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Zucchi, Niccolo

1. Dates
Born: Parma, 6 December 1586
Died: Rome, 21 May 1670
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 84
2. Father
Occupation: Aristocrat
Pierre Zucchi was from a noble family. The mother was also of noble blood.
No indication whatever of the financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Italian
Career: Italian
Death: Italian
4. Education
Schooling: Religous Order, D.D.
He studied rhetoric in Piacenza and philosophy and theology in Parma. In both cases I think Jesuit colleges are clearly indicated. Obviously he had the equivalent of a B.A., and as a full-fledged Jesuit he would have had a doctorate in theology.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
He entered the Jesuit order as a novice on 28 October 1602 and spent his whole life in the order. It is of interest that from a family of eight children, seven embraced a religious life--all three daughters as nuns, three sons as Jesuits, and one son as a secular priest.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Optics, Astronomy, Mechanics
Subordinate: Magnetism, Physics
About 1608, or perhaps 1616, Zucchi used a lens to observe the image produced by a concave mirror, and thus produced a primitive reflecting telescope, apparently the first one. Later, in Optica philosophica, 1652, he described it.
Zucchi was the first one to observe the spots on Jupiter, in 1630. Let it be added that Zucchi accepted and expounded strange astronomical theories--such as the assertion that Venus is closer to the sun than Mercury because Venus represents beauty and Mercury represents skill. (However, it strikes me that this is just the Ptolemaic system.)
He published two works, in 1646 and 1649 on the philosophy of machines, that is (I take it), analyses of mechanics. In one of these books there was a section on magnetism.
He also wrote on the barometer, denying the existence of a vacuum. In all, clearly a rock-ribbed conservative in natural philosophy.
7. Means of Support
Primary: 7. Support: Ecc
There is disagreement on the order of appointments but full agreement on the appointments themselves. Some sources say that Zucchi first taught mathematics at the Collegio Romano and went from there to Ravenna, where he was rector of a new Jesuit college. Affo has him going to Ravenna from Parma and then on to Rome. Either way he spent his early career teaching in Jesuit colleges--not only mathematics, but also rhetoric and theology.
Sometime after he returned to Rome from Ravenna he was the preacher in the Apostolic Palace (i.e., preacher to the Pope) for at least seven years. He was in the retinue of the Papal legate sent in 1632 to the court of Ferdinand II, where he met Kepler.
Toward the end of his life he was in charge of the Jesuit house in Rome.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Eccesiastic Official, Aristrocrat
Zucchi was close to Cardinal Alessandro Orsini, who built the Jesuit college in Ravenna and installed Zucchi as its rector. In Ravenna he was confessor and theologican to Orsini. Orsini was the legate to Prague whom Zucchi accompanied.
He dedicated Nova de machinis philosophia, 1642, to Ranuccio II Farnese, Duke of Parma.
He dedicated Optica philosophia, 1652, to Archduke Leopold of Austria, Governor of Belgium and Burgundy.
He is reported to have written an Optica statica, which was not published and has not apparently survived, at the request of the Marquis of Pianezza. I have decided to accept the report and list this.
Pope Alexander VII named Zucchi his preacher (this would be preacher in the Apostolic Palace). Clement IX also showed him favor.
It do find it interesting that Zucchi apparently did not dedicate his devotional books to anyone, just those on science.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Instruments
He made either the first or one of the first relecting telescopes and later described it in Optica philosophia. With it, in c. 1640, he is reported to have examined the spots on Mars discovered by Fontana. (I confess to finding the report wildly improbable.)
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. Ireneo Affo, Memorie degli scrittori e letterati parmigiani, (Parma, 1797), 5, 170-5.
  2. Angelo Pezzana, Continuazione delle memorie degli scrittori e letterati pargmigiani, (Parma, 1825), 6.3, 773-9.
  3. Michaud, Biographie générale, 45, 620-1.
  4. Carlos Sommervogel, ed. Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus, (Brussels, 1891), 8, 1525-30.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Daniello Bartoli, Della vita del P. Nicolo Zucchi, (Rome, 1682).
  2. This is said to be reprinted in one of the volumes on Jesuits by Mathias Tanner, but that is also not available.
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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