Cosimo Alessandro Collini

An important man at the prince-elector's courtCosimo Alessandro Collini

Cosimo Alessandro Collini (1727–1806) was one of the most vivid characters at the court of the Electoral Palatinate. Following a convoluted path, the former drop-out and confidant of Voltaire became the confidential secretary of the prince-elector, a highly regarded scientist, and the "court historian" of Mannheim.

François Marie Arouet, aka Voltaire, portrait by Nicolas de Largillière

Voltaire helped Collini get his job.

A high flier?

Collini came from an old Florentine noble family. In 1749, he left his study of the law and his connections to his home city and traveled to Prussia. In Berlin, the destitute Collini met Voltaire. As his personal secretary, he accompanied him to Mannheim and Schwetzingen in 1753. With the help of the famous philosopher, he finally received a place as a confidential secretary to the prince-elector at the court of Prince-Elector Carl Theodor in 1760.

Which important offices did Collini hold?

Due to his research into the history of the Electoral Palatinate, Collini was distinguished with the title of court historian, tasked with writing down history, by Carl Theodor. In 1763, he was among the founding members of the "Academia Theodoro Palatina," the Electoral Palatinate Academy of the Sciences, which the prince-elector coined following the Parisian model. He was named the director of the Natural History Cabinet in Mannheim Palace a short time later. Collini then stood in the limelight of the sciences.

Stich von Egid Verhelst in Collinis Beschreibung 1784, Pterodactylus antiquus

Engraving of a Pterodactylus antiquus from 1784.

What did Collini advocate for?

Collini was fascinated by the "cabinet of natural curiosities," a result of many years of the prince-electors' passion for collecting. He was the first to catalog the innumerable shells, fossils, minerals, ostrich eggs, and walrus tusks. Collini led the Natural History Cabinet beginning in 1764 and expanded it with presentations of insects, rare plants, and ethnological collection pieces. He was particularly fond of agates and basalt, whose find spots he himself viewed on many travels.

Mannheim Baroque Palace, table display case in the Natural History Cabinet

Table display case from the prince-elector's cabinet.

What happened to "his" Natural History Cabinet?

In the time of the Revolutionary Wars beginning in 1792 and particularly after the death of Carl Theodor in 1799, the decline of the Natural History Cabinet was almost impossible to prevent. In 1803, Collini had to dissolve it entirely. He sent a large part of the collection to Munich, but some pieces went to the collection in Baden and are now part of the Natural History Museum in Karlsruhe. Collini could not get over the destruction of "his" Natural History Cabinet. In 1806, he died in his chosen home of Mannheim.

Learn more


Science & technology

Please select a maximum of 5 keywords.