Montanari, Geminiano

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(b. Moderns Italy, 1 June 1633; d. Padua, Italy, 13 October 1687)

astronomy, geophysics, biology, ballistics.

When Montanari was ten, his father, Giovanni, died; and he and his brothers, who died very young, were educated by his mother, Margherita Zanasi. His adolescence may therefore have been somewhat, unrestrained and turbulent. One of his last works, L’astrologia convinta di falso, contains many autobiographical notes which show that besides suffering, several serious illnesses and severe falls, he was, involved in brawls in which he both sustained and, inflicted injuries. At the age of twenty he was sent to, Florence to study law, a profession which would have, enabled him to ease his family’s financial problems. Montanari remained in Tuscany for three years, absorbed by many interests—but above all by a, passion for a woman prominent in Tuscan society. The latter involvement led to trouble; and he was, obliged to spend the last few months of this period, at Grosseto, which was then in the middle of the, swamps of the Maremma.

Fortunately Montanari was invited to go to Vienna, and at Salzburg, he received a degree in both, church and civil law. The epigraph on his tomb, in the church of San Benedetto in Padua indicates, that he also, probably at a different time, obtained, degrees in philosophy and in medicine. In Vienna, he practiced law and formed a friendship with, Paolo del Buono (1625–1659), a young Florentine, who had studied under Michelini at Pisa, where he, had become imbued with the ideas and principles, of Galileo. Del Buono was the director of the Imperial, Mint and a correspondent of the Accademia del, Cimento; and from him Montanari rapidly acquired, a proficiency in mathematics and natural science, which until then he had considered merely a hobby. At the end of 1657 he accompanied Del Buono on a, long trip to the mines which supplied the mint, visiting Styria, Bohemia, and Bergstetten, in the, Carpathian Mountains of Upper Hungary (now Horni, Mesto, Czechoslovakia), It appears that their research, and inquiries aroused suspicions and accusations, from which Del Buono fled to Poland, where he died, at the age of thirty-four.

Montanari began the long and perilous journey, back to Modena, where he entered the service of, Duke Alfonso IV d’Este, and married a woman, named Elisabetta. They had no children. She was an, active and skillful collaborator in his work, including, the construction of instruments and the polishing of, lenses. After a few months Montanari tired of the, ducal court and moved to Florence, where he became, legal adviser to Prince Leopoldo de’ Medici, who soon, discovered his scientific abilities.

But in Florence too, Montanari’s fiery character, stirred up trouble; and when, at the beginning of 1661, the duke of Modena invited him to return to, that city as court philosopher and mathematician, he accepted. The appointment was a brief one—Alfonso IV died in July 1662—but during this time, he met Cornelio Malvasia, a Bolognese nobleman, who commanded the duke’s militia and who was, passionately interested in astronomy. An active, patron of talented scientists, in 1650 he had recommended to the Bolognese Senate G. D. Cassini, who, had worked for him in the observatory that Malvasia, had built in his house at Panzano, near Castelfranco, Emilia. Now Malvasia became interested in Montanari, who had helped him to compile his volume of, ephemerides covering 1661–1666 (Modena, 1662). Montanari left the court of Modena with him and, went to Bologna and Panzano, where Malvasia died, in March 1664 after having obtained the chair of, mathematics at Bologna for his protégé.

Montanari began teaching at Bologna the following, December, and the fourteen years that he spent there, were the most productive years of his life. A. Fabroni, in the preface to his biography of Montanari, states, that the extraordinary flowering of science in Bologna, at the beginning of the eighteenth century had its, beginning in Montanari’s work. This flowering was, of course attributable also to others, such as Cassini, and Maipighi; but Montanar’s influence must have, been important, for he taught not only at the, Archiginnasio but also at the many academies of, natural philosophy. Soon after he arrived in Bologna, he founded such a school, which was modeled on the, Florentine Accademia del Cimento and was called, the Accademia della Traccia, or Accademia dei, Filosofi (this was the precursor of the Accademia, degli Inquieti, founded in 1690 by Eustachio Manfred, which in 1712 became the Accademia delle Scienze, dell’Istituto di Bologna).

