Showing posts with label 1856. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1856. Show all posts

25 April 2019

Giovanni Caselli - inventor

Priest and physicist who created world’s first ‘fax' machine

Although Caselli was ordained as a priest in 1836 he devoted his life to the study of science
Although Caselli was ordained as a priest in
1836 he devoted his life to the study of science
Giovanni Caselli, a physics professor who invented the pantelegraph, the forerunner of the modern fax machine, was born on this day in 1815 in Siena.

Caselli developed a prototype pantelegraph, which was capable of transmitting handwriting and images over long distances via wire telegraph lines, in 1856, some 20 years ahead of the patenting of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone in the United States. It entered commercial service in France in 1865.

The technology was patented in Europe and the United States in the 1860s, when it was also trialled in Great Britain and Russia, but ultimately in proved too unreliable to achieve universal acceptance and virtually disappeared from popular use until midway through the 20th century.

Caselli spent his early years in Florence studying physics, science, history and religion and was ordained as a priest in the Catholic Church when he was 21.

In 1841 he was appointed tutor to the sons of Count Marquis Sanvitale of Modena in Parma, where he spent eight years before his time there was abruptly ended by expulsion from the city as a result of his participation in an uprising against the ruling House of Austria-Este.

A model of Caselli's device can be seen at the Leonardo da Vinci museum in Milan
A model of Caselli's device can be seen
at the Leonardo da Vinci museum in Milan 
He returned to Florence in 1849, when he became a professor of physics at the University of Florence.  It was at this time that he began to study electrochemistry, electromagnetism, electricity and magnetism. He also launched a journal with the intention of explaining the science of physics in layman's terms.

Alexander Bain and Frederick Bakewell were two other physicists working on similar technology at the same time as Caselli but were unable to achieve the necessary synchronization between the transmitting and receiving parts so they would work together correctly. Caselli, though, built in a regulating clock that made the sending and receiving mechanisms work together.

In Caselli’s device, an image was made using non-conductive ink on tin foil, over which a stylus passed, lightly touching the foil, which conducted electricity where there was no ink and not where there was ink, causing circuit breaks that matched the image.

The signals were then sent along a long distance telegraph line to a receiver, where an electrical stylus reproduced the image line-by-line using blue dye ink on white paper.

In 1856, Caselli presented his prototype to Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who was impressed enough to give Caselli some financial support, before he moved to Paris to introduce his invention to Napoleon III.

A 'fax' message that was transmitted between Paris and Lyon using Caselli's pantelegraph in 1862
A 'fax' message that was transmitted between Paris and
Lyon using Caselli's pantelegraph in 1862
Napoleon embraced the technology with great enthusiasm, and between 1857 and 1861 Caselli worked on perfecting his pantelegraph, sometimes known as the Autotelegraph or Universal Telegraph, with the French mechanical engineer Léon Foucault.

After seeing a demonstration of Caselli's improved pantelegraph in 1860, Napoleon gave Caselli the chance to test in within the French national telegraph network, providing him with financial backing. Among the successful tests was one between Paris and Amiens, over a distance of 140km (87 miles) of a document bearing the signature of the composer Gioachino Rossini. 

After a further successful test between Paris and Marseille, commercial operations started in 1865, first between Paris and Lyon line, extending to Marseille in 1867.

After patenting his device in Europe in 1861 the United States in 1863, and receiving the Legion d’Honneur from Napoleon in recognition for his work, Caselli oversaw trials in England and Russia, where Tsar Alexander II used the system to send documents between his palaces in Saint Petersburg and Moscow between 1861 and 1865.

In the first year of operation, Caselli’s pantelegraph transmitted almost 5,000 'faxes'.

Yet Caselli could not develop the technology quickly enough for reliability issues to be solved and eventually interest in it began to decline to the extent that he effectively abandoned it and returned to Florence, where he died in 1891 at the age of 76.

Although in the 1920s, the AT & T Corporation developed a way to transmit images using radio signals, it was not until 1964 that the Xerox Corporation introduced the first commercial fax machine of the kind recognisable today.

Many of Caselli’s patents, letters and proofs of teleautographic transmission are kept at the municipal library of Siena. Others can be found in the archives of the Museo Galileo in Florence.

