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Vandelli, Domenico, 1735-1816.

Domenico Agostino Vandelli was born on the 8th July 1735, in Padua (Italy). Son of a medical Doctor Girolamo Vandelli, lecturer of Surgery at the University of Padua, and of Francesca Stringa. His academic qualifications were from the University of Padua, where he completed a degree in Natural Philosophy and in Medicine, in 1761. At the same university he also obtained a PhD in Medicine with the Thesis “Dissertationes tres: de Aponi thermis, de nonnullis insectis terrestribus et zoophytis marinis, et de vermium terrae reproductione atque taenia canis”.

During his scientific career in Padua, he produced various important scientific works, the most important one being the «Tractatus de thermis agri patavini», published in 1761. This study was later translated into Portuguese by Vandelli himself in 1887 and presented to Dona Maria I, the queen of Portugal.

Between 1761 and 1764, Vandelli travelled across various regions of North Italy, from Tirreno to the Adriatic, collecting archaeological items and samples of Natural History. He brought together a vast collection of objects and biologic, mineralogic and palaeontologic species, which he used to start a private museum in Padua, which he named after himself “Conspectus Musei Dominici Vandelli”. The collections exhibited are vast and in 1763 it totalled 28 cupboards. He was not responsible for the full collection but he had helpers and friends spread out in the most varied locations in Germany, Italy, Greece, Galia, Sicily and Egypt assisted him in increasing his collection by sending him a lot of material.

Vandelli was not a mere collector, he did not merely collect objects for the sake of collecting. He would study every item methodically, illustrating it with great art. These collections would later be the first ones in the Museum of Natural History of the University of Coimbra.

The exchange between great scientists was the driving force behind the progress of science. Vandelli kept in touch with famous scientists of his time. From 1761 to 1764 he exchanged correspondence with Lineu (Carl von Linné, 1707-1778). The exchange between the two began with work about Holothuroidea (sea cucumbers) – “Holoturio et testudine marina” – which Vandelli sent to Lineu. These letters are published in the attached «Florae lusitanae et brasiliensis specimen, Coimbra, 1788». Lineu liked the work of Vandelli and in 1767, paid him tribute by naming the order Vandellia, of the family Scrophulariaceae.

Domenico Vandelli was an enterprising man and dedicated scientist, and became well known beyond the borders of Italy. He had many work offers from abroad. In 1763 he received a very tempting invitation to teach natural science at St Petersburg. However, he turned it down in favour of an invitation Marquis of Pombal, the great Portuguese reformer, follower of the Enlightenment wished to introduce the experimental method in University Education in Portugal. Vandelli yearned to visit other countries, where he could observe more diverse and rich fauna and flora than the Italian one, which he knew well. The fact that the Portuguese flora was still unexplored, the perspective of finding new species coming from the Portuguese Colonies and the possibility of going on a “philosophical journey” to Brazil, was determinant for Vandelli accepting the invitation and travelling to Portugal.

The invitation made by the Marquis of Pombal was the result of the good reputation of Vandelli within the community of scientists and Portuguese graduates, who at the time lived in Italy as well as by the recommendation of Lineu, who thought he was an excellent naturalist.

In 1764, Vandelli arrives in Portugal, as part of a group of Italian Professors, contracted to teach scientific subjects (Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics and Natural History) at the Royal College of the Nobility, a pre-university institution, founded in Lisbon, with the aim to do the initial training of the Portuguese aristocracy; he was contracted to teach Chemistry Natural Sciences. Although the intention was good, this pedagogical effort was not very successful, as the Portuguese Aristocrats did not appear to be very interested in providing a consistent scientific training to their descendants. As a result, Vandelli eventually returned to Italy.

This time Vandelli’s return to his homeland was if short duration. In 1765, the Marquis of Pombal invited him once more and he returned to Portugal. This time he appointed him in charge of projecting and building the Botanical Gardens of Ajuda in Lisbon. This Garden was founded in 1768 and was privileged to be the first Botanical Garden in Portugal organized to maintain, study and collect the greatest number of species of the plant world. He gathered thousands of species, classified according to the sex system devised by Lineu.

Besides the Botanical Garden of Ajuda, of which he became director, the name of Vandelli is also linked to the construction and administration of other botanical gardens in Portugal. In 1772, together with Dalla-Bella, professor of Physics, he founded the Botanical Garden of Coimbra, of which he was also later the director. However his first project was considered too ambitious and too expensive, by the Marquis of Pombal, therefore only part was built. The Botanical Garden of the Palace of Monteiro-Mor, started in the 1750’s[?], was built under his guidance, and in 1793 this Botanical Garden was considered one of the most beautiful in Lisbon. Vandelli was a pragmatic man, he paid special attention to the useful side of science. According to him botanical gardens, besides being places of learning, should also have an important role in the agricultural development of the country, promoting cultivation and testing the acclimatization of the species of economic interest, aiming to develop and make profitable the agricultural resources of the country and reduce the imports.

