Massimiliano Spinola was born in Pezenas (Herault, France near Toulouse) on the 10th of July 1780, son of Agostino Spinola and the French marquise Henrietta Carrion de Nisas.
Little is known about Massimiliano’s early years, but we know that the family is forced to return to Italy from Paris during the French Revolution of 1789.The moment he returned to Italy, Massimiliano divided his time between the various family residences in particular the Castle of Tassarolo (Piedmont) and the Palazzo Doria-Spinola in Largo Lanfranco, in Genoa . Massimiliano Spinola was a man of great ingenuity and very interested in many different areas of culture.
In 1801 he married Clelia of Marchesi Durazzo, a family known in the context of naturalistic collections. As was appropriate to his aristocratic status, Massimiliano Spinola was very politically involved and held several important positions, including Vice-President of the provisional Board of Genoa. His political commitment temporarily caused him to be imprisoned in the fortress of Alexandria in 1833, wrongly accused during the severe repression of the malliniani movement by the Government of Turin, and then confined for a long time, under house arrest, in his Castle of Tassarolo. According to an exceptional document that describes an evening in the company of Maximilian Spinola in 1841, written by Jean Gaberel, Swiss theologian and pastor of the Protestant Church of Genoa, the period that Spinola spends in Tassarolo allows the entomologist to write his most important work. He was appointed Senator of the Kingdom of Sardinia by the Balbo Pareto Ministry.
His physical conditions deteriorated considerably and in 1853 he became practically blind due to a bilateral cataract. He finally retired to Tassarolo, and died there on November 12, 1857, crushed by a stroke. Five days after his death, the Gazzetta di Genova published an obituary in which it was stated that ‘science loses in the Marquis Spinola, one of its most praiseworthy and learned enthusiasts, Genoa one of its jewels, and the patriciate one of the few that honoured it with genius, studies and nobility of character that reconciled the esteem and love of all.
The importance of Massimiliano Spinola’s contribution to entomology is widely recognized by his contemporaries and luminaries in the natural sciences: Giuseppe De Notaris, Professor of Botanica and Director of the Botanical Garden at the University of Genoa, says that Spinola was ‘an eminent scientist, renown for applauded, splendid and classic entomological publications, and who did not adopt a haughty manner towards his city, neither stone nor parole’. Achille Neri similarly comments on the lack of memorials or tombstones in memory of Spinola. He wrote in his ‘Patrizi Genoese’ that ‘in vain one would seek, as a public attestation of honour, a road dedicated to him, especially among those recently opened near the Museum, where it should be natural to find one’. A room at the museum was finally dedicated to Spinola by the famous Genoese entomologist and director of the Raffaele Gestro Museum, who considers Spinola as the ‘Father of Entomology in Italy’. He wrote: ‘I remember with emotion that in the early years of my entomological career, my favourite book was the Insectorum Liguriae that I would consult with the other works in Giacomo Dori’s private library every day.
Massimiliano Spinola played a key role in identifying hundreds of species, many of which have been collected by other entomologists represented in his library, in his entomological collection, in his personal correspondence archive, and of course in his published works. He is perhaps best known for having identified a species in particular: The Apis mellifica ligusticas or Italian bee. When it was described by Spinola in 1806, the Ligurian Apis mellifica was a habitual tenant of the hives in Tassarolo and was commonly found in the countryside. At the time, the distribution of the Ligurian bee was largely confined to northern Italy, but from the moment of its identification, the bee was also diffused in Europe and then in the non-European countries becoming one of the honey producers preferred by bee-keepers. For example, the Ligurian bee was introduced in the UK by Thomas Woodbury – ‘the Devonshire Bee Keeper’ and one of Charles Darwin’s correspondents – in the 1850s. Bees were bought by a Swiss bee-keeper and with the support of Alfred Neighbour & sons in London, the Ligurian bees were chosen by many British bee-keepers who preferred them to the autochthonous ‘Black Bee’ because they were less aggressive and more productive. The introduction of the ‘Italian bee’ in the English hives was promoted by the Crystal Palace Universal Exposition of 1862, and since then the species began to spread throughout the world through the Commonwealth.
In the photo ”Apis mellifera ligustica spinola“, courtesy OF FAI Federation of Italian bee keepers http://www.federapi.bio/
The details of the life of Massimiliano Spinola are freely drawn from the texts that Dr Robert Hearn, Laboratory of archaeology and environmental History, University of Genoa & School of Geography, University of Nottingham, presented during the Congress “Happy Birthday Apis Ligustica!”. The story of Massimiliano Spinola, Father of Italian bees” organized by FAI Federation of Italian bee-keepers.