Italians have made important contributions to mankind, most notably in the fields of science, mathematics, philosophy, engineering, economics, international politics, medicine, literature, visual arts and music.

In medieval Europe many of the first women scientists and physicians were Italian. See: 15 women who changed Italy.



The Most Notable Italians in History

Italians who most influenced human history

Andrea Amati (1500-1577)
laid the basis of modern violin-making. See Italian luthiers.

Dante Alighieri
commonly known as Dante, was an Italian poet who greatly influenced generations of poets and authors throughout the centuries, such as Byron, Geoffrey Chaucer and William Blake. He was the author of La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy), an allegory of life and God as revealed to a pilgrim, translated into 59 diferent languages since 1400. It is written in terza rima, a three-line rhyme scheme of his own invention and tells the story of a man who endures the torment of Hell (Inferno) and Purgatory (Purgatorio) in his quest to reach Paradise (Paradiso).

Thomas of Aquinas
Tomasso of Aquino was a medieval Catholic priest who greatly influenced thinking and teaching in philosophy. His Summa Theologica was published in 1,317 editions since 1463 in 24 different languages. His writings gave rise to several schools and periods of thomism, an encompassing synthesis of philosophy, theology and the sciences of man.

Eugenio Barsanti
developed the first internal combustion engine driven by gas.

Cesare, Marquis of Beccaria
commonly known as Cesare Beccaria was one of the first to criticize the barbarism and ad hoc nature of eighteenth century criminal justice. He is the founding father of a classical school of criminology and most criminal systems in democratic countries are directly or indirectly based upon the recommendations in his work On Crimes and Punishments.

Giambattista Beccaria
discovered the light sensitivity of silver chloride, an important development in photography.

Giovanni Boccaccio
The Decameron of Boccaccio was translated into 49 different languages since 1380.

Filippo Brunelleschi (1377 - 1446)
One of the most important Italian architects who designed, among other projets, the dome of the Cathedral of Florence (1419-1436) and the Sagrestia Vecchia of S. Lorenzo (1421-1440).

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 - 1564)
commonly known as Michelangelo, was a Renaissance painter and sculptor.

Giovanni Caboto
See: Famous Italian explorers

Tommaso Campanella (1568 - 1639)
was one of the most important philosophers of the late Renaissance. His best-known work is the utopian treatise La città del Sole (The City of the Sun).; but, in reality, his thought was extremely complex and engaged with all fields of learning. Hhe spent twenty-seven years imprisoned in Neapolitan castles (1599-1626), during which he dedicated himself to the huge task of providing a new foundation for the entire encyclopedia of knowledge.

Gerolamo Cardano (1501 - 1576)
Gerolamo Cardano was an Italian Renaissance mathematician, physician, astrologer and gambler. See: Famous Italian Mathematicians

Giosuè Carducci
See: Italian Nobel Prize Winners

Enrico Caruso (1873 - 1921)
Enrico Caruso was a famous Italian tenor who sang at the major opera houses of Europe and North and South America, appearing in a wide variety of roles from the Italian and French repertoires that ranged from the lyric to the dramatic. See also: Verismo in Italian opera.

Giovanni Caselli
invented the pantelegraph, an ancestor of the fax, which became the first commercial application of the fax, established in 1865. For political and commercial reasons his invention was not further implemented until it was 're-discovered' by the Japanese and gave rise to a widespread public use of the fax through telecom lines. See: italian inventors.

Benvenuto Cellini (1500 - 1571)
Benvenuto Cellini  was an Italian goldsmith, sculptor, painter, soldier and musician, who also wrote a famous autobiography. He was one of the most important artists of Mannerism.

Francesco Cirio
Developed the concept of putting vegetables in cans in 1856.

Christopher Columbus (1451 - 1506)
Christopher Columbus was an explorer, colonizer, and navigator from the Republic of Genoa, in northwestern Italy, whose voyages across the Atlantic Ocean led to general European awareness of the American continents in the Western Hemisphere. With his four voyages of exploration and several attempts at establishing a settlement on the island of Hispaniola, all funded by Isabella I of Castile, he initiated the process of Spanish colonization which foreshadowed general European colonization of the "New World".

Although Columbus was not the first explorer to reach the Americas from Europe (being preceded by the Norse led by Leif Ericson), the voyages of Columbus molded the future of European colonization and encouraged European exploration of foreign lands for centuries to come.
See: Famous Italian explorers

Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 - 1519)
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was an Italian polymath or the archetype of the Renaissance Man: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived. His Mona Lisa is the most famous and most parodied portrait and The Last Supper the most reproduced religious painting of all time. Leonardo is also revered for his technological ingenuity. He conceptualised a helicopter, a tank, concentrated solar power, a calculator, the double hull and outlined a rudimentary theory of plate tectonics. As a scientist, he made important discoveries in anatomy, civil engineering, optics, and hydrodynamics, but his failure to publish his findings meant that his influence on these fields is not well documented by historians. See also: Famous Italian inventors

See also: Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo with photos of the birthhouse and birthplace of the genius artist, and a full biography of Leonardo da Vinci.

