Physycs Laboratory:
Urbino Museum of Science and Technology

Urbino University








Several collections of scientific instruments are present in Urbino: apart from the University collection of the Gabinetto di Fisica and that of the Liceo-Ginnasio "Raffaello", there are also interesting sets of instruments in other schools (middle schools, teachers’ training schools, other high schools). The various collections include more than one thousand instruments overall, even though by now no complete census has been made. The interesting aspect seems to be that all these collections probably date back to the nineteenth century, which was characterized by a close cultural link between the University and the "Collegio dei Nobili". The rich collection of instruments of the Gabinetto di Fisica was gathered over the time through gifts, purchases for institutional purposes and acquisitions of different kind. Evidence of this evolution can be found in old catalogues, epistolary exchanges, administrative and book-keeping letters, orders and invoices. As is often the case, many instruments which are present in the documents have disappeared, many others which are still part of the collection are not mentioned in the documents and many are described in such a (vague) way that their precise identification is impossible. The creation of the Gabinetto di Fisica of the University of Urbino, with its collection of instruments and its staff, officially dates back to 1832, the year in which the University planned a broad restructuring after the acquisition of Palazzo Bonaventura, in which all scientific facilities were gradually placed with the exception of the Orto Botanico (Botanical Gardens). Yet, the lectures of Natural Philosophy, Mathematics, Physics and Experimental Physics, even with public demonstrations (the so-called "Pubblica Accademia"), had already been held rather regularly in the previous centuries. The documents permit to follow with sufficient precision the various changes of seat to which the lectures and the "Gabinetto di Fisica" were subject in the town. In the 16th century, while the Law lectures of the "Collegio dei Dottori" were held in the Palazzo Comunale (the Town hall), the Theology and Philosophy lectures were held in the "Convento di S. Francesco". It is not too daring to presume that the subjects were sometimes extended to Natural Philosophy: the "Convento di S. Francesco" had a good cultural tradition and was equipped with an excellent library even in the sector that would now be called of "Natural Sciences" in a broader sense of the term. This situation remained unchanged even during the seventeenth century: yet, towards the half of the century the "Pubblico Studio" officially introduced the Mathematics and Physics lectures, whose lecturers came both from the heterogeneous world of the ecclesiastical orders and from the lively circle of the craftsmen and of the entrepreneurs. Various documents suggest that the place in which the lectures were held depended greatly on the environment to which the lecturer belonged, even though at the end of the seventeenth century and for most of the eighteenth century some rooms of the Ducal Palace were made available (the palace had been transformed into the Apostolic Palace) with the permisssion of the Apostolic Delegate. The documents of the time, however, describe those rooms as not very confortable and not suitable for being used for that purpose, it is therefore not surprising that towards the end of the eighteenth century the places in which the mathematical instruments were kept were the "Convento di S.Girolamo" and the Palace raised for the Fathers of the "Scuole Pie"(Piarists) according to the will of the Albanis’ family. In particular Father Luigi Moriconi of St. Girolamo's Convent, who had been a Mathematics lecturer for four decades, in 1799 sold the "Machine Fisiche" he had built with "propria industria et ingenio" (with his work and skills) at the University. The sale was recorded in Urbino in December 1800. They were a dozen of "Macchine", some of which had probably been produced by the Ninis, a family of craftsmen who worked successfully in Urbino during the eighteenth century. One can maybe recognize an armillary sphere of that time, whereas the identification of the other instruments is very difficult. Over a few years, however, other instruments made by craftsmen were purchased, and some of them are still present today. As a consequence the instruments were no longer personal property of the lecturer, they became capital of the institution. They were therefore kept in a special room ("camera fisica") and a person was responsible for controlling the instruments and preparing them for any lecturer who would require them. The name "Gabinetto di Fisica" (Physics laboratory) - together with the name "Gabinetto Fisico" - appeared some decades later; its actual creation, however, seems more realistically to coincide with the purchase of the scientific instruments by the University, which -as an owner- put them at the disposal of lecturers. The notarial act of 1799 (recorded in 1800) clearly says that the instruments were kept in the "camera fisica", one of those rooms that the University could use at the lower floors of this Palace: other documents, however, show that still in 1805 some scientific instruments were kept in the S. Girolamo’s Convent". From 1805 to 1814 all documents indicate the same seat: it consisted of two rooms that the University owned in the "Palazzo degli Scolopi", in which lectures were held, too. In this period Napoleon and the Italian Kingdom negatively affected the University of Urbino, which was risking of being closed down (even though its activity never ceased, actually); the "Collegio dei Nobili" was transformed by the Napoleonic regulations into the Regio Liceo, which outweighed the University. This tormented situation is faithfully reflected in the Documents of the Congregation of Studies of Rome (the central instituion of control of the Pontifical Universities) that were relative to the first decades of the century. In those documents there is a succession of names (sometimes with sudden renunciations followed by re-appointments) referring to the experts responsible for the physical machines, which had already become a scientific-didactic property of the University. Among them the name of Angelo Viviani, who gave the University a conspicuous number of instruments, stands out: he was, even though discontinuously, in charge of the instruments and he held more than once the post as a professor of Physics from Moriconi’s death (1805?) up to the year of his own death (1830). Thanks to Angelo Viviani a remarkable enrichment of the equipment took place over the two decades from 1810 and 1830. From the various lists (which however concern