The Galileo Project
site map

Aldrovandi, Ulisse

1. Dates
Born: 11 September, 1522
Died: 4 May 1605
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 83
2. Father
Occupation: Lawyer, Government Official
Teseo Aldrovandi, a notary (lawyer) and secretary to the Senate of Bologna. He died when Ulisse was only seven. It is clear that the family was poor while Ulisse was growing up, and remained so until the election of Pope Gregory XIII, from the family of Ulisse's mother, around 1570. Ulisse was apprenticed as a scribe to a merchant when he was fourteen-- though he did not stay long in that position.
3. Nationality
Birth: Bologna, Italy
Career: Italy
Death: Bologna, Italy
4. Education
Schooling: Bologna, Padua, M.D., Ph.D.
In Bologna he studied math. under Annibale della Nave, Latin under Giovanni Gandolfo, then Law and Philosophy. There was plenty of independent roaming, mostly before his serious academic study.
Studied medicine and math. at Padua, 1548-9.
He carried legal studies to the point of almost taking a doctorate in the mid 40's.
M.D., 1553 at Bologna.
Ph.D., 1553 (in the usual Italian style) at Bologna.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
He was charged (along with others from Bologna) with heresy around 1550, but was found innocent upon the election of a new pope.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural History, Botany, Zoology
Subordinate: Entomology, Mineralogy, Pharmacology
Carried out studies in several fields of natural history: especially botany, but also teratology, embryology, icthyology, mineralogy, and ornithology, and published 12 books on natural history from 1600 through 1668 (that is, most of the large work appeared after his death).
He and Coiter were the first to examine the development of the chick in the egg day by day. (In most accounts of his work, however, this does not bulk large.)
He was responsible for the founding of the botanical garden in Bologna in 1568, of which he was the director. He helped significantly with the pharmacopoeia of Bologna.
He collected the outstanding museum of natural history of his time.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Academia, Schoolmastering, Government
Secondary: Law
For a time in the early 40's, Aldrovandi practiced as a notary (i.e, lawyer) to earn a living. He abandoned law as soon as his economic means permitted.
In 1553 he was admitted to the Collegio dei Dottori of Bologna, a membership entitled him practice medicine (though I have seen no evidence that he did practice) and teach in the university. He was also appointed a teacher of logic and philosophy in the university of Bologna.
He became professor of the history of "simples" in 1556- 7, and received a full professorship in 1561.
Aldrovandi himself mentions lots of private lessons.
I consider the directorship of the botanical garden as a governmental position. He was also the medical examiner (protomedico) of Bologna.
8. Patronage
Types: Eccesiastic Official, Aristrocrat, Court Official
Rondolet and Ghini (both about 1549) befriended Aldrovandi and introduced him to natural history. There is no indication in what I have read of more than intellectual stimulation here, and I am not considering this as patronage.
Pope Gregory XIII (who was a member of the family of Aldrovandi's mother) granted him a large sum of money to aid him in the publication of his works. He received other support from Gregory and from Sixtus. Aldrovandi was invited to a chair in Rome, but Gregory died before arrangements were completed. In building up the botanical garden in Bologna, Aldrovandi was in constant conflict with the College of Medicine; he was able to prevail because of the support of the Pope and of the Senate of Bologna.
Owed his teaching position to his uncle, a senator. Aldrovandi's autobiography frequently mentions interventions of the Senate in his career at the university and he owed his professorship to the Senate; I assume the uncle was active in all such cases. As with the support of the Pope, this case is filled with ambiguity, but I am counting both as patronage.
The autobiography also mentions other well placed men with whom Aldrovandi was familiar. Cardinals of the Church were godfathers to his children. Through the intervention of such men, including the Grand Duke of Tuscany, he received a large sum (from the city, I assume) for the botanical garden. Mazzuchelli mentions support from Card. Montalto (Alessando Peretti, Aldrovandi's nephew), the Duke of Urbino, Giovanni Battista Campeggio, the Bishop of Baleari, and Giovanni Vincenzio Pinelli.
From the Grand Duke of Tuscany he also received, as a gift, much material for his museum.
He dedicated the first volume of Ornithology to Clement VII, and volume 2 and 3 to Cardinal Montalto. Aldrovandi states in the dedication that without the Cardinal's monetary support he would not have been able to publish the volumes.
He decidate Insects to the Duke of Urbino.
After his death the Senate of Bologna, because of the advantage to the republic of learning if his papers on natural history were published, paid annual stipends to two successive men to publish Aldrovandi's works. (Mazzuchelli, 1, pt. 1, 405.)
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Pharmacology
He did not practice medicine, but he was much involved in questions of pharmacology.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Medical College
Collegio dei Dottori, 1553. Later was was usually in conflict with the college.
He corresponded with the leading botanists of Europe.
His correspondence with the Medici has been published: O. Mattirolo, "Le lettere di Ulisse Aldrovandi a Francesco I e Ferdinandso I," Memorie della Reala Accademia delle Scienze di Torino, ser. II, 54 (1904), 353-401.
  1. L. Frati, "La vita di U.Aldrovandi" in Intorno alla vita e alle opere di Ulisse Aldrovandi, (Bologna,1907). Also other articles in this volume.
  2. G.B. De Toni, in Aldo Mieli, Gli scienziati italiani, (Roma, 1923), pp. 328-36. P.A. Saccardo, "La botanica in Italia," Memorie del Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, 26 and 27 (1895 and 1901). G. Montalenti in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, 2, 118-24.
  3. G.M.Mazzuchelli, Gli scrittori d'Italia, (Brescia, 1753- ), 1, pt. 1, 403-8.
  4. Pietro Capparoni, Profili bio-bibliografici di medici e naturalisti celebri italiani dal sec. XV al sec. XVII, 2 vols. (Rome, 1925-28), 1, 17-19. In the copy I have, vol. 1 is from the second ed,(1932) and vol. 2 from the first (1928). I gather that pagination in the two editions is not identical.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. G.Fantuzzi, Memoria sulla e sulle opere di U.Aldrovandi, (Bologna, 1774). It is not quite true that this was not consulted; it is effectively included in the Frati article.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University
Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.
1995 Al Van Helden
Last updated
Home | Galileo | Biography | Chronology | Family | Portraits |
Science | Christianity | Library | About | Site Map | Search

Please note: We will not answer copyright requests.
See the copyright page for more information.