Francesco Algarotti

Francesco Algarotti

Born 11 December 1712 (1712-12-11)
Died 3 May 1764 (1764-05-04) (aged 51)
Nationality Italian
Occupation Philosopher

Count Francesco Algarotti (11 December 1712 – 3 May 1764) was an Italian polymath, philosopher, poet, essayist, anglophile, art critic and art collector. He was "one of the first Esprits cavaliers of the age," a man of broad knowledge, an expert in Newtonianism, architecture and music and a friend of most of the leading authors of his times: Voltaire, Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens, Pierre-Louis de Maupertuis and the atheist Julien Offray de La Mettrie. Lord Chesterfield, Thomas Gray, George Lyttelton, Thomas Hollis, Metastasio, Benedict XIV and Heinrich von Brühl were among his correspondents[1]


Algarotti was born in Venice as the son of a rich merchant. His father and uncle were art collectors. Unlike his older brother Bonomo he did not step into the company, but decided to become an author. Francesco studied natural sciences and mathematics in Bologna under Francesco Maria Zanotti and in 1728 he experimented with optics. (Zanotti became a lifelong friend.) First he travelled in the North of Italy, but moved to Florence, and Rome. At the age of twenty, he went to Cirey and Paris, where he became friendly with Voltaire and Émilie du Châtelet.[2] Two years later he was in London, where he was made a fellow of the Royal Society. He became embroiled in a lively bisexual love-triangle with the politician John Hervey, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.[3] Algarotti left for Italy and finished his Neutonianismo per le dame ("Newtonism for Ladies"), a work on optics (1737), dedicated to Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle.

In the meantime Algarotti had made acquaintance with Antiochus Kantemir, a Moldavian diplomat, poet and composer.[4] He was invited to visit Russia for the wedding of Duke Anthony Ulrich of Brunswick.[5] In 1739 he left with Lord Baltimore from Sheerness to Newcastle upon Tyne. Because of a heavy storm the ship sheltered in Harlingen. Algarotti was discovering "this new city".[6] Returning from Saint Petersburg, they visited Frederick the Great in Rheinsberg. Algarotti had obligations in England and came back the year after. Then Algarotti went together with Frederick to Königsberg where he was crowned.

Nandl Baldauf, la belle chocolatière (1743/44). The pastel by Liotard was sold in 1745 by Algarotti to Dresden.[7]

Frederick, who was impressed with this walking encyclopedia, made him and his brother Bonomo Prussian counts in 1740. Algarotti accompanied Frederick to Bayreuth, Kehl, Strasbourg and Moyland Castle where they met with Voltaire, who was taking baths in Kleve for his health.[8] In 1741 Algarotti went to Turin as his diplomat. Frederick had offered him a salary, but Algarotti refused. First he went to Dresden and Venice, where he bought 21 paintings, a few by Jean-Étienne Liotard and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo for the court of Augustus III of Poland.[9][10] Algarotti did not succeed to have the Kingdom of Sardinia attack Austria in the back.[11]

Algarotti and the other arts

The interior of the Pantheon (Rome) by Giovanni Paolo Pannini, ordered by and belonging to the art collection of Algarotti.[12]

Algarotti's choice of works reflects the encyclopedic interests of the Neoclassic era; he was uninterested in developing a single unitary stylistic collection, he envisioned a modern museum, a catalog of styles from across the ages. For contemporary commissions, he wrote up a list for paintings he recommended commissioning, including to ask of history paintings from Tiepolo, Pittoni, and Piazzetta; scenes with animals from Castiglione, and veduta with ruins from Pannini. He wanted"suggetti graziosi e leggeri" from Balestra, Boucher, and Donato Creti.[13] Other artist he protected were Giuseppe Nogari, Bernardo Bellotto, and Francesco Pavona.

In 1747 Algarotti went back to Potsdam and became court chamberlain, but left to visit the archeological diggings at Herculaneum.[14] In 1749 he moved to Berlin. Algarotti was involved in finishing the architectural designs of Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff who had fallen ill. In February 1753, after several years residing in Prussia he returned to Italy, living most of the time in Bologna. In 1759 Algarotti was involved in a new opera-style in the city of Parma. He influencing Guillaume du Tillot and the Duke of Parma.

Gathering on Sanssouci in the Marble Hall, with Fredrik II. (the Great) of Prussia, Voltaire, d'Argens, La Mettrie, James Keith, George Keith, Friedrich Rudolf von Rothenburg, Christoph Ludwig von Stille, and Algarotti. The painting was lost in 1945

Algarotti's Essay on the Opera (1755) was a major influence on the librettist Carlo Innocenzo Frugoni and the composer Tommaso Traetta, and in the development of Gluck's reformist ideology.[15] Algarotti proposed a heavily simplified model of opera seria, with the drama pre-eminent, instead of the music, ballet or staging. The drama itself should "delight the eyes and ears, to rouse up and to affect the hearts of an audience, without the risk of sinning against reason or common sense". Algarotti's ideas influenced both Gluck and his librettist Calzabigi, writing their Orfeo ed Euridice.[16]

In 1762 Algarotti moved to Pisa, where he died of tuberculosis. Frederick the Great, who several times needed Algarotti writing texts in Latin, sent in a text for a monument to his memory on the Campo Santo.



  1. Eighteenth Century Bibliography. "Francesco Algarotti Bibliography". Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  2. In 1740 Voltaire called him the Venetian Socrates, may be his "cher cygne de Padoue" ("dear swan of Padua").
  3. Rictor Norton, "John, Lord Hervey: The Third Sex", The Great Queens of History. Updated 8 August 2009
  4. 'By the Banks of the Neva': Chapters from the Lives and Careers of the ... By Anthony Glenn Cross
  5. Algarotti dedicated six of the letters that made up his Viaggi di Russia to John Hervey; the others to Scipio Maffei.
  6. The Petrine Revolution in Russian Architecture By James Cracraft
  7. Walter Koschatzky (Hrsg.): Maria Theresia und ihre Zeit, p. 313. Zur 200. Wiederkehr des Todestages. Ausstellung 13. Mai bis 26. Oktober 1980, Wien, Schloß Schönbrunn. Im Auftrag der Österreichischen Bundesregierung veranstaltet vom Bundesministerium für Wissenschaft und Forschung, Gistel, Wien 1980.
  8. MacDonogh, G. (1999) Frederick the Great, p. 142-145.
  9. The Empire of Flora by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo at Legion of Honor
  10. Eighteenth-century Venetian Art at Hermitage Amsterdam
  11. MacDonogh, G. (1999) Frederick the Great, p. 191.
  12. Tiepolo's Cleopatra by Jaynie Anderson
  13. Tiepolo's Cleopatra Door, by Jaynie Anderson, p. 109
  14. MacDonogh, G. (1999) Frederick the Great, p. 192.
  15. Orrey, p. 81
  16. Orrey, p. 83
  17. Algarotti, Conte Francesco (1764). Saggio sopra la pittura.
  18. Charles Harrison; Paul Wood (2001-02-08). Art in theory, 1648–1815: an anthology of changing ideas. ISBN 9780631200642.
  19. Cosmin Ungureanu, "Sia funzion la rappresentazione." Carlo Lodoli and the Crisis of Architecture
  20. letter is on Siege of Bergen op Zoom (1747).
  21. Artin theory, 1648–1815: an anthology of changing ideas door Charles Harrison, Paul Wood


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