Giovanni Battista Riccioli - Biography


Riccioli was born in Ferrara. He entered the Society of Jesus on 6 October 1614. After completing his novitiate, he began study of the humanities in 1616, pursuing those studies first at Ferrara, and then at Piacenza.

From 1620 to 1628 he studied philosophy and theology at the College of Parma. Parma Jesuits had developed a strong program of experimentation, such as with falling bodies. One of the most famous Italian Jesuits of the time, Giuseppe Biancani (1565–1624), was teaching at Parma when Riccioli arrived there. Riccioli mentions Biancani, who accepted new astronomical ideas such as the existence of lunar mountains and the fluid nature of the heavens, and who collaborated with the Jesuit astronomer Christoph Scheiner (1573–1650) on sunspot observations, with gratitude and admiration.

By 1628 Riccioli's studies were complete. He was ordained. He requested missionary work, but that request was turned down. Instead he was assigned to teach at Parma. There he taught logic, physics, and metaphysics from 1629 to 1632, and engaged in some experiments with falling bodies and pendulums. In 1632 he became a member of a group charged with the formation of younger Jesuits. He spent the 1633-1634 academic year in Mantua, where he collaborated with Niccolo Cabeo (1576–1650) in further pendulum studies. In 1635 he was back at Parma, where he taught theology and also carried out his first important observation of the moon. In 1636 he was sent to Bologna to serve as Professor of theology.

Riccioli described himself as a theologian, but one with a strong and ongoing interest in astronomy since his student days, when he studied under Biancani. He said that many Jesuits were theologians, but few were astronomers. He said that once the enthusiasm for astronomy arose within him he could never extinguish it, and so he became more committed to astronomy than theology. Eventually his superiors in the Jesuit order officially assigned him to the task of astronomical research. However, he also continued to write on theology (see below).

Riccioli built an astronomical observatory in Bologna at the College of St. Lucia, equipped with many instruments for astronomical observations, including telescopes, quadrants, sextants, and other traditional instruments. Riccioli dealt not only with astronomy in his research, but also with physics, arithmetic, geometry, optics, gnomonics, geography, and chronology. He collaborated with others in his work, including other Jesuits, most notably Francesco Maria Grimaldi (1618–1663) at Bologna, and he kept up a voluminous correspondence with others who shared his interests, including Hevelius, Huygens, Cassini, and Kircher.

He was awarded a prize by Louis XIV in recognition of his activities and their relevance to contemporary culture.

Riccioli continued to publish on both astronomy and theology up to his death. He died in Bologna at 73 years of age.

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