Portrait of Angelo Secchi

Tituli in Supremis Honoribus,
1878
Phototipy, 166 x 240 mm
Archives of Accademia Italiana delle Scienze detta dei XL, Rome

Secchi died in Rome on February 26, 1878. His funerals were very modest; For this reason, some of his friends, including Prince Baldassarre Boncompagni, decided to hold a subscription to honor the memory of the deceased in a manner worthy of his fame. On April 13, a solemn commemoration was held in the Church of St. Ignatius, with funeral orations and music by Mozart. In that circumstance a booklet was printed, containing the portrait depicted here; In the booklet were reproduced all the inscriptions that decorated the church and summarized the life and works of the illustrious astronomer.
After the death of Secchi there was a need to commemorate the illustrious scientist, erecting a monument in his honor, to avoid the risk of an oblivion that was already appearing. One of the actions took was the project of a telescope tower (Figure 1) that was intended to be realized in Reggio Emilia for solar observations, in memory of Angelo Secchi. A printed booklet was thus created, containing a letter sent by Gaetano Tacchini doctor from Modena and brother of astronomer Pietro , to an unidentified scientific authority, to gain an opinion to support the project. From the same booklet we learn that the project underwent through the examination of George Ellery Hale, in the United States, who gave some suggestions. The scientific referee of the project seems to have been Annibale Riccò,born in Modena and director of the Observatory of Catania, who expressed some doubts about its realization, and thus invited Tacchini to seek other authoritative scientific sponsors.
The project took the steps from a public subscription made by illustrious citizens Reggiani, to create a “scientific monument” in honor of Secchi. Pietro Tacchini suggested to build of a solar tower, and contributed to it devolving the revenues of the sale of his book about eclipses, published in 1888 (Figure 2).
Meanwhile, even in Rome, in Vatican milieu, the realization of a “meteorological monument” was planned: a sort of monumental meteorological station, for the use of public citizenship (Figure 3).
None of the monuments dedicated to Secchi were actually ever made. A sketch of the meteorological monument was prepared, long kept at the tower of the winds, from 1892 became the seat of the Vatican Specola, the latter then transferred to Castel Gandolfo.
The remembrance of Secchi quickly faded, and so did the one of the Italian astrophysics founded by him, already in the early XX century both were declined. On the contrary astrophysics quickly developed in the U.S.A., that fully gathered Secchi’s scientific inheritance in the fields of stellar and solar spectroscopy.

Ileana Chinnici, INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo