Francesco Algarotti explains Newton’s prism experiment to Ladies

  • Paola Magnaghi-Delfino Department of Mathematics, Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy
  • Giampiero Mele Università degli Studi eCampus, Novedrate (CO), Italy
  • Tullia Norando Department of Mathematics, Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy
Keywords: Optics, Colour, Enlightenment, Algarotti

Abstract

In the 18th century, a “new science” flowed in Europe. One of the primary elements of Enlightenment was the rise of the public sphere excluding women and lower classes. Les Philosophes introduced the public to many scientific theories, in particular Newtonianism by Voltaire and Émilie du Châtelet. Some works are more formal, but the popular works were written in a discursive style. Articles on scientific topics appeared in popular women’s magazines and books designed to introduce women to scientific disciplines. Noted examples of this popular new genre include Francesco Algarotti’s Newtonianism for Ladies or Dialogues on light and colours. This book was an 18th century best seller and was one of the main channels through which Newtonian ideas reached the public in continental Europe. The text explained the principles of Newton's Opticks while avoiding much of the mathematical rigor of the work in favour of a more "agreeable" text. Algarotti presented Newton as a follower of the Galilean tradition and the first modern philosopher. The description of some of Newton’s experiments on the nature of light and colours in the form of a gentle dialogue has great educational value, because it does not demand any geometrical or algebraic knowledge.

In this article, the authors want to underline the importance of Algarotti's book for the dissemination of Newton's ideas that until then had been shared only by scholars.

Algarotti’s book today is testimony to women’s interest in science during 18th century.

Author Biographies

Paola Magnaghi-Delfino, Department of Mathematics, Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy

Paola Magnaghi-Delfino - •Assistant Professor of Mathematical Analysis at Politecnico di Milano, member of the laboratory FDS of the Mathematics’ Department. She is co-founder of IAMAI (International Association of Mathematics and Art – Italy). The fields of research of Paola are the relationships between mathematics and arts and history of mathematics, on these themes Paola produced several papers in collaboration with Mele and Norando.

Giampiero Mele, Università degli Studi eCampus, Novedrate (CO), Italy

Giampiero Mele - Architect, Ph.D.at the University of Florence, Ph.D. at the Université di Paris 8. Associate Professor (Università degli studi eCampus), Professor of Descriptive Geometry (University of Florence, Politecnico di Milano, University of Ferrara). His fields of research are the relationships between geometry and arithmetic in historic architecture, and drawing in architecture and design. Founder and President of IAMAI.

Tullia Norando, Department of Mathematics, Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy

Tullia Norando - Associate Professor of Mathematical Analysis at Politecnico di Milano, member of the laboratory FDS of the Mathematics’ Department. She is co-founder of IAMAI (International Association of Mathematics and Art –Italy). The fields of research of Tullia are the relationships between mathematics and arts and history of mathematics, on these themes Tullia produced several papers in collaboration with Magnaghi and Mele.

References

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Published
2020-07-01
How to Cite
Magnaghi-Delfino, P., Mele, G. and Norando, T. (2020) “Francesco Algarotti explains Newton’s prism experiment to Ladies”, Cultura e Scienza del Colore - Color Culture and Science, 12(02), pp. 31-36. doi: 10.23738/CCSJ.120204.
Section
Papers