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Commandino, Federico

1. Dates
Born: Urbino, 1506. Baldi says 1509 and virtually everyone has followed him. Nevertheless, the epithet on Commandino's tomb, composed by close relatives, attributed 69 years to him.
Died: Urbino, 5 Sept. 1575
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 69
2. Father
Occupation: Aristocrat, Engineer
Commandino came from a noble family prominent in Urbino. His grandfather was secretary to Duke Federico of Urbino. His father, Battista Commandino, designed the fortifications of the city.
No explicit information on financial status. Although it is nearly impossible to believe that the family was less than affluent, I have to list the financial status as unknown.
3. Nationality
Birth: Italy
Career: Italy
Death: Italy
4. Education
Schooling: Padua; Ferrara, M.D.
He studied Latin and Greek for some years with a humanist, G. Torelli of Fano.
Baldi asserts that Commandino studied philosophy and medicine at Padua from 1534 to 1544, but then took his M.D. from the University of Ferrara. (Rose says there is very little evidence for these ten years of study--though he then proceeds to accept them.) I assume a B.A. or its equivalent.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics
He was the most important figure in the translation (mostly from Greek into Latin) and publication of the classics in mathematics (for example, Euclid and Archimedes). He also translated Euclid into Italian. He added his own essay, On the Calibration of Sundials, to Ptolemy's Planisphere, which was edited by him and published in 1562. His only other original work, dealing with the center of gravity of solid bodies, was published in 1565 at Bologna.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Patronage
Secondary: Medicine
Private secretary to Pope Clement VII, June 1534-Dec. 1534, when Clement died. At this point he is said to have gone to Padua.
Apparently there was a period of medical practice from 1544 until at least 1546 and perhaps as long as 1552.
Private tutor and medical adviser, and then personal physician, to the Duke of Urbino, beginning perhaps in 1546 and perhaps as late as 1552.
Card. Ranuccio Farnese, a relative by marriage of the Duke of Urbino, met Commandino there and promptly took him in his retinue, as personal physician, to Rome sometime in the early 1550's.
In Rome Card. Marcello Cervini became acquainted with Commandino and was preparing to load him with favors after he [the cardinal] was elected Pope Marcello II in 1555. However, the Pope died very soon after his election, so that the favors never in fact transpired. Apparently Commandino returned to Urbino (there are letters that place him there during the decade 1555-65) and perhaps to the service of the Duke, though it is manifest that his relation with the Farnese continued. He refused to accept a university appointment.
In 1665, when Card. Ranuccio Farnese was appointed Bishop of Bologna, Commandino joined him there. The Cardinal proceeded to die that same year, and Commandino returned to Urbino, where the duke gave him a pension.
8. Patronage
Types: Eccesiastic Official, Court Official, Aristrocrat
Pope Clement VII, Pope Marcello II, Card. Ranuccio
Farnese--see above. His tutor, who became a bishop, obtained for him the appointment as private secretary to the Pope in 1534.
The Duke of Urbino--see above. Commandino was the tutor to the heir of Urbino. As Duke Francesco Maria, this man ordered the publication of the Latin Euclid, and received the dedication.
Commandino dedicated his first work, and later ones, to Card. Ranuccio Farnese, and he dedicated one to Ranuccio's brother, Card. Alessando Farnese.
He dedicated an edition of Archimedes to Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza. Commandino received a subvention for the publication from the duke. A letter relevant to this publication survives. Before publication the duke was told that Commandino planned to dedicate the work to him, and at that point he furnished the subvention.
In a letter of 3 November 1560 to Duke Ottavio, Commandino outlined plans for other mathematical publications (Ptolemy's De analemmate and an edition of Apollonius). He told the duke that he had just married off one daughter and would soon marry off another, and that this was taking nearly all of his assets. Thus he needed assistance for the publication, and especially he wanted assurance that he [Commandino] would receive from his patron [the cardinal was meant] sufficient emoluments to support him in his old age. (See Rose, "Letters," for the text of both of these letters.)
He dedicated a translation of Aristarchus to Alderano Malaspina, Marchese of Carrara (Alderano Cibo, a young courtier at Urbino, in another account).
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Instruments
At the request of the anatomist Eustachio (note this, not at the request of a military figure) Commandino improved on the reduction compass apparently invented by Fabricio Mordente, developing it into the polimetric proportional compass, the forerunner of Galilio's compass. (Despite what I say above about Eustachio, I gather than Mordente's device was for military purposes.)
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
He maintained relations and correspondence with a number of mathematicians, including Maurolico and Clavius.
John Dee visited him, on mathematical business, in 1663.
  1. C. Grossi, Degli uomini illustri di Urbino commentario, (Urbino, 1819), pp. 53-7. Paul L. Rose, The Italian Renaissance of Mathematics, (Geneva, 1975), pp. 185-221. This is undoubtedly the best account of Commandino now available.
  2. _____, "Letters Illustrating the Career of Federico Commandino," Physis, 15, (1973), 401-20.
  3. Stillman Drake and I. Drabkin, Mechanics in Sixteenth-Century Italy, (Madison, Wis., 1969), pp. 41-4.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Bernardino Baldi's biography of Commandino was published in Giornal de'letterati d'Italia, 19 (1714), pp.140-175, and reprinted in Versi e prose di Bernardino Baldi, F. Ugolino and F.-L. Polidori, eds., (Florence, 1859), pp.513-537.
  2. Giuseppe Mammiani, Elogi storici di Federico Commandino, G.
  3. Ubaldo del Monte, Giulio Carlo Fagnani, letti all'Accademia Pesarese, (Pesaro, 1828), pp. 4-42.
  4. M. Clagett, "Archimedes in the Late Middle Ages," in Duane H.D.
  5. Roller, ed. Perspectives in the History of Science and Technology, (Norman, Ok., 1971), pp. 253-6.
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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