Francesco Fontana (1580–1656) from practice to rules of calculation of lens systems

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In 1646, Francesco Fontana (1580–1656) published his Novae Coelestium Terresriumque Rerum Observationes which includes discussions of optical properties of systems of lenses, e.g., telescope and microscope. Our study of the Novae Coelestium shows that the advance Fontana made in optics could not have been accomplished on the basis of the traditional spectacle optics which was the dominant practice at his time. Though spectacle and telescope making share the same optical elements, improving eyesight and constructing telescope are different practices based on different principles. The production of powerful astronomical telescopes demanded objective lenses with much longer focal length and eyepiece lenses with much shorter focal length than the range of focal length of lenses used for spectacles, respectively. Moreover, higher standard of precision and purity of the glass was required. The transition from the practice by which optical components were chosen from ready-made spectacle lenses to lenses which were produced according to predetermined specifications (e.g., calculation of focal length) was anything but straight forward. We argue that Fontana developed the optical knowledge necessary for improving the performance of optical systems. Essentially, he formulated—based on rich practical experience—a set of rules of calculation by which optical properties of a lens system could be determined and adjusted as required.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-182
Number of pages30
JournalArchive for History of Exact Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2023.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mathematics (miscellaneous)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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