Everybody has heard about Galileo Galilei. Many know that he was an astronomer. But almost no one knows that he also played the lute. Or that he was also an entrepreneur. I certainly did not. And it was a pleasure to discover these and other aspects of his life at the Galileo exhibit entitled Rivoluzione Galileo, L’Arte incontra la Scienza (Galileo Revolution, Art meets Science) at the Monte di Pietà Palace in Padua. Other than this, the exhibition aims to investigate the influence of his discoveries on art history and on people’s perception of the universe.
Who was Galileo?
Galileo Galilei was astronomer, mathematician, physicist, engineer and philosopher. Between 1592 and 1610 he was professor at the University of Padua.
He always remembered those 18 years as the happiest of his life. Padua was, at that time, a modern, cosmopolitan city, with unique and cutting-edge features, like the anatomic theatre and the botanical garden and a University attended by students coming from all over the world. And it was precisely the University to grant him the freedom he needed to study and research. And not without reason, if you consider Padua University motto:
“Universa Universis Patavina Libertas” “Whole and For All Paduan Freedom”
During the Padua period, Galileo made important discoveries: he improved the spyglass, he observed the Moon, the Milky Way and discovered the four major satellites of Jupiter.
In 1633, he was tried and condemned for heresy by the Catholic Church, because of his support for Copernican theory (heliocentric) in opposition to the geocentric. Galileo was forced to abjure his theories.
The Galileo exhibit portrays the complex figure of Galilei, in order to learn more about him. For the first time we get to know the man behind the astronomer. His literary passions, his inclination for music (his father was a musician), but also his entrepreneur skills (I prefer noyt to spoil) and even his passion for the Euganean Hills wine (he had a vineyard at home).
The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.
At the exhibit I had the chance to see his watercolors. Utterly interesting was to see how the watercolors he made overlapping perfectly with recent NASA photos of the Moon.
The brilliancy of Galileo is remarkable, especially considering his background. At that time people still believed the Earth was at the center of the universe. Painters used to represent mythological figures to justify some phenomenons. For example, in the painting by Rubens, we can see how they believed that the Milky Way was created by the spurting milk of goddess Hera, who refused to breastfeed Hercules and pushed him away.
Room after room, we discover not only Galileo’s personality, findings and theories, but also a lot of artworks, displaying a connection with astronomy.
In 1610 Galileo published his studies. At the exhibit we can see their effect on art. For example in the Flight into Egypt by Adam Elsheimer, first representation of the Milky Way. Or in the painting by Guercino, who portrayed the spyglass for the first time. That painting was a wedding gift for an astronomy aficionado. Art did not represent astrology any more. But rather astronomy.
At the exhibit we attend to a 7 centuries long voyage into art history and science through about 150 pieces: astronomical instruments and tools together with artworks by Durer, Bruegel, Rubens. And of course there is also space (wink wink) for contemporary pieces.
Contemporary and ancient works live together in perfect harmony in my opinion. We visitors are middle way between the old and the new, the past and the future. Until we become ourselves a subject of observation as in the work by Trevor Paglen (people in their houses observed by a satellite).
Year by year, painting by painting, we can understand the impact of Galileo’s discoveries in the art world and in the human minds. Its opus allowed people to discover a more scientific point of view on things and life, opening the way to the first sparks of Illuminism. As Stephen Hawking said:
Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science.
My favourite pieces of Galileo exhibit
Anish Kapoor sculpture. Entitled Laboratory for a New Model of the Universe, it is a shape similar to a spaceship (or something) trapped inside a transparent structure. This extraordinary artwork opens the exhibit.
Galileo’s watercolors and the illustrations of Verne and Ariosto’s books.
Jan Brueghel the Younger paintings with the allegories of the elements. I have a thing for Flemish painters. I’m always impressed by their accuracy.
Donato Creti panel with 8 different Astronomical Observations. It was commissioned by a professor of Bologna, who intended to donate it to the pope and ask him in return to finance the building of an astronomical observatory for his university.
The Dance of The Hours by Gaetano Previati. Astonishingly beautiful, it seems like made of light.
This exhibit has been for me a real voyage through art and science. Really compelling, like a brilliant dance of images, memories, movie clips, illustrations for kids. Galileo truly started a new era, in which we are still living.
The homage to Galileo does not end with the exhibit. There will also be conference, concerts, guided tours. You can see the events program on the official site (se the info box below). And also a special performance I attended on the very day of my visit.
Info about Galileo exhibit
Rivoluzione Galileo. L’arte incontra la scienza
Padova, Palazzo del Monte di Pietà, Piazza Duomo 14
Until March 18, 2018
Monday – Friday 9 am – 7 pm
Saturday and holidays 9 am – 8 pm
Closed on December 25
December 31 9 am – 4 pm
January 1 11 am – 8 pm
Audio Guide included