Vincenzo Viviani, the last disciple of Galileo Galilei

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The reconstruction of Viviani’s private library, which included many volumes that belonged to Galileo himself, is a complex affair that ties in with the history of the Library of the Arcispedale di Santa Maria Nuova in Florence, where it arrived by the testamentary disposition of the owner in 1733.

In the second half of the 1700s, the collection underwent significant dispersions due to the placing of many specimens on the market and, in 1780, the transfer of much of the collection to the Biblioteca Magliabechiana (the Florentine public library that later became the first nucleus of the National Central Library of Florence) where, at the behest of the Grand Duke, the Hospital’s books that did not deal with medicine were taken. Since then, Viviani’s books not moved to the Magliabechiana Library have been considered missing.

A thorough investigation, to which the digitization activity has added some new elements that are being verified, has made it possible to identify the part of the “Viviani Library” that, for some reason, had remained in the hospital library in 1780 and is now part of the holdings of the University’s Biomedical Library. 

More than 110 volumes have been identified. They are marked, similarly to the specimens that flowed into the Magliabechiana, by the monogram “W” handwritten in pencil on the recto of the front guard paper, with which librarians initialed books from the scientist’s library. In some, a handwritten dedication by the author to Vincenzo Viviani appears; in others, his ex libris; in others, the monogram is inscribed in ink on the title page.

In addition, a comparison with the eighteenth-century manuscript inventory of the private library preserved in the National Library in Florence ascertained that the volumes in the Biomedical Library correspond to the editions mentioned in the list, further supporting the hypothesis that the books were part of the “Viviani Library.”

Vincenzo Viviani (1622-1703), mathematician, and scientist at the Accademia del Cimento, was Galileo Galilei’s assistant for the three years before his death and wrote his first biography in 1654, published in 1717. A member of the Royal Society in London and the revived Académie des Sciences in Paris, in 1647 Viviani became Mathematician to the Grand Duke of Tuscany (a position that had been Galileo’s) and then Engineer to the Magistratura della Parte Guelfa, the office responsible for river regulation and land protection.

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