Abstract. Luigi Pepe relates the history of Ferrara and its university from the point of view of architecture and mathematics. Ferrara's topological position below sea level meant that its architects were particularly skilled in hydraulics and capable in mathematics and the use of instruments. Among the artists and architects in the Este court were Alberti, Piero della Francesco and Silvio Belli.

Click here to go to the NNJ homepage

Architecture and Mathematics in Ferrara
from the Thirteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries

Luigi Pepe
University of Ferrara, Department of Mathematics
Via Machiavelli, 35
44100 Ferrara Italy

In the second volume of his history of the University of Ferrara, Ferrante Borsetti presented an alphabetical profile of forty-two architects of Ferrara, beginning with two anonymous builders of bridges over the Ticino River at Pavia and the Adige at Verona. The common characteristic of these architects was that they all dealt with the regulation of water; because of this, several of them were employed even outside of Ferrara, such as Giambattista Aleotti, Gabriele Bertazzolo, Sigismondo Coccapani and Romualdo Valeriani. From this antique account, the oldest regarding the architects of Ferrara, one fact is evident: the territory of Ferrara, like the city itself, is a man-made creation, being in large part below the level of the rivers that cross it. Thus the architects of Ferrara were almost always, in addition to being builders of civic and military buildings, knowledgeable in water regulation, embankments, supports, sewers, etc., and relatedly, experts in geodetic levelling and cartography.

The most famous of these architects, Biagio Rossetti and Giambattista Aleotti, were no exceptions. A recent book has shed light on the scholarly activity of Aleotti, who was keen on almost all fields of the mathematical sciences. Biagio Rossetti was inspector of the embankment at Cocomaro, builder of water works at Polesella, and equally involved in the defence of the territory and the urban design of Ferrara. These engineering and hydraulic activities rendered the Ferrarese architects even more capable in their use of instruments and mathematical notation, so that in Ferrara the mathematical disciplines may be considered to be very closely allied to architecture. In spite of this closeness, studies of the relationships in Ferrara between mathematics and architecture are lacking, although recently the gap in our knowledge of the formation of Ferrarese mathematicians, engineers and architects has been filled by the work of various scholars.

When in 1391 the University of Ferrara was founded, the city was considered suitable to host such an institution; in a century's time, Ferrara became one of the most cultured and interesting cities of Europe. The Este family, whose government was far from provincial, did not place the building of the city before its culture; rather, the city and its culture were born simultaneously. Copernicus received his degree from the University of Ferrara in 1484. Among the architects and artists whose activities are linked to the city and the Este family are Leon Battista Albert, Piero della Francesca and Silvio Belli, Palladio's close collaborator.

ILLUSTRATION: Method for measuring the distance across a river, from Leon Battista Alberti's Ludi Matematici, written under the patronage of the Este family in Ferrara.

Luigi Pepe
, born in 1947, received his doctorate in mathematics from the University of Pisa. He is a full professor of history of mathematics at the University of Ferrara. He is the author of some 120 publications, both books and papers published in specialized journals, dealing with mathematical analysis and the history of mathematics. He is occupied in particular with the subject of the diffusion in Italy of Cartesian geometry and of the differential calculus of Lagrange and di Monge. With regards to Ferrara he has researched the history of the University and of the mathematical sciences, with particular reference to Copernicus, Torquato Tasso, Giambattista Aleotti, Gianfrancesco Malfatti and Teodoro Bonati.

 The correct citation for this article is:
Luigi Pepe, "Architecture and Mathematics in Ferrara
from the Thirteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries", pp. 87-104 in Nexus III: Architecture and Mathematics, ed. Kim Williams, Pisa: Pacini Editore, 2000. http://www.nexusjournal.com/conferences/N2000-Pepe.html

 previous abstract

 top of page

 next abstract

NNJ is an Amazon.com Associate

NNJ Homepage

 Conference Abstracts Index 

Search the NNJ

About the Author

Comment on this article

Search the NNJ

Order books!

Research Articles

The Geometer's Angle


Book Reviews

Conference and Exhibit Reports

Readers' Queries

The Virtual Library

Submission Guidelines

Editorial Board

Top of Page