The Academy

A Short History of the Academy of Sciences of Siena

The Academy of Sciences was founded on 17th March 1691 in the library of Siena’s Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala by Pirro Maria Gabbrielli, a professor of Medicine and Botany, and some of his students. Their objective was to study the origins of natural phenomena through experimental verification, an approach that went against the teachings of Aristotle and reflected the new cultural and scientific changes that were sweeping through Europe. The members of the Academy called themselves "Fisiocritici", taken from the Greek for nature, physis, and judges, criticos. This underlines their aim of “using judgement to scrutinize and investigate the secrets of nature and, almost like judges, to throw out of the natural sciences whatever is false to better understand what is true”. The members of the new Academy chose as their emblem the touchstone that they used to distinguish real from false gold and silver. Their motto was veris quod possit vincere falsa, (truths that can refute the false) taken from the treatise “De rerum natura” (“On the nature of things”) written by Lucrezio Caro, a philosopher and Latin poet who had lived in the 1st century BC. The Academy moved to new premises in a hall in the Casa della Sapienza, which had been built as part of the university in the early 15th century to provide classrooms and student lodgings. The first years proved to be extremely intense both in the presentation of Memorie (reports of Academy lectures) and in building scientific equipment. In fact, the Academy members reproduced a machine that could demonstrate the existence of a vacuum and used it to great effect in public demonstrations that enthralled their audiences. Later, they also made their own heliometer, a complicated sundial that could both tell the time and measure the sun’s diameter at different times of the year. The Academy’s continued survival was at the mercy of the political events of the day and moments of frenetic activity were interspersed with periods in which the members were not allowed to work at all. But the second half of the 18th century saw a period of renewed industry and at last it was possible to start publishing the Proceedings of the Academy, a collection of the lectures given during public meetings. The Academy building was seriously damaged both as a consequence of the political turmoil at the end of the 18th century and by the natural phenomenon of an earthquake. The Academy’s activities were severally curtailed and it was only with its transfer to new premises that the members were able to start work again; and it is here that the Academy can still be found today. After a period of serious economic problems, the life of the Academy began to grow in strength. Another meridian was constructed on the new premises and, halfway through the 19th century, the Department of Agricultural Sciences was founded. It was in this period that the Grand Duke of Tuscany decided to make the museum part of the university. This, together with the political instability created by the events leading to Italian unity meant that the Academy’s activities came to a halt. The Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed in 1861, and with it the Academy began its close relationship with the university. It allowed part of its premises to be used by some of the university institutes and the Botanical Gardens were built on its land. During the 19th century, the Academy received donations from benefactors that allowed it to expand and develop the Natural History Museum. In the first half of the 20th century, it was mainly thanks to its achievements in the fields of medicine and biology that the Academy was able to take its place in the front ranks of contemporary Italian medical science, becoming the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Siena. The end of World War II saw a country struggling to get back on its feet and publication of its Proceedings was all the Academy could achieve. The Faculty of Mathematical, Physical and Natural Sciences was established in 1963 and there was a growth in disciplines concerning the natural sciences. This, together with the presence of eminent scholars in the fields of medicine and biology meant the Academy gained new life. There was a return to its founding spirit; the museum was re-opened and new efforts were made to organize cultural activities.

The Home of the Academy

From its first historical home in Siena’s Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, the Academy of the Fisiocritici moved to the Casa della Sapienza in 1694, premises more suitable for carrying out experiments. The Academy entered into an agreement with the university to use the premises and this was the start of a long and fruitful collaboration. The Casa della Sapienza, at that time part of the university, is now the Civic Library of the Intronati. It was here that Pirro Maria Gabbrielli had the sundial built, the “Fisiocritic heliometer”, which was to regulate Sienese religious and public life throughout the 18th century. In 1798, the building was seriously damaged by an earthquake. In 1816, the Granduke of Tuscany Ferdinand III bequeathed to the Academy its present seat, a former Camaldolensian monastery built in the 12th century. (A law passed in 1939 confirmed its status as a protected building of artistic and historical interest.) The Academy renovated the building and here the library, the historical archives and the Natural History Museum have found a fitting home. The building is made up of three floors, two of which face onto a courtyard with a 16th century well. The lower cloister houses a large part of the geological collection while the zoology department can be found in the upper cloisters. The Great Hall has a frescoed ceiling showing “The Triumph of Science”, painted by Vincenzo Dei in 1816. It can accommodate 130 people and is provided with modern audiovisual equipment.

Board of Directors (1st June 2010 – 31st May 2013)

  • Chairperson: Sara Ferri General
  • Secretary: Rodolfo Bracci
  • Superintendent of the Geology Department of the Natural History Museum: Roberto Mazzei
  • Superintendent of the Zoology Department of the Natural History Museum: Giuseppe Manganelli
  • Head of the Press Office: Gianmichele Galassi
  • Chief Librarian: Paola Martelli
  • Treasurer: Luciano Pannocchia
  • Members of the Board: Mauro Cresti - Folco Giusti - Giuseppe Florio
  • Representative of the University of Siena: Angelo Riccaboni (Rector)

Board of Auditors

Full Members

  • Antonio De Martinis
  • Franco Lunghetti
  • Simonetta Meoni
  • Alternate Members
  • Giovanni Coda Nunziante
  • Isaia Sensini

Board of Arbitrators

Full Members

  • Angelo Acconcia
  • Mauro Barni
  • Aldo Rossolini

Alternate Members

  • Luigi Bernabei
  • Franco Biondi Santi

Famous Academicians

Some of the internationally famous members of the Academy of the Fisiocritici, Siena (with dates of birth and death).

1661-1730 Antonio Vallisneri

1677-1760 Sallustio Bandini

1682-1771 Giovanni Battista Morgagni

1698-1782 Pietro Metastasio

1700-1772 Gerard Van Swieten

1707-1778 Carlo Linneo (Karl af Linné)

1712-1764 Francesco Algarotti

1716-1786 Leonardo Ximenes

1729-1799 Lazzaro Spallanzani

1730-1803 Felice Fontana

1736-1808 Ambrogio Soldani

1736-1813 Joseph-Louis Lagrange

1738-1794 Cesare Beccaria

1745-1827 Alessandro Volta

1755-1815 Paolo Mascagni

1769-1832 George Cuvier

1805-1850 Giuseppe Pianigiani

1809-1880 Bettino Ricasoli

1815-1891 Giovanni Caselli

1822-1895 Louis Pasteur

1824-1895 Tito Sarrocchi

1843-1910 Robert Koch

1847-1929 Domenico Barduzzi

1861-1930 Achille Sclavo

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