Luca Ciancio

Site(s): Website CRAL

Luca Ciancio is Associate Professor of History of Science at the University of Verona (Italy). His academic training took place in Bologna and Florence Universities (1982-90), at the Wellcome Institute (London 1990-91) and Dibner Institute (Boston 2000). After devoting his early career to the history of geology and natural history in the Republic of Venice and the Kingdom of Naples, in recent years he has focused his attention to the emergence, in the early modern era, of a new meteorology of the underground regions. In his effort to develop an authentically interdisciplinary approach, Luca Ciancio aims to integrate a more traditional concern for the history of ideas with an interest in the role of visual language in scientific practice and the social contexts in which natural philosophy was forged. Luca Ciancio is EHESS visiting professor invited by Claudine Cohen in May 2019.



A Place for Hell. Meteorology, cosmology and theology of the underground regions

Credit has to be given to the scientific culture of the early modern era for having started a coherent research on the subterranean world. In the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries, the growing attention both for the structure and the dynamics of underground focused on the likely presence of widespread subterranean fires that traditional Aristotelian meteorology could not admit. Aristotle and its followers, in fact, regarded the geo-morphological change as a phenomenon involving just the upper crust of the planet. Some exponents of the new philosophy, by contrast, began invoking subterranean fires – or a single fiery core – to explain a number of phenomena such as thermal waters, volcanoes and earthquakes.

Inevitably, traditional ideas on the location of the infernal sites came under attack. With the emergence of the new cosmology of Copernicus, Galileo and Descartes implying a full re-assessment of the sublunary world such ideas became even more  problematic. It is far from clear, however, if and to which extent the variety of modern natural philosophies may have contributed to shake the empirical and metaphysical foundations of such creeds. In a series of lectures on the French, Tuscan and Roman natural philosophical contexts over the period from 1631 to 1697, a wide range of reactions to the emergence of the central fire hypothesis will be explored, considering both their implications for natural philosophy and their consequences for the Christian views of hell.



“In centro terrae est Sol centralis”. Le débat entre Naudé, Peiresc et Gassendi autour des feux volcaniques (1631-1649)  [In French]

For a number of French scholars living and travelling in Italy such as Peiresc, the 1631 catastrophic eruption of Vesuvius was a unique opportunity to debate new hypotheses on the structure and dynamic of the underground regions. Their connections with members of the Lynceans Academy contributed to the spreading of their observations and ideas on subterranean fires among Roman natural philosophers as well as their French correspondents. However, the fact that two years after the publication of Descartes’s Principia philosophiae Gassendi explicitly rejected the central fire hypothesis requires a deeper examination of the overall debate and an assessment of its wider implications.

As part of Claudine Cohen’s seminar « Sciences, images et imaginaires de la Terre »,

  • Tuesday 7 May 2019, From 3 pm to 5 pm, EHESS (Room AS1_24), 54 bd Raspail 75006 Paris.


A Devout Meteorology: Giovanni Nardi and the hypothesis of central fire (1641)

In 1641 the Florentine physician Giovanni Nardi (1585-1654), active at the Medici court from 1620 and later archiater to Ferdinando II de’ Medici, published a small Latin treatise entitled De igne subterraneo, a work that most probably inspired Athanasius Kircher’s Mundus subterraneus. In his booklet Nardi argued that the «subterranean fire is a part of the element of fire that the Supreme Artificer enclosed into the deepest cavities of the Earth in order to protect and favor sublunary nature». In itself, Nardi’s hypothesis was neither  particularly precocious nor original. For example, the corpuscular chemist Étienne De Clave in his Paradoxes had hypothesized the presence of a permanent fire in the Earth’s central core. Similar views were not rare among Paracelsians such as Michael Sendivogius. Nardi’sattempt, however, may have appeared both courageous and innovative in Counter reformation Tuscany: not onlywas it constructed around a theory that was heterodoxical from the standpoint of the most conservative Aristotelianism, but it sought to deploy a single unifying hypothesis to explain a variety of otherwise chaotic and disconnected phenomena. Most notably, it was largely compatiblewith Catholic orthodoxy.

As part of Claudine Cohen’s seminar « Sciences, images et imaginaires de la Terre »,

  • Tuesday 7 May 2019, From 5pm to 7 pm, EHESS (Room AS1_24), 54 bd Raspail 75006 Paris.


The Burden of Gravity: Galileo’s dismissal of central fire (1632-1641)

During the final year of his life Galileo recommended to his correspondents to read Giovanni  Nardi‘s  De igne subterraneo (1641), a work he seems to have regarded as deserving scrutiny and  discussion. The likely reasons for Galileo’s interest deserve to be investigated with reference to the development of his ideas on the structure and phenomena of the terracqueous globe culminating in the Third Day of his Dialogue (1632). Such an investigation lead us to rule out that Galileo could embrace the hypothesis of a single fire constantly active in the Earth’s core. This episode, however, provides an opportunity to show that, although he did not develop anything like a new and coherent theory of the Earth, Galileo became aware that such a theory was among the necessary consequences of the Copernican cosmology.

As part of Claudine Cohen’s seminar « Sciences, images et imaginaires de la Terre »,

  • Tuesday 14 May 2019, From 3 pm to 5 pm, EHESS (Room AS1_08), 54 bd Raspail 75006 Paris.


Jesuit Fervour: reacting to Kircher’s Mundus subterraneus (1657-1697)

How did it happen that the element of fire, after aprevailing association with Lucretian atheism, was gradually rehabilitated and began to be perceived as a providential agent of change in nature? To answer this question, debates in medicine, natural history, chemistry and theory of matter, but also developments in technology since the Renaissance have been called into consideration. Changes of perception toward fire and its meanings that took place in Jesuit natural philosophy can provide additional explanations, especially if we focus on the reactions to Athanasius Kircher’s ideas and representations of the Earth’s central fire (1665) by authoritative confreres such as Pierre Gautruche (1668), Honoré Fabri (1669), Paolo Casati (1686) Giovanni Battista Tolomei (1696) and Franz Reinzer (1697).

As part of Claudine Cohen’s seminar « Sciences, images et imaginaires de la Terre »,

  • Tuesday 14 May 2019, From 5 pm to 7 pm, EHESS (Room AS1_08), 54 bd Raspail 75006 Paris.