39. Giuseppe Gioeni d’Angio’ (1743-1822)

Naturalist and volcanologist born from a wealthy family, Gioeni became interested in volcanology after reading the studies of Campi Flegrei by Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador to the court of the Bourbons of Naples. Hamilton provided friendship, support among the members of the Bourbon court, books and tools to deepen his knowledge of physics, chemistry and volcanology. The preciousbook of nature” available on Mount Etna in Sicily, a rich and misunderstood natural museum, became his key object of research. Gioeni started collecting the most famous and rare mineralogical and zoological productions establishing a personal and valuable natural museum.

In 1780 he obtained the chair of natural history and botany at the University of Catania with an assignment granted for life by the king. The following year, a peculiar rain fell on Catania leaving calcareous magnetic salts once it evaporated. His 1782 report on the phenomenon, convinced the scientific community of its volcanic nature and captured the attention of Sir Hamilton and the Royal Society of London. Gioeni was invited to Naples where he met many representatives of the royal court including the Queen Maria  Carolina, to whom he dedicated a rich collection of minerals and his most important work, “Saggio di litologia vesuviana”.

Gioeni was made a gentleman of the king’s chamber and tutor of Prince Charles Gennaro (died in 1788). He therefore had prestigious positions and powerful friends. In 1789, with the encouragement of his friend, the French geologist D. Gratet de Dolomite (from whom the Dolomite mountains are named), gioeni published his work on a complete lithological study of Vesuvius. The work brought him fame, honors and membership in many academies including the Academy of Gottingen, the Patriotic Society of Milan, the Royal Academy, the Academy of Padua, the Academy of Sciences in Berlin, and the Royal Academy of London.

His constant concern was finding money for the purchase of tools, books and mineralogical findings. In 1790 he had tried to sell its museum to the king, who had promised the purchase, but later changed mind and Gioeni was found indebted to the State of 12,000 ounces.

His life became difficult. He wandered to Italy in order to sell its museum whiteout succeeding. In 1811, certain of a safe conduct of Queen Maria Carolina, he returned to Sicily, but in Messina was arrested and held in jail for almost three years because of the old debt.

In 1814 Gioeni was able to return, free, in Catania where he was also denied the chair of natural history -as he had been absent for sixteen years. He died in Catania in 1822. His last wish was the founding of an academy that would gather the most talented local scholars of natural sciences. The Gioenia Academy of Natural Sciences was founded in 1824 in Catania and is still active;

Nothing remains of his natural history museum which was purchased by the University of Catania in 1842.

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  1. Treccani, http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/giuseppe-gioeni_(Dizionario_Biografico)/

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