Admired by the Marquis of Pombal, Vandelli is invited to teach at a new faculty of the University of Coimbra, Faculty of Philosophy. He accepts the invitation and on 11 September 1772, and takes up the post as lecturer of History of Natural Science (1772-1791) and of Chemistry (1772-1791); After this he was awarded a degree as Doctor of Philosophy and of Medicine by the University of Coimbra, on the 9th and then the 12th of October of the same year, respectively.

At the University of Coimbra, he held the following positions of Director of the Chemistry Laboratory, in 1772, and Dean and Director of the Faculty of Philosophy in 1777. His contribution to this Institution was vast, he prepared and implemented the enlightened reform of the University Statutes. He founded the laboratory, took part in the construction of the Botanical Gardens and donated his private collection, which was brought from Padua to Coimbra. This became the first nucleus of the Natural History Museum of the University of Coimbra. The Municipality of Coimbra as a token of gratitude, gave him free possession of a lot of land for a period of 30 years.

Vandelli was an important man, highly educated, dynamic and excellent communicator, qualities that predominated in his capacity as a lecturer, which were acknowledged and praised by his followers and peers. He was excellent in promoting and defending his scientific works, making his works well known. His capabilities as observer and analyst of political, diplomatic and economic matters, earned him the attention of the political leaders, at the time, making him an influential person at the highest level, both amongst the Royalty and the state. He was a very important naturalist (botanist) for the development of the economic, the natural history and of chemistry policy in Portugal.

His vast knowledge in the various branches of Natural History, together with his special liking of the economy, helped him to prepare an accurate and systematic inventory of mineral, plant and animal resources and raw materials of Portugal. This inventory also pointed out the economic value for the national industry, namely agriculture. As a Chemist he performed studies on the mineral salt of Cape Verde, and the Lisbon water resources and founded in Coimbra the Vandelli chinaware factory. He built a hydrogen balloon, which was launched with success on the 25th July 1784.

Drawn by his interest for discoveries, and for scientific knowledge, Vandelli promoted various “philosophical voyages” carried out by Alexandre Rodrigues Ferreira and other botanists who had been his students at the University of Coimbra. Many species unknown to science were found, and samples of these were sent to Lineu.

Vandelli discovered and catalogued over one hundred biological species new to science. He named the Anthericum mattiazzi Vand, an Anthericaceae, after one of his assistants, Giulio Mattiazzi.

In 1779 he took part in the creation of the “Academia Real das Ciências de Lisboa” (Lisbon Royal Academy of Science), aimed at promoting scientific research and divulging the Portuguese culture. He was one of the principal mentors of the Academy, as he was the great economic promoter. He published Texts in the name of this institution, namely in the collection “Memória económicas” (Economic Memories). This shows his great contribution to the development of economic and financial doctrines and policies in Portugal at the time.

He Retired from the University of Coimbra, by Royal Order of 25 February 1791. In that same year he was awarded two very important nominations: one was Director of the “ Real Jardim Botânico da Ajuda” (Ajuda Royal Botanical Garden) which he had founded in 1768, and the other, representative in the Council of Commerce, Agriculture, Manufacture and Navigation. From then on, Vandelli became more involved in political, diplomatic and financial affairs, putting on hold his activities as a botanist.

At the time of the Napoleonic Wars, Vandelli showed that he was against the alliance between Portugal and England, and in favour of the French political aims. During the French occupation, in Lisbon he co-operated with the troops of Junot, in the dismantling and transfer to France the most important museological collections of Natural History, specially the species collected in Brazil. After the arrival of Duke Wellington in Lisbon, in 1810, and accused of assisting the French, in spite of being 80 years old, Vandelli was deported to “Ilha Terceira”, in the Azores, on Board the Frigate “Amazona”, together with other French Supporters, in the so-called “Setembrisada”. It was due to the intervention of the Royal Society of London, of which he was a member, that he was transferred to Britain, from where he later returned to Portugal, in 1815, near the end of his life.

Vandelli is the author of a great number of works and “Memória” (Memory) on scientific and economic topics. He published a vast number of Botanic Works in Portuguese and in Latin, writing important descriptive botanical works about various families. From his stay in Portugal there are works such as «Dissertatio de Arbore Draconis, seu Dracaena», published in Lisbon, in 1768, and the «Florae Lusitanicae et Brasiliensis Specimen. Et Epistolae ab eruditis víris Carolo a Linné, António de Haen ad Dom Vandelli scriptae», created in 1788, based on the work and on the advice of Joaquim Vellozo de Miranda, his follower, who spent many years in Brazil collecting material from the local flora. In that same year he published «Dicionário dos termos técnicos de história natural extraídos das obras de Lineu» (Dictionary of the technical terms of the natural history extracted from the works of Lineu) and «a Memoria sobre a utilidade dos Jardins Botanicos» (Memory about usefulness of Botanical Gardens). In 1789, he published the «Viridarium Grisley lusitanicum, Linnaeanis».

He was a member of various scientific societies: The Royal Society of London, Academia Real das Ciências de Lisboa and of the Science Academies of Uppsala, Lusácia (Lausitz), Padua and Florence. He was a Freemason, Commendator of the Order of Christ and Member of the Royal Council of Commerce, Agriculture, Manufacturing and Navigation.

He died in Lisbon on the 27th June 1816.

Jorge Guimarães

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