The Anatomy of a Conversion: Science, Religion, and Amicitia in Late Renaissance Europe
Nuno Castel-Branco (Ph.D., Johns Hopkins 2021) is a historian of science whose research focuses on the social and intellectual interactions between medicine, mathematics, and religion in early modern Europe, including Iberia. He is currently writing a book about the European travels and networks of Nicolaus Steno, an anatomist and bishop who applied mathematics, mechanics, and chemistry in his studies of the body. Nuno was previously a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin (2021-22) and a Huntington Fellow at Lincoln College, University of Oxford. His work has appeared in Renaissance Quarterly, Early Science and Medicine, among others.
When the Danish anatomist Nicolaus Steno (1638-86), self-described as a “man from the North,” first arrived in Florence in 1666, he knew very few people there. Yet, in less than a year, he published a new mathematical theory of the body with Ferdinand II de’ Medici’s (1610-1670) patronage. Two years later he published another book that showed that the Earth’s history can be known by looking at mountains, thus laying the foundations for modern geology. In these years, at the peak of his scientific career, Steno underwent a religious conversion strongly influenced by scientific peers and female friendships. The project The Anatomy of a Conversion explores how and why the famous anatomist Nicolaus Steno converted to Catholicism in Medici Florence and the effect this conversion had on his career and friendships. The project uses Steno’s conversion to uncover novel interactions between science and religion and the significant historical role of poorly-known actors, including women, in the scientific and religious culture of seventeenth-century Europe.