1990 "Galileo the Emblem Maker"
The History of Science Society
Galileo the Emblem Maker
Author(s): Mario Biagioli
Source: Isis, Vol. 81, No. 2 (Jun., 1990), pp. 230-258
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/233685
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By Mario Biagioli*
THE SUMMER OF 1609 Galileo, then a professor of mathematicsat the
University of Padua, succeeded in constructinga telescope that was remarkably better than those previously built in northernEurope. With this new instrument he made a numberof astronomicaldiscoveries that contradictedthe dominant Aristoteliancosmology and supportedthe claims of the Copernicans.In the
springof 1610he presentedhis exceptionaldiscoveries in the Sidereus nuncius, a
short but revolutionarytext dedicated to the grandduke of Tuscany, Cosimo II
de' Medici. He announced that the surface of the moon was far from being
smooth, as the philosophershad claimed, and that the numberof stars was much
greaterthan had been previouslybelieved. He also made the explosive claim that
there were four more planets-which he called Medicean stars-than the dominant cosmology recognized, and that these circled Jupiter, not Earth. The
Sidereus nuncius broughtGalileo internationalvisibility and opened for him the
doors of Medici patronage.By September1610Galileo was back in Florence; he
was now philosopherand mathematicianof the grandduke, with no teachingload
and with the remarkablestipend of 1,000 scudi a year.
The awardof a 1,000-scudistipendwas exceptionalby comparisonto the salaries of other importantartists and officials of the Medici court. Although it is
difficultto produce absolute comparisonsof courtiers'incomes, Galileo's stipend
appears to have been at least three times that of any artist or engineer and one
and a half times that of a primo segretario like Belisario Vinta or Curzio Picchena. Galileo's stipend was comparableto that of the maggiordomomaggiore
-the highest court official. Even the sculptor Giambologna-the most famous
among the Medici artists at the beginningof the century, and one who was repeatedly courted by two emperors-made less than half what Galileo would receive a few years laters.I As far as I can tell, Galileo's salarywas among the ten
highest in the grandduchy of Tuscany at that time.2
Having been socialized in a culture that takes for grantedthe scientific imporIN
* Departmentof History, Universityof California,Los Angeles, California90024.
This essay was made possible because MarcelloFantoniintroducedme to the Apartmentsof the
Elements and of Leo X. Importantcommentscame from PierreBourdieu,Roger Hahn, Keith Hutchison, Nancy Salzer, Randy Starn, RichardWestfall,RobertWestman,and Norton Wise. I would
like to thankJacquesRevel and Randy Stain for an insightfulintroductionto court culture. Special
thanksgo to John Heilbronfor all his support,suggestions,and criticism.
I RichardWestfall, "ScientificPatronage:Galileo and the Telescope," Isis, 1985, 76:18-22; and
Westfall, "Galileo and the Accademiadei Lincei," in Novitd celesti e crisi del sapere, ed. Paolo
2 It is difficult to compare incomes because certain courtiers had bonuses-e.g., meals, wood,
candles, and horses-on top of their salaries; see Archivio di Stato di Firenze (ASF), Depositeria
Generale389, pp. 5, 11. Giambologna(Jean de Boulogne) made 300 scudi per year in 1602 (ASF,
MiscellaneaMedicea474, fol. 3) and in 1606(ASF, GuardarobaMediceo279, fol. 13). He appearsas
the highest-paidartistin both ruoli:see HughTrevor-Roper,Princesand Artists (London:Thames&
Hudson, 1976),pp. 109-112, 130.
ISIS, 1990,81: 230-258
tance of Galileo's astronomicaldiscoveries of 1609-1610,we may think it natural
that the Medici rewardedhim so lavishly. But Galileo did not become philosopher and mathematicianto the grand duke because of his contributionsto the
acceptance of the Copernicanhypothesis. The Medici court was not the Nobel
Prize headquartersavant la lettre, and Cosimo II was no Copernican.Richard
Westfall has argued, quite correctly, that the Medici rewardedGalileo's discoveries not because of their technologicalusefulness or scientific importance, but
because they prized them as spectacles, as exotic marvels.3And the Medici must
have perceived the satellites of Jupiter as truly exceptional marvels, because
Galileo's efforts to move to the Medici court, repeatedlyfrustratedbefore 1610,
were quickly and-as we have seen-generously welcomed after their discovery.
