Gian Vincenzo Pinelli (1535-1601) and the Rise of the Mathematical Practitioner in the Veneto

The reading circle of the Paduan virtuoso and bibliophile Gian Vincenzo Pinelli offers an ideal opportunity to locate mathematics within the culture of Counter-Reformation Italy. Whereas other Venetian intellectual circles, like the Morosini group, left scant archival traces, Pinelli’s exceptional talent as a collector allows to trace the dissemination of adversaria and debunk the myth of a patrician disinterest for the history of science; moreover, his library, now housed at the Ambrosiana in Milan, displays news about intersecting mathematical networks that have rarely been mined other than for protocols of storing and abridgment. On the other hand, my aim is not to use Pinelli’s archive as a privileged viewpoint from which to study late Renaissance elite culture, but to document through his interests the rise and genealogy of the technical expert as distinct from a courtier.

Within this framework, this paper first examines what distinguishes mathematics from a homogeneous reservoir of knowledge, and assesses the new role attributed to paper technology and scrapbooking in such disciplinary separation. It then looks at a neglected list of mathematical instruments (in MS S 94 sup.) owned by Giuseppe Moleto (1531-1588), who nominated Pinelli executor of a will. It concludes with a reappraisal of the major role played in Pinelli’s entourage by the diplomat and jack-of-all-trades Filippo Pigafetta (1533-1604), who was also the author of newsletters bought by subscription and later advised the Medici on how to display instruments and prints as vehicles of mathematical wonder.