The Academy was founded as the Italian Society in 1782 on the initiative of mathematician and hydraulic engineer Anton Mario Lorgna.
Lorgna brought together the forty most eminent Italian scientists-including Ruggiero Giuseppe Boscovich , Joseph-Louis Lagrange, Lazzaro Spallanzani, and Alessandro Volta-in a historical context in which the number of those approaching science was small, the number of scientists was small, and the existing Academies were mainly local. This ‘reunion’ took place through intensive and continuous exchanges of correspondence and through the printed publication of Academic Reports in which members presented their research and studies. The aim of the founders was to enhance Italian scientific production beyond the boundaries of the individual states into which the peninsula was divided, with the idea of forming a ‘critical mass’ of scientists who could faces with the cultural and scientific thinking of the great European powers of the time. From the number of its founders came the current name “Society of Forty” (today “Academy of Forty”).
After Logna’s death the Società Italiana, changed its name to Società Italiana delle Scienze detta dei XL, then, in 1949 to Accademia Nazionale dei XL and finally to Accademia Nazionale delle Scienze detta dei XL in 1979.
In the same year of the founding, 1782, the first issue of the Academic Memoirs was published: in the preface patriotic concepts are enunciated, saying that “Italy’s disadvantage is having her forces disunited” and that, in order to unite them, it was necessary to begin “to associate the knowledge and work of so many separate illustrious Italians.” The publication of the Memoirs, a true scientific periodical, also responded to a practical necessity since Italian scholars had difficulty publishing their work since there was no authoritative and internationally appreciated instrument of communication at the time that could collect national scientific production, as was the case in France or England.
The Society quickly established itself and within a few years it was regarded as the representative of Italian Science: Frederick the Great King of Prussia, foreign Academies, from the French to the Russian, and later the American ones, formed relations with the “Italian Society,” which, after Lorgna’s death, changed its name to the Italian Society of Sciences, also known as the Society of Forty.
The Society was supported first by Napoleon Bonaparte then by the Duke of Modena Francesco IV d’Este, as a scientific point of reference for a longed-for united nation.
During the period of the unification of the country there were various attempts to transform its associative structure.
In particular, in 1861 Minister Terenzio Mamiani’s proposal to unite the Italian Society, the Accademia delle Scienze of Turin, the Istituto Lombardo, the Accademia della Crusca and the Accademia delle Scienze of Bologna and merge them under the guise of the Institut de France, and in 1874 Minister Bonghi’s proposal to merge the Italian Society with the Accademia dei Lincei found fierce opposition from the Members who wanted to maintain a tradition and a kind of moral primogeniture.
These attempts were followed by others in the second half of the twentieth century, notably to merge with the Accademia dei Lincei, under the presidency of Domenico Marotta in the mid-1960s and then under the presidency of Beniamino Segre ten years later.
During the Fascist period the Italian Society of Sciences was subjected to the ‘revision of the Statutes and Regulations of Cultural Bodies’ imposed by the regime, which, in effect, placed it under the supervision of the Ministry of National Education with political, administrative and bureaucratic limitations, taking away from the Italian Society the ‘independent’ character that had always distinguished it. In 1936 it was erected into a ‘Ente Morale’.
Wartime events virtually suspended all social activities, and when the war was over, it was the then academic secretary Domenico Marotta who took up the ranks of the Italian Society, which repudiated the statutes imposed by Fascism and reestablished a liberal statute for itself.
The Academy’s three historic medals are the Medal for Mathematics, the Medal for Physical and Natural Sciences, and the Matteucci Medal.
The two Medals of the Italian Society constitute the first government awards granted in 1866 by the Kingdom of Italy soon after the unification of the country. By Royal Decree, the government instructed the Italian Society of Sciences to award Medals annually to distinguished Italian scholars of mathematical sciences and physical and natural sciences.
The Matteucci Medal was funded beginning in 1867 through a donation from then-president Carlo Matteucci, to reward significant contributions to the progress of science made through works or discoveries by Italian and foreign physicists. By Royal Decree of 1870 the government authorized the Italian Society of Sciences to accept Matteucci’s donation.
Medals continue to be awarded to this day.
Originally the Italian Society consisted of 40 National Members and 12 Foreign Members. Today the category of National Members consists of 40 ordinary members and a variable number of supernumerary members. The number of Foreign Members was increased to 25, beginning in 1979. Members are elected by co-optation.
The Academy’s membership includes some of the leading scholars of Italian and international Science. Eight of its National Members have been awarded the Nobel Prize: Marconi, Golgi, Fermi, Natta, Bovet, Rubbia, Levi-Montalcini, and Parisi. Two members have been awarded the Fields Medal: Bombieri and Figalli.
The original Bylaws of the Italian Society provided that its headquarters would be fixed at the city of residence of the current president. This provision expressly established the lack of a fixed headquarters, with the intention of preventing the Society from being preferentially associated with one of the pre-unification states.
After the Unification of Italy, the then president of the Italian Society Sen. Francesco Brioschi first posed the question of transferring the seat of the sodality to Rome, which had recently become the capital, also hoping for a merger with the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, of which he was president for many years.
In 1875, Brioschi’s successor, Arcangelo Scacchi, succeeded in permanently transferring the headquarters of the Italian Society from Modena to Rome. From this moment on, a long period of itinerancy began, which found a solution only starting in 2000 under the presidency of Gian Tommaso Scarascia Mugnozza. The National Academy of Sciences known as the Academy of Forty moved inside the Villa Torlonia: in 2000 the Villino Rosso became the seat of the presidency, the administrative offices and the historical archives, and since 2007 the Scuderie Vecchie have housed the ancient academic library and the lecture hall.
- Scienziati Italiani e Unità d’Italia. Storia dell’Accademia Nazionale delle Scienze detta dei XL, Giuseppe Penso uno dei XL, Roma, 1978, pp. 505
- Lo Stato e i Quaranta. Documenti. Dal Generale Bonaparte ai tempi odierni, a cura di G. B. Marini Bettòlo. Roma, 1986, pp.109
- Gli scienziati italiani e le loro riunioni 1839 —1847, attraverso i documenti degli Archivi dell’Accademia Nazionale delle Scienze detta dei XL e della Società Italiana per il Progresso delle Scienze, a cura G. B. Marini Bettòlo e Rocco Capasso, Roma, 1991, pp.116
- Anton M. Lorgna scienziato e accademico del XVIII secolo: tra conservazione e novità. Atti dei Convegni tenuti a Roma e Verona (marzo e novembre 1996), in collaborazione con l’Accademia di Agricoltura, Scienze e Lettere di Verona e con la Biblioteca Civica di Verona, Roma, 1998, pp. 414
- Guida all’Archivio Storico dell’Accademia Nazionale delle Scienze detta dei XL, a cura di Giovanni Paoloni e Mauro Tosti Croce, Roma, 1984, pp.78
- Guida al patrimonio archivistico della Accademia Nazionale delle Scienze detta dei XL. Archivio istituzionale e fondi degli scienziati, a cura di Giovanni Paoloni e Nicoletta Valente, Roma, 2013, pp. 108.
- La Fenice repubblicana. L’Accademia dei XL dal dopoguerra al XXI secolo, a cura di Giovanni Paoloni, Roma, 2018, pp.148.
- Roma 1875: la città delle tre Accademie, a cura di Paola Cagiano de Azevedo e Annibale Mottana, Roma, 2019, pp. 91.