Monday, February 6, 2023

Museo Galileo

 Annamaria on Monday

Science has fascinated me since my high school chemistry course, when - in lab one day - I followed the teacher's instructions, mixed some chemicals, cooked them on a bunsen burner, and made the most beautiful purple crystals.  It felt like magic.

Yesterday, I indulged my life-long fascination with science, and my creative focus on history, and took myself on a tour of Florence's wonderful museum dedicated to the history of science. It preserves and makes accessible five centuries worth of the tools and writings of seekers of truth.

It's library is available to researchers

Can you guess what this is?

It's a clock.  One that was erected in a tower and chimed to announce the passage of time.

The museum displays lots of clocks, but here is a gorgeous gizmo that does that and much more!

Some astrolabes would fit on your desk...

Others fill up a good-size room!

Here is a map of the world drawn by Fra Mauro of Murano (Venice) between 1457 and 1459.  He evidently thought the world was round, but not global. 

I took the photo with this very large man in
it, so you would see the size of the image.

Here are some details to show the beauty of Fra Mauro's image:


The museum possessions that I was most excited to see were Galileo's telescopes.  I had seen one of them before in a special exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi.  And I knew the story of Maria Luisa Reghini Bonelli, who in 1966 was the director of the Institute of the History of Science.  At that point, most of the collection was stored on the ground floor and in the basement. Dangerous places considering what was on its way. 

As the horrid flood waters rose, Maria Luisa Bonelli rescued those instruments through which the great astronomer gazed at the moons of Jupiter and worked out his brilliant, break-through discovery!

Top: telescope by Galileo 1609- early 1610
Bottom: telescope by Galileo circa 1610

The last thing that interested me was something quite strange - the middle finger of Galileo's right hand. 

Here is what the information card said about it.

I could not get a clear picture of it. Given the bright sunshine pouring in through the windows, here is the best picture I could take of the relic. 

I found this excellent photo on the museums's website.  The photographer's name M. Rohan.  I credit him, a Florentine guide.

There was no information about why this part was separated from the rest of Galileo’s body. Or what displaying it is supposed to mean.

Italians have a different hand signal for angry dismissal.   Not the one we New Yorkers call the NY salute.  But I could not help seeing Galileo’s body part through my eyes.   Given the treatment Galileo received when he published his findings, I find that raised middle finger an appropriate signal to anti-science bigots who want to punish those who study and reveal the truth.  


  1. Replies
    1. As I keep telling you, Michael, you must come and see for yourself. AA

  2. When you started out with the purple crystals, I thought we were headed for a "Breaking Bad" Confessional moment. :) Instead it was on to the fascinating link between astronomy and clock making. What still fascinates me, is how those huge time telling machines were reduced in pre-battery times to wristwatch size time pieces offering just as many complications!

    1. One of the things I love about the place is that it shows what genius it took to get humans on the path to knowings and how amazing has been the progress ever since. Thank you for pointing this out!!!

  3. Fascinating! I read they removed body parts (the fingers he'd have written with) as though he was a saint--which would have been a nice twist after they wanted to excommunicate him!

    1. Thank you, for adding this info, Ovidia. It felt like that—that’s why I used the word “relic” to describe the display. And they didn’t just try to excommunicate him, they did, and for a while, they even put him in jail. That’s why I need that crack about the raised, middle finger!

  4. This is a fantastically unique museum! Thanks for sharing and bringing back memories of Florence.

    1. It’s all still here, Jim. I am glad to provide you with a vicarious return.