Ferdinando Bassi

Image of Bassia scoparia (L.) A.J.Scott, a species belonging to the genus named after Bassi by Carlo Allioni.


Ferdinando Bassi was born in Bologna in 1710 into a family of merchants and shipping agents. He studied natural sciences and soon became the assistant of the famous botanist Giuseppe Monti, an eminent representative of the Academy of Sciences. He introduced Bassi to the scientific world and, by letting him deal with the exchanges of scientific specimens for the Academy museum, allowed Bassi to get in touch with the chief Italian and European naturalists. As time passed, these relationships were maintained and intensified, and Bassi’s name became very familiar amongst European scientists (Mossetti, 2007, Gandolfi, 2007).
The professional activity of Ferdinando Bassi was strongly connected, as far as his scientific research is concerned, with two main institutions, the Botanic Garden and the Academy of Sciences. In 1763 Bassi covered the post of Keeper of the Garden of Exotic Plants, a post he maintained throughout his lifetime. Under his direction, the Garden became considerably larger and richer in species, and a new glasshouse was built, in which the exotic plants were kept during the coldest months of the year. Bassi also expanded his contacts with other botanists, receiving plants and seeds from his correspondents. Thanks to the improved facilities of the Garden, especially the new glasshouse, Bassi succeeded in cultivating new species, and in obtaining for the first time the flowering of poorly-known plants. These new findings were communicated to his correspondents, and to the Academy of Sciences.
Bassi’s research activities as a member of the Academy followed two main directions: a specialised one, focused on Botany through the description of new plants and a better understanding of poorly-known species, and a more generalist one, aimed at a complete description of the natural environment of the surrounding territory. In those years, Bassi was in contact with Linnaeus, and communicated to him the main results of his botanical investigations, hoping to receive authoritative support of his findings. Unfortunately, a series of adverse circumstances consigned to oblivion what Bassi thought to be the crowning achievement of his works: the description of three new species (Cynanchum viminale, Alisma parnassifolia and Psoralea palaestina) and of the new genus Ambrosina, so that nowadays the name of Bassi in not very familiar amongst botanists and naturalists. Nevertheless, he was one of the most renowned scientists of the 18th century. On November 28, 1769, the Italian botanist Antonio Turra wrote to Linnaeus: «Pauci sunt Botanici Itali, praeter Montium et Bassium Bononienses, praeter Tillium Pisanum, praeterque Battarium clodiense amicum meum»; at the time, there were only four noteworthy botanists in all of Italy, and Bassi was one of them.

Bassi commissioned a series of drawn portraits of illustrious scientists from antiquity up to his time, and assembled them in the Pinacotheca Bassiana, a collection of around one hundred fifty watercolors drawings, the majority of which were submitted to the painter Gaetano Gandolfi (1734-1802).


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