Count Francesco Algarotti (11 December 1712 – 3 May 1764) was a Venetian polymath, philosopher, poet, essayist,anglophile, art critic and art collector. He was “one of the first Esprits cavaliers of the age,” a man of broad knowledge, an expert in Newtonianism, architecture and music and a friend of most of the leading authors of his times:Voltaire, Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d’Argens, Pierre-Louis de Maupertuis and the atheist Julien Offray de La Mettrie. Lord Chesterfield, Thomas Gray, George Lyttelton, Thomas Hollis, Metastasio, Benedict XIV and Heinrich von Brühl were among his correspondents.
Algarotti was born in Venice as the son of a rich merchant. His father and uncle were art collectors. Unlike his older brother Bonomo he did not step into the company, but decided to become an author.
Francesco studied natural sciences and mathematics in Bologna under Francesco Maria Zanotti and in 1728 he experimented with optics. (Zanotti became a lifelong friend.) First he travelled in the North of Italy, but moved to Florence, and Rome. At the age of twenty, he went to Cirey and Paris, where he became friendly with Voltaire and Émilie du Châtelet.
Two years later he was in London, where he was made a fellow of the Royal Society. He became embroiled in a lively bisexual love-triangle with the politician John Hervey, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Algarotti left for Italy and finished his Neutonianismo per le dame (“Newtonism for Ladies”), a work on optics (1737), dedicated to Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle.
In the meantime Algarotti had made acquaintance with Antiochus Kantemir, a Moldavian diplomat, poet and composer.
He was invited to visit Russia for the wedding of Duke Anthony Ulrich of Brunswick.
In 1739 he left with Lord Baltimore from Sheerness to Newcastle upon Tyne. Because of a heavy storm the ship sheltered in Harlingen.
Algarotti was discovering “this new city”.
Returning from Saint Petersburg, they visited Frederick the Great in Rheinsberg. Algarotti had obligations in England and came back the year after. Then Algarotti went together with Frederick to Königsberg where he was crowned.
Frederik, who was impressed with this walking encyclopedia made him and his brother Bonomo Prussian counts in 1740. Algarotti accompanied Frederick to Bayreuth, Kehl, Strasbourg and Moyland Castle where they met with Voltaire, who was taking baths in Kleve for his health. In 1741 Algarotti went to Turin as his diplomat.
Frederick had offered him a salary, but Algarotti refused. First he went to Dresden and Venice, where he bought 21 paintings, a few by Jean-Étienne Liotard and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo for the court of Augustus III of Poland. Algarotti did not succeed to have the Kingdom of Sardinia attack Austria in the back.