Giovanni Battista Della Porta - Encyclopedia




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GIOVANNI BATTISTA DELLA PORTA (c. 1538-1615), Italian natural philosopher, was born of a noble and ancient family at Naples about the year 1538. He travelled extensively not only in Italy but also in France and Spain, and he was still a youth when he published Magia naturalis, sive de miraculis rerum naturalium lib. IV. (1558), the first draft of his Magianaturalis, in twenty books, published in 1589. He founded in Naples the Academia Secretorum Naturae, otherwise known as the Accademia dei Oziosi; and in 1610 he became a member of the Accademia dei Lincei at Rome. He died at Naples on the 4th of February 1615.

The following is a list of his principal writings: - De miraculis rerum naturalium, in four books (1558); De furtivis litterarum notis, in five books (1563, and frequently afterwards, entitling him to high rank among the early writers on cryptography); Phytognomonica (1583, a bulky treatise on the physiology of plants as then understood); Magia naturalis (1589, and often reprinted); De humana physiognomonia, in six books (1591); Villa, in twelve books (1592, an interesting practical treatise on farming, gardening and arboriculture, based upon his own observations at his country-seat near Naples); De refractione, optices parte, in nine books (1593); Pneumatica, in three books (1601); De coelesti physiognomonia, in six books (1601); Elementa curvilinea (1601); De distillatione, in nine books (1604); De munitione, in three books (1608); and De aeris transmutationibus, in four books (1609). He also wrote several Italian comedies Olimpia (1589); La Fantesca (1592); La Trappolaria (1597); I'Due Fratelli rivali (1601); La Sorella (1607); La Chiappinaria (1609); La Carbonaria (1628); La Cintia (1628)). Among all the above-mentioned works the chief interest attaches to the Magia naturalis, in which a strange medley of subjects is discussed, including the reproduction of animals, the transmutation of metals, pyrotechny, domestic economy, statics, hunting, the preparation of perfumes. In book xvii. he describes a number of optical experiments, including a description of the camera obscura.

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