Montanari also edited a volume of ephemerides, and astronomical tables (1665). From 1669 he was, concerned with Cassini’s sundial in the church of, San Petronio, and from the same year he published, an annual almanac, in which he poked fun at judicial, astrology because its predictions, rather than being, deduced from the appearance of the heavens, were, picked at random in the presence of friends.

The University of Bologna suffered a financial, crisis in the late 1670’s, during which the professors’ salaries were greatly reduced and paid after long, delays; Montanari decided to go to Padua, where, a new chair of astronomy and meteorology was, created for him, carrying a very high salary. But, the Republic of Venice, not content to have him, merely teaching, expected his advice and assistance on, the control of rivers and the protection of the Venetian Lagoon, military fortifications and the training of, the artillery, and especially the organization of the, mint and all problems having to do with currency. This last, heavy duty occupied Montanari for the rest, of his life and was detrimental to his health—he was, obese and inclined to apoplexy. He gradually became, almost blind and died suddenly of apoplexy in 1687.

The volume of Montanari’s work was enormous. G. Venturi summarizes his achievements by saying, that he was an astronomer in Modena, a physicist in, Bologna, and an engineer in Venice. It could be, said that in a relatively short life he continually, added to his interests but he never abandoned old, ones when he took up a new ones.

Montanari’s major contribution to Malvasia’s, ephemerides (1662) consisted of a map of the moon, thirty-eight centimeters in diameter, the largest at, the time and one of the most exact and detailed. Its, precision resulted from his use of a reticle, which, he described in this work as a network of silver wires; it must certainly have been more sophisticated than, those used, but not described, by Divini and Grimaldi. As for the richness of detail, Montanari probably, engraved the map himself, thus saving it from the, arbitrary simplification that often accompanied the, transition from drawing to engraving, a fate that ten, years earlier had befallen Grimaldi’s similar map. The, ephemerides also contains the description of an attempt, to work a clock by means of a pendulum, a project, with which Montanari was in all probability concerned.

It was in Bologna that Montanari showed his, exceptional skill in inventing and making precision instruments. He constructed enormous objective lenses, that were greatly praised by Cassini; one of them, dated 1666, is preserved in Bologna. In 1674 he, published a description of the “dioptric level,” an, instrument that gave extremely accurate levelings, because the level was fitted onto a telescope. This, telescope was also equipped with a distance-measuring, reticle made from hairs arranged on the focal plane, of the eyepiece.

In physics Montanari conducted experiments to, obtain drops of tempered glass and to observe the, curious way in which they shattered. He also made, studies, much admired by Huygens, of the behavior, of liquids in capillary tubes (1672–1678), which, suggested a similarity of the ascent of water in, capillary tubes and that of the sap in plant stems. Yet Montanari had already done some experimental, biology; at Vienna in 1657 he had artificially incubated, chicks, and at Udine in 1668 he had performed a, blood transfusion between animals. It is likely that, he had also taken part in similar experiments conducted in 1667 at Cassini’s house in Bologna.

In 1673, in a note on the “tromba parlante,” Montanari demonstrated that the principle of the megaphone, invented two years previously by Morland, could be reversed and used as an ear trumpet. With a pair of such instruments he was able to send and receive signals over distances of up to four miles.

Montanari was also interested in meteorological phenomena and was the first to use the term “atmospheric precipitation.” In a work of 1675, published by C. Bonacini in 1934, he speaks of the barometer as a “meteoroscope,” an instrument the variations, of which can forecast weather conditions; and in 1671 he had used a barometer as an altimeter, first on the, Asinelli tower in Bologna and then on Monte Cimone, the highest mountain in the Tuscan Apennines.

