At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Giovanni Antonio Magini – astronomer and cartographer

Scientist laboured to produce a comprehensive atlas of Italy


The cover of Magini's great work, which was published by his son in 1620
The cover of Magini's great work, which
was published by his son in 1620
Giovanni Antonio Magini, who dedicated his life to producing a detailed atlas of Italy, was born on this day in 1555 in Padua.

He also devised his own planetary theory consisting of 11 rotating spheres and invented calculating devices to help him work on the geometry of the sphere.

Magini was born in Padua and went to study philosophy in Bologna, receiving his doctorate in 1579. He then dedicated himself to astronomy and in 1582 wrote his Ephemerides coelestium motuum, a major treatise on the subject, which was translated into Italian the following year.

In 1588 Magini joined in the competition for the chair of mathematics at Bologna University and was chosen over Galileo because he was older and had more moderate views. He held the position for the rest of his life.

But his greatest achievement was the preparation of Italia, or the Atlante geografico d’Italia, which was printed posthumously by Magini’s son in 1620.

Although Italy as a state has existed only since 1861, the name Italia, referring to the southern part of the peninsula, may go back to the ancient Greeks. It appeared on coins thought to have been produced in the 1st century BC and was eventually applied to the whole of the peninsula. Magini’s atlas set out to include maps of every Italian region with exact names and historical notes.

Giovanni Antonio Magini
Giovanni Antonio Magini
It proved expensive to produce and Magini took on extra posts in order to fund it. These included working as mathematics tutor to the sons of Vincenzo I of Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua.

The atlas is dedicated to the duke, who assisted him with the project by arranging for maps of the many states of Italy to be brought to Magini.

The governments of Messina and Genoa also assisted him financially to help him produce the atlas.

Magini died in Bologna in 1617 and the lunar crater maginus was later named after him.

Giotto's brilliant frescoes cover the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel, one of the Italy's great artistic treasures
Giotto's brilliant frescoes cover the walls of the Scrovegni
Chapel, one of the Italy's great artistic treasures
Travel tip:

Padua in the Veneto, where Magini was born, is one of the most important centres for art in Italy and home to the country’s second oldest university. Padua has become acknowledged as the birthplace of modern art because of the Scrovegni Chapel, the inside of which is covered with frescoes by Giotto, an artistic genius who was the first to paint people with realistic facial expressions showing emotion. At Palazzo Bo in the centre of the city, where Padua’s university was founded in 1222, you can still see the original lectern used by Galileo and the world’s first anatomy theatre, where dissections were secretly carried out from 1594.

The courtyard of the Archiginnasio, the oldest surviving building of the University of Bologna
The courtyard of the Archiginnasio, the oldest surviving
building of the University of Bologna
Travel tip:

Bologna University, where Magini occupied the chair in Mathematics, was founded in 1088 and is the oldest university in the world. The oldest surviving building, the Archiginnasio, is now a library and is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 7 pm, and on Saturdays from 9 am to 2 pm. It is a short walk away from Piazza Maggiore and the Basilica di San Petronio in the centre of the city.

Also on this day:

The feast of St Anthony of Padua

2000: Mehmet Ali Agca, the gunman who tried to kill Pope John Paul II, is granted a state pardon by the Italian government

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