Beccaria, Giambatista, 1716-1781

Alternative names
Birth 1716-10-03
Death 1781-05-27
French, Italian, Latin

Biographical notes:

Giambatista (aka. Giovanni Battista) Beccaria, a professor of experimental physics, taught at the University of Turin.

From the guide to the Ex Phisicis Institutionibus, 1769, 1769, (American Philosophical Society)

Croation by birth, mathematian and natural philosopher, Rudjer Josip Boskovic spent most of his life in Rome and Milan, but also lived briefly in Paris and London.

From the guide to the Ruggero Giuseppe Boscovich papers, [ca. 1730-1786], Circa 1730-1786, (American Philosophical Society)

Sir Joseph Banks was an English naturalist and president of the Royal Society.

From the guide to the Sir Joseph Banks papers, 1766-1820 (bulk), 1766-1820, (American Philosophical Society)

Giambatista (aka. Giovanni Battista) Beccaria was a professor of experimental physics at the University of Turin.

From the description of Ex Phisicis Institutionibus, 1769. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122584018

From the description of Papers, 1766-1779. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122464679

Epithet: Italian physicist

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000001091.0x00035c

The natural philosopher Giambatista Beccaria was instrumental in the spread of the new electrical theory in Italy during the eighteenth century, and was among the great advocates on the continent for the scientific ideas of Benjamin Franklin. Born as Francesco Ludovico Beccaria in Mondovì, Italy, on October 3, 1716, Beccaria studied theology in Rome and Narni, where he was introduced to the new tendencies in science and philosophy. Upon entering the Scolopian (Piarist) order in 1732, he assumed the religious name Giambatista, under which all of his subsequent publications appeared.

Teaching in the Scolopian schools at Narni, and subsequently, Urbino, Palermo, and Rome, Beccaria's interests devolved to scientific matters, and he took pains to establish himself as a progressive, enlightened thinker. A measure of his success came in 1748, when he was called from Palermo to replace father Francisco Antonio Garro as chair in experimental physics at the University of Turin. There, he proceeded to the systematic study of electrical phenomena, defending Franklin's single-fluid theories against the competing theories of the Abbé Nollet, R. Symmer, and others. The first important fruits of his research, Dell'Elettricismo Naturale ed Artificiale (Torino, 1753), was proclaimed by Franklin as "one of the best pieces on the subject in any language," and brought the cleric welcome and wide acclaim as a man of science. By the early 1760s, he was a regular correspondent not only of Franklin, but of Joseph Banks, Joseph Priestley, and other members of the Royal Society, with a wider orbit in Italy, France, Switzerland, and other European nations. Perhaps the best indication of his stature, however, was that when Franklin was too busy to engage in electrical pugilistics himself during the 1770s, he simply had Beccaria's work translated.

Through his innovative research and voluminous publication, Beccaria established Italy at the center of eighteenth century study of electrical phenomena. His treatises Dell'Elettricismo, Lettere ... Coll' Appendice di un Nuovo Fosforo Descritto... (Bologna, 1758), Elettricismo Artificiale (Torino, 1772), and Della Elettricità Terrestre Atmosferica a Cielo Sereno (Torino, 1775) passed through several editions and were translated widely, and other, related research took Beccaria into the study of the aurora borealis, sunspots, and aspects of meteorology.

Beccaria cultivated patrons in political and social circles, as well as scientific, and as Antonio Pace notes, he attained a measure of fame in Italy that, if not unparalleled, was nevertheless extraordinary. A visit to Beccaria was de rigeur for scientific travelers, and he was popular in court and civic life, as well. Ultimately, however, he was overshadowed by the reputations of his intellectual forebear, the luminous Franklin, and his successor, Alessandro Volta. The prodigious Volta dedicated his first book to Beccaria, whom he had studied at length, though ironically, it was Volta, his countryman, who subsequently did as much as anything to eclipse Beccaria. Beccaria died in Turin on May 27, 1781.

From the guide to the Giambatista Beccaria Papers, 1766-1780, (American Philosophical Society)


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