Montanari’s greatest achievements, however, were, in astronomy, particularly in his observations of the, star Algol, which contributed to one of the earliest, and most important chapters in the history of astrophysics, the study of the variable stars. He sent the, results of his observations, which struck a fresh blow, at the Aristotelian concept of the heavens’ immutability to the Royal Society in London and gave the, first report on them in the paper “Sopra la sparizione, d’alcune stelle et altre novità celesti,” published in Prose de’ signori accademici Gelati (1671; French, version, 1672). In this paper he catalogued many stars, of variable brightness, again drawing particular, attention to Algol; having observed it when it was, fairly bright, in 1667 he noticed that it was only of the, fourth magnitude, in 1669 it was of the second magnitude, and in 1670 again fourth magnitude. Montanari, seems not to have noticed the regularity of the, phenomenon, but he was reasonably accurate in, indicating the extremes of the variations. In fact, Algol (² Persei) has a period, determined by Goodrike, in 1782, of less than three days; but its magnitude, varies from approximately 3.4 to 2.1.

Montanari failed to perceive either the regularity, or the period of variation because the deterioration, of his sight prevented him from making regular, observations, as he stated in the same paper. But his, considerations of these phenomena are extremely, interesting, expressed as they were against the, prevailing opinions of the time. He mentioned, Boulliau’s fairly accurate calculation, made in 1638, that it took 332 days for Mira Ceti to complete its, cycle of appearances and disappearances (this strange, behavior but not the periodicity, had been noted, in 1596 by David Fabricius), then stated that nothing, was known about the causes of the appearance of, new stars and of variations in the brightness of known, stars, but offered the hypothesis that they might be, phenomena analogous to sunspots.

At Padua, although his sight continued to fail, Montanari did not abandon astronomy—indeed, he made instruments for new observatories in Padua, and in the Palazzo Corner in Venice.

Montanari contributed to the martial arts through, his Manualetto dei bombisti … con le tavole delle, inclinazioni … secondo la dottrina di Galileo (1680, 1682, 1690), a manual for gunners, which contains, tables for firing based on the hypothesis that it is, possible to ignore the resistance of air. His works on, fortifications have never been published; and very, little has been published of his valuable research in, hydraulics, the results of which he passed on to, his pupil D. Guglielmini. Perhaps influenced by, Michelini, Montanari declared that to keep the, lagoon surrounding Venice unpolluted and to prevent, its silting up, it was necessary to divert directly into, the sea the rivers that emptied into the lagoon. Fortunately his advice was heeded. A posthumous, paper on the same topic, “II mare Adriatico e sua, corrente, et la naturalezza dei fiumi …,” appeared, in 1696 and was reprinted several times. Another, on civil engineering, has almost certainly been lost.

Montanar’s final project, undertaken after he had, become almost blind, was the compilation of two, important works on money, which are still considered, the precursors of modern ideas in this field: Trattato, del valore ed abuso delle monete and “La zecca in, consulta di stato.”

His battles against astrology, in which he was, passionately engaged all his life, are summarized in L’astrologia convinta di falso … (Venice, 1685), which, aroused great interest and brought about the banning, of this pseudoscience from the universities. He left, unfinished a dialogue on a tornado which had, devastated the Venetian hinterland in 1686; and it was, completed and published in 1694 with the title La, forza d’Eolo … by one of his students, Francesco, Bianchini (1662–1729), who included a biography of, his teacher in the introduction.

Montanari observed comets in 1664, 1665, 1680, 1681, and 1682; a solar eclipse on 2 July 1666; and, several lunar eclipses: 29 September 1670, 18 September 1671, an unknown date in 1674, and in, September 1681.


