The Private Torinese Society

In 1757 the count Angelo Saluzzo di Monesiglio, the physician Gianfrancesco Cigna and the mathematician Luigi Lagrange (later known by his French name, Joseph-Louis Lagrange) founded a Private Society to support research and experimentation in the various areas of science. From the very beginning they were joined by other young Piedmontese scholars, and the home of Count Saluzzo, which served as the Society’s headquarters, became a place where studies in mathematics, mechanics and physics flourished. Beginning in 1759, these studies were published in a journal first named Miscellanea philosophico mathematica Societatis privatae Taurinensis, today known as the Memorie della Accademia delle Scienze.

International relationships

In 1760 a first attempt was made to transform the Private Society into an Academy, modelled on the French Académie des Sciences. This effort was opposed by the ministers of King Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia and by the sovereign himself. But as the activities of the members went forward, and as their numbers increased, they came to involve eminent figures of the French Enlightenment, such as Jean-Baptiste Le Rond d’Alembert and Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet, and other authoritative scholars from Italy and abroad, including Benjamin Franklin, Lazzaro Spallanzani, Carl Linnaeus and Leonhard Euler.

The Royal Academy of Sciences

In the second half of the eighteenth century, the Savoy state underwent a general process of modernisation, favoured by the progress in science that characterised the age. It was in this context that, in 1783, King Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia conferred the title of Reale Accademia delle Scienze on the Private Society.

The motto: Veritas et Utilitas

The motto chosen by the members expressed the dual commitment of the Academy to supporting progress in science and to using it to the advantage of society. With these aims in mind, competitions were immediately established to encourage technological innovation and the improvement of particularly significant social and economic situations. The first competition, held in 1788, regarded the search for alternative employment for those who had formerly worked as spinners, but who had lost their jobs following a crisis in the silkworm harvest. This was followed by others which regarded, for instance, public illumination for the city of Torino, the promotion of innovations in agriculture, the writing of works of popular science, and the organisation of geological and hydrographical data in the Kingdom of Sardinia.

The French period (1798 – 1814)

In consequence of the occupation of Piedmont by the French, the Academy was radically reformed: in 1801 Napoleon Bonaparte instituted the Classe di Littérature et beaux arts, which became, in 1815, the Class of Moral, Historical and Philological Sciences, thus making the humanities one of the Academy’s areas of interest.

From the Restoration to 1861

From the return of the Savoys in 1815 until the transfer of the capital of Italy from Torino to Florence in 1865, the Academy maintained the same relationship of close collaboration with the Savoy State that characterised its early years. In return for the financial support that it gave to the Academy, the government received continual scientific advice from the best scientists of the day. In those years the Academy contributed decisively to the industrial development of pre-Unification Piedmont, performing the duty of examining and approving patents.

Turn of the century

With the Unification of Italy and the re-establishment in Rome of the Accademia dei Lincei, the Torino Academy of Sciences lost its political function, but reinforced its role as an institution for learning. Working closely with the University of Torino and the Politecnico, it promoted research, published the results in its Atti and Memorie, organised scientific congresses and conferences, and was a centre for international relations.

Thanks to generous endowments, it established prizes of international importance in recognition of innovative research: in 1875 it established the Bressa Prize, awarded to different areas of science on a rotating basis; the Gautieri Prize for Philosophy, History and Literature (1891); the Vallauri Prize for physical sciences and Latin literature (1899).

The Second World War

Beginning in 1935 the Fascist regime radically modified the statute of the Academy, introducing new, very strict regulations regarding the appointment of positions, the nomination of new members, and the administration of funds. The Academy was able in any case to carry its activities forward, in spite of the loss of several members who refused to swear allegiance to the Fascist government, including the historian Gaetano De Sanctis and the art historian Lionello Venturi. After the fall of the regime, in 1948 a new statute was approved which, eliminating the regulations imposed by the Fascists, reinstated full freedom to elect members and assign positions.

From post-War to the end of the 20th century

With the creation of the Italian Republic, the Academy’s activities resumed their former pace. Along with the periodic sessions of the two Classes, important scientific meetings were also held, such as the one in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the death of Lagrange (1963), the one dedicated to the architect Guarino Guarini and the internationalism of Baroque (1968), and that in honour of mathematicians Guido Fubini and Francesco Severi (1979). In 1983 the 200th anniversary of the Academy’s founding was celebrated with an international conference that was followed by important work to restore the historic rooms of the Academy and an exhibition celebrating the institution’s history.

From the present to the future

The current by-laws of the Academy were approved in 2000, guaranteeing its legal rights as a private entity and thus permitting it ample freedom of internal organisation and management of its offices and resources. In recent years the Academy has been active on various fronts: from making its catalogue of books available online, to digitalising a part of its library and archive, to an overall restoration and renovation of its headquarters.