Baroque Snowflakes

Rossetti NeveDonato Rossetti, La figura della neve (Turin: Per la Vedova Gianelli, e Domenico Paulino, 1681): 10.
Source: IMSS / Biblioteca Digitale del Museo Galileo

Donato Rossetti: Early Modern Scientist and Sometime Architect

Donato Rossetti (1633-1686) was a Tuscan natural philosopher, mathematician and canon of Livorno cathedral who arrived in Turin in 1674. Like many early modern scientists, Rossetti also dabbled in both civil and military architecture. He provided a project for San Salvario, Turin; wrote the fortification treatise Fortificazione a rovescio (Turin: Per Bartolomeo Zappata, 1678); and consulted on several fortification projects in Piedmont. As a colleague of Guarino Guarini’s, Rossetti recorded the perhaps most vivid eyewitness description of the Theatine. After Guarini’s death in March 1683, Rossetti took over as ingegnere at the Cappella della Sindone, supervising the late stages of construction until his own death three years later.

Among his diverse scientific works, Rossetti published a pioneering investigation of snowflakes, La figura della neve (Turin: Per la Vedova Gianelli, e Domenico Paulino, 1681). Building on earlier microscopic studies of snowflakes by scientists like Robert Hooke, Rossetti carefully classified and illustrated a broad array of snowflake types. In his Clerks and Craftsmen in China and the West, Joseph Needham notes that Rossetti, “was the first to draw in detail the hexagonal platelet type of crystal” (seen in the image above). The Archivio Scientifico e Tecnologico dell’Università di Torino (ASTUT) created a reenactment of Rossetti’s snowflake studies in a video (below) produced on the occasion of the 2010 exhibition “Piemonte al microscopio.” The short film evokes the chilly research necessary to make the observations presented in La figura della neve, and also includes footage of the copy of the book held by the Biblioteca Reale, Turin.

Season’s greetings: let it snow!

General links and further reading on Rossetti as architect:

Brief biography of Donato Rossetti on the website of the Francesco Redi project.

Discussion of Rossetti’s Fortificazione a rovescio in the essay La Trattatistica militare del ‘600 e del ‘700 of the virtual exhibition Trattati di architettura militare 1521 – 1807 by the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence.

Alexander Wragge-Morley, stimulating post on Robert Hooke’s Snowflakes on his Historian at Work blog.

Claudia Bonardi, catalogue entry 295 in Diana trionfatrice: arte di corte nel Piemonte del Seicento, ed. Michela di Macco and Giovanni Romano (Turin: Umberto Allemandi & C., 1989): 271-272.

Costanza Roggero Bardelli, “Amedeo di Castellamonte e Donato Rossetti: due progetti per San Salvario,” Studi Piemontesi 19:1 (1990): 65-72.

Martha D. Pollak, Military Architecture, Cartography and the Representation of the Early Modern City (Chicago: The Newberry Library, 1991): 84-85.

John Beldon Scott, Architecture for the Shroud (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003): 114, 370 n. 65.

Giuseppe Dardanello, “La costruzione della visione nella cappella della Sindone,” in G. Dardanello, S. Klaiber, H. A. Millon, eds., Guarino Guarini (Turin: Allemandi, 2006): 58-87.

Image below: detail from Donato Rossetti, La figura della neve (Turin: Per la Vedova Gianelli, e Domenico Paulino, 1681): 20.
Source: IMSS / Biblioteca Digitale del Museo Galileo

Rossetti snowflake detail