Della Torre, Giovanni Maria

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Della Torre, Giovanni Maria

(b. Rome, Italy, 12 June 1713; d. Naples, Italy, 9 March 1782)

natural sciences.

Della Torre was born of a noble Genoese family but lived in Naples from his earliest years. He received an ecclesiastical education there and in 1738 was appointed to teach physical sciences in the archiepiscopal lyceum. In 1743 Charles III of Spain, king of the Two Sicilies, named him director of the royal library and royal printing press.

Della Torre was a man of wide culture and of wide scientific curiosity. His studies led him into the history of philosophy, optics, and microscopy (he made several new histological identifications with an excellent compound microscope that he himself had built); in addition, he observed and recorded eruptions of Vesuvius. He was much influenced by the De rerum nature of Lucretius.

Della Torre’s most important work, however, was as an encyclopedist. His two-volume work, Scienza della natura (Naples, 1748–1749; reprinted Venice, 1750—an abridgment, Institutiones physicae, was published in Naples in 1753, and a considerably enlarged Neapolitan edition appeared in 1767–1770 as Elementa physicae), anticipated the more famous Encyclopédie, the publication of which began in 1751.

The Scienza della natura is divided into sections, each of which is subdivided into several chapters. The first volume, in five sections, is dedicated to general physics, comprising statics and hydrostatics, dynamics and hydrodynamics (all developed according to the mechanical theories of Galileo and Newton), and includes an entire chapter on thermometry that draws upon the works of Boyle, Perrault, and Fahrenheit. The second volume is also in five sections and deals with the earth (including mineralogy, volcanoes, and earthquakes), the air (including light, sound, and electricity), botany, zoology, and human anatomy. Each volume contains a historical preface and a detailed index. Each is illustrated (there are thirty-one plates in volume I, thirty in volume II); illustrations of particular interest are those of units of measurement, the pendulum, electrostatical machines, the pointing of mortar, the compressed-air gun, the refraction of light rays, and chyliferous vessels in man.

In short, the Scienza delta natura presents a complete and ordered picture of the state of scientific knowledge in its time. Although Della Torre’s work is almost forgotten today, he was strongly influential in establishing the scientific climate of eighteenthcentury Italy.


I. Original Works. Besides the editions of Scienza della natura detailed above, Della Torre published Storia e fnomeni del Vesuvio col catalogo degli scrittori vesuviani(Naples, 1755); Supplemento alla storia del Vesuvio fino all’anno 1759 (Naples, 1759); and L’incendio del Vesuvio accaduto it 19 Ottobre 1767 (Naples, 1767).

II. Secondary Literature. Further material on Della Torre’s life and work may be found in Biographic degli uomini illustri del Regno di Napoli (Naples, 1834); Biographie universelle, X (Brussels, 1847), 242; G. B runo, “Giovanni Maria Della Torre istologo napoletano,” in Gazzetta sanitaria, 20 (1949), 156–159; E. D’Afflitto, Memorie degli scrittori del Regno di Napoli (Naples, 1782–1788); S. De Renzi, Storia della medicina in Italia, V (Naples, 1848), passim; G. De Ruggero. Sommario di storia della filosofia (Ban, 1930); and M Schipa, Storia del Regno di Napoli al tempo di Carlo di Borbone (Naples, 1904).

Pletro Franceschini