Museo Galileo Houses Galileo Galilei's Original Telescopes and Three of His Fingers

In 1737 Galileo Galilei's fingers were detached from his right hand. Now they are on display at Museo Galileo in Florence, Italy, together with his original telescopes and the Medici-Lorraine collections of science instruments.

The city of Florence, in Italy (or Firenze in Italian) is known as the cradle of the Renaissance, the period in European history between the 14th to 17th centuries. Florence is famous for its monuments, architecture, and its gelato (ice-cream in Italian). 

What perhaps not everyone knows is that Florence is also home to the Museo Galileo which houses some of the most important instruments of science in the world

Eighty years after its foundation in May 1930, in June 2010 the Instituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza (History of Science Museum) adopted the new name of Museo Galileo. 

Museo Galileo is located very close to Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence. 

Museo Galileo counts in its collections with the extraordinary presence of the only original instruments of Galileo Galilei, who was an Italian astronomer, physicist, mathematician, philosopher, and one of the pioneers of the scientific method.

Galileo Galilei ©susanfourtane
Bust of Galileo Galilei, Museo Galileo/ ©Susan Fourtané for Interesting Engineering 

The museum highlights the major role played by the Galilean heritage both in the museum collections and in its research activity. 

Museo Galileo is divided into 18 thematic rooms currently opened to the public, each displaying an extraordinary collection of scientific instruments dating back from the 13th century onwards. 

"Long experience has taught me this about the status of mankind with regard to matters requiring thought: the less people know and understand about them, the more positively they attempt to argue concerning them, while on the other hand to know and understand a multitude of things renders men cautious in passing judgment upon anything new." -Galileo Galilei

The collections originated from the interest of the Medici family and the Great Dukes of Lorraine in natural, physical, and mathematical sciences. 

The ownership of the ancient scientific collections passed to the University of Florence and its foundation in 1925. The Medici-Lorraine collection of scientific instruments were then handed over to the Museo di Storia della Scienza.

The first floor of the museum is dedicated to the Medici. Quadrants, astrolabus, meridianas, dials, compasses, armillary spheres, bussolas which are all real works of art made by famous Tuscan and European artists are on display. 

On this floor, the museum also exhibits Galileo's original instruments, the thermometers belonging to the Accademia del Cimento, the microscopes and meteorological instruments, and of course, Galileo's very important telescopes. And a couple of his fingers. 

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The second-floor displays very interesting and beautiful instruments. Most of these belonged to the Lorraine family.

Instruments used for mechanical, electrostatic and pneumatic applications share the rooms with beautiful mechanical clocks, an hourglass, sextants, octans, pharmaceutical and chemical apparatus. weights, and measures, and an impressive section dedicated to obstetric instruments, which are impressive. 

Galileo, who was born near Pisa in 1564 and died in the south of Florence in 1642, is credited, perhaps more than any other human, for the birth of modern science. 

Museo Galileo's scientific instruments collections contain over 5,000 items with 1,000 of them on permanent exhibit. Here, we are going to explore just a few of what constitutes one of the world's most significant collections. 

The birth of the telescope: An instrument for observing and measuring astronomical phenomena

Where does the word 'telescope' come from?

The first Italian word for telescope or, more accurately, 'spyglass,' was cannocchiale. The word is a combination of cannone --a generic term for a tube used by scouts to narrow their field of view-- and occhiale (eyeglass lens). 

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The instrument was sometimes called optical tube. The first telescopes comprised two lenses at either end of the tube: The objective lens, facing the object to be observed, and the ocular (or eye lens) near the eye. 

The term 'telescopio' --from which the English 'telescope' is derived-- was coined in 1611 by Prince Federico Cesi, founder of the Academia dei Lencei. Telescopes are classified into two categories: Refracting (or dioptric) and reflecting (or catoptric). 

Galileo Galilei's telescopes 

 Although the first spyglasses were made in Holland (now The Netherlands) in the early 17th century, Galileo alone realized the astronomical potential of the instruments. 

"There are those who reason well, but they are greatly outnumbered by those who reason badly." -Galileo Galilei

Galileo perfected the telescope, improving it to a magnifying power of 20 and transforming it into a measuring device. With the help of his telescopes, Galileo managed to tabulate the orbital periods of Jupiter's satellites. 

He designed the jovilabe and was confident that the instrument, in combination with a clock featuring an innovative pendulum escapement, would enable him to solve the quest for longitude at sea. 

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Galileo's original telescopes are on display at the Museo Galileo in Florence, Italy. Here below is a photo of them. The longer one on the top dates from 1610 and the shorter one from late 1609-early 1610. Below the telescopes, there is Galileo's objective lens dating from late 1609 - early 1610 in a frame by Vittorio Crosten. 

galileo's original telescopes ©susanfourtane
Galileo Galilei's original telescopes, Museo Galileo/ Photo: ©Susan Fourtané for Interesting Engineering 
galileo's original Telescopes-museo galileo ©susanfourtane
Galileo's original telescope: late 1609-early 1610 and Galileo's original longer telescope: 1610 at Museo Galileo in Florence/ Photo: © Susan Fourtané for Interesting Engineering 

Galileo's fingers and a tooth

On March 12th, 1737 Galileo's remains were moved from his original grave to the monumental tomb in the Basilica of Santa Croce, in Florence. On this occasion, the thumb, index, middle finger (right hand), and a tooth were detached from Galileo's body.

galileo's fingers ©susanfourtane
Galileo's index finger, thumb (right hand) and a tooth, Museo Galileo/ © Susan Fourtané for Interesting Engineering 
galileo's fingers museo galileo ©susanfourtane
Galileo's middle finger (right hand) at Museo Galileo/ © Susan Fourtané for Interesting Engineering 

Galileo's middle finger, pictured above, was detached by Anton Francesco Gori, a man of letters and antiquary. The middle finger became the property of Angelo Maria Bandini, a priest and eminent scholar.

