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Berti, Gasparo

1. Dates
Born: apparently Mantua, perhaps in the vicinity of 1600
Died: Rome, 1643
Dateinfo: Birth Unknown
Lifespan: N/A
2. Father
Occupation: No Information
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Mantua? Italy
Career: Italy
Death: Rome, Italy
4. Education
Schooling: nothing is known
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Physics, Astronomy
He was called by his contemporaries a distinguished mathematian and a celebrated astronomer. However, absolutely nothing concrete pertaining to his expertise in mathematics survives, and I do not choose to list it. We do have specific references to important astronomical observations. Berti's historical importance is in physics rather than in mathematics or astronomy. It was his experimental apparatus and his suggestion that ultimately led to Torricelli's work on atmospheric pressure.
Astronomical observations that he made, especially of the elevation of the pole at Rome, were reported throughout the scientific world of Europe in the 30's.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Patronage
Berti collaborated with Francesco Contini in the mapping of the Roman catacombs about 1629. This was a project directly under the patronage of Cardinal Francesco Barberini.
In 1638 he was recommended for a chair of mathematics by Castelli, and in 1643 he was named Castelli's successor as professor of mathematics at the Sapienza. It appears that he died before he was able to fill it.
8. Patronage
Types: Eccesiastic Official, Scientist
Benedetto Castelli recommended Berti for a chair of mathematics.
Two surviving letter testify to his connection to Cassiano dal Pozzo, who was in the entourage of Cardinal Barberini. The one I have read, related to the catacombs, does not sound like a client addressing a patron.
Rossi (Roma sotteranea, p. 40) makes it clear that Berti was employed in a project sponsored by Cardinal Barberini (and financed in part by the Knights of Malta) to publish Bosio's survey of the catacombs. Along with the water barometer and the observation of the polar elevation, this is one of the three things known about Berti.
Someone beyond Castelli, probably Cardinal Barberini or Cassiano dal Pozzo (who would be substantially identical to Card. Barberini in this context) had to stand behind the appointment to the Sapienza.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Instruments, Cartography
A physical apparatus, consisting of a lead tube bent downward at the top and terminating at either end in a valve submerged in a container filled with water, constructed between 1640 and 1643.
A more elaborated apparatus, which was attached to the facade of his house, made about 1643. These devices, experimental apparatus, do not seem like instruments to me.
However, Luc Holste, in a letter, mentioned him as expert in the construction of mathematical instruments.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal connections: Friendship with Luc Holste, Athanasius Kircher, and Rafaello Magiotti. Connections with English geographer John Greaves and with the French natural philosopher P. Maignon. In fact, very little survives of any of these connections, just isolated letters.
  1. Cornelis De Waard, L'experience barometrique. Ses antecedents et ses explications, (Thouars, 1936), pp.104 f., 169 ff.
  2. Berti does not appear in the Dizionario biografico degli italiani or in Mazzuchelli. The fact is, extremely little is known about him.
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
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