168. Agostino Scilla (1629-1700)

Painter, scientist and numismatic born in Messina, Scilla studied letters in his hometown and then moved to Rome where he studied under Andrea Sacchi who soon realized Scilla’s great natural quality, his solid scientific and humanistic cultural knowledge, and his great curiosity.

Scilla returned to Messina and became part of the local “Accademia della fucina” (Academy of the forge), undertook studies of numismatics, and began collecting the fossils he observed during his travels in Sicily and Calabria -places where he was called to paint. The tumultuous political events of his city (which in 1674 he rebelled against the Spanish domination and looked for help from the French King Louis XIV) urged him to remain there for only short periods. In 1678, following the failure of the revolt, Scilla was forced to move to Turin at first, and later to Rome, where he became partner of the prestigious Accademia di San Luca and enjoyed, in his later years, a life of a certain comfort.

From his work "Vain Speculation Undeceived by Sense"
From his work “Vain Speculation Undeceived by Sense”

Scilla was one of the founders of modern paleontology. As he writes in a letter about the petrified marine bodies that can be found in various terrestrial locations:

“Shells, echini, porcupines, teeth (which are said glossopetre) […] and so many other innumerable bodies that some judged to be pure rock generation and a joke of nature, were animals …” Scilla believed in “The Flood”, but also insisted that a multiplicity of floods and other disruptions produced the present structure of the land. Science, according to Scilla, should be limited to describing the reality as it is shown by the senses. As a scientist, he examined the fossils with his keen eyes of painter and reproduced them with his art.

Immacolata Concezione, Monastero di Santa Maria, Syracuse
Immacolata Concezione, Monastero di Santa Maria, Syracuse

Many of his works were lost or were destroyed earthquakes that devastated Sicily and Calabria. Among the works still available, “Talia crowns Epicarmo” (Palermo, Palazzo Abatellis ), a “S. Bartholomew”, a “S. Gaetano”, a “S. Jerome”, and a “Madonna del Rosario” preserved in the Collegiata of Valmontone (RM), several still lifes and numerous drawings illustrative of scientific works. Scylla was also the author of frescoes, an example of which remains in the Chapel of the Sacrament’s ceiling in the Cathedral of Syracuse.

Read More:
1. Wikipedia, https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agostino_Scilla
2. Treccani, http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/tag/agostino-scilla/

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