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Myth > Galileo by Images > The Painted Biography

The painted biography

In the Italian pantheon, Galileo was undoubtedly the supreme figure among scientists throughout the 19th century and for much of the 20th. The Pisan scientist, incarnating the myth of the universal genius endowed with superior intellectual and moral qualities, became the finest emblem for artists and intellectuals to convey the pedagogic aspirations of a large part of Italian culture.

Within this context, a vast production emerged, aimed at describing salient moments in the life of Galileo: his scientific experiments, his teaching, his relations with his pupils and above all his persecution. His stanch defence of the heliocentric position, and even more, his challenging the principle of authority and tradition for the sake of science subjected him to the humiliation of a condemnation for heresy brought about by the conjoined forces of ecclesiastics and outraged Aristotelians. This is the prevailing tone of the ardent nineteenth-century defence of Galileo, which transformed him into the champion of the "new science" that was claiming the rightful prerogative of freedom of research and independence stifled by ecclesiastical censure.

Emblematic is the case of the trial's most famous episode. Over the course of the 19th century this episode was depicted in numerous figurative works, conveying the diverse cultural, but above all political, aspirations of a society organized in rigid hierarchical circles, marked by different intellectual currents. Ethical, civic and educational contents, reflecting a broad array of interpretive parameters, were projected onto the scene of the abjuration. On the one hand they exemplified Galileo's intellectual and spiritual supremacy, as the emblematic champion of civic virtues as well, while on the other they served to convey anti-clerical feelings and Risorgimento ideologies.

G. Tronfi, Galileo Galilei in the cathedral of Pisa observing the lamp

G. Tronfi, Galileo Galilei in the cathedral of Pisa observing the lamp
1870 ca., Oil on canvas, cm 72 x 114, Inscription: at the bottom right: “G. Tronfi”, Pisa, Opera della Primaziale Pisana

Luigi Catani, In the presence of the Grand Duke, Galileo Galilei performs the experiment of falling bodies from the Tower of Pisa

Luigi Catani, In the presence of the Grand Duke, Galileo Galilei performs the experiment of falling bodies from the Tower of Pisa
1816, Fresco, Florence, Palazzo Pitti, Borbonico Quarter or the New Palatine, room 15

Giuseppe Bezzuoli, Galileo Galilei shows the experience of falling bodies to Don Giovanni de' Medici

Giuseppe Bezzuoli, Galileo Galilei shows the experience of falling bodies to Don Giovanni de 'Medici
1839, Fresco, Museum of Natural History of Florence - Zoology Section "The Observatory" - Tribune of Galileo

Giuseppe Bezzuoli, The experience of falling bodies on the inclined plane

Giuseppe Bezzuoli, The experience of falling bodies on the inclined plane
1839 ca., Oil on canvas, cm 113 x 265, Pisa, Presidency of the Department of Engineering

Antonio Caimi, Galileo shows the effects of the telescope to the Lord of Venice

Antonio Caimi, Galileo shows the effects of the telescope to the Signoria of Venice
1846, Oil on canvas, cm 85 x 67, Pisa, University Library

Giuseppe Bertini, Galileo Galilei presents the telescope to the Duke Leonardo Donati

Giuseppe Bertini, Galileo Galilei presents the telescope to the Doge Leonardo Donati
1858, Fresco, cm 491 x 238, Biumo di Varese, Villa Ponti, Hall of Honor

Carlo Raimondi, Galileo in front of Fra Paolo Sarpi

Carlo Raimondi, Galileo in front of Fra Paolo Sarpi
1838, Etching, mm 219 x 140 (foglio), mm 134 x 88 (immagine), from Fiori d'Arti e di Lettere Italiane per l'anno 1839, Milan, near Santo Bavetta, [1838], before p. 59 (BNCF, marked: )

Antonio Viviani, Galileo shows Cosimo II his most important discovery of the moons of Jupiter, called Medici stars

Antonio Viviani, Galileo shows Cosimo II his most important discovery of Jupiter's moons named Medicean stars
1842, Burin on steel, mm 249 x 160, By: [F. Scifoni], Dizionario Biografico Universale..., Florence, David Passigli Tipografo editore, Vol. II, 1842, between pp. 938-939. (IMSS Med 1583)

Cesare Augusto Detti, Galileo Galilei at Court

Cesare Augusto Detti, Galileo Galilei at Court
1878, Oil on canvas, cm 47,5 x 71,1, Antiquarian Market

Antonio Marini, Galileo Galilei and the Grand Duke Cosimo II on the chariot

Antonio Marini, Galileo Galilei and the Grand Duke Cosimo II on the chariot
1817-1818, Oil on panel, Florence, Palazzo Pitti, Carriage Museum

Cristiano Banti, Galileo Galilei in front of the Inquisition

Cristiano Banti, Galileo Galilei in front of the Inquisition
1857, Etching of Luigi Paradisi from a painting of Cristiano Banti, Collezione Federico Tognoni, Pisa

Annibale Gatti, Galileo Galilei and John Milton

Annibale Gatti, Galileo Galilei and John Milton
Post 1874, Oil on canvas, cm 56 x 46, Florence, Institute and Museum of the History of Science, Inv. 3682

Tito Lessi, Galileo Galilei already blind speaks with Vincenzo Viviani in the villa at Arcetri

Tito Lessi, Galileo Galilei already blind speaks with Vincenzo Viviani in the villa at Arcetri
1892, Oil on panel, cm 31 x 31, Florence, Institute and Museum of the History of Science

Giovanni Lodi, The death of Galileo Galilei

Giovanni Lodi, Death of Galileo Galilei
1856, Oil on canvas, cm 112 x 139, Accademia Atestina, Modena

Adolfo de Carolis, The Galilean Triptych: New Light

Adolfo de Carolis, The Galilean Triptych: The new light
1917-1922, Fresco, Pisa, Palazzo della Sapienza, New Main Hall

Adolfo de Carolis, The Galilean Triptych: the Glory

Adolfo de Carolis, The Galilean Triptych: The glory
1917-1922, Fresco, Pisa, Palazzo della Sapienza, New Main Hall