Giovanni Dondi dell'Orologio

Giovanni Dondi dell'Orologio (c. 1330 – 1388), also known as Giovanni de' Dondi, was an Italian physician, astronomer and mechanical engineer in Padua, now in Italy. He is remembered today as a pioneer in the art of clock design and construction. The Astrarium, which he designed and built over a period of 16 years, was a highly complex astronomical clock and planetarium, constructed only 60 or so years after the very first mechanical clocks had been built in Europe, and demonstrated an ambitious attempt to describe and model the planetary system with mathematical precision and technological sophistication.

Giovanni Dondi dell'Orologio
Bornc. 1330
Died19 October 1388
Other namesGiovanni de' Dondi
OccupationPhysician, astronomer, engineer
Known forthe Astrarium
The Astrarium: tracing of an illustration in the Tractatus astrarii showing the weights, escapement, and main gear train but not the complex upper section with its many wheels


Giovanni was the second son of Jacopo Dondi dell'Orologio and Zaccarota Centrago or Centraco of Chioggia. His father was a doctor and astronomer, and builder of a large astronomical clock in the tower of the Palazzo Capitaniato of Padua in 1344.

Giovanni lived with his father from 1348 to 1359, and shared his father's interest in astronomy and clockmaking. In 1348 he began working on what he called his astrarium or planetarium. He described in detail the design and construction of this project, which was to occupy him until 1364. His manuscripts provided enough material for modern clockmakers to build reconstructions. In 1371 he served as ambassador to Venice, but after the conflict between Padua and Venice in 1372, joined the University of Pavia, and served as diplomat and scholar until his death in Abbiategrasso on 19 October 1388. He is buried at Sant'Eustorgio in Milan.[1]

Giovanni Dondi and the Padovana chickenEdit

It is frequently reported, in sources from the 19th and early 20th centuries[2][3] to the present,[4][5] that the "Marquis Giovanni Dondi dell'Orologio" was responsible for introducing the Padovana chicken, which closely resembles the Polish breed, from Poland to Italy. However the Dondi who was ennobled was the soldier Francesco Dondi, created Marquis by King John III Sobieski in 1676; no journey to or contact with Poland by Giovanni Dondi in the 14th century is documented.[6]

Written worksEdit

Dondi wrote on a wide range of subjects. His most celebrated work is the Tractatus astrarii or Planetarium, which describes the Astrarium. It is one of the earliest surviving descriptions of its kind, predated by only a few years by the Albion and Horologium of Richard of Wallingford.[7] In the introduction, Dondi writes that his machine was built in accordance with the 13th-century Theorica planetarum of Campano di Novara, and to demonstrate the validity of the descriptions of the motion of heavenly bodies of Aristotle and Avicenna. The Tractatus survives in twelve manuscript sources. The autograph in the Biblioteca Capitolare of Padua (MS. D39) and a copy of it, also in Padua, are certainly the work of Dondi. The other sources are rewritten versions of the autograph, to which Dondi's contribution is as yet unclear.[1] The autograph manuscript was published in 1987 in a critical edition with colour facsimile and French translation by Poulle as the first volume of the Opera omnia of Jacopo and Giovanni Dondi.[8]

Of the twenty-nine lectures on medical topics, the Sermones and Colationes, delivered between 1356 and 1388, only the titles survive, with the exception of one, the Sermo in conventu magistri Iohannis ab Aquila in medicina 1367 (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Lat. 9637), and some passages from that in Bologna in the same year cited by Francesco Scipione Dondi dall'Orologio.[9]

The twenty-four Quaestiones super libris Tegni, dating from about 1356, are preserved in a manuscript begun in 1370 by Tommaso da Crema and now in the Biblioteca Palatina of Parma (Parmense 1065); Tegne was the mediaeval name for the summary by Galenus of the works of Hippocrates. The Quaestiones are to date unpublished, as are Dondi's Experimenta or medical prescriptions, conserved in a manuscript of Iohannes de Livonia dated 1453 and now in the Biblioteca Civica of Padua (C.M. 172).

