Saggi di natvrali esperienze fatte nell'Accademia del Cimento sotto la protezione del Serenissimo principe Leopoldo di Toscana, e descritte dal segretario di essa Accademia.

Florence: Giuseppe Cocchini, 1666 (dedication dated 14 July, 1667).

First edition, first issue, a magnificent copy bound in contemporary Italian red morocco gilt, probably for presentation, of the only publication of the Accademia del Cimento, the first organisation founded for the sole purpose of making scientific experiments (the more common second issue has the title page reset and dated 1667). The Accademia sought to extend the work of Galileo by performing experiments which would demonstrate the folly of continuing opposition to the new science. Its patrons were Prince Leopoldo of Tuscany and his elder brother, Ferdinando II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, both amateur scientists. Leopoldo, who “set the experimental agenda” (Biagioli, Galileo Courtier (1993), p. 358) provided the group with the first well-equipped physical sciences laboratory in Europe, established in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, and devised some of the methods and instruments used in it. Although active for only a decade, the Accademia exerted a lasting influence on the development of experimental scientific methods and devices during the following century. Led by the polymath Giovanni Alfonso Borelli (1608-1679) and Vincenzio Viviani (1622-1703), pupil of Galileo and Torricelli, its members included the naturalist Francesco Redi, the anatomist and geologist Niels Stensen, the astronomer Gian Domenico Cassini, and the linguist and writer Lorenzo Magalotti, who became the secretary and who edited the Saggi. The collection was published anonymously, an expression of the Accademia’s (or Leopoldo’s) policy of submerging the members’ individual identities and presenting itself as a group. The essays focus strictly on the identification and description of physical phenomena, and avoid stating any potentially controversial theories or conclusions. Although the Saggi describe only a portion of the experiments carried out by the Academy, omitting some interesting investigations, including observations of comets, they include several scientific novelties: “[The Saggi] contains the description of the first true thermometer (as opposed to Galileo's thermo-baroscope), which had its tube for the first time sealed and a graduated scale attached to it ... It describes the first true hygrometer, and an improved barometer, giving also classical experiments on air pressure, experiments on the velocity of sound, radiant heat, phosphorescence, and the first experiments showing the expansion of water in freezing. Of great importance were the experiments on the compressibility of water, discovering at the same time the porosity of silver, and the pendulum experiments, when the deviation of the pendulum from its true plane of oscillation was first discovered, which was afterwards used by Foucault to prove the earth's rotation” (Zeitlinger, Bibliotheca chemico-mathematica (1921), 22505). The 800 copies printed (including both issues) were not sold by booksellers: they were all distributed as gifts to Leopoldo’s friends and correspondents. Only two other copies bound in contemporary red morocco are recorded on ABPC/RBH, both in bindings nearly identical to that of the present copy: the Norman copy (second issue) and a copy of the first issue sold at Sotheby’s, London, on 27 September 1988 (lot 152).

The Accademia del Cimento was founded in 1657 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinando II de’ Medici (1610-70) and by his brother Prince Leopoldo (1617-75). Founded to follow Galileo’s agenda, the Accademia’s activity gradually diverged from his mathematical approach to nature, making way for an experimental view of science. Linked to this intense experimental programme was the emergence of the crucial role of instruments and laboratories, two aspects of scientific research which had not previously been given the same significance. Viviani, who had been Galileo’s secretary during the last years of his life, and Borelli were the true leaders of the experimental activities, though the role of Ferdinando and Leopoldo in the promotion and coordination of the experiments to be performed should not be underestimated.

“The choice of members for the Accademia, which was decided by the Medici, reflected the scientific priorities the academy intended to pursue. With the presence of Francesco Redi, medicine and natural history flanked physics, astronomy and mathematics. Though not officially members of the Accademia, a considerable number of naturalists, both Italian and foreign, participated in the academy’s activities in various roles. Among them were the doctor and geologist Niels Stensen, summoned to take part in several activities, and the future president of The Royal Society, Robert Southwell, who had been a protégé of Viviani, from whom he learned the methods and organization which governed the academy. Other scientists, such as Huygens and Thévenot, had established intense epistolary exchanges with the Florentine scientists and sovereigns, the contents of which are directly traceable to the scientific research performed in the rooms of the Palazzo Pitti.

