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Mathematical Treasure: 17th Century Illustrations of the System of the World

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Donato Rossetti (c. 1633-1688) was an Italian philosopher and natural scientist. He studied at Pisa under the noted Renaissance physicist and mathematician Giovanni Borelli (1608-1679). While Borelli was a proponent of the methods of scientific investigation, his student Rossetti followed an opposite trend, assuming that material objects were controlled by an internal “vitalistic atomism.” His theories were the subject of scientific contention for many years. In Figure de Sistemi del Mondo d’Aristotile Copernico e Ticone (1680), Rossetti illustrated the cosmic systems of Aristotle, Copernicus, and Tycho Brahe. The title page follows.


Donato's first and second figures, shown on the page below, are of the classical, earth-centered, Aristotelian model of the universe.

An armillary sphere based on Aristotle’s theories:

The following three images (four diagrams) justifying heavenly phenomena. In the lower diagram in the image immediately below, it seems celestial positions are being fixed with the assistance of projections of the regular polygons: equilateral triangle, square, and hexagon.

In the figure below, night and day are associated with the position of the sun.

An eclipse is explained by the use of the diagram below.


The solar-centered Copernican universe is depicted below.

The last diagram in this treatise (below) depicts observational refinements due to Tycho Brahe.

Among the many treatises he wrote, Donato Rossetti also published La figure della neve (1681), a book devoted to the shape of the snowflake.

The images above were obtained from the Digital Collection of the University of Pennsylvania (Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection). The complete work is available for viewing via its reference number, LJS 175.

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: 17th Century Illustrations of the System of the World," Convergence (February 2016)