I. Original Works. Montanari’s map of the moon and, some of his poems are in Cornelio Malvasia, Ephemerides, novissimae motuum coelestium … ad longitudinem urbis, Mutinae … (Modena, 1662). His other works include Cometes … observatus anno 1664 et 1665. Astronomicophysica dissertatio … (Bologna, 1665); Ephemeris Lans-bergiana ad longitudinem … Bononiae, as annum 1666 … (Bologna, 1665); Intorno diversi effetti de’ liquidi in cannucce, di vetro … (Bologna, 1667); Speculazioni fisiche … sopra, gli effetti di que’ vetri temprati che rotti in parte si risolvono, tutti in polvere … (Bologna, 1671); and “Sopra la sparizione di alcune stelle ed altre novità celesti discorso astronomico,” in Prose de’ signori accademici gelati, V. Zani, ed. (Bologna, 1671) 369–392.

He also wrote La livella diottrica … per livellare col, cannocchiale … (Bologna, 1674; Venice, 1680); Discorso, sopra la tromba parlante … con dotte osservazioni della, natura a dell’eco e del suono (Guastalla, 1678); Manualetto, dei bombisti … per ben maneggiare i mortari … (Venice, 1680; Verona, 1682); L’ Astrologia convinta di falso col, mezzo di nuove esperienze e ragioni fisico-astronomiche … (Venice, 1685); Le forze d’Eolo, dialogo fisico-matematico …, F. Bianchini, ed. (Parma, 1694); and “II mare, Adriaticoe sua corrente … et la naturalezza dei fiumi …,” in La Galleria di Minerva … (Venice, 1696), 320. His, tract on money, “La Zecca in Consulta di Stato, trattato, mercantile ove si mostrano … le vere ragioni dell’aumentare giornalmente di valuta delle monete … co’ modi di, preservarne gli Stati,” appeared first in C. Casanova, ed., In Philippi Argelati tractatus de monetis Italiae appendix (seu pars VI) (Milan, 1759), 3–70, and in A. Graziani, ed., Economisti del Cinque e Seicento (Bari, 1913), pp. 252 ff.

II. Secondary Literature. See G. Albenga and, F. Porro, “Montanari,” in Enciclopedia italiana, XXIII (Rome, 1934), 720; C. Bonacini, “Una carta lunare di, Geminiano Montanari,” in Nel prima centenario della, fondazionc dell’ osservatorio geofisico dell’Università (Modena, 1927), 1–14; “Sull’opera scientifica svolta a Modena, da Geminiano Montanari,” in Annuario della R. Università di Modena, 1933, Appendice (1935), 17–24; and “Net terzo, centenario della nascita di Geminiano Monianari,” in Atti e memorie. Accademia di scienze, lettere ed arti (Modena), 4th ser., 4 (1934), 63–76; G. Campori, “Notizie e, lettere inedite di Geminiano Montanari,” in Atti e memorie, della Deputazione di staria patria di Modena e Parma, 8 (1876), 65–96; P. Dore, “Origini e funzione dell’Istituto e, dell’ Aeeademia delle seienze di Bologna,” in Archiginnasio, XXXV (Bologna, 1940), 192–214; A. Fabroni, Vitae, Italorum, III (Pisa, 1779), 64–119; G. Horn-D’Arturo,” Montanari,” in Piccola enciclopedia astronomica, II (Bologna, 1938; 2nd ed., 1960), 304–306; P. di Pietro, “Modena e la irasfusione del sangue,” in Bollettino, dell’Ordine dei medici (Modena) (1969), 123–128; P. Riccardi, Biblioteca matematica italiana, II (Modena, 1870; repr. Milan, 1952), col. 170–177; G. Targioni-Tozzetti, Natizie degli aggrandimenti delle scienze fisiche accaduti in, Toscana nel corso di anni 60 del secolo XVII (Florence, 1780; repr. Bologna, 1967), I, 303–304; G. Tiraboschi, Biblioteca modenese, III (Modena, 1783; repr. Bologna, 1969), 254–279; G. Venturi, Elogio di Geminiano Montanari, recitato nel solenne aprimento delle scuole (Modena, 1790); and Count Valcrio Zani, ed., Le memorie, imprese, ritratti, e notizie dei signori accademici Gelati (Bologna, 1672).

Giorgio Tabarroni

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