Giovanni da Pian del Carpine
See: Famous Italian explorers

Giovanni da Verrazanno
See: Famous Italian explorers

Salvino degli Armati (1258-1312)
Salvino D'Armato degli Armati of Florence is one of the possible inventors of eyeglasses. It is thought that he invented eyeglasses around 1284. See: Famous Italian inventors

Grazia Deledda
See: Italian Nobel Prize Winners

Vittorio de Sica (1901 or 1902 - 1974)
Vittorio De Sica was an Italian director and actor, a leading figure in the neorealist movement.

Federico Fellini (1920 - 1993)
Federico Fellini was an Italian film director. Known for a distinct style that blends fantasy and baroque images, he is considered one of the most influential and widely revered filmmakers of the 20th century.

Enrico Fermi
See: Famous Italian scientists

Enzo Ferrari
See also: Ferrari

Leonardo Fibonacci
See: Famous Italian Mathematicians

Tommaso Francini
Garden designer and garden engineer in charge, among other projects, of the waterworks at Fontainbleau, the fountains of the Palais du Luxembourg and the Villa Medicea di Pratolino.

Dari Fò
See: Italian Nobel Prize Winners

Galileo Galilei
See: Famous Italian scientists

Luigi Galvani
See: Famous Italian scientists

Carlo Goldoni
Created the Commedia dell'Arte

Cesare Lombroso
Italian criminologist

Niccolò Machiavelli
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli has been translated into 49 languages since 1532.

Guglielmo Marconi
See: Famous Italian inventors

Antonio Meucci
See: Famous Italian inventors

Eugenio Montale
See: Italian Nobel Prize Winners

Maria Montessori
See: Famous Italian inventors

Luca Pacioli
See: Famous Italian Mathematicians

Palladio (1508 - 1580)
Andrea Palladio was an Italian Renaissance architect active in the Republic of Venice. Palladio, influenced by Roman and Greek architecture, primarily by Vitruvius, is widely considered the most influential individual in the history of Western architecture. All of his buildings are located in northern Italy, but his teachings, summarized in the architectural treatise I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture), gained him wide recognition.

Vilfredo Pareto
See: Famous Italian scientists

Francesco Petrarca (1304 - 1374)
Francesco Petrarca (known in English as Petrarch), contemporary of Boccaccio, also known as the "Father of Humanism) was an Italian scholar, poet and one of the earliest Renaissance humanists.

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463 - 1494)
Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola  was an Italian Renaissance philosopher. He is famed for the events of 1486, when at the age of 23, he proposed to defend 900 theses on religion, philosophy, natural philosophy and magic against all comers, for which he wrote the famous Oration on the Dignity of Man which has been called the "Manifesto of the Renaissance", and a key text of Renaissance humanism.

Luigi Pirandello
See: Italian Nobel Prize Winners

Marco Polo (c. 1254 - 1324)
Marco Polo was a merchant from the Venetian Republic who wrote Il Milione, which introduced Europeans to Central Asia and China. He learned about trading whilst his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, travelled through Asia and met Kublai Khan. In 1269, they returned to Venice to meet Marco for the first time. The three of them embarked on an epic journey to Asia, returning after 24 years to find Venice at war with Genoa; Marco was imprisoned, and dictated his stories to a cellmate.

Il Milione was translated, embellished, copied by hand and adapted; there is no authoritative version. It documents his father's journey to meet the Kublai Khan, who asked them to become ambassadors, and communicate with the pope. This led to Marco's quest, through Acre, into China and to the Mongol court. Marco wrote of his extensive travels throughout Asia on behalf of the Khan, and their eventual return after 15,000 miles (24,140 km) and 24 years of adventures.

Their pioneering journey inspired Columbus and others.
See: Famous Italian explorers

Giacomo Pucini
Famous opera composer
See also: Verismo in italian opera

Salvatore Quasimodo
See: Italian Nobel Prize Winners

Carlo Rubbia
See: Famous Italian scientists

Raffaello Sanzio, known as Raffaello

Ascanio Sobrero
See: Famous Italian inventors

Altiero Spinelli
One of the founding fathers of the European Union

Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737)
brought the violin to its highest level of perfection. The most famous violin, the "Le Messie", is of his makin. 

Evangelista Torrecelli
See: Famous Italian inventors

Antonio Maria Valsalva
coined the term Eustachian tube and he described the aortic sinuses of Valsalva

Giuseppe Verdi

Amerigo Vespucci
See: Famous Italian explorers

Luchino Visconti

Alessandro Volta
See: Famous Italian inventors

Italians who most influenced the history of Italy

Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour
Contributed to the unification of Italy

Giuseppe Garibaldi
Contributed to the unification of Italy

Goffredo Mameli
Composed the Italian national hymne

Alessandro Manzoni
Wrote the first novel in Standard Italian

Vittorio Emmanuele di Savoia
First king of unified Italy 2005-2016 © All Rights Reserved.
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compiled by Catherine Marien