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Torricelli, Evangelista

1. Dates
Born: Faenza (halfway between Bologna and Rimini), 15 Oct. 1608.
Died: Florence, 25 Oct. 1647
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 39
2. Father
Occupation: Artisan, Cleric
Gaspare Torricelli was a textile artisan. He sent Evangelista to the boy's uncle, a Camaldolese monk, who was at some point (probably later) the prior of a monastery, and who supervised his education. The father was dead by the time Evangelista was eighteen; the uncle was still alive when Evangelista died.
The father is said to have been in modest circumstances, and sending his son to an uncle tends to support this. One of Evangelista's brother was a "drapparolo." I don't find the word but assume it meant cloth worker. In his will Evangelista referred to his two brothers as poor. Evangelista's extreme caution suggests someone not used to money. On the other hand in the history of the family there was always modest property. While the evidence on financial status has some ambiguity, it appears proper to consider that they were poor.
3. Nationality
Birth: Italian
Career: Italian
Death: Italian
4. Education
Schooling: No University
Evangelist'a uncle, the Camaldolese monk, supervised his basic education. He attended a Jesuit college about 1624-5. Some sources say in Faenza. Galluzzi and Festa say it was in Rome (the Collegio Romano in that case) and that some of the family had transferred there. (The mother died in Rome in 1641, and both brothers were living there when Evangelista died.) In school Evangelista showed such promise that he was sent to study with Castelli, who recognized his talent and made him his secretary and occasionally his substitute. Though Castelli was a professor at the Sapienza, there is no mention of a university with Torricelli; the period at the Collegio Romano appears to have been at the secondary level.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics, Mechanics, Physics
Subordinate: Hydraulics, Meteorology, Instrumentation
As a young man Torricelli was greatly interested in astronomy and was a committed Copernican. The condemnation of Galileo in 1633 changed all that. Torricelli was a cautious man, not inclined to tilt at authority, and astronomy simply disappeared from his scientific work.
Torricelli's only published work was Opera geometrica, 1644, which included work on motion (or mechanics). In mathematics he employed Cavalieri's method of indivisibles, of which he became a master and which he extended to elegant solutions of volumes and other problems.
Torricelli's first known work was a treatise on motion that amplified Galileo's doctrine of projectiles. This is what he included in the Opera geometrica. His Academic Lectures, published long after his death also dealt, in part, with mechanics.
The Torricellian experiment (the barometer) was a major event in physics in the middle of the century.
A paragraph in De motu gravium (part of the Opera geometrica), on the motion of fluids, was extremely important in the early history of hydrodynamics.
His lecture on wind (Academic Lectures) rejected the notion that exhalations cause them and referred the winds instead to differences in temperature at different regions of the earth.
Torricelli was perhaps the most gifted lens grinder of his age, who made many telescopes and who developed a microscope using tiny drops of crystal the size of a grain of millet.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Patronage, Instruments
Secondary: Miscellaneous, Academia
According to Torricelli's own word he was secretary to Castelli, for an uncertain period from about 1626 to 1632. He substituted for Castelli as a teacher when Castelli was absent from Rome. I list this position as Mis.
Torricelli's means of support in the period 1632-41 is wholly unclear, but there is some evidence that he was secretary to Ciampoli at least part of the time. Again I include this under Mis.
Torricelli joined Galileo as his assistant on 10 Oct. 1641. Galileo died on 8 Jan. 1642, and Torricelli was appointed to succeeed him as Mathematician (Mathematician only, not also Philosopher) to the Grand Duke. He was given lodging in the ducal palace. He held this position until his death. He was also appointed as lecturer in mathematics at the "Studio fiorentino" (salary of 200 "florins"). It is said that the chair in mathematics, long vacant, was revived for him. Festa (who is alone in this) says that he was lecturer at the University of Pisa; I feel rather confident that Pisa was never involved and that the appointment was merely the overt form of the Grand Duke's patronage (like Galileo's earlier chair at Pisa).
In 1644 he became also lecturer on military fortifications at the Accademia of Design (additional 40 "florins"), which I am listing as Acd.
Torricelli was a gifted lens grinder. In Florence he devoted much of his time to this, seeking to make himself wealthy.
8. Patronage
Types: Scientist, Eccesiastic Official, Court Official
Castelli recognized the young man's talent, employed him, and effectively launched him.
Although the evidence is scant, it appears that Torricelli was secretary to Ciampoli at least some of the period 1632- 41.
