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Scientific academies: 16th - 17th century

The revival of interest in scientific experiment begins in the Renaissance and gathers pace rapidly during the 17th century. This development is reflected in the establishment of scientific academies.

The first is probably the Academia Secretorum Naturae (Academy of the Secrets of Nature), founded in Naples in 1560 by Giambattista della Porta. His interest is in magic as much as science. Both subjects alarm those defending the orthodoxies of the Catholic Reformation, and della Porta's academy is investigated by the Inquisition in 1580. Galileo, another scientist falling foul of the Inquisitors, is a member of a famous Roman academy of the early 17th century, the Accademia dei Lincei (sharp-eyed as 'lynxes').


From 1657 Florence has an Accademia del Cimento, founded by the Medici family. But the two most influential scientific academies of the 17th century evolve slowly from informal beginnings. In the 1640s gentlemen with scientific interests in both England and France make a habit of meeting to share their experimental discoveries.

An English group meets at Wadham College in Oxford from 1648 to 1659, and then in London's Gresham College. Formed into an academy in 1660, it is given a charter by Charles II in 1662 and becomes the Royal Society. The equivalent French group is invited by Colbert in 1666 to hold meetings in the royal library, and in 1699 is established as the Académie des Sciences with premises in the Louvre.


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