The idea of starting an academy to support agriculture in Tuscany probably came to the Lateran Canon Ubaldo Montelatici (whose real name was Antonio) during his stay at the Abbey of San Pietro in Casa Nuova in Laterina, in the Arezzo countryside. During the nine years he spent in there, he not only resumed his study of physics, but he also tried to apply this science to the “countryside economy”, as Saverio Manetti said in his speech commemorating Montelatici on 22 August 1770 at the Georgofili Academy, the institution that the Lateran father had founded, together with others, some twenty years before.
Having returned to Florence in 1751 for reasons of health, Montelatici did not abandon his passion for agriculture. If he could not turn to it in a practical way, he devoted himself to its study on a theoretical level, especially in his effort to single out the centuries-long mistakes handed down in the agricultural practices that the Tuscan farmers persisted in perpetuating.
In April 1752, Montelatici sent to Gaetano Albizzini’s print house his Ragionamento sopra i mezzi più necessari per far rifiorire l’agricoltura, a small work to which he added the Relazione dell’erba … orobanche by the botanist Pier Antonio Micheli.
The refined feminine hand of the engraver Virginia Cordelli, on a drawing by Filidauro Rossi, enhanced the small publication of an exquisite illustrated page preceding the frontispiece in which agriculture was represented by a young woman, named the Madre di tutte l’Arti, e lor Nutrice, against a serene and orderly agrarian landscape where a grapevine shows its fruit and cypresses enclose the fields.
But that exquisite and balanced vision did not correspond to the reality of Tuscan agriculture, slowed by the “darkness of ignorance”, mortifying it with great damage to the public and private economy.
Montelatici wondered what the cause of such a situation could be; certainly the farmers’ willful neglect and festering ignorance were mainly responsible for it.
Supported by what even the ancients had written in this regard and further corroborated by Dante’s verses, Tuscan farmers, according to Montelatici, resembled "foolish sheep", ready to conform to what they saw others doing or what they knew others did, citing Dante's famous verse:
and what one does , the others do
in silence and still, and they do not know why
In real terms, Montelatici threw into relief the very errors he himself had observed in the agricultural practices used in Tuscany, from the neglect in the cultivation of grapevines and olive trees, to the "havoc" carried out during pruning, an activity for which the farmer, like a good surgeon, should know the various parts of the plant he wanted to treat before cutting. It often happened that the "clueless pruner" cut the good and left the bad.
Montelatici had seen this and other things during his stay in the Arezzo area: what could be done to rectify them?
in his opinion, the schools that only taught reading, writing, and arithmetic were not enough. specific lessons in agriculture were needed for both farmers and bailiffs who were often closer to the spade and harrow than to book-learnig. But Montelatici also scolded the landowners, ignorant of agrarian practices, who, in vain pride, strutted about Florence singing
we Florentines are all farmers
masters of cultivating orchards and gardens
He asked them to have a true love, passion, and commitment for the land. These sentiments would become the cornerstone on which the Georgofili Academy, the first agriculture academy in the world, was founded, which, thanks to Montelatici, opened on 4 June 1753.
above: Ubaldo Montelatici, Ragionamento sopra i mezzi per far rifiorire l’agricoltura, Firenze, 1752, page preceding the frontispiece
Luciana Bigliazzi, Lucia Bigliazzi (email@example.com)