- This article should be merged with Linceans.
The Academy was founded by Federico Cesi (1586-1630), an aristocrat from Umbria who was passionately interested in natural history, above all in botany, and three of his friends, the Dutch Jan Heckius (italianized to Giovanni Ecchio), and two fellow Umbrians, Francesco Stelluti and Anastasio de Filiis. Cesi and his friends took on the goal of understanding all of the natural sciences, an emphasis that set the Lincei apart from the host of 16th and 17th century Italian Academies, most of which were literary anf antiquarian. They chose the name lynx because of the traditional belief that those cats have unusually sharp vision.
Galileo was admitted to the group in 1611, and became its intellectual center. Among the academy's early publications in the fields of astronomy, physics and botany were the study of sunspots and the famous Saggiatore of Galileo, and the Tesoro Messicano (Mexican Treasury) describing the flora, fauna, and drugs of the New World, which took decades of labor, down to 1651. With this publication, the first, most famous phase of the Lincei was concluded. Cesi's own intense activity was cut short by his sudden death in 1630, scarcely 45 years of age.
After the unification of Italy, the Piedmontese Quintiono Sella infused new life into the Nuovo Lincei, reaffirming its ideals of secular science, but broadening its scope to include humanistic studies: history, philology, archeology, philosophy, economics and law, in two classes of Soci (Fellows). The modern Lincei have consituted a pantheon of European intellectuals: from Righi and Pacinotti to Fermi, from Pasteur to Rontgen and Einstein, from Mommsen to Wilamowitz, Comparetti, Croce, and Gentile.