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Magini, Giovanni Antonio

1. Dates
Born: Padua 13 June 1555
Died: Bologna, 11 Feb. 1617
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 62
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
Of his father, Pasquale Magini, it is known only that he was a citizen of Padua.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Padua, Italy
Career: Bologna, Italy
Death: Bologna, Italy
4. Education
Schooling: Bologna, Ph.D.
1579, graduated with degree (a doctorate) in philosophy, Univ. of Bologna. I assume a B.A.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic : Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Cartography, Astronomy, Geography
Subordinate: Astrology, Mathematics, Optics
Magini is remembered chiefly as a geographer and cartographer. He embarked upon the ambitious project of an atlas of Italy that would provide maps of each region with exact nomenclature and historical notes. The final complete edition of the atlas was published in 1620, after Magini's death, by his son. He did not himself do the mapping in the field. He published an edition of Ptolemy's Geography with a commentary in 1596.
It is impossible fully to separate his astronomy from his astrology, and one could easily argue that astrology was more primary in his career than astronomy. His several astrological works were admired in his time. His writings on astronomy remain only of historical interest, since he continued to adhere to Ptolemaic principles.
Magini'a mathematical work was essentially practical. In 1592 he published Tabula tetragonica, and in 1606 he brought out extremely accurate trigonometric tables. His contributions to practical geometry also included his works on the geometry of the sphere and applications of trigonometry, for which he invented calculating devices.
He worked on mirrors and published on the theory of concave spherical mirrors.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Academia, Patronage
Secondary: Schoolmastering
1588, appointed to a chair of mathematics at Bologna, with a salary of 1000 lire--increased to 2000 in 1597 and later to 2500.
He also served the Gonzaga dukes of Mantua as judicial astrologer and as teacher of mathematics to the princes--and received about 400 ducats per year.
Magini also gave private lessons.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Aristrocrat, Eccesiastic Official, Government Official
He served the Gonzaga Duke of Mantua as judicial astrologer beginning in 1599. He paid annual visits to Mantua, during which he also instructed the princes in mathematics. He dedicated his books on astrology to the Duke of Mantua.
The Duke of Mantua lent his authority to the project of the atlas of Italy, aiding Magini in getting maps of the various states of Italy. Magaini dedicated the atlas to him. Magini received financial aid from several governments for his maps-- for example, the governments of Messina and of Genoa (in both cases through the intervention of powerful patricians).
Magini dedicated his map of the duchy of Monferrato to Caterina Medici Gonzaga. Apparently he dedicated all of his maps, some more than once, to rulers, aristocrates, and ecclesiastics. Thus he dedicated the map of Bologna to Card. Sforza. I have not tried to list all of the individual dedications of maps.
He presented large concave spherical mirrors to Prince Jacopo Boncompagni, Card. Farnese, and Rudolf II. The Duke of Mantua gave him 500 scudi and diamond rings worth hundreds of scudi for one of the mirrors. The gift of the mirror to Rudolf led to a memorable long struggle by Magini to get the payment that he thought had been promised.
He dedicated his Tabulae secundorum mobilium to Gregory XIII, and one of his Ephemerides to Don Giacomo Boncompagni (of Gregory's family), Governor General (if I understood correctly) of the papal states.
He dedicated his Supplementum ephemeridum, 1614, to the Bolognese patrician Marescotti.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Cartography, Applied Mathematics, Instruments
He spent much of his life compiling an atlas of Italy, providing detailed maps of each region with exact nomenclature and historical notes.
His mathematical tables.
His spherical mirror rates as an instrument, as do a burning glass made for the emperor and a clock for the Duke of Mantua. He also devised (and described in print) a new quadrant.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Magini had extensive corespondence with a number of scientists of the time--including Galileo, Tycho, Kepler, Fincke, Clavius, van Roomen, Scheiner, and Ortelius. Favaro has published the correspondence.
  1. Roberto Almagia, L'"Italia" di Giovanni Antonio Magini e la cartografia dell'Italia nei secoli XVI e XVII (Naples, 1922)-- an outstanding book.
  2. A. Favaro, Carteggio inedito di Ticone Brahe, Giovanni Keplero e di altri celebri astronomi e matematici dei secoli XVI e XVII con Giovanni Antonio Magini, (Bologna, 1886). The book begins with a biography of Magini, which is the best available.
  3. A. Favaro in Aldo Mieli, Gli scienziati italiani, (Roma, 1923), pp. 101-11.
  4. P. Riccardi, Biblioteca matematica italiana, 1, 64-71; 2, 94-5.
  5. Not consulted: G. Loria, Storia delle matematiche (Milan, 1950), 380, 400, 422- 5. [Swain QA26.L8])
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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