Galileo's middle finger was long exhibited at the Biblioteca Laurenziana. In 1841, it was transferred to the just-opened Tribuna di Galileo in the Museo di Fisica e Storia Naturale.

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Together with the Medici-Lorraine instruments, it was eventually moved to the Museo di Storia della Scienza in 1927, which later became the Museo Galileo.  

Planetary clock 

The clock's innovative dial allows the motions of all the planets to be seen at a glance. The hour circle bearing the signs of the Zodiac is fixed. The circles of the planets - Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Mercury - orbit in a smaller disk, which in turn rotates clockwise.

The dragon shows the position of the orbital nodes of the Moon, that is, the places where lunar and solar eclipses may occur. At the center, the first of the two superposed disks shows the position, phase, and age of the Moon.

The second disk bears the Sun hand. There is also a pair of globes - one celestial, the other terrestrial - and a sophisticated chime system. A weight-driven motor with a verge escapement and a regulator ring operates the whole wheelwork. 

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planetary clock ©susanfourtane
Planetary clock at Museo Galileo/ © Susan Fourtané for Interesting Engineering 

Armillary sphere 

This gigantic Armillary Sphere made of wood and metal was constructed between 1588 and 1593. The sphere is more than three meters in height and stands majestic in the center of one of the rooms part of the Lorraine collection.

The Armillary Sphere was constructed by Antonio Santucci di Pomarance. The work was commissioned by Ferdinando I, who was married to Christine of Lorraine. Santucci's Armillary Sphere is the largest existing in the world.  

The terrestrial globe at the center of the sphere is surrounded by seven planetary spheres and a sphere of the fixed stars bearing the zodiac band. These eight spheres are mobile. Another sphere, the ninth, which is known as the Primum mobile, is fixed and bears the polar caps and the meridians made of metal wire. 

museo galileo ©susanfourtane
Armillary Sphere: Antonio Santucci, Florence, 1588-1593, Museo Galileo/ © Susan Fourtané for Interesting Ingineering 

Chemistry cabinet 

The maker of this extraordinary piece of furniture has remained unknown. This chemistry cabinet is made of wood and slate. It dates from the 18th century.

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It belonged to Peter Leopold of Lorraine, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who lived between 1747 and 1792. The Grand Duke promoted science and had a special interest in natural and experimental sciences, which made great progress in the second half of the 18th century. He also possessed a passion for analytical chemistry and a large collection of chemical preparations

When the chemistry cabinet is shut, it resembles a large trunk. When opened, it reveals a slate work table where the Duke performed experiments.

Around the table, there are small drawers and shelves for storing instruments and chemicals. On both sides of the cabinet, there are stands for vessels for a candlestick. The lower part serves as a cupboard.

Some bottles with chemical compounds prepared for Peter Leopold have been preserved and remain in the cabinet.

museo galileo chemistry desk ©susanfourtane
Peter Leopold of Lorraine's personal chemistry cabinet, Museo Galileo/© Susan Fourtané for Interesting Engineering 

Surgical instruments for operations on the skull 

These surgical instruments for operations on the skull were used in Austria, Vienna in the second half of the 18th century.

instruments for operating the skull ©susanfourtane
Instruments for operating the skull, exhibit at Museo Galileo/ © Susan Fourtané for Interesting Engineering 

Surgical instruments for obstetrical and gynecological procedures 

These surgical instruments for obstetrical and gynecological procedures were used in Austria, Vienna in the second half of the 18th century. 

museo galileo ©susanfourtane
Obstetrical and gynecological instruments at Museo Galileo/© Susan Fourtané for Interesting Engineering 

Obstetrical terracotta model

Terracotta models show a fetus can be presented at the time of birth. Another displayed shows possible malformities and complications. The models also show how to use the obstetrical instruments.  

fetes presentation at Museo Galileo ©SusanFourtane
Fetus presentation study/Museo Galileo/ © Susan Fourtané for Interesting Engineering 

Astronomy and time: Sand hourglass 

The beautiful hourglass pictured below dates from the 17th century. It was made of ebony, boxwood, and glass. This ancient timepiece consists of two vessels connected by a tiny opening. 

The passage of time was measured by the quantity of sand or powder that had flowed into the lower vessel, or by the decrease in the level of the substance present in the upper vessel. 

Other models were called water clocks or clepsydra. The time, in this case, was measured by the quantity of water that had flown into the lower vessel.

hourglass museo galileo ©susanfourtane
17th century hourglass, Museo Galileo/ © Susan Fourtané for Interesting Engineering 

Ancient mechanical clocks

Some very interesting ancient turret clocks with verge or anchor escapements and pendulum are displayed at the Museo Galileo. They are magnificent pieces that make you travel in time.  

This Turret clock made by Bartolomeo Ferracina (1692 - 1777) dates from the 18th century. 

ancient clock Museo Galileo ©susanfourtane
 Turret clock, Museo Galileo/ Photo: © Susan Fourtané for Interesting Engineering 

Mechanical clocks are timepieces that included a motor (a weight or spring), a transmission device (wheelwork), a supplying device (escapement), and a regulator device (pendulum or balance wheel).

The escapement is the device that releases part of the motive force at regular intervals, allowing the periodic motion of the regulator to continue. 

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