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  • All'origine della scienza moderna: Federico Cesi e l'Accademia dei Lincei
  • Michael H. Shank
Andrea Battistini, Gilberto De Angelis, and Giuseppe Olmi , eds. All'origine della scienza moderna: Federico Cesi e l'Accademia dei Lincei. Bologna: Il Mulino, 2007. 480 pp. + 21 b/w pls. index. append. illus. €35. ISBN: 978-88-15-11986-5.

Prince Federigo Cesi's Accademia dei Lincei is a revered icon of early modern science. In textbooks, it is the earliest scientific society (1603). Dedicated to testing knowledge experimentally, the Lyncean Academy boasted among its members Galileo Galilei and Giambattista della Porta. To readers familiar only with this sketch, this book offers a salutary shock by providing the contextual frame without which one cannot assess the significance of the Lyncean Academy. Thanks to its generous notes, this fascinating collection of 400th anniversary articles both contributes, and offers access, to the mushrooming scholarship on the academy. Not least, the volume also sheds an unexpected light on the social, cultural, and religious context of early seventeenth-century Italian science, particularly in the Rome of the Barberini and of Galileo's trial.

Perhaps the most surprising chapter is the first, by De Angelis, who argues convincingly that Cesi's academy grew out of a profoundly religious sensibility cultivated in a family deeply tied to Franciscan spirituality and piety. The goals of the academy were the love of God and brotherly love, and its motto ("the desire for wisdom" ) was all-encompassing. Its focus on the mathematical sciences, natural philosophy, and natural history was motivated by the Bonaventuran vision of ascending to wisdom by first cultivating to the utmost the knowledge accessible to the senses. For De Angelis, Cesi's academy was a "great historical utopia" : accordingly, he sharply criticizes the frequent subsumption of the antithetical visions of Cesi and Francis Bacon (the contemplation vs. the domination of nature).

The sun and the bee are motifs central to Barberini emblematics and to Luigi Guerrini's chapter. Cesi had dedicated his Apiarium, an organicist and moralizing treatise on the bee, to Urban VIII, whose nephew Francesco became a low-key Lyncean immediately before he became a cardinal. Guerrini shows how the particulars of the bee's behavior and anatomy become springboards to moral points —precisely the program that the Lyncean Academy sought to instantiate by starting from the senses in order to transcend them. Guerrini demonstrates Tommaso Campanella's heavy borrowing from Cesi in his own commentary on the pope's poem "De sole et api," and intriguingly reads it as a statement of friendship. [End Page 1348]

Roberta Favino's exploration of the skeptical and empiricist trends in Giovanni Ciampoli and other Lynceans helped me understand better the context of similar strains in Galileo and Urban VIII. Her analysis also highlights notable differences in outlook between Galileo and Ciampoli, whose natural philosophy takes nature to be not a book, but a library, and mathematics to be the language of but a few of its volumes. Silvia de Renzi's discussion of Johannes Faber, a German Lyncean who taught at La Sapienza in Rome, offers a glimpse of the interface between natural philosophy, medical skepticism, the Socratic model, and the iatrochemical world of the 1620s.

David Freedberg's chapter focuses on Cesi's and Johannes Heckius's investigations into mushrooms. Recent manuscript evidence shows that Cesi pioneered the systematic investigation of mushrooms with extensive use of the microscope, to which Galileo had introduced him in 1624. Cesi used the instrument to discover how ferns reproduce and to describe the anatomy of —once again —the bee (his microscope-aided printed illustration preceded Robert Hooke's Micrographia by a generation).

Three of the last four chapters touch on the Tesoro Messicano, the Academy's massive introduction to New World flora and fauna, published posthumously (1651) for most of its contributors, including the physician Fabio Colonna (the focus of two chapters). Alessandro Ottaviani discusses Colonna's role in the preparation of the work, while Federigo Tognoni focuses specifically on Colonna's solutions to the problems of representing plants in this illustrated volume. Oreste Trabucco sorts through the intellectual complexities and personal conflicts involved in separating the mythical zibethicum animal...


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pp. 1348-1349
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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