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Cesi, Federico

1. Dates
Born: Rome, 13 March 1585
Died: Acquasparta (about 80 km north of Rome), 1 Aug 1630
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 45
2. Father
Occupation: Aristocrat
Federico, Duke of Acquasparta. The Cesi family had risen into the nobility during the 16th century on the basis of service to the Church. In all, five Cesis were cardinals during the 16th and early 17th centuries. Especially Card. Federico Cesi, in the mid 16th century, built a fortune from his service to the church and used it to endow the family. His nephew, also Federico and father to Federico the Lincean, was elevated to Marquis, then Duke, and ultimately Prince. The mother of Federico (the Lincean) was Olimpia Orsini (of the noble Roman Orsinis).
Although the profligacy of the father ultimately ruined the family, it appears to me that one has to say that Federico (the Lincean) was reared in wealthy circumstances.
3. Nationality
Birth: Italy
Career: Italy
Death: Italy
4. Education
Schooling: No University
He was educated by private tutors.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Botany, Scientific Organization
Subordinate: Pharmacology
Cesi will always be remembered primarily for his Accademia dei Lincei, which is often cited as the first modern scientific society--though it appears to me more as the expression of his aspirations to be a great patron of learning.
He made the principal function of the Accademia the preparation of a precis of the Spanish physician, Francisco Hernandez's Nova plantarum et mineralium mexicanorum historia (a work referred to under various titles, in one of which the word thesaurus is central) for publication. A preliminary version of this was published in 1628; the complete version appeared only in 1651, more than twenty years after Cesi's death. It contained Cesi's own Phytosophicae tabulae, a pioneer effort at a classification of plants.
Using a microscope (which he received from Galileo), Cesi discovered the spores of cryptogams.
The final table (of the Phytosophicae tabulae) concerned the medicinal uses of plants. Cesi was a leading simpler of the age, and his herb garden was known as one of the best in Italy.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means
8. Patronage
Type: Eccesiastic Official
Though a patron himself, Cesi found himself in need of protection during the final decade of his life as the family's fortunes collapsed from the extravagance of his father and as other members of the family attacked him with law suits that threatened instant ruin. In this situation he turned to the Papacy for protection. The Accademia dedicated Galileo's Assayer, which it published as a letter to Virginio Caesarini, to the newly elected Urban VIII. It published the first microcopical observations (of bees), a sheet entitled Melissographia, which was an elaborate offering to Urban, whose family emblem was the bee. Cesi dedicated the first installment of the Thesaurus (or Historia) to Urban. His correspondence makes it clear that he was depending on the protection of the Papacy in his struggle to survive.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Pharmacology
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Accademia dei Lincei
Cesi organized the Accademia dei Lincei originally in 1603, although its significant years came later when he had long since passed beyond adolescence. The Accademia is remembered primarily because Cesi enrolled Galileo in it, and Galileo referred to himself in his major works as the Academician. In addition to Galileo's Letters on Sunspots and Il Saggiatore, the Accademia published some minor works by Porta and others.
  1. I have composed this report largely from extended reading about Cesi and the Accademia over a number of recent years. I list below major items from that reading, but this does not begin to exhaust the sources.
  2. Dizionario biografico degli italiani, 24, 256-8.
  3. Giuseppe Gabrieli, "Il carteggio linceo della vecchia accademia di Federico Cesi," Memorie della R. Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, classe di scienze morali storiche e filologiche, ser.
  4. VI, 7, 2 vols. (1938-41).
  5. Giuseppe Gabrieli, "Verbali delle adunanze e cronaca della prima Accademia Lincea (1603-1630)," Memorie della R. Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, classe di scienze morali storiche e filologiche, ser. VI, 2 (1926).
  6. Giuseppe Gabrieli, "L'orrizonte intellettuale e morale di Federico Cesi illustrato da un suo zibaldone inedito," Rendiconti della R. Accademia Nazionale dei Lincie, classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche, ser. VI, 14, (1879- 80). Baldassare Odescalchi, Memorie istorico critiche dell'Accademia de' Lincie e del Principe Federico Cesi, (Rome, 1806).
  7. Edoardo Martinori, Genialogia e cronistoria di una grande famiglia umbro-romana i Cesi, (Roma: Compagnie nazionale pubblicità, 1931). Christian Hülsen, Römische Antikengärten des XVI Jahrhunderts.
  8. (Abhandlungen der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-historische Klasse, IV), Heidelberg: Winter, 1917). Domenico Carutti, "De Giovanni Eckio e della instituzione dell'Accademia dei Lincei, con alcune note intorno a Galileo," Atti della R. Accademia dei Lincei, memorie delle classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche, ser. III, 1, 45-77. Michele Maylender, "Accademia dei lincei," in his Storia delle accademie d'Italia, 5 vols. (Bologna: Cappelli, 1926-30), 3, 430-503. G. Govi, "Intorno alla data di un discorso inedito pronunciato da Federico Cesi e da esso intitolato: 'Del natural desiderio di sapere et istitutione de lincei per adempimento di esso'," Memorie della R. Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche, ser. III, 5 (1879-80), 244-61.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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