Stelluti, Francesco

views updated


(b Fabriano, Italy, 12 January 1577; d Fabriano, November 1652)

Microscopy, scientific organization.

Stelluti’s parents, Bernardino Stelluti and Lucrezia Corradini, belonged to patrician families of Fabriano. They intended him for the law, which subject he went to study at Rome toward the end of the sixteenth century. In Rome he came under the influence of Federico Cesi and Johannes Eck; and with them he helped found the Accademica dei Lincei in August 1603. His academic name was Tardigradus, and his emblem was the planet Saturn, which suggests that he was less quick mentally than his colleagues; he always appears as the loyal helper and companion rather than as the initiator. Stelluti lectured on his specialties, mathematics and astronomy. His classes opened with a general outline of geometry and moved straight on to a mechanized scaling ladder. Stelluti published nothing in mathematics. The Lincei suffered much harassment during their early “secret brotherhood” days, and in 1604 Stelluti was forced to leave Rome for his native Fabriano. He then moved to Parma, attaching himself to the ducal court there.

In October 1605, when Eck returned from his travels, he stayed in Parma with Stelluti, who illustrated the classification of butterflies from the specimens that Eck had brought back with him. This work was Stelluti’s introduction to entomology. Once the ground had been cleared for a revival of the Academy, Stelluti and Eck returned to Rome (1608 or 1609).

Stelluti’s first reaction to Galileo’s Sidereus nuncius (1610) was rather disparaging, perhaps out of loyalty to the priority claim made by his colleague Giambattista della Porta. But he was soon won over to wholehearted admiration, and several of his letters to Galileo are preserved. Apart from a few comments on telescopic observations, the letters contain only academic business or persoanl gossip; Stelluti appreciated the intellectual gap between them and made no attempt to bridge it.

In 1612 Stelluti was elected procurator, or business manager, of the Academy and was entrusted with the negotiations for the purchase of property, where research could be carried on, and the publication of books under the auspices of the Lynxes. He was involved in the publication and distribution of Galileo’s Istoria e dimostrazioni intorno alle macchie solari and Il saggiatore and wrote introductory verses for both.

In 1625 Stelluti made the first microscopic observations to be published, probably with an instrument that Galileo had sent to Cesi in 1624. Cesi had decided to bring out a short treatise on bees, a fragment from his projected encyclopedia, in compliment to Cardinal Francesco Barberini, of whose support the Academy had high hopes. The frontispiece of this Apiarium shows three views of a bee (magnified ten times) with insets of the whole head, eye, antenna and mouthparts (displaying the labia and galea), the rear legs, branched hairs, and the sting. Apparently these observations were checked by his fellow Lynx Fabio Colonna. In 1630 Stelluti published his translation, with commentary, of the satires of Persius. A reference to Arezzo, in which the Barberini family supposedly originated, was pretext enough to insert a Descrizzione dell’ape, illustrated by woodcuts based on the Apiarium, but magnified only six times, with a short account of the organs (shown separately). Persius’ allusion to a grain weevil is illustrated by a microscopic representation (magnified ten times); the tip of the snout with its mandibles (magnified twenty times); and a view of the whole (life-size). Although there are numerous medical and botanical footnotes, they evince only casual observation.

When Cesi died in 1630, Stelluti tried to keep the Academy alive by proposing the election of a new prince, possibly Barberini. Although the cardinal was willing to patronize Stelluti, whose books were dedicated to him, he would not help the Academy to continue. In 1637 Stelluti produced synoptic tables of Porta’s De humana physiognomia. In the introduction he promised that he would later add a treatise on “the hand of man compared to the feet of some quadrupeds and birds”; but this work never appeared. In the same year he published an account of fossilized wood found in the region of Todi. This work was based closely on Cesi’s theories of a class of “metallophytes” intermediate between metals and plants. Stelluti explained how he had abandoned his own Prima facie assumption that these fossils were simply buried, mineralized tree trunks. For most of the latter part of his life Stelluti served as the faithful advise to Cesi’s widow in her various troubles. He had the satisfaction of seeing the descriptions by the Academy of Mexican flora and fauna through the press in 1651. This publication also contained the synoptic tables of Cesi’s system of taxonomy, for which Stelluti wrote an introduction, the melancholy last word of the first Academy of the Lynxes.


I. Oringnal Works. Stelluti’s works are Persio tradotto in verso sciolto . . . (Rome, 1630); Della fisionomia de tutto il corpo humano . . . in tavole sinottiche ridotta et ordinata (Rome, 1637); and Trattato del legno fossile minerale nuovamente scoperto (Rome, 1637).

II. Secondary Literature. See G. Gabrieli, “II carteggio scientifio ed accademico fra i primi Lincei 1603-30, in Atti della Reale Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei Memorie della classe di scienze morali, storizhe a filologiche, ser. 6, 1 (1925), 137–219; “II carteggio linceo della vecchia accademia di Federico Cesi (1603–30),” ibid., 7 (1938–1939), 1–535; G. Gabrieli, “Francesco Stelluti, Linceo Fabrianese,” ibid., ser. 7, 2 (1941), 191–233: B . Odescalchi, Memorie istorico-critiche dell’ Accademia dei Lincei (Rome, 1806); C. Ramelli, “Discorso intorno a Francesco Stelluti da Fabriano,” in Giornale arcadico di scienze, lettere ed arte87 (1841), 106–135; C. Singer, “The Earliest Figures of Microscopic Objects,” in Endeavour, 12 (1953), 197.

A. G. Keller