University of Padua, Padua, Italy
In 1875 Francesco Bassani graduated from the University of Padua majoring in geology and mineralogy.
Francesco studied geology at Padua with Giuseppe Meneghini and, especially, Giovanni Omboni, who introduced him to fossil fishes. After assisting Omboni for two years, he continued his studies at Paris in 1877, and in Vienna in 1878 with E. Suess and M. Neumayr. He also studied in Munich with Zittel.
From 1879 to 1887 Bassani taught natural history, geology, and mineralogy in secondary schools in Padua, Modena, and Milan, and actively investigated and published on fossil fishes of northern Italy and adjacent regions. In 1887 he was called to the chair of geology at Naples, which he occupied until his death.
As director of the Geological Institute in Naples, he brought about extensive improvements in laboratory facilities and collections.
Bassani was primarily a student of fossil fishes. He also investigated other geological problems, particularly those of the stratigraphic relations and geologic age of various formations in southern Italy, volcanic phenomena at Vesuvius and Solfatara, the contemporaneity of man and extinct animals on Capri, and marine mammals. Many of his short papers pointed out solutions to problems that led to rapid advances in regional geology. While still a student, he collaborated in translating Charles Darwin’s Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals into Italian. In 1885 he published a textbook of zoology for secondary schools.
Bassani’s earliest studies were of the Eocene fishes of Bolca (Verona), and he wrote a total of eight papers describing and interpreting these famous fossils; a monographic review commenced shortly before his death was completed by his student D’Erasmo in 1922. The slightly later deposit at Chiavdn (Vicenza) was written up in 1889. His studies of the Cretaceous fishes of Comen (Istria) in 1880 and the island of Lesina (Hvar) in 1882 are more important for the extensive comparisons between numerous Cretaceous faunas of the Mediterranean basin than for their systematic or descriptive portions. In 1886 he described a collection of fishes and reptiles from the Triassic bituminous shales of Besano, near the southern tip of Lake Lugano.
Soon after his appointment at Naples, Bassani investigated the fishes from limestones of the Sorrento Peninsula; these proved to belong to the alpine Triassic fauna, and he was able to show that the main dolomitic limestones of southern Italy, which up to that time had been regarded as Jurassic or Cretaceous, were actually Triassic. About the same time he wrote a monograph on the Miocene fishes of Sardinia; in 1899, on the Eocene fishes of Gassino, in Piedmont; in 1905, those of the Pleistocene marls of Taranto and Nardo; and in 1915, on the fishes of the Miocene of Lecce. At least nine of Bassani’s papers are devoted exclusively to fossil sharks, and studies of this group of fishes form prominent parts of other reports. He became expert at discriminating shark teeth and eventually concluded that all Pliocene sharks belonged to existing species.
Bassani was a member of the Accademia dei Lincei, the National Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Sciences of Turin, the Pontaniana Academy, the Academy of Sciences, Literature and Arts of Padua, the Gioenia Academy of Catania, the Accademia degli Zelanti of Acireale.
Bassani was an outstanding teacher, combining the zest and talent for research with the gift of communicating his discoveries and aspirations clearly and understandably to others.
Bassani was a handsome man with the high forehead and the expressive, inquiring, sometimes proud, often sparkling, subjugated gaze. A beautiful beard adorned his face, which made his appearance even more serious and venerable. He was a tall person, dressing simple but elegant, which also contributed to his unforgettable appearance.
In his last years, Bassani was afflicted with diabetes, in spite of which he continued his research with the aid of assistants.
Bassani married Everdina Dowkes Dekker, a native of the Netherlands, whose drawings of fossils illustrate his monographs; they had two sons.