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Mercati, Michele

1. Dates
Born: San Miniato, Tuscany, 13 Apr. 1541 (if it matters, all early sources say 8 April).
Died: Rome, 25 June 1593
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 52
2. Father
Occupation: Physician
His father, Pietro Mercati, was a physician. The family is described as one of the most considerable in the region. The grandfather had been a close friend of Ficino. The father was the physician to Popes Pious V and Gregory XIII. It is surely significant to Mercati's career, that the father lived until 1585.
I always assume affluence at least for physicians. Since nothing explicit is said, I will assume it also in this case, althogh I consider wealth much for likely.
3. Nationality
Birth: Italian
Career: Italian
Death: Italian
4. Education
Schooling: Pisa, M.D., Ph.D.
He received his early education from his father and later enrolled at the University of Pisa, where he studied under Cesalpino. In the common Italian style, he took doctorates both in medicine and in philosophy.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural History, Mineralogy, Paleontology
Subordinate: Medicine, Botany
He was a good mineralogist and one of the founders of paleontology. His great interest lay in collecting minerals and fossils, and this collection later formed the basis of the work that has made him famous: Metallotheca (Rome, 1717).
He also wrote Istruzione sopra la peste, 1576.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Patronage
When he was scarcely twenty, he was called by Pope Pius V to direct the Vatican botanical garden, a post he retained under Gregory XIII, Sixtus V, and Clement VIII. Hoefer says that Cesalpino was probably responsible for the appointment. I find it difficult to believe that his father's position as physician to Pius V was not crucial.
Marini and Mandosio both name Mercati also as physician to these popes.
8. Patronage
Types: Scientist, Eccesiastic Official, Court Official
Despite the comment immediately above, there are enough references to Cesalpino as Mercati's protector that I cannot leave him out.
Mercati owed his position in the Vatican botanical garden to the patronage of successive popes: Pius V, Gregory XIII, Sixtus V, and Clement VIII.
In 1610, when he was twenty seven, the future Grand Duke Ferdinand I of Tuscany, wanting to acknowledge the celebrity of Mercati's learning, honored him by elevating his family into the rank of the Florentine aristocracy, while the same privilege was bestowed on him the following year by the Roman senate.
Pope Gregory XIII named him a member of the "pontifical family," and Mercati showed his gratitude by caring for the Pope during his final illness. For the Pope he wrote Istituto sopra la peste (Rome, 1576).
Pope Sixtus V held Mercati in great esteem and created him apostolic protonotary. The pope also sent him to Poland with Cardinal Aldobrandini (later Clement VIII) on a mission to King Sigismund III.
Clement VIII made him chief physician and knight of the Order of Santo Spirito in Sassia, and superintendent of the hospital of Santo Spirito. Mercati was Clement's premier physician.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Pharmacology
Although pharmacology does not appear to have been much of a concern with Mercati, I put it in because he was in charge of the papal botanical garden.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Mercati was friedly with Cesalpino, Giuliandino, Mercuriale, Aldrovandi, and Wieland.
  1. A. Hirsch, Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Aerzte aller Zeiten und Voelker (3rd ed., Munich, 1962), 4, 169-70. [ref. Z6658.B615 1962] Hoefer, Nouvelle biographie générale, (Paris, 1857-66), 35, 11.
  2. P.A. Saccardo, "La botanica in Italia," Memorie del Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, 26 (1895), 109, and 27 (1901), 72.
  3. Pietro Capparoni, Profili bio-bibliografici di medici e naturalisti celebri italiani dal sec. XV al sec. XVII, 2 vols. (Rome, 1925-28), 1, 48-50. 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.
  4. "Vita Michaeli Mercati," in Mercati, Metallotheca, (Rome, 1717), pp. xxi-xxvi.
  5. Gaetano Luigi Marini, Degli archiatri pontifici, 2 vols. (Roma, 1784), 1, 450-1, 459-60, and 468. Prosper Mandosius, Theatrum in quo maximorum christiani orbis pontificum archiatros spectandos exhibit, a separately paginated inclusion at the end of vol. 2 of Marini, (Roma, 1784), pp. 109-12.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. G. Targioni-Tozzetti, Prodromo della corografia fisica della Toscana, p. 96.
  2. Misael Pieragnoli, Della vita e delle opere di Michele Mercati, (San Miniato, 1853).
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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