all Natural Sciences in general) it is evident that the catalogue included more than two hundred and fifty items. The names of the craftsmen (and of the firms) who had made them are not mentioned; furthermore, the fact that the instruments were later moved to another seat and that there was a free circulation of instruments among the lecturers who asked for them, caused, over the time, a great reduction in the number of the "machines for scientific experiments". Evidence of the difficulty to control the instruments is given by the dispute which started after Viviani’s death, being objectively hard to have a faithful coincidence between the catalogues (that are often vague) and the actual presence of instruments scattered among different institutes and moved from one seat to the other. From 1814 to 1841 (but maybe this date must be postponed of some years), the seat where the instruments were kept and where the lectures were probably held was the "Casa dell’Università avanti la Corte in piazza Grande"(a building owned by the University in front of the Court in the Piazza Grande), that the University had bought from the Staccoli family in 1806. This building, in which the scientific laboratories (Phisics, Chemistry, Natural Sciences) occupied seven rooms at least, now does not exist anylonger, having been demolished with other contiguous buildings in the second half of the nineteenth century to leave room for the new "Seminario". Between the 1832 and the 1834 the University took hold of Palazzo Bonaventura, a prestigious seat, which still houses part of the university structures, and the scientific laboratories were organized in a more stable way: in 1832, while the University received the name of "Pontificia Università Provinciale"( Pontifical Provincial University), the physics cabinet was set up with a large equipment of instruments. Its director and professor (from 1831 to 1845) was Cesare Magherini, Collegio dei Nobili’s Director. From 1835 to 1845 Magherini started to organize its own structures: rooms for the lectures, library, scientific laboratories. The "Gabinetto di Fisica" started its change of seat around the year 1841, and finished anyway long before 1845. It occupied one room for the lectures and four others on the second floor, which are now no longer recognizable because of the broad internal restructuring works made in different times. The most fertile period started with Magherini and particularly with Serpieri: for fifty years (1835-1885) the instruments that were most suitable for didactics and research in the field of physics were systematically and programmatically purchased from the best european instrument-makers. The instruments were sometimes purchased from private people, who sold -for a certain form of patronage- prestigious instruments at very low prices (they had probably grown tired of them). The Cabinet therefore gathered an equipment of several hundreds of instruments which were all in the vanguarde of scientific progress; most of them are still in a relatively good state of preservation. This trend went on until the end of the century, even though there were fewer purchases. In the twentieth century, the objective (mainly financial) difficulty of preserving important scientific structures and the consequent polarization of the University of Urbino towards the juridical and classical disciplines further reduced the financial means to be allocated for the Gabinetto di Fisica. After some purchases in the field of "radiation" physics and mainly in the field of meteorology, linked to the activity of the Meteorological Observatory, there was no significant increase in the equipment, except for some recent gifts in the biomedical field. In 1932 the "Gabinetto di Fisica" moved to "Palazzo Albani Vecchio", where it remained until 1948; the rooms that were occupied at that time, among which there was a very large hall where all instruments were kept, have been later modified leaving presently room to a cinema.In 1948 the "Gabinetto" moved again and occupied the rooms on the first floor of "Palazzo Brandani", which is now being restructured to be able to contain the Faculty of Economics and Business. After the suppression (1987) and the re-establishment (1988) of the "Istituto", it was necessary to find new rooms: the "Gabinetto di Fisica" presently occupies (officially since 1991) part of the second main floor of the "Palazzo degli Scolopi": those rooms which once housed the historical "Collegio dei Nobili". Several instruments, even though not many, were made by the mechanical assistants and instrument makers who in different times since the second half of the ninetenth century had been assigned to the physics cabinet. The first (from 1869 to 1890) was Achille Scateni, an eclectic craftsman who built seismographs, Atwood’s machines, Newton’s tubes and big capacity-balances, obtaining awards at national level. Several instruments signed by him are still present. He was succeded by Filippo Cangini, a craftsman who with his workshop in Urbino had already collaborated with the scientific structures of the University. None of his instruments has survived entirely, there are however documents which praise his great ability in building spare parts and in making any kind of repairs. In 1908 he was succeeded by Giuseppe Basili, who until 1937 made a high number of didactic instruments; most of them have, however, disappeared. He probably contributed to the making of the mechanical parts of some meteorological instruments devised by Professor Giuseppe Tamburini. A similar contribution was probably given also by Fausto Santini: he was a talented worker of metals and also a very skilled mechanic who succeded Basili but unfortunately died untimely (at 35, in 1948). From 1945 to 1963 the mechanical assistant was Pasquale Logli: many of his drafts and projects have been left; he was succeeded by Luciano Pandolfi, but the suppression of the Institute was near (1985) and all the efforts were focused on the safeguard of the collection and on the limited experimental didactic activity allowed by the curricula. Finally, by mentioning the sources which enriched the equipment of the "Istituto" one must remember that the professors or the Directors at the end of their activity often left their personal documents or instruments as a gift to the physics cabinet. The documents about this aspect are, however, too vague and poor; the most explicit one concerns Prof. Giuseppe Tamburini: from a short epistolary correspondence between his son, the engineer Giulio, and the University it is evident that he left to the Institute he had directed for a long time scientific instruments of great interest. In general, however, such contributions definetely played a minor role.









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