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Francesco Algarotti

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Francesco Algarotti

May 3, 1764, Pisa, Italy



University of Bologna

Francesco Algarotti Algarotti Briefdatenbank
11 December 1712 (

An Essay on the Opera

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Count Francesco Algarotti (11 December 1712 – 3 May 1764) was a Venetian 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 Bruhl were among his correspondents


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Francesco Algarotti Francesco Algarotti 17121764 Marta Maretich

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 Emilie du Chatelet. 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. 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. He was invited to visit Russia for the wedding of Duke Anthony Ulrich of Brunswick. 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". 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 Konigsberg where he was crowned.

Frederik, 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. 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-Etienne Liotard and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo for the court of Augustus III of Poland. Algarotti did not succeed to have the Kingdom of Sardinia attack Austria in the back.

Algarotti and the other arts

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. 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. 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.

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. 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.

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.


  • Bibliography and Inventory of all known letters at Algarotti Briefdatenbank der Universitatsbibliothek Trier (French)
  • Correspondence with Frederick the Great at Digitale Ausgabe der Universitatsbibliothek Trier (French)
  • Il newtonianismo per le dame, 1737. The International Centre for the History of Universities and Science (CIS), University of Bologna
  • "Saggio sopra la pittura"
  • "An essay on architecture" (1753).
  • "Letters military and political" (1782).
  • "Essai sur la duree des regnes des sept rois de Rome"
  • "Essai sur l'empire des Incas"
  • Algarotti, Francesco (1783). Calamo Ludimus (Translation of Treatise first published in 1744, Livorno), ed. The modern art of love; or The congress of Cythera. G. Kearsley, #46, Fleet Street, London. 
  • Algarotti, Francesco (1739). Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophy Explained for the use of Ladies, in six dialogues on Light and Colours. (Translation; Volume I.). E. Cave, St. John's-Gate, London. 
  • Algarotti, Francesco (1764). Presso Marco Coltellini, Livorno, ed. Saggio sopra la pittura. 
  • Algarotti, Francesco (1756). Saggio del Conte Algarotti sull'Architettura e sulla Pittura. Societa Tipografica de' classici Italiani, Contrada di S. Margherita #1118, Milan, Italy. 
  • Algarotti, Francesco (1755). Saggio sopra L'Opera in Musica. Ex donat. Molliana. 
  • References

    Francesco Algarotti Wikipedia

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