Another lost work, a tractatulum Galieni occultam seriem explicantem in distinctione dispositionum corporum humanorum, quorum in libro Microtegni sub brevitate restrinxit reales differentias inter illas, preterquani in paucis assignatum, was probably written at Pavia during the plague of 1383, and may have discussed the De complexionibus of Galenus.[1]

The short practical treatise on the avoidance of plague, De modo vivendi tempore pestilentiali, was written shortly afterwards; it was published, in Italian, by Zambrini in 1866,[10] and by Sudhoff in 1911.[11]

In natural science, Dondi wrote De fontibus calidis agri Patavini, dedicated to his friend Iacopino da Angarano, and preserved in autograph manuscript in the Biblioteca del Seminario of Padua (ms. 358) and in a copy in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan (H 107 sup.). Together with the Tractatus de causa salsedinis aquarum et modo conficiendi sal artificiale ex aquis Thermalibus Euganeis by his father Jacopo, it was published by Tommaso Giunti in De balneis omnia quae extant apud Graecos, Latinos et Arabas in 1553.[12][1]

A manuscript in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (Ms. lat. XIV 223 (4340)), though not in Dondi's hand, contains both his own literary work and selections copied from that of others. It contains his Iter Romanum, which describes the Roman monuments of Rimini and Rome in a scientific manner, with measurements and transcriptions of inscriptions, and was published by Rossi in 1888;[13] his Epistolario of twenty-eight letters, of which the two to Petrarch have attracted particular attention; and his Rime, consisting of forty-two sonnets, five madrigals and three ballate, published by Medin in 1895[14] and Daniele in 1990.[15] Musical settings for two of the ballate survive, "La sacrosanta carità d'amore," set by Bartolino da Padova, a copy of which was sent to the poet-minstrel Francesco di Vannozzo, and "Omay çascun se doglia."[16]

Dondi's quaedani apostillae or notes on a letter of Seneca, mentioned in a manuscript of Gasparino Barzizza from 1411, have not been traced.[1]

The AstrariumEdit

The astrarium made by Giovanni Dondi dell'Orologio showed hour, year calendar, movement of the planets, Sun and Moon. Reconstruction, Museo nazionale della scienza e della tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci, Milan.

The astrarium was considered to be a marvel of its day. Giovanni Manzini of Pavia writes (in 1388) that it is a work "full of artifice, worked on and perfected by your hands and carved with a skill never attained by the expert hand of any craftsman. I conclude that there was never invented an artifice so excellent and marvelous and of such genius".

Dondi writes that he obtained the idea of an astrarium from the Theorica planetarum of Giovanni Campano da Novara, who describes the construction of the equatorium.

The astrarium was primarily a clockwork equatorium with astrolabe and calendar dials, and indicators for the sun, moon, and planets. It provided a continuous display of the major elements of the solar system and of the legal, religious, and civil calendars of the day. Dondi's intention was that it would help people's understanding of astronomical and astrological concepts. Astrology was then considered a subject worthy of study by the intellectual elite and was taken reasonably seriously.

In 1381 Dondi presented his clock to the Duke Gian Galeazzo Visconti, who installed it in the library of his castle in Pavia. It remained there until at least 1485. It may have been seen and drawn by Leonardo da Vinci. The final fate of the clock is unknown.