The explanationfor this exceptional rewardlies in the fit between Galileo's representationof his discoveries and nonscientificdiscourse of the Medici court.
Although most courtiers were incompetent in astronomy and mathematics,
Galileo considered the court an importantaudience for his work: after 1604 he
tried repeatedlyto leave the universityand move there. And it was more than the
good salary and freedom from teaching that attractedhim. By moving to court,
he also hoped to circumventthe disciplinaryhierarchycharacteristicof the university, a hierarchyin which mathematicianswere subordinatedto philosophers
in terms of both professional status and salary.4Philosophy, it was held, dealt
with real causes of naturalphenomena, while mathematicscould only deal with
their "accidents"-that is, with their quantitativeaspects. Consequently,mathematicianswere not entitledto producelegitimatephysical interpretationsof natural phenomena.5
But if a mathematicianqua mathematiciancould not become a philosopherin
the university, he could do so at court, where one's social and cognitive status
was determinedless by one's discipline than by the prince's favor. The court,
then, was a social institutionin which Galileo could obtain the title of philosopher that, in turn, would give him the standing to argue legitimately for the
3 The highest court salary in 1588was that of OrazioRucellai-the maggiordomomaggiore-who
made 1,000scudi per year (ASF, DepositeriaGenerale389, p. 1). BelisarioVinta, a segretario, made
480 scudi (ibid., p. 5); Ostilio Ricci, the court mathematician,made 144 scudi (ibid., p. 9). Rucellai's
was still the highest salary in 1599 (ASF, GuardarobaMediceo 225, fol. 2r). In 1609 the second
highest salarywas that of the maggiordomolacopo de' Medici, who made 600 scudi per year (ibid.,
301, fol. ir). In 1624the highest salaryat court was that of the new maggiordomomaggiore, Piero
Guicciardini,who made 1,000 scudi (ASF, DepositeriaGenerale396, fol. 36). Matteo Neroni, the
court cosmographer,made 120 scudi (ibid., fol. 115). The salariesof the chief commandersof the
Tuscaninfantry,artillery,and cavalryrangedfrom 1,000to 2,500 scudi per year; see "Relazionedelli
ClarissimiSignoriGiovanniMichielet AntonioTiepoloCavalieriritornatiAmbasciatoridal Granduca
di Toscana alli 9 novembre 1579," in Relazioni degli Ambasciatori Veneti al Senato, ed. A. Segarizzi
(Bari:Laterza, 1916),Vol. III, pp. 256-259, 269.
4 Robert S. Westman, "The Astronomer'sRole in the Sixteenth Century:A PreliminaryStudy,"
History of Science, 1980, 18:105-147; and MarioBiagioli, "The Soc&l Status of ItalianMathematicians, 1450-1600,"Hist. Sci., 1989,27:41-95. For Galileo'sattemptsto move to the Medicicourt see
his letters in Galileo Galilei, Opere, ed. Antonio Favaro, 20 vols. (Florence: Giunta, 1890-1909)
(hereafterGalileo,Opere),Vol. X, no. 97, pp. 106-107;no. 99, p. 109;no. 131, pp. 154-155;no. 190,
pp. 210-213; no. 209, pp. 231-234;no. 211, p. 235. See also Westfall, "ScientificPatronage"(cit. n.
1), pp. 13-17.
s Peter Dear, "Jesuit MathematicalScience and the Reconstitutionof Experience in the Early
Seventeenth Century," Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 1987, 18:133-175; Nicholas
Jardine, The Birth of History and Philosophy of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984),
pp. 225-257;RobertS. Westman,"Kepler'sTheoryof Hypothesisand the 'RealistDilemma,'" Stud.
Hist. Phil. Sci., 1972, 3:233-264;and Mario Biagioli, "The Anthropologyof Incommensurability,"
Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci., 1990, 21 (in press).
philosophical significance of the Copernican theory and for the mathematical
analysis of naturalphenomena.
This essay has at least a double agenda. While analyzingGalileo's patronage
strategies, examininghow he representedhis astronomicaldiscoveries within the
discourse of the Medici court, I want also to indicate the role of the court in the
social legitimationof early modernscience.
