Francesco Zantedeschi
b. August, 20, 1797, Dolcé, Val Lagarina, Italy
d. March 29, 1873 Padua, Italy

Francesco Zantedeschi, priest and physicist, published in 1829-1830 papers on the production of electric currents in closed circuits by the approach and withdrawal of a magnet, thereby anticipating Faraday's classical experiments of 1831.

The portrait of Francesco Zantedeschi was published by Stefano de Stefani, president of the Academy of Agriculture, Arts and Commerce of Verona, on March 21, 1875 to accompany his eulogy to Zantedeschi on the occasion of the transport of his ashes to the cemetery at Verona (the picture has been donated for my web page by Mr. Ben Smith, University of Florida).

Francesco Zantedeschi, priest and physicist, was born in 1797 in Dolcé in the Val Lagarina, Italy. Initially his career was a clerical one with the course in theology, but rapidly he was interested almost entirely in physics. After having taught in some high schools in Milan, Brescia and Venice, 14th July 1849, for some time Abate Zantedeschi was professor of physics and philosophy in the Liceo of Venice. In 1849 Francesco Zantedeschi was elected to membership at Padua University with the assignation of pro-tempore professor to teach physics to the students of the physical courses and later to those who studied pharmacy. In this assignment he followed professor deceased professor Perego. His principal and incessant commitment was the development of the physical laboratory purchasing a remarkable quantity of scientific instruments that had to be used for didactics but also to carry on his researches.

This period is very interesting above all for the instrumental aspect that Zantedeschi studied with maniacal method enriching the possibility of experimentation in the sphere of physics. When Zantedeschi arrived in Padua he immediately visited the laboratory, the privileged place of experimentation and didactics. He discovered a laboratory which was in bad condition, incomplete and inadequate to the requirements of a rigorous university course. It is necessary to remember that the laboratories were very important elements in the field of sciences, coming from the experimental theatres of eighteenth century in which those attending sciences built experiences and handed down the acquired knowledges. Natural history and physics cabinets were fundamental for the university because much work was performed in an experimental way. Just for these reasons teachers needed more and more apparatus to proceed in their researches.

The activism of Zantedeschi to propose purchases to potentiate the physical laboratory are already documented in the Venetian period, previous to the Paduan time, when he taught physics at S. Caterina high school. Because his interests were very wide and he was also interested in photography, a technique which was developing in those years. In fact he had tried to buy a daguerrotype apparatus which the authority put at the head of administration refused him to do. But Zantedeschi didn’t lose heart easily and in fact he succeeding in obtaining other purchases, with an alternation of concessions and refusals. Again in 1846 money was refused him to buy new instruments essential for the cabinet of natural history, that already comprehended at least 4.000 pieces in its collection, and that the administration judged sufficient.

When Zantedeschi arrived in Padua in July 1849, he began immediately to advance his requests for funds, that were mostly fulfilled. As soon as he had the professorship he received from headmaster of Philosophical faculty the application to clarify the situation of the physical laboratory: he wished above all the details of expenses that had already been requested on behalf of professor Betti and a listing of the instruments that were effectively present in the laboratory. Zantedeschi took the opportunity to reply with the first request of money to satisfy the necessity of the academic year 1849-50, but these requests weren’t satisfied. At the end of the year the university vice chancellor Poli submitted again the problem of finalization of the purchase of missing machines for the lab. However Zantedeschi was not satisfied of the slowness of the bureaucratic machine so he had not fear to ask formally to Emperor of Austria and Hungary Franz Joseph reminding that the physical laboratory was in “very precarious requirements”. Naturally he sent also a demand to buy instruments for mechanics that had already been financed partially by count Radetzchi. The instruments advantaged the research about light, caloric, electromagnetism and acoustic.

He was an ardent worker and prolific writer, 325 memoirs and communications appearing under his name in the Biblioteca Italiana and the Bibliotheque Universelle de Geneve. In 1829 and again in 1830 Zantedeschi published papers on the production of electric currents in closed circuits by the approach and withdrawal of a magnet, thereby anticipating Faraday's classical experiments of 1831. While carrying out study of the solar spectrum, Zantedeschi was among the first to recognize the marked absorption by the atmosphere of the red, yellow, and green rays; he also thought that he had detected in 1838 a magnetic action on steel needles of ultra-violet light. Though this effect was not confirmed, it is interesting to note that a connection between light and magnetism was suspected so many years before the announcement in 1867 by Clerk-Maxwell of the electro-magnetic theory of light. In a tract of 16 pages, published in 1859, Zantedeschi defended the claims of Romagnosi, a physician of Trent, to the discovery in 1802 of the magnetic effect of the electric current, a discovery which is usually accredited to Oersted of Copenhagen in 1820. Zantedeschi's experiments and papers on the repulsion of flames by a strong magnetic field (discovered by Padre Bancalari of the Pious Schools in 1847) attracted general attention at the time. In his later years Zantedeschi dictated an autobiography which is kept in the archives of the Academy of Verona. His principal works are: "Ricerche sul termo-elettricismo dinamico" (1838) and "Trattato del Magnetismo e della Elettricita" (1843).

Francesco Zantedeschi held his position at the Padua University until his retirement in 1853 for health reasons. He died at Padua on 29 March, 1873.


This text has been compiled from the biographies of Zantedeschi available in the Internet:
( 1, 2, 3 )


(updated & corrected on September 1, 2003) 1