The Galileo Project
site map

Vigani, John Francis

1. Dates
Born: Verona, ca. 1650 The date rests on very tenuous assumptions.
Died: Newark-on-Trent, England, Feb. 1713 He was buried on 26 February 1713.
Dateinfo: Birth Unknown
Lifespan: N/A
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
No information about his family.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Italian
Career: English. There may very well have been a career on the continent before Vigani came to England.
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: No University
No recorded degree.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic, Anglican
Reared a Catholic, and apparently conformed to Anglicanism later.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Chemistry, Pharmacology
He was a practical working chemist and pharmacist with little or no interest in theory. His aim was to teach the preparation of useful chemical compounds and pharmacological prescriptions. His one published work, Medulla chemiae, Danzig, 1682 (republished in London, 1683), was a set of instructions to produced certain chemicals and medicines. He devised a method to purify sulfate of iron from copper, and one for making ammonium sulfate. He was free of alchemical inclinations.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Schoolmastering, Apothecary
There is no information on Vigani before 1682, and the reference to him in 1682 is indirect.
He settled in Newark-on Trent, England, apparently in 1682, supporting himself as a pharmacist.
He taught at Cambridge as a private tutor after 1683; he was granted the title of professor of chemistry by the senate of the university in 1702, but without salary. He ceased to teach in 1708.
8. Patronage
Types: City Magistrate, Aristrocrat
Vigani dedicated the first edition of Medulla to Johannes de Waal, Burgomaster of Haarlem. The dedication is not without problems. De Waal died in 1663. The suggestion is that Vigani had had some favor from him; if this is so, the assumed date of Vigani's birth, which rests on nothing solid at all, would need to be pushed back at least about ten years.
Dr. Covell, Master of Christ's College, invited him to write a book on chemistry. The Senate of the Cambridge University granted him the title of professor of chemistry. I'll leave the information in, but I am not ready to count either as patronage.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Pharmacology, Chemistry, Instruments
See above.
In the manuscript notes on Vigani's Course of Chymistry there is a discussion of a furnace he is said to have invented. After hesitation, I am listing this.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Intimate friendship with Newton. He was one of the few visitors to Newton's rooms in Trinity.
Friendship with John Covell.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50) ,21, 305-6. L.J.M. Coleby, "John Francis Vigani, First Professor of Chemistry in the University of Cambridge," Annals of Science, 8 (1952), 46-60.
  2. E. Saville Peck, "John Francis Vigani . . . and his Materia Medica Cabinet . . .," Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, 34 (1934), 34-49.
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
Last updated
Home | Galileo | Biography | Chronology | Family | Portraits |
Science | Christianity | Library | About | Site Map | Search

Please note: We will not answer copyright requests.
See the copyright page for more information.