In celebration of the 400th anniversary of the first astronomical discoveries made by Galileo, the United Nations has dedicated 2009 as International Astronomy Year. To mark this anniversary, Florence pays tribute to its native son with an exhibition, Galileo. Images of the universe from antiquity to the telescope.
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was a hugely influential Italian astronomer, physicist and philosopher. In 1609 he heard about the invention of the telescope in Holland and from the barest description he constructed a superior version with which he made a series of profound discoveries including mountains and valleys on the surface of the moon, sunspots, the four largest moons of the planet Jupiter and the phases of the planet Venus. His work on astronomy made him famous and he was appointed court mathematician in Florence. However, in 1614 Galileo was accused of heresy for his support of the Copernican theory that the sun was at the centre of the solar system.
The exhibition proposes a journey through time and space that begins with the mystical and poetic visions of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. It then moves on to the Greek cosmogonies, characterised by the ingenious homocentric spheres of Eudoxus, through the planetary architectures of Ptolemy and Arab astronomy, revoking the Christian interpretations and finally arriving at the heliocentric theories of Copernicus that inspired Galileo and Kepler, the scholars who – together with Newton – made a decisive contribution to the definitive consolidation of the new concept of the universe.
Enhanced by multimedia creations and videos, the itinerary is illustrated by archaeological finds, beautifully-fashioned scientific instruments, celestial atlases, paintings (spectacular frescoes from Pompeii never shown before, in addition to Botticelli, Rubens and Guercino), sculptures, precious illuminated codices and extraordinary specially-built working cosmological models. Among the most spectacular exhibits are the monumental astronomical tapestry of Toledo, the Farnese Atlas, the mysterious painting Linder Gallery Interior, displayed here for the first time, and Galileo’s telescope.
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