Bernardino Baldi was born in Urbino on June 6, 1553. After studying ancient languages, he joined the group of scholars around the famous mathematician Federico Commandino.1 For many years Commandino had been preparing editions of the most important works of ancient mathematicians, translating them into Latin and providing them with textual commentaries. Baldi himself took part in this enterprise. In his Life of Commandino he recalls: “when I was young and dedicated to these studies, I drew many of these geometrical figures with great labor.”2 And again, in the preface to his Italian translation of Hero's3 Automati (Automata) he wrote:
Hero wrote Spiritali (Pneumatics) as well as these Automati, and recently Federico Commandino translated Spiritali into Latin and illustrated it with figures.4 What Hero then wrote concerning Semoventi (Automata), fallen into oblivion since antiquity, was rescued and brought to light by me, at the suggestion of Commandino.5
Baldi studied under Commandino from 1570 to 1575, though between 1573 and 1575 he also attended the University of Padua to study medicine. But in Padua, as he himself states in one of his unpublished works, instead of dedicating himself to medical studies he followed the lectures on philosophy6 and those on classical literature given by Emanuel Margunios7 with whom he became friends. He also attended lectures on mathematics given by Pietro Catena,8 though without much benefit, as he himself states in his Cronica de' matematici:
Pietro Catena (1573), Padua. He was giving lectures on mathematics during the time I was at the University of Padua, and I attended his lectures on Aristotle's Mechanics. He was old and facetious so that his classroom was filled with people who wanted to laugh rather than learn. He was not a man of great learning, and published just a small and simple work on the Sphere.9
Baldi's most important work from that time was the Italian translation of Hero's Automati, which he had already finished, as can be seen from the dedication to the Venetian Giacomo Contarini:10
When Federico Commandino was still alive, I translated from the Greek text these two books of Hero's Semoventi, thinking of publishing it at the time Commandino himself published Spiritali by the same ancient author. But other unexpected business as well as Commandino's sudden death forced me to postpone the publication of the work.11
Soon after Commandino's death, Baldi began to collect material for the composition of his work Vite de' matematici (Lives of Mathematicians), while continuing his study of mathematics under the guidance of Guidobaldo del Monte.12 In 1580 he found a permanent position at the court of Guastalla, where he was employed as a court mathematician by Ferrante Gonzaga.13 The first biographer of Baldi, Fabrizio Scarloncino,14 states that in 1582 Baldi wrote a commentary on the Mechanical Problems ascribed to Aristotle. This might have been the first draft of what was later published in the Exercitationes, which are presented here.15
During the next period of his life, Baldi produced many literary works as well as a series of studies on Vitruvius.16 About these works he wrote in his Life of Vitruvius:
As to Scamilli impares,17 I wrote a little treatise where I rejected the opinions of all those who wrote about it before me; but I do not say anything more, leaving judgement to those who will read it. I also started another work on that author, at the suggestion of Vespasiano Gonzaga Duke of Sabbioneta18 since he was pleased to agree with me on the interpretation of this author's work. It was a Dittionario Vitruviano19 where all the obscure terms contained in his Architectura were explained. This I did with no great difficulty because since childhood I have had a natural inclination for languages and other things. I carried on this work up to the sixth book, but I could not finish it because of my new employment; so I put it aside.
With the support of Ferrante Gonzaga, in 1586 Baldi was made Abbot of Guastalla. This provoked a basic shift in focus from scientific topics to the study of oriental languages and theological matters. In the following year he began the composition of his Vite de' matematici, starting with the biography of Commandino. Occasionally, though, he resumed his study of mathematics, for example, in the course of the further publication of part of his own works, or when Guidobaldo del Monte's son asked him to attend to the publication of his late father's unpublished writings. On November 3, 1608, Orazio del Monte20 wrote to Baldi:
Signor Pier Matteo Giordani21 is going to send me some short treatises written by my father so that you can have a look at them, since I am planning to publish these as well, as soon as the printing of Astronomici Problemi22 is finished. Following your thoughtful advice, I agree that it is better to first issue these Problemi, and then Cochlea23 and other short treatises left unpublished by my father.24
But Baldi's main interest had already turned to other literary fields, as is evident from the works he wrote between 1592 and 1600. In 1596 Baldi went to Rome where he was a guest of Cardinal Cinzio Aldobrandini until the beginning of 1598.25 At the cardinal's court he took up the study of Arabic with Giovan Battista Raimondi,26 an accomplished mathematician and scholar of this language. In this period Baldi became interested in works of Arabic authors, a new activity which resulted in the translation of a large geographical work.
At the beginning of 1600 Baldi tried to publish some of his literary works, but only some of these were published, in Pavia and in Parma. In the meantime he became acquainted with Francesco Maria II Duke of Urbino,27 who commissioned him to write a biography of Federico of Montefeltro.28 The favor he had found with the Duke, and the problems caused by his position as abbot, provoked him in 1609 to leave Guastalla and take up employment at the Duke's court. In his new position he was charged with important tasks: in 1612, as ambassador of the Duke, he traveled to Venice to attend the ceremony of the proclamation of the new Doge. In those years some of his works were published in Germany, including his two books on Vitruvius – thanks to the intervention of Marcus Welser29 – and his translation of Hero's Belopoeica, the last of his works to be published while he was still alive.30 During the last years of his life Baldi wrote a biography of Guidobaldo I Duke of Urbino,31 who succeeded Federico of Montefeltro, and dedicated all his efforts to the composition of a massive geographical encyclopedia, which remained incomplete at the time his death on October 10, 1617.
Federico Commandino, 1509–1575.
Hero of Alexandria, first century CE.
Emanuel Margunios, 1549–1602.
Pietro Catena, 1501–1576.
Giacomo Contarini, 1536–1595.
Guidobaldo del Monte, 1545–1607.
Ferrante II Gonzaga di Guastalla, 1563–1630.
Nothing is known about Fabrizio Scarloncino.
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, first century BCE.
Vespasiano Gonzaga di Sabbioneta, 1531–1591.
Orazio del Monte, ca. 1570–1614.
Pier Matteo Giordani, ca. 1556–1636.
Cinzio Aldobrandini Passeri, 1551–1610.
Giovan Battista Raimondi, 1536–1614.
Francesco Maria II della Rovere, 1549–1631.
Federico da Montefeltro, 1422–1482.
Marcus Welser, 1558–1614.
Guidobaldo I da Montefeltro, 1472–1508.