The shell-shaped Piazza del Campo in Siena is regarded as one of the finest medieval squares in Europe
The shell-shaped Piazza del Campo in Siena is regarded
as one of the finest medieval squares in Europe
Travel tip: 

Siena, where Caselli was born, is famous for its shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, established in the 13th century as an open marketplace on a sloping site between the three communities that eventually merged to form Siena. It is regarded as one of Europe's finest medieval squares. The red brick paving, put down in 1349, fans out from the centre in nine sections. It has become well known as the scene of the historic horse race, the Palio di Siena.  Siena also has a beautiful Duomo - the Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption - which was designed and completed between 1215 and 1263, its façade built in Tuscan Romanesque style using polychrome marble.

Piazza San Marco in Florence, a short distance from the centre of the city, is the home of the University of Florence
Piazza San Marco in Florence, a short distance from the centre
of the city, is the home of the University of Florence
Travel tip:

The University of Florence, the headquarters of which is in Piazza San Marco in the centre of the city, can trace its roots to the Studium Generale, which was established by the Florentine Republic in 1321. The Studium was recognized by Pope Clement VI in 1349, and included Italy’s first faculty of theology. The Studium became an imperial university in 1364, but was moved to Pisa in 1473 when Lorenzo the Magnificent gained control of Florence. Charles VIII moved it back from 1497–1515, but it was moved to Pisa again when the Medici family returned to power.  The modern university dates from 1859, when a group of institutions formed the Istituto di Studi Pratici e di Perfezionamento, which a year later was recognized as a full-fledged university, and renamed as the University of Florence in 1923.

More reading:

Antonio Meucci - the 'true' inventor of the telephone

Innocenzo Manzetti, the inventor who may have produced the first prototype telephone

The Italian physicist who pioneered the alternating current (AC) system

Also on this day:

Festa della Liberazione

1472: The death of Renaissance polymath Leon Battista Alberti

1973: The death of World War One flying ace Ferruccio Ranza


12 January 2019

John Singer Sargent - painter

Celebrated portraitist had lifelong love for Italy

John Singer Sargent, photographed in 1903 by James E Purdy
John Singer Sargent, photographed in
1903 by James E Purdy
The painter John Singer Sargent, who was hailed as the leading portraitist of his era but was also a brilliant painter of landscapes, was born on this day in 1856 in Florence.

Although he became an American citizen at the first opportunity, both his parents being American, he spent his early years in Italy and would regularly return to the country throughout his life.

At his commercial peak during the Edwardian age, his studio in London attracted wealthy clients not only from England but from the rest of Europe and even from the other side of the Atlantic, asking him to grant them immortality on canvas.

His full length portraits, which epitomised the elegance and opulence of high society at the end of the 19th century, would cost the subject up to $5,000 - the equivalent of around $140,000 (€122,000; £109,000) today.

Sargent was born in Italy on account of a cholera pandemic, the second to hit Europe that century, which caused a high number of fatalities in London in particular. His parents, who were regular visitors to Italy, were in Florence and decided it would be prudent to stay.

A Sargent portrait of a celebrated  American actress and her daughter
A Sargent portrait of a celebrated
American actress and her daughter
There was always a strong chance that he would be born in Italy. Although his parents had a home in Paris, they were almost constantly travelling to one part of Europe or another in search of culture, and Italy, with its wealth of classical attractions, was a favourite destination.

Sargent’s sister, Mary, was also born in Florence and in time the family decided to stay there, his father relinquishing his position as an eye surgeon in Philadelphia.

The young Sargent did not have a formal education but learned much from his parents, quickly developing an appreciation of art, particularly in Venice, where he studied at first hand the works of Tintoretto, whom he rated an inferior only to Titian and Michelangelo.

By the age of 12, Sargent was already making his own sketches of the scenic wonders of Italy. He received his first organised art instruction from the German landscape painter, Carl Welsch, in Florence but left in 1874 to study in Paris. He was 22 before he made his first visit to the United States, and although he took the opportunity to claim his American citizenship, he immediately returned to Italy.

He spent time in Naples and Capri in 1878 before taking a studio in Venice, from which he painted many views, often of the lesser-known parts of the city and of Venetian people going about their normal daily lives. Where many painters focused on the places that attracted tourists, and did very well as a result, Sargent was more interested in the real Venice.

Sargent's impressionist-style watercolour of the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, noted for its collection of Tintoretto paintings
Sargent's impressionist-style watercolour of the Scuola di San
Rocco in Venice, noted for its collection of Tintoretto paintings
Among his Venetian scenes, his Scuola di San Rocco (c. 1903) marks Sargent as one of the finest watercolour painters of all time.

He found his own best commercial opportunities lay in Paris, and subsequently London, however, and portrait-painting became the driving force of his career.

