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Vanini, Giulio Cesare

1. Dates
Born: Taurisano, Lecce (Southern Italy), c. 1585
Died: Toulouse, France, 9 February 1619
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 34
2. Father
Occupation: Government Official
Vanini was the son of Giovanni Battista Vanini, a local official, and a Spanish noblewoman. His father was seventy years old when he was born.
Namer is unambiguous in saying that the parents were affluent. They had a fine house in Taurisano and other property as well. I will accept this. Nevertheless I do note that Vanini had to enter a religious order to be able to complete his university education. The situation is obscure. He entered the University of Naples in 1599; he took orders in 1603. Sometime near then his father died, and Vanini was not the eldest son. Perhaps this was involved in his entering the order.
3. Nationality
Birth: Italian
Career: Italian, English, French
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: Naples, LD; Padua
Vanini earned a doctorate in canon and civil law from the University of Naples on 6 June 1606. As with all such cases, I assume a B.A. or its equivalent.
He enrolled in the faculty of theology in Padua in 1608, and was there until 1612. There is no record of a degree.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic, Heterodox
Vanini became a Carmelite friar about 1603.
When studying in Padua, Vanini showed himself unambiguously in favor of Venice in the republic's dispute with the Papacy. The general of his order commanded him to return to the house in Naples, where he would have been disciplined, probably severely. Instead Vanini sought refuge with the English ambassador to Venice in 1612, and he went secretly to England where he publicly renounced Catholicism. Already in 1613 the English experience had paled, and he appealed to the Pope to be received back in the Church, not as a friar, but as a secular priest. The request was granted by the Pope himself. When the Archbishop of Canterbury learned of Vanini's plans, he had him imprisoned, but Vanini succeeded in escaping to France.
Well before this Vanini had been flirting with radical ideas, which found expression in two books published in France. He is known as the prince of libertins. He was accused of atheism. Whatever the truth of this, there seems no doubt that he held radically heterodox opinions. He advanced a naturalistic philosophy according to which the world is eternal and governed by immanent laws. For him all of nature with its immanent laws is what divine providence means. He held that the human soul, which is similar to animal souls is mortal. For these ideas Vanini's book was condemned and three years later, in 1619, known under the pseudonym, Pompeo Uciglio, he was savagely executed in Toulouse.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural Philosophy
Vanini published two books in France after the English interlude--Amphitheatrum aeternae providentiae divino-magicum. Christiano-physicum, nec non astrologo-catholicum. Aversus veteres philosophos, 1615, and De admirandis naturae reginae deaeque mortalium arcanis, 1616. It was for these two, especially the second, that he was condemned and forced to flee Paris, and for opinions like those in the second that he was then executed in 1619.
On the basis of these works Vanini can be seen as one of the first who began to treat nature as a machine governed by laws.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Patronage
Secondary: Church Life, Schoolmastering, Medicine
Vanini was originally a Carmelite friar. After completing his degree in Naples in 1606, he remained in the area of Naples for two years, apparently as a friar. He then went on to Padua in 1608, and there he lived in the monastery of his order.
In 1612, as he waited on the negotiations that granted him asylum in England, he lived in Bologna, supporting himself as a teacher.
The trip to England was financed by the patronage of the English ambassador, and in England he lived entirely (and increasingly unhappily) on the patronage of George Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
After his escape from England he went to Genoa where he was the teacher of Giacomo Doria, of that prominent family.
In Paris, 1615-16, he lived on the patronage of Arthur d'Epinay de Saint Luc, abbé de Redon and Bishop of Marseille, and after he was forced to flee Paris he found refuge for several months at the monastery of Redon in Brittainy.
After he fled on from Redon, Vanini supported himself for a time by practising medicine under an assumed name.
In Toulouse he lived as the client of the highest aristocrats, especially the Comte de Caraman. Part of his function as client was teaching.
8. Patronage
Types: Government Official, Eccesiastic Official, Aristrocrat
Vanini was a charismatic character, and wherever he went he collected patrons like flies around honey. This started in Padua where he charmed the English ambassador to Venice, Sir Dudley Carleton, right out of his shoes. Carleton arranged for Vanini's escape to England in 1612 and financed the trip.
In England the Archbishop of Canterbury agreed to receive Vanini on Carleton's recommendation. For a time Vanini exerted the same charm on Abbot, who arranged for his public conversion in June 1612, and supported him, though not in a way that pleased Vanini, during his stay in England.
When Vanini decided to get out of England, Antonio Foscarini, the Venetian ambassador, provided support. Someone helped to arrange his escape, and it was probably Foscarini.
After England he went briefly to Genoa where he became the teacher, and client, of Giacomo Doria.
Vanini dedicated his Amphitheatrum, 1615, to Francesco di Castro, Conte di Castro, the protector of his family back in Taurisano. In the dedication Vanini refers to him as his generous maecenas.
In Paris he became the client of the abbé de Redon, at whose house in stayed. When the storm broke in 1616, Vanini found refuge for a time in the monastery of Redon.
Meanwhile he had dedicated the book that caused the storm, De admirandis arcanis, 1616, to the abbé's uncle, M. (soon to be maréchal) de Bassombpierre.
As I said, Vanini collected patrons as he went. Apparently libertin aristocrats lapped up his radical ideas, served up as they were with verve, irreverence, and charm. He no sooner arrived in Toulouse, travelling under an assumed name, than he became the client of Jean de Bertier de Montrabe, the third president (there were first and second presidents at the same time) of the Parlement of Toulouse. More important than Bertier was the Comte de Caraman, of whose nephew Vanini became tutor.
Namer's book gives a good account of his patronage.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Medical Practice
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. Emile Namer, La vie et l'oeuvre de J.C. Vanini, prince des libertins, (Paris, 1980).
  2. Andrzej Nowicki, Giulio Cesare Vanini, 1585-1619, (Accademia Polacco della Scienze, Bibliotheca e centro di studi a Roma. Conferenze 39), (Wroclaw, 1968).
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Emile Namer, Documents sur la vie de Jules-César Vanini de Taurisano (publ. dell'Istituto di Filosofia (1). Univ. degli studi di Bari), (Bari, n.d.). _____, "L'oeuvre de Jules-César Vanini (1585-1619): une anthropologie philosophique," in Studi in onore di Antonio Corsano, (Manduria, 1970).
  2. _____, "Vanini et la préparation de l'esprit scientifique a l'aube du XVIIe siècle," Revue d'histoire des sciences et de leur applications, 25 (1972), 207-20.
  3. Don Cameron Allen, Doubt's Boundless Sea: Skepticism and Faith in the Renaissance, (Baltimore, 1964), pp. 58-74.
  4. J.-Roger Charbonnel, La pensée italienne au XVIe siècle et le courant libertin, (Paris, 1919), pp. 302-83.
  5. William L. Hine, "Mersenne and Vanini," Renaissance Quarterly, c.
  6. 1976.
  7. Raffaele Palumbo, Giulio Cesare Vanini e i suoi tempi, (Naples, 1878). This list does not begin to exhaust the extensive literature on Vanini. After I had found Namer's book, which is recent and authoritative, there seemed no point in reading further.
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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