Zucchi, Niccolò

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(b. Parma, Italy, 6 December 1586;d. Rome, Italy, 21 May 1670)

mathematics, theology.

Zucchi taught rhetoric, and later theology and mathematics, at the Jesuits’ Roman College, of which he was also rector and from which he moved to the one in Ravenna. Returning to Rome, he held the offic of preacher in the Apostolic Palace for at least seven years and was in charge of his religious order’s mother house. Because of the esteem in which he was held, he was a member of the retinue of the papal legate sent to the court of the Emperor Ferdinand II, where he met Kepler; Zucchi considered this event one of the most important in his life.

Zucchi is remembered today for his research, “partly the fruit of experiment and partly of reasoning,” in optics. In 1616 (or perhaps 1608) he had constructed an apparatus in which an ocular lens was used to observe the image produced by reflection from a concave metal mirror. This was one of the earliest reflecting telescopes, in which the enlargement is obtained by the interaction of mirrors and lenses.

Later, in Optica philosophia…Zucchi described the apparatus, from which, wittingly or not, the most improveod models of a slightly later date were derived (those of Gregory and Newton. for instance).

This apparatus enabled Zucchi to make a more thorough examinatioins of the spots on Mars (1640), observed four years earlier by F.Fontana, and thus to supply material for Cassini’s discovery of the rotation of that planet(1666).

Zucchi worked in a period of contradictory thought and scientific investigation. Alongside the clarity of Galileo’s ideas were beliefs at once highly ingenuous and abstruse, as well as extravagant errors.

Hence, Zucchi accepted strange astronomical theories, which he expounded with the utmost certainly in his sermons. In the cathedral of Pisa(Galileo’s native city) he asserted in 1638 that the sun is further from the earth during the summer than in winter and that this is proved by the need to alter the lenth of ther telescope in those seasons in order to be able to observe sunspots. But this was not enough: he stated that Venus is nearer the sun than Mercury is, because the former represents beauty and the latter skill. Such statements elicited laughter in some circles but were simultaneously accepted in others as a sign of profound doctrine.


Zucchi’s main work is Optica philosophihs experimentalis et ratioine a fundamentis constituta…2 vols. (Leiden, 1652-1656). He was also author of Nova de machinis philosophia (Rome, 1649).

Luigi Campedelli

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