  1. ^ a b c d e Tiziana Pesenti (1992) "Dondi dall'Orologio, Giovanni", in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Volume 41. Accessed February 2012.
  2. ^ Onorato Cassella (1880) Manuale pratico di pollicoltura (allevamento, ingrassamento e malattie del pollame) ad uso dei proprietarii ed agricoltori, 2nd ed. Napoli: Giovanni Jovene Librajo.
  3. ^ Teodoro Pascal (1905) Le razze della gallina domestica: Monografia esauriente delle principali razze preceduta da brevi cenni di generalità e contenente 76 illustrazioni nel testo. (in Italian) Roma; Torino: Roux e Viarengo. Transcription by Fernando Civardi (2010), accessed March 2012. "The breeds of domestic chicken ...". p. 57.
  4. ^ Alessio Zanon Padovana (in Italian) Il Pollaio del Re. Accessed January 2012. "The Padovana"
  5. ^ Progetto CO.VA. – Interventi per la Conservazione e la Valorizzazione di razze avicole locali Venete (in Italian) Veneto Agricoltura: Azienda Regionale per i settori Agricolo, Forestale e Agro-Alimentare. Accessed January 2012. "CO.VA. project – measures for the conservation and promotion of local avian breeds of the Veneto".
  6. ^ Franco Holzer "Le ricerche d'archivio riguardanti la famiglia Dondi dall'Orologio" (in Italian) Accessed March 2012. "Archival research concerning the Dondi dall'Orologio family".
  7. ^ J.D. North (1976) Richard of Wallingford: An Edition of His Writings. Oxford. Vol. I pp. 441-526,
  8. ^ Giovanni Dondi dall' Orologio, Emmanuel Poulle (ed., trans.) (1987–1988) Johannis de Dondis Paduani Civis Astrarium. 2 vols. Opera omnia Jacobi et Johannis de Dondis. [Padova]: Ed. 1+1; Paris: Les Belles Lettres.
  9. ^ Francesco Scipione Dondi dall'Orologio (1789) "Notizie sopra Iacopo e G. Dondi dall'Orologio", in Saggi scientifici e letterari dell'Accademia di Padova, Vol. II. Padova: a spese dell'Accademia. pp. 469-494.
  10. ^ Francesco Zambrini (1866) Le opere volgari a stampa dei secoli XIII e XIV. Bologna: Tipi Fava e Garagnani. pp. 440-442.
  11. ^ Karl Sudhoff (1911) Pestschriften aus den ersten 150 Jahren nach der Epidemie des "Schwarzen Todes" 1348, in Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin, V. Leipzig: [s.n.]. pp. 351-354.
  12. ^ Tommaso Giunti (!553) De balneis omnia quae extant apud Graecos, Latinos, et Arabas, tam medicos quam quoscunque ceterarum artium probatos scriptores: qui vel integris libris, vel quoquo alio modo hanc materiam tractaverunt, nuper hinc inde accurate conquisita & excerpta, atque in vnum tandem hoc volumen redacta: in quo aquarum ac thermarum omnium, quae in toto fere orbe terrarum sunt, metallorum item, & reliquorum mineralium nature, vires, atque vsus exquisitissime explicantur: indicibus quatuor appositis, quorum primus auctores omnes, qui in hoc volumine habentur, secundus balneorum nomina, tertius capita cuiuscunq[ue] libri, quartus mirabiles curationes in his libris contentas, quae vi ac beneficio balneorum factae fuerunt, complectitur: opus nostra hac aetate, in qua tam frequens est thermarum usus, medicis quidem necessarium, caeteris vero omnibus tum summopere utile, tum etiam periucundum. Venetiis: Apud Iuntas.
  13. ^ Giovanni Battista De Rossi, Joseph Gatti (1888) Inscriptiones christianae urbis Romae. Vol. 2, pars prima. Romae: ex Officina Libraria Philippi Cuggiani. pp. 329-334.
  14. ^ Antonio Medin (1895) Le rime di Giovanni Dondi dall'Orologio. Padova: Tipografia dei Fratelli Gallina.
  15. ^ Giovanni Dondi dall'Orologio, Antonio Daniele (ed.) (1990) Rime. Vicenza: Neri Pozza Editore, ISBN 978-88-7305-201-2
  16. ^ D'Agostino, Gianluca (2001). "Orologio, Giovanni Dondi dall'". In Root, Deane L. (ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Oxford University Press.