He succeeded Galileo as Mathematician (not Philosopher) to the Grand Duke--from 1642 until Torricelli's death in 1647. The Grand Duke published his Opera geometrica. He frequently rewarded Torricelli with gifts of money for his optical instruments and once with a gold chain of 300 scudi, and the Grand Duke had a special medal struck for him. Galluzzi (pp. 43-6) offers a convincing argument that Torricelli, who never forgot his meager background and total dependence, avoided discussion of the full implications of his famous experiment for prudential reasons--in order not to antagonize the Jesuits and not to alarm his patron, the Grand Duke, that he had another scandal on his hands. He cites a letter of Borelli about the concern of the Grand Duke and his brother Leopold to avoid confrontations (though the letter seems to me to imply that this was a tactic to allow philosophy to proceed more effectively).
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Instruments, Hydraulics, Military Engineering
In De motu gravium Torricelli calculated a whole set of firing tables for gunners and described a new square that made it easier for gunners to calculate elevations of their piece. However, when tests showed that the tables did not correspond to practice, he disavowed any practical intent. He also lectured on military architecture, and the lectures were published in the posthumous Lezioni accademiche. After hesitation I am listing this.
He was a superbly skilled lens grinder, who made telescopes and invented a form of microscope (a perlina) using tiny crops of crystal. He had some "secret" about grinding lenses that he passed on to the Grand Duke at his (Torricelli's) death. He helped to develop Galileo's air thermometer into a liquid one using spirit of wine. He thought of his tube as an instrument that would show the changing weight of the air.
Torricelli offered advice on draining the Val di Chiana.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
In addition to Castelli and Galileo he was close to Viviani and Vincenzo Renieri. He corresponded with Carcavi, Mersenne, and Roberval. With Roberval he had a fierce priority dispute concerning the area and center of gravity of the cycloid. Torricelli's correspondence is published in his Opere (Faenza, 1919) and in vol. 1, 1642-48, of Opere dei discepoli di Galileo--Carteggio, (Firenze, 1975).
In Florence he formed an informal Accademia dei Percossi, which was, I gather, primarily a literary group. In 1642 he was elected to the Accademia della Crusca.
  1. P. Galluzzi, "Vecchie e nuove prospettive torricelliane," in G.
  2. Arrighi et al., La scuola galileiana, (Firenze, 1979), pp. 13-51.
  3. Giuseppe Rossini, "La famiglia di Evangelista Torricelli," in Convengo di studi torricelliani in occasione del 350o anniversario della nascita di Evangelista Torricelli, (Faenza, 1959), pp. 133-49.
  4. Ettore Carruccio, "Evangelista Torricelli," in Carlo Maccagni, ed., Saggi su Galileo Galilei, (Florence, 1972), 2, 637-55.
  5. E. Festa, "Repères biographiques et bibliographiques," in Francois de Gandt, ed., L'oeuvre de Torricelli, (Paris, 1989), pp. 7-27. A. Favaro, "Evangelista Torricelli e Giovanni Ciampoli," Archivo di storia della scienza, 2 (1921), 46-50.
  6. "Introduzione," in Torricelli, Opere, ed. Gino Loria and Giuseppe Vassura, (Faenza, 1919), 1, iii-xxxviii.
  7. "Introduzione" in Torricelli, Opere scelte, ed. Lanfranco Belloni, (Torino, 1975), pp. 7-42.
  8. Giovanni Ghinassi, ed. Lettere fin qui inedite di E. Torricelli precedute dalla vita di lui, (Faenza, 1864).
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. _____, ed., Opere scelte di Evangelista Torricelli, (19th century). This contains a biographical introduction. R. Caverni, Storia del metodo sperimentale in Italia, 6 vols. reprint ed. (New York, 1972), 4 and 5.
  2. A. Fabroni, Vitae italiorum doctrina excellentium, (Pisa, 1778), 1, 340-99.
  3. Giuseppe Rossini, Lettere e documenti riguardenti Evangelista Torricelli, (Faenza, 1956).
  4. Evangelista Torricelli nel terzo centenario della morte, ed. A.
  5. Procissi, (Firenze, 1951).
  6. Torricelliana, pubblicato dalla Commissione per le onoranze a Evangelista Torricelli, III centenario della scoperta del barometro, anno 1944, (Faenza, 1946). As nearly as I can make out, there was a regular publication from Faenza with this name. Only two copies of this issue (sometimes referred to as Torricelliana per anno 1944), and no copies of any other issue, appear to exist in the United States. I think it is this issue that carries an article by G. Regoli, "Evangelista Torricelli segretario di mons. Giovanni Ciampoli." E. Festa, biographical sketch in F. de Gandt, ed., L'oeuvre de Torricelli: science galiléenne et nouvelle géométrie, (Paris, 1989).
  7. Francois de Gandt, ed. L'oeuvre de Torricelli: Science galiliénne et nouvelle géométrie, (Publications de la Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines de Nice, 32), (Paris, 1987).
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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