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Giovanni Dondi dall’Orologio

(Chioggia, 1318/30 – Abbiategrasso, 19.10.1388)

Son of Jacopo and Zaccarotta Centrago, he completed his initial cultural training in Chioggia, studying under his father. He then went on to study in Bologna and Padua.
By 1349, he was already a certified doctor and, from approximately 1354, he taught astronomy, logic and medicine in Padua.
Galeazzo Visconti called him to Pavia to work as a court doctor and professor at the newly-established Ticino university. He briefly taught in Florence and, after 1368, he stayed in Padua for a few years, when he became a friend and doctor of Francesco Petrarca during the poet’s final years.

Thanks to his wealth and family relations, he fit in perfectly among Padua’s Carraresi high society but soon clashed with Francesco il Vecchio da Carrara. He therefore accepted the invitation of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, future first duke of Milan, to return to Pavia.
He died just as he was about to leave for Genoa and his body was then buried in the baptistery of Padua’s cathedral.

In addition to a number of medical texts and academic speeches, he also left behind letters written in Latin, highlighting his extensive network of cultural and personal relationships. He is sometimes thought of as a man with universal knowledge and a “precursor of Leonardo da Vinci” thanks to his strong propensity for practice and experience.

He invented the Astrarium, a complex piece of astronomical machinery, on which we began work in Pavia around 1365 and completed around 1381. This was a precision horology masterpiece of the late Middle Ages. Thanks to its unique weight-based mechanism, this machine used different faces to show both the time of day and the motion of the planets that were known at the time. It was destroyed in the XVI century but trace of it has remained thanks to the Tractatus Astrarii, passed down through various illustrated manuscripts. In recent times, these manuscripts have been used to make a number of reconstructions, one of which was donated to the University of Padova in 2003 and is on display in the Basilica of Palazzo Bo.