“Whatever the object of investigation, the distinctive element of the sessions was public experimentation. Naturally, for this kind of approach to be successful it was necessary to dispose of a rich laboratory … During the 10-year run of the academy’s activity, thousands of astronomical, physical, chemical and meteorological instruments were either commissioned or constructed in the bosom of the Cimento. If we consider that Prince Leopoldo’s collection alone contained 1282 glass instruments, … we can only imagine the enormous wealth of the laboratory in the Palazzo Pitti … the production and construction of scientific instruments and the upkeep of the laboratory required a separate budget which expended very considerable resources. The costs of acquiring such instruments … had necessarily led science to become a collegial undertaking … supported by a solid and prestigious financial institution which would guarantee its function and development. In the case of the Accademia del Cimento, whose example would be followed by The Royal Society, and the Académie des Sciences, it was princely patronage that guaranteed a complete covering of expenses and promoted the laboratory as a privileged site of scientific practice. However, Ferdinando II and Leopoldo’s patronage was not only aimed at underlining the munificence and splendour of the Medici court, it was also the result of an increasing awareness that, through experimental practice, it had become possible to obtain very concrete practical and economic advantages …

“In contrast to Galileo, who put forward the mathematical interpretation of phenomena, his disciples, at least when they gathered for their meetings, embraced a conception of science based on experimentation. Though recognizing the cognitive value of geometry and the superiority of the mathematical method over the qualitative and sensistic one of the Aristotelians, the Cimento academicians pointed out its structural limits. ‘The fact is,’ we read in the preface to the Saggi, ‘that geometry leads us a little way along the road of philosophical speculation, but then abandons us when we least expect it … Now here, where we are no longer permitted to step forward, there is nothing better to turn to than our faith in experiment.’ It is significant, in fact, that though the academy was led by two mathematicians, Viviani and Borelli, the Saggi contains no explicit reference to mathematical questions … Thus, in the publication of the Saggi, the academicians set aside the controversies that animated the realization and interpretation of many of the experiments and set forth a purely descriptive prose with which the proceedings of the experiments and the instruments used were reconstructed in minute detail. As for the possible causes of the phenomena described, the academicians left the reader the freedom, but also the responsibility, of adopting the speculative doctrine that most suited him …

“The neutrality of scientific discourse was underlined by another innovative and unprecedented element. The Saggi were published anonymously with the deliberate choice of not attributing individual recognition to each experiment or discovery. Such a choice was justified by the claim that the reader might be influenced by the notoriety of the author of an experiment, and thus subordinate his judgement of the experiment’s evidence to the principle of authority. In contrast to the style of the Saggi, one must remember that in the Accademia’s unpublished correspondence, individual claims to discoveries and observation played an extremely important role. The reasons for the paradoxical choice of the Saggi are not clear, but it is reasonable to suppose that with such an artifice the academicians wished to further underline the impersonal nature of the scientific endeavour …

“The anonymity of the Accademia’s only publication, which appeared 10 years after the first experiments began, urgently poses the question of how to resolve the numerous claims of priority of discoveries when confronted by the claims put forth by members of the European scientific community … The experiments on vacuum, begun in Tuscany as early as the 1640s with the work of Torricelli, were surpassed by the experiments by Boyle contained in his New experiments physico-mechanicall touching the spring of air (Oxford, 1660). As is well known, the Cimento academicians had since 1656 realized numerous experiments [on the vacuum], but the Accademia’s experiments were kept practically secret for many years, and it is obvious that the advantage of Boyle’s contribution clearly lay in demonstrating the existence of the vacuum without having to use the complex working of the pneumatic pump. When Borelli received a copy of New experiments in 1662, he laconically commented on the Accademia’s delay with the following words: ‘As to Boyle, I have seen it with displeasure, because there are many of our Academy’s things in it’ …