I. STARS IN CONTEXT
Some reasons for the Medici's interest in the satellites of Jupiter are easy to
grasp. As Galileo asserted in the dedicationof the Sidereus nuncius, these bodies
were monuments to the Medici dynasty.6 Moreover, they were monuments of
exceptional durabilityand worldwide visibility (at least for audiences equipped
with good telescopes). But there were other reasons behind the Medici enthusiasm for Galileo's discoveries, reasons fully apparentto a Florentine audience
familiar with the mythology the Medici had been articulatingsince Cosimo I
establishedthe dynasty in the middleof the sixteenth century. In this mythology
a correspondencewas drawnbetween cosmos and Cosimo, and Jupiterwas regularly associated with Cosimo I, the founder of the dynasty and the first of the
"Mediceangods."7Consequently,while Galileo could have dedicatedthe newly
discovered planets to any patron, they were particularlysignificantto the Medici, for whom Jupiter'ssatellites would appearas dynastic emblems.
Althoughthe Medicis had been de facto rulersof an allegedlyrepublicanFlorence since the early fifteenth century, the dukedom itself was of more recent
origin. In fact, Cosimo I became duke of Florence in 1537 and was made grand
duke of Tuscany only in 1569.Duringthe 1540she had to create the political and
administrativestructureof the new state, along with a new political mythology
that would legitimize the Medici rule as a dynastic one. The powerful Florentine
families were to be transformedfrom political leaders into a docile court aristocracy,8 and the new mythology was to represent the ducal rule as natural and
necessary and indicate the role the Florentinefamilies had to assume within it.
Cosimo's strategy was to represent the Medici rule as Florence's manifest
destiny. The city's horoscope, so commonly cast since the Middle Ages, was
normalizedto suggest the astrological necessity of Medici rule by linking that
rule to the history and fate of the city. New Medici-orientedhistories and
Medici-sensitive reinterpretationsof ancient myths were commissioned, while
Medici-relatedimagery was introduced into Florentine art.9 Most important,
6 Galileo Galilei, Sidereus nuncius, trans. Albert Van Helden (Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press,
7 Giorgio Vasari, Ragionamenti di Giorgio Vasari sopra le invenzioni da lui dipinte in Firenze nel
Palazzo di loro Altezze Serenissime con lo Illustrissimo ed Eccellentissimo Don Francesco de' Medici
(publishedposthumouslyby Vasari's nephew in 1588),in Le opere di Giorgio Vasari, ed. Gaetano
Milanesi(Florence:Sansoni, 1882),Vol. VIII, p. 85.
R. Burr Litchfield, Emergence of a Bureaucracy: The Florentine Patricians, 1530-1790 (Prince-
ton, N.J.: PrincetonUniv. Press, 1986).Standardworks on the periodare RiguccioGalluzzi,Istoria
del granducato di Toscana sotto il governo della Casa Medici (Florence, 1781); Furio Diaz, II
Granducato di Toscana: I Medici (Turin: UTET, 1976); and Giorgio Spini, ed., Architettura e politica
da Cosimo I a Ferdinando I (Florence: Olschki, 1976).
9 The relationshipbetween the city's horoscope and Medici fate up to Cosimo I is elaboratedin
Janet Cox-Rearick,Dynasty and Destiny in Medici Art (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press,
1984); see p. 231 for Medici-relatedimagery in art. On the early Renaissance city horoscopes in
Florence see RichardTrexler, Public Life in Renaissance Florence (New York: Academic Press,
GALILEO THE EMBLEM MAKER
Medici-controlledacademies, among them the Accademia Fiorentina and the
Accademia del Disegno, were establishedto managethis culturalprogram.10
Although Cosimo did not go so far as to commission a family history in the
form of a Greek-styletheogony, he had classical theogonies allegoricallyreinterpreted to resemblethe history of the house of Medici. This mythologicalprogram
was best articulatedin GiorgioVasari'sfrescoes decoratingthe Apartmentof the
Elements and the Apartmentof Leo X in the Palazzo della Signoria-the first
Medici court palace, later known as the Palazzo Vecchio.'1
The project's basic schema is clear enough. The Apartmentof the Elements
was a kind of Olympusdivided into several rooms, each dedicated to a specific
god (Hercules, Jupiter, Ops, Ceres, Saturn)or to a predivine entity such as the
primordial"elements"(Fig. 1). Rightbelow the Olympusof the Apartmentof the
Elements we find the Apartmentof Leo X, displayingthe Medici pantheon. Each
room-of the Apartmentof Leo X is dedicated to a memberof the Medici family
who was instrumentalin establishingthe dynasty (Fig. 2).
