattista della Porta. Galileo joined the Academy in 1609. This was an honour which was especially important to him as is clear sincehe signed himself 'Galileo Galilei Linceo' from this time on. Della Porta joined the Academy on 1610 and Valerio in 1612. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, the chief theologian of the Roman Catholic church, issued a decree on 5 March 1616 which declared Copernicus's theories to be false. As a result there was a schism in the Academy and Valerio resigned. His resignation was not accepted but he was not allowed to attend further meetings.

Cesi died in 1630 and the Academy closed down. In 1745 a group of scientist in Rimini refounded the Academy, but it only functioned for a very short time. Padre Feliciano Scarpellini founded a private Academy in Rome in 1795 which he named the 'Lincei'. This was a much more successful venture bringing together a group of mathematicians and scientists working in the Papal States. Pope Gregory XVI suggested in 1838 refounding the Academy as 'Accademia Pontificia dei Nuovi Lincei' (The Pontifical Academy of the New Lynxes), but this did not happen until 1847 when Pope Pius IX revived the Academy. New statutes were drawn up stipulating that the Academy should have thirty resident members and forty correspondent members.

Revolts occurred in the Papal States in 1849 and a short-lived Roman Republic was established. This Roman Republic tried to expel the Academy but it managed to keep its headquarters with skilled political footwork. During the later moves towards Italian unification the Papal States proved an problem because Catholic foreign powers would intervene to protect them. However, the Papal States of Emilia, Umbria, and Marche voted to join the Italian kingdom after Austria's defeat in 1859 then, when French troops withdrew from Rome in 1870, Italian forces took the area around the Vatican. The Academy was split into two different institutions, one taking the secular name indicating royal patronage the 'Reale Accademia dei Lincei' (which later became the present 'Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei' with its headquarters in Palazzo Corsini alla Lungara). The second institution formed in the split retained the ecclesiastical name becoming the 'Accademia Pontificia dei Nuovi Lincei'. Its headquarters was moved to the Casina Pio IV villa in the Vatican Gardens. In 1936 it was renamed the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

The Reale Accademia dei Lincei flourished. We name a few from with this archive who were associated with it. Bellavitis became a member of the Accademia dei Lincei in 1879, D'Ovidio was elected in 1883, Bianchi in 1893, and Beltrami became a member of the Accademia dei Lincei, serving as president of the Academy in 1898. We mention a few others such as Ricci-Curbastro who was elected in 1899, and Castelnuovo who served as President for many years. Vallée Poussin and Sierpinski were also elected members.

Niels Bohr, Tullio Levi-Civita, Guglielmo Marconi, Robert Millikan, Max Planck, Ernest Rutherford, Erwin Shrödinger, Francesco Severi, and Edmund Whittaker were all members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Visit the society website.

References (show)

  1. R Ladous, Des Nobel au Vatican : La fondation de l'academie pontificale des sciences (Paris, 1994).
  2. M Sanchez Sorondo, The Pontifical Academy of Sciences : A Historical Profile, The Pontifical Academy of Sciences Extra Series 16 (Vatican City, 2003).

Last Updated August 2004