“The structural limitations of the Accademia, accentuated by Medici inconstancy, determined its closure in 1667 and underlined the state of decline of Italian science. In its 10 years of activity the Accademia del Cimento succeeded in anticipating some mechanisms of modern science, delineating the extraordinary political and social advantages of the institutional organization of scientific research. Confirmation of this importance is found in the numerous unpublished documents that attest to the influence of the Accademia on other better-known scientific academies. In 1661, the English anatomist John Finch, who had worked in Pisa witnessing the Cimento experiments on several occasions, announced the foundation of The Royal Society to Prince Leopolodo de’ Medici as follows: ‘By Royal command we have in London an Academy, begun on the model of that of Your Highness, for making experiments.’ In May of 1661, The Royal Society appointed a committee made up of, among others, Robert Boyle ‘constantly to correspond with the Duke Leopoldus,’ and in 1667, Oldenburg sent Leopoldo a copy of Thomas Sprat’s History of the Royal Society of London accompanied by the following words: ‘As the designs for the cultivation of a sound and useful philosophy that have been framed by our august King and by your Highness are so well matched, it seems entirely fitting that there should be a close and friendly relationship between the two societies. And indeed, when one examines the matter deeply, it seems that the successful execution of so arduous and burdensome a plan requires rather the joint labours of the industrious and wise men of the whole world in mutual co-operation, than those of this region or that alone.’ However, when the letter reached its destination in November 1667, Leopoldo had become Cardinal in Rome and the Accademia no longer existed. Thus, the personal involvement of the Medici in the activities of the Accademia seemed to be the main cause of both its rise and fall” (Beretta).

The idea of publishing the results of the efforts of the Accademia was in Leopoldo’s mind shortly after the date of June 1657 usually given for its founding. The task of writing the text was assigned to the Accademia’s secretary from 1660, the young Lorenzo Magalotti (1637-1712), who was really more of a poet than a scientist. By the middle of 1662 the writing of the text had begun and at least some of the illustrations had been drawn. Leopoldo assumed control over the contents of the proposed book, and Magalotti’s successive drafts, of which there were at least five, had to be submitted to the other academicians for approval or suggestions. Mindful of what had happened to Galileo, the manuscript was also submitted to the Catholic authorities for approval. The resulting delays meant that the first sheets were not printed until July 1664. They were sent to Cardinal Sforza Pallavicini, not for his opinion on their orthodoxy, but on their style – he was a great authority on the Tuscan language. No further printing seems to have taken place until early in 1666, when the first version of the title page was printed. The license to print the complete work was not obtained until October 11, 1667. “It seems probable that the final sheets of the work, that is to say, the dedication, the preface, and the end matter, came from the press in October 1667 and that Leopold at once gave instructions for its distribution. It must be emphasized that none of the copies were made available through booksellers. All that were distributed were sent out as gifts to the friends and correspondents of the Prince, including several crowned heads, and most of the important scientific workers in Europe” (Knowles Middleton, p. 77). To most of the copies a new title page was added, dated 1667 and with the type entirely rest.

The first set of experiments described in the Saggi relates to determining air pressure with mercury barometers. The second set reviewed work done by Boyle on air pressure and the vacuum. The third set discussed artificial cooling and the fourth set discussed natural cooling. The fifth set looked at the effect of heat and cold on various objects. The sixth set investigated the compressibility of water while the seventh series refuted Aristotle’s idea of the natural state of fire by proving that smoke does not rise in a vacuum. The eighth set discussed magnetism and the ninth discussed amber. The tenth set looked at colour while the eleventh investigated the speed of sound. The twelfth set demonstrated the laws of falling bodies which Galileo discussed but did not perform experiments to prove.

Brunet V-29: “L'édition que nous indiquons est la plus rare, surtout avec la date de 1666 et le beau portrait du grand duc Ferdinand II”; Dibner, Heralds of Science 82; NLM/Krivatsy 25; Riccardi I(2), 407; Norman 486 (“The portrait of Duke Leopold was added to only part of the edition, and is often lacking”). Beretta, ‘At the Source of Western Science: The Organization of Experimentalism at the Accademia del Cimento (1657-1667)’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London

Vol. 54 (2000), pp. 131-151. Knowles Middleton, The Experimenters: A Study of the Accademia del Cimento, 1971.



Folio (345 x 245 mm), pp. [xviii], CCLXIX, [17], including engraved portrait of Grand Duke Ferdinand II of Tuscany by Lotaringus after Francois Spierre, title printed in red and black with engraved device of the Academy, errata leaf before index, licence with register at end, last leaf blank, 75 full-page engravings of experimental apparatus printed from 30 copperplates, engraved by Modiana possibly after drawings by Stefano della Bella, engraved head- and tail-piece vignettes by V. Spada, large historiated woodcut initials (outer margins of first and last 2 leaves discoloured from acidic glue used for pastedowns, dedication leaves browned as always). Contemporary Italian red morocco, covers tooled in gold to a centre- and corner-piece fan design, spine richly gilt-tooled in six compartments, gilt edges (slight wear to extremities).

Item #4707

Price: $35,000.00