Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Horror Vacui and the Accademia del Cimento

Accademia del Cimento Final Publication
It started when I was reviewing the lives of Ferdinando II and his brother (Cardinal) Leopoldo de’ Medici. I then stumbled onto something called the Accademia del Cimento which was a scientific academy founded by Galileo’s students to promote Galilean methods. The Accademia ran for about ten years between 1657 and 1667. The two Medici brothers help found the Accademia and its members met in the Pitti Palace.

One of the theories that the Academy addressed was that of horror vacui – the idea that nature abhors a vacuum. The theory had been kicking around since Aristotle and was finally disproved in an elegantly simple experiment by Evangelista Torricelli (1608 – 1647) - a prominent member of the Accademia. (You can find a nice explanation here. Click "Pneumatics" and then "Barometric Experiment". Make sure you navigate through the Flash pages to get the nice British man explaining the experiment.)

There is a lot of very interesting information at the Institute and Museum of the History of Science web site. Just type “vacui” or “torricelli” or “cimento” in the search box and start exploring. I’m embarrassed to say, we have not yet gone to this museum. It’s on the list. We’d heard that some of the exhibits were closed during some restoration so we’ve been putting it off.

I’ve heard some refer disparagingly to the Baroque style as a form of horror vacui – fear of leaving any space undecorated.

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