Roberto Mantovani (1854-1933) and his ideas on the expanding Earth, as revealed by his correspondence and manuscripts

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Giancarlo Scalera


Roberto Mantovani (Parma, 25 March 1854-Paris, 10 January 1933) – a musician and geologist trained in the Duchy of Parma – was a Consul in the French island of La Réunion at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1878 drawing general conclusions from the similarity in shape between the facing banks of a river that flowed in a volcanic fracture, and the way in which the layers corresponded, Mantovani formulated a mobilistic theory, attributing the moving apart of the continents to the expansion of the entire planet. This theory is more general than that of Wegener from the first decades of the following century. Mantovani’s hypothesis was officially recognised by the French Geological Society in 1924, which incorporated it in its body of legitimate ideas. Encouraged by Bourcart in 1924, Wegener quoted the Italian in his famous book as one who offered ideas extraordinarily close to his own. A letter of Mantovani to Wegener, and the sceptical answer of the German scientist, have been recently found. In his letter Mantovani shows a greater awareness of the predecessors of the continental drift than Wegener

himself. Mantovani continued to disseminate his idea up to the last years of his life. A final pamphlet, of 1930, was printed with this dedication: «to the mathematicians, physicists, astronomers, geologists, and anyone interested in the great enigmas of the Universe». is biography has been reconstructed thanks to the correspondences carefully conserved in the archives of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ethnographic Museum Luigi Pigorini, the Società Geografica Italiana, and in the private files of his direct descendants.

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Scalera G. Roberto Mantovani (1854-1933) and his ideas on the expanding Earth, as revealed by his correspondence and manuscripts. Ann. Geophys. [Internet]. 2009Dec.25 [cited 2022Oct.1];52(6):615-49. Available from: