Bonvicino (Also Known as Bonvoisin or Buonvicino) Costanzo Benedetto

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Bonvicino (Also Known as Bonvoisin or Buonvicino) Costanzo Benedetto

(b. Centallo, near Cuneo, Piedmont, 1739; d. Turin, Italy, 25 January 1812)


The comfortable circumstances of Bonvicino’s family enabled him to attend the University of Turin, from which he received his degree in medicine on 14 April 1764. In 1778 he was admitted to the College of Physicians. Bonvicino devoted himself almost entirely to chemistry, however, at first under the guidance of V. A. Gioanetti, and acquired considerable scientific prestige. In 1783 he became a member of the Academy of sciences of Turin, of which he was president in 1801–1802. In 1800 he was made professor of pharmaceutical chemistry and of the natural history of drugs at the University of Turin.

Bonvicino’s first scientific work dealt with a qualitative and a partially quantitative analysis of a Piemontese mineral called pierre hydrophane, known for its characteristic of losing its opacity when immersed in water. A similar mineral had previously been examined by Torbern Bergman.

Bonvicino’s activity in the Academy of Sciences of Turin during the reign of the house of Savoy (1783–1798) was in analytical and industrial chemistry. He was placed in charge of the Academy’s laboratory and of the analysis of mineral waters and waters used by dyers. He also supervised the production and control of common salts and wrote reports on new proposals dealing largely with the textile and dye industries and with metallurgy.

In opposition to the views held by Lavoisier, in November 1787 Bonvicino requested the Turin Academy to take an official position against the chemical nomenclature proposed by the French scientist. This occurred at a time when the Academy was totally dedicated to a defense of the theories of Stahl. On 12 February 1792 Bonvicino reported to the Academy on some experiments he had performed in support of the phlogiston theory. His scientific production during this period achieved some noteworthy results that are recorded in all the chemistry manuals of the period. His memoir on the isolation of phosphoric acid from calcium phosphate by means of ammonium carbonate dates from 1784–1785; previously, oxalic acid, which gave only a partial purification, had been used.

The writings that give us a truer measure of Bonvicino’s scientific achievements are those related to the analysis of water and salts. The predominance of the experimental aspect freed the scientist from the rigid interpretative schemes that were based on preconceived theories.

In his carefully conducted studies, Bonvicino made use of a technique that aimed at the solution of problems of quantitative determination, that is, problems that dealt with the loss of weight, due to mechanical and physical factors, of substances being examined. The results yielded a great mass of data that appeared in scientific publications during the second half of the eighteenth century while being subjected to further experimental verification. From these studies he wrote his Element di chimica, a rich compendium of his university courses.

During the Napoleonic period (1798–1812), Bonvicino was especially interested in a more rational exploitation of the mineral resources of the Piedmont, a problem he tacked from all points of view: the importance of the mineral wealth (the survey and analysis of minerals were the chief objects of his studies during this period); the development of the industries that processed the minerals (to be achieved by the gradual replacement of the miners, who used crude techniques, by students who had been trained in technical schools, the establishment of which Bonvicino strongly advocated); the updating of mining legislation (still on a feudal basis, mining laws presented a serious obstacle to free enterprise); and combustibles (besides the traditional source, wood, he also searched for coal deposits).


I. Original Works. A fairy complete bibliography of Bonvicino’s published works may be found in G. G. Bonino, Biografia medica piemontese (see below), II, 593–596. Books not included by Bonino are Sulle cagioni recenti della minor produzione in bozzoli e in sete nel Piemonte e sui mezzi di rimediarvi (Turin, 1802); Element di chimica farmaceutica e di storia naturale e preparazione deȔ rimedi, 2 vols. (Turin, 1804–1810); Penieri sulla cura dell—epizozia che regna ora in Piemonte (Turin, 1805); Storia di quattro persone che morirono avvelenate dai funghi (Turin, n.d.); Mémoire présenté à la Commission du Grand Conseild’Administration de l’Universite de Turin nommée pour examiner tout ce qui a rapport aux examens de médecine (Turin, n.d.); and Mémoireed istruzioni sui mezzi di minorare i danni delle carestie nel Piemonte per mezzo della dilatata coltura deipomi di terra, volgarmente detti tartifle (Turin, n.d.). Articles omitted by Bonino are “Rouissage du chanvre,” in Mémoiredell’Accademia delle scienze di torino, 10 (1793), xxxii-xxxix; “Note sur la diopside,” in Journal des mines, 20 , no. 115 (1812), 65 ff.; and “Sur la formation de I’hydrophane et du cacholong,” ibid., no 118 (1812), 305 ff.

Unpublished memoiresand MSS of Bonvicino, preserved in the library of the Academy of Sciences of Turin, are “Sulla maniera di trarre il sale catartico dal scisto delle montagne di Sallances” (1784), MS collection 485; “Analis di alcune acque naturali relativamente alle tinture”(1791), MS collection 443–445; and “Parere su un saggio di Vitriol della nova fabbrica eretta in Carouse sig. De Voiseray” (1791), MS collection 2331.

Also preserved in the same library are reports prepared by Bonvicino and the commissions of which he was a member at the request of private industry, and six letter from Bovicino to colleagues in the Academy. Bonvicino’s activity in the Academy of Sciences is recorded in its MS minitues, preserved in its library.

II. Secondary Literature. An obituary notice on Bonvicino is A. Garmagnano, Clarissimi Benedicti Bonvicini chimiae pharmaceuticae professoris medicae facultatis praesidis laudatio (Turin, 1812). A longer sketch of his life is G. G. Bonino, in his Biografia medica piemontese, II (Turin, 1825), 585–596. Its information was republished in a biography of Bonvicino by I. Guareschi, in Supplemento annuale alla Enciclopedia di chimica (Turin, 1910), pp. 445–453. For information on the scientific milieu in which Bonvicino worked, the only worthwhile work is still that of I. Guareschi, “La chimica in Italia dal 1750 at 1800,” in Supplemento annuale alla Enciclopedia di chimica (Turin, 1909), pp. 327–378.

Giorgio Pedrocco