NBA History of Science Seminar – Niels Bohr Archive

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Niels Bohr Archive > Calendar > 1999-2011 > John Heilbron

NBA History of Science Seminar

John Heilbron, "History, astronomy, and international politics in late baroque Rome: The several lives of Monsignore Francesco Bianchini (1662-1729)."

In 1702, on orders from Pope Clement XI, Bianchini installed a solar observatory in the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Rome for scientific as well as political purposes. Clement later appointed him superintendent of all Latin inscriptions found in Rome and secret agent in the cause of James III, the Catholic Stuart pretender to the throne of England.

John Heilbron, Professor of History, Emeritus University of California, Berkeley

The latter commission took him to England, where Newton and other anti-Catholics gave him a surprisingly cordial welcome. Before building the solar observatory, Bianchini had published a "universal history" of humankind during the first thirty-two centuries of its existence.

He continued to write history, mainly on paper and about the early church; but he also used the pavement of Santa Maria degli Angeli to inscribe, in places fixed astronomically, important events in Clement's relations with James. The lecturer will attempt to link Bianchini's historical and astronomical work, his welcome by Newton, and his service to the Jacobite cause.