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.

28 January 2019

Giovanni Alfonso Borelli – physiologist and physicist

Neapolitan was the first to explain movement


Giovanni Alfonso Borelli was a  pioneer of biomechanics
Giovanni Alfonso Borelli was a
pioneer of biomechanics
The scientist who was the first to explain muscular movement according to the laws of statics and dynamics, Giovanni Alfonso Borelli, was born on this day in 1608 in Naples.

Borelli was also the first to suggest that comets travel in a parabolic path.

He was appointed professor of mathematics at Messina in 1649 and at Pisa in 1656. After 1675 he lived in Rome under the protection of Christina, the former Queen of Sweden. She had abdicated her throne in 1654, had converted to Catholicism and gone to live in Rome as the guest of the Pope.

Remembered as one of the most learned women of the 17th century, Christina became the protector of many artists, musicians and intellectuals who would visit her in the Palazzo Farnese, where she was allowed to live by the Pope.

Borelli’s best known work is De Motu Animalium - On the Movement of Animals - in which he sought to explain the movements of the animal body on mechanical principles. He is therefore the founder of the iatrophysical school. He dedicated this work to Queen Christina, who had funded it, but he died of pneumonia in 1679 before it was published.

A page from Borelli's De Motu Animalium on arm movement
A page from Borelli's De Motu
Animalium
on arm movement
For this work he has become known as the father of modern biomechanics. The American Society of Biomechanics named its most prestigious award the Giovanni Borelli Award in 1984.

The award is given to scientists for the originality, quality and depth of their research, and its relevance to the field of biomechanics.

Borelli also wrote astronomical works, including a treatise in 1666 that considered the influence of attraction on the satellites of Jupiter.  In a letter published in 1665, using the pseudonym Pier Maria Mutoli, he was the first to suggest the idea that comets travel in a parabolic path.

The Castel Nuovo in Naples, built in the 13th century and rebuilt by Alfonso I in 1453
The Castel Nuovo in Naples, built in the 13th century
and rebuilt by Alfonso I in 1453
Travel tip:

Borelli was born in the Castel Nuovo area of Naples to a Spanish infantryman serving in the city and a young Neapolitan girl. The castle was called ‘nuovo’, new, when it was built in the 13th century to distinguish it from two earlier ones in Naples, Castel d’Ovo and Castel Capuano. Alfonso I, King of Naples and Sicily, had it completely rebuilt in 1453, the year of his triumphant entry into Naples. Alfonso later ordered the construction of the superb Arco di Trionfo, one of the most significant expressions of early Renaissance culture in southern Italy.

The Palazzo Farnese in Rome, once home of the former Queen Christina of Sweden, now houses the French embassy
The Palazzo Farnese in Rome, once home of the former
Queen Christina of Sweden, now houses the French embassy
Travel tip:

Palazzo Farnese, where Borelli would visit his patron, Queen Christina, is one of the most important High Renaissance palaces in Rome. Owned by the Italian republic, the palazzo in Piazza Farnese was given to the French Government in 1936 for a period of 99 years and currently serves as the French embassy in Italy. One of the scenes in Puccini’s opera Tosca is set in Palazzo Farnese.

More reading:

The physicist who inspired Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

The 18th century anatomist who turned pathology into a science

The scientist who gave new 'life' to a dead frog and a new word to the language

Also on this day:

1453: The birth of Renaissance beauty Simonetta Vespucci

1813: The birth of scientist Paolo Gorini

1978: The birth of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon


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