Magalotti, Lorenzo

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(b. Rome, Italy, 13 December 1637; d. Florence, Italy, 4 March 1712)

dissemination of science.

Born to an old and distinguished Florentine family, Magalotti lived during a period of marked contrasts arising from political upheavals, religious wars, and the influence of colonialism. In Italy there flourished, on the one hand, post-Galilean scientific progress, most significantly expressed in the Florentine Accademia del Cimento; on the other, however, was the decline of the Renaissance, which had been characterized by freedom of thought.

Magalotti was one of the first ten members of the Accademia del Cimento, which was founded in Florence in 1657 by Ferdinando II de’ Medici and his brother Prince Leopoldo and which lasted only until 1667. Magalotti was the secretary of the Academy and reported its activity in the Saggi di naturali esperienze fatte nell’ Accademia del Cimento (Florence, 1667), essays on natural experiments mainly carried out by Borelli, Redi, and Vincenzio Viviani. The volume immediately attracted considerable interest and was translated into English and Latin.

Magalotti acquired his scientific skill from studying with Viviani, one of the last pupils of Galileo, and from attending at Pisa, then the major Italian university, the lectures of other scientists, notably Marcello Malpighi, Carlo Renaldini, and Giovanni Alfonso Borelli (1656). In 1667, however, he abandoned scientific studies and embarked on a series of travels as a diplomat in the service of the Medicis, which enabled him to become familiar with much of Europe and inspired many of his writings.

In his time Magalotti acquired considerable fame, but today his work appears not quite worthy of his many gifts and complex personality. He has the distinction, though, of having written the best scientific prose in Italian after that of Galileo; his descriptions of experiments in physics are written in colorful, almost dramatic, language. His contacts with different cultures enriched and gave freedom to his expression, which led his contemporaries to believe that his style showed too much foreign influence.

Magalotti published very little during his lifetime; his writings, which were much in demand, were circulated mostly in manuscript form and were not published until after his death. The most notable were the then celebrated Lettere contro l’ateismo his short stories and poetic works, his many letters on scientific and other scholarly topics, and the singular essays on odors.

Magalotti became so interested in linguistics that he became involved in the Italian dictionary that was being prepared by the Accademia della Crusca. His literary style is characterized by lively prose and brilliant witticisms, which express his character as a man of the world but also may serve to disguise the spiritual disquiet which led him to enter a monastery for a few months in 1691. Magalotti seems in some ways a very modern figure, with acute critical abilities and a questioning mind, characterized also by a certain world-weariness.


I. Original Works. Among Magalotti’s writings are Saggi di naturali esperienze fatte nell’ Accademia del Cimento(Florence, 1667), translated into English by R. Walter (London, 1684) and into Latin by Petrus van Musschenbroek (Leiden, 1731), photocopy ed. issued by Museum of the History of Science, Florence, and Domus Galileiana, Pisa (Florence-Pisa, 1957); Notizie varie dell’imperio della China e di qualche altro paese adiacente (Florence, 1697); the Lettere familiari del Conte Lorenzo Magalotti gentiluomo fiorentino e accademico della Crusca, known as Lettere contro l’ateismo, 2 pts. (Venice, 1719); Lettere scientifiche ed erudite del Conte Lorenzo Magalotti gentiluomo…(Florence, 1721); Delle lettere familiari delConte Lorenzo Magalotti e di altri insigni uomini a lui scritte (Florence, 1769); and Varie operette del Conte Lorenzo Magalotti, con otto lettere su le terre odorose d’Europa e d’ America dette volgarmente buccheri, ora pubblicate per la prima volta(Milan, 1825).

II. Secondary Literature. See Angelo Fabroni,Vitae italorum doctrina excellentium, qui saec. XVII et XVIII floruerunt (Rome, 1769), an Italian trans. of which by Cianfrogni is found in the Lettere familiari of 1769 (see above); Stefano Fermi, Lorenzo Magalotti, scienziato e letterato, studio biografico-bibliografico critico (Florence, 1903); and Bibliografia magalottiana (Piacenza, 1904); Cesare Guasti, “Lorenzo Magalotti, diplomatico,” in Giornale storico degli archivi Toscani (1860–1861); Lorenzo Montano, Le più belle pagine di Lorenzo Magalotti (Milan, 1924); and Pompilio Pozzetti, Lorenzo Magalotti, Elogium, habitum nonis lanuarii 1787 (Florence, 1787).

Luigi Campedelli