His gift was in his ability to make each portrait somehow unique, despite the repetitive nature of the work. He managed to find something different about every sitter, could use props and background to suggest their class or occupation, and specialised in capturing his subjects in off-guard moments, rather than formal poses, to evoke a sense of their nature.

But portraits were not really what he wanted to do and, in 1910, having grown wealthy, Sargent gave up portraiture and devoted the rest of his life to painting murals and Alpine and Italian landscapes in watercolour.

Sargent's watercolour of the church of Santa Maria della Salute
Sargent's watercolour of the church of Santa Maria della Salute
Travel tip:

The great Baroque church of Santa Maria della Salute was one of Sargent’s favourite churches in Venice. Standing at the entrance to the Grand Canal and supported by more than a million timber piles, it was built to celebrate the city’s deliverance from the plague that claimed the lives of 46,000 Venetians in 1630. It is one of the most imposing architectural landmarks in Venice and has inspired painters such as Canaletto, Turner and Guardi. The interior consists of a large octagonal space below a cupola with eight side chapels. There are paintings by Titian and Tintoretto and a group of statues depicting the Virgin and Child expelling the plague by the Flemish sculptor, Josse de Corte.

Sargent's impression of a gondola passing beneath the Rialto
Sargent's impression of a gondola passing beneath the Rialto
Travel tip:

The Rialto Bridge, of which Sargent sought different aspects, is the oldest of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal in Venice, connecting the sestieri of San Marco and San Polo. Originally built as a pontoon bridge in 1181, and called Ponte della Moneta after the city’s mint, which stood near its eastern entrance, it was rebuilt several times, first in 1255, when it was replaced with a wooden bridge to cope with extra traffic generated by the development of the Rialto market. It had two inclined ramps meeting at a movable central section, that could be raised to allow the passage of tall ships. The rows of shops along the sides of the bridge were added in the first half of the 15th century. It was replaced by a stone bridge after once burning down and twice collapsing under the weight of people.

More reading:

Tintoretto, the dyer's son whose work adorns Venice

Titian, the giant of Renaissance art

The Festival of Madonna della Salute, when Venetians celebrate their deliverance from the plague

Also on this day:

1562: The birth of Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy

1751: The birth of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies

1848: Sicily rebels against the Bourbons


20 December 2015

Francesco Bentivegna – military leader

Patriotic baron executed in what was to become mafia heartland

Baron Francesco Bentivegna, a Sicilian patriot, died on this day at Mezzojuso in Sicily in 1856.

Bentivegna led revolts against the Bourbon rulers of the island in the mid 19th century and became renowned for his bravery.
Corleone, made famous by The Godfather movies, is the birthplace of Sicilian patriot Francesco Bentivegna
Corleone, perched in the mountains above Palermo,
is the birthplace of Francesco Bentivegna
Photo: Michael Urso (CC BY-SA 2.0 DE)

He was born in Corleone near Palermo and it is believed his parents originally intended him for the church.

But after leading his first revolt against the Bourbons in 1848 in Palermo he was appointed military governor of the Corleone district as a reward.

Within 16 months the Bourbon soldiers had reoccupied Palermo and offered all the rebels an amnesty if they pledged loyalty to their French rulers.

Bentivegna refused and again attempted to launch a coup, which was unsuccessful. Afterwards he had to live as a wanted fugitive, while continuing to try to organise revolutionaries.

He was arrested in 1853 but released in 1856, after which he began to plan a full-scale uprising against the occupying forces.

The Baron was betrayed by one of his compatriots and arrested. He was sentenced to death and executed by a firing squad on 20 December 1856 . His body was thrown into a communal ossuary but later secretly removed.

After Sicily had been liberated by Garibaldi, Bentivegna’s body was taken to Corleone. It was wrapped in the Italian flag and entombed in his local church.
Hill towns are typical of Sicily's rugged landscape
Sicily's rugged landscape is dotted with hill towns,
such as Ragusa (pictured here) in the south-east

Travel tip:

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean, just off the toe of Italy’s boot. The ancient ruins, diverse architecture and distinctive cuisine enjoyed by visitors are all testament to the island’s colourful history. Watching over the island is Mount Etna, a volcano that is still active.

Travel tip:

Corleone, the town of Francesco Bentivegna’s birth, is a commune of Palermo, Sicily’s capital city. Several real life Mafia bosses have come from Corleone and it is also the fictional birthplace of some of the characters in Mario Puzo’s novel about the mafia, The Godfather. There is now a street named Via Francesco Bentivegna in Corleone.