Mantovani was born in Parma. His father, Timoteo, died seven months after his birth. His mother, Luigia Ferrari, directed him to studies, and at the age of 11 he was accepted as a boarder in the Royal School of Music, where he was conferred with the Honorary Degree in August 1872. He always preferred the exact sciences and literature to music.
In 1889 and 1909 Mantovani published a hypothesis of an expanding earth and continental drift. He assumed that a closed continent covered the entire surface of a smaller earth. Through volcanic activity because of thermal expansion this continent broke, so that the new continents were drifting away from each other because of further expansion of the rip-zones, where now the oceans lie. Alfred Wegener saw similarities to his own theory, but did not support Mantovani's earth-expansion hypothesis. He wrote:
|“||In a short article in 1909 Mantovani expressed some ideas on continental displacement and explained them by means of maps which differ in part from mine but at some points agree astonishingly closely: for example, in regard to the earlier grouping of the southern continents around southern Africa.||”|
He died in Paris.
- Mantovani, R. (1889), "Les fractures de l'écorce terrestre et la théorie de Laplace", Bull. Soc. Sc. Et Arts Réunion: 41–53
- Mantovani, R. (1909), "L'Antarctide", Je M'instruis. La Science Pour Tous, 38: 595–597
- Wegener, A. (1966) , The Origin of Continents and Oceans, Courier Dover Publications, ISBN 978-0-486-61708-4
- Scalera, G. (2003), "Roberto Mantovani an Italian defender of the continental drift and planetary expansion", in Scalera, G.; Jacob, K.-H. (eds.), Why expanding Earth? – A book in honour of O.C. Hilgenberg, Rome: Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, pp. 71–74, hdl:2122/2017
- Biography of Mantovani [in Italian]: http://www.brera.unimi.it/SISFA/atti/1996/scalera.html