Each room dedicatedto a Medici in the Apartmentof Leo X was put, as Vasari
says, in plumb-linerelationwith the god-dedicatedroom in the Apartmentof the
Elementsjust above it. The frescoes of each room downstairspresent a mythologized history of the member of the Medici family it honors. Each history was
made to mirroras closely as possible the classical theogony of the corresponding
god. For instance, the Room of the Elements, the primordialentities that allowed
the formationof all things, correspondedto the Room of Leo X, the Medici pope
who made the emergence of the Medici dynasty possible. As Vasari put it,
"Thereis nothingpaintedupstairsthat does not correspondto somethingpainted
The heavenly order legitimized and naturalized the earthly one.
Appropriatelyelegant stairs ensuredcommunicationbetween the two floors.
Vasari describes in detail the intricacies of the entire Medici mythology as
represented in these frescoes.'3 What we need to consider here is the specific
correspondenceestablished in it between Jupiter(the greatest of the gods) and
Cosimo I (the founder of the grand duchy of Tuscany), for that mythological
relationplayed a crucial role in Galileo's patronagestrategies.
1980),pp. 73-84. Probablythe best example of Medici-orientedhistory is Benedetto Varchi, Storia
fiorentina, 3 vols., ed. G. Milanesi(Florence:Le Monnier,1857-1858).
10The AccademiaFiorentina,establishedin 1540,was the firstacademysponsoredand controlled
by the Medici. It coordinatedCosimo I's culturalpolitics and representedthem as a naturalexpression of the uniquenessof Tuscany'shistoricaland linguisticheritage.See SergioBertelli, "Egemonia
linguisticacome egemoniaculturalee politicanella Firenze Cosimiana,"Bibliothequed'Humanisme
et Renaissance, 1976,38:249-283;and C. Di Filippo Bareggi, "In nota alla politica culturaledi Cosimo I: L'Accademia Fiorentina,"QuaderniStorici, 1973, 23:527-574. The main function of the
Accademiadel Disegno, establishedin 1564and run by a "lieutenant"appointedby Cosimo, was to
coordinatethe workof visual artistsworkingfor the Mediciand to makesure thatthe codes of Medici
culturalpolitics were respected. These artists managedlarge political spectacles rangingfrom weddings to funerals to visits of foreign dignitaries;thus the Accademiadel Disegno functioned as a
departmentof publicrelationsfor the Medicicourt. For bibliographicalreferencessee note 15.
11Ettore Allegri and AlessandroCecchi, Palazzo Vecchio e i Medici (Florence:SPES, 1980),pp.
55-182. The letters between Vasari and Cosimo's humanisticadvisors on the iconographyand emblematics of the apartmentsare in II carteggio di Giorgio Vasari, ed. Karl Frey (Munich:Muller,
1923),Vol. I: no. 220, pp. 409-412; no. 221, pp. 412-414;no. 232, pp. 436-437; no. 234, pp. 438-441;
no. 236, pp. 446-450. The official nature of the mythologicalnarrativeof the two apartmentsis
confirmedby its havingbeen designedby Vincenzo Borghini,the first "lieutenant"of the Accademia
Ragionamenti (cit. n. 7), p. 85. These and all other translations are mine.
7 Terrace of Saturn
17 Room of the
18 Room of Ceres
19 Room of Calliope
20 Room of Ops
21 Room of Jupiter
22 Room of Hercules
23 Porch of Juno
Figure 1. Apartmentof the Elements, adapted from EttoreAllegri and Alessandro Cecchi,
Palazzo Vecchio e i Medici (Florence: SPES, 1980), p. xxv.
The correspondencebetween the room of Jupiterand that of Cosimo I is the
pivot for the mythologicalnarrativesdeveloped throughoutthe paintings of the
two apartments.The paintingsin the Room of Jupiter, which present his childhood are thus tied to Cosimo as well. Born of Ops and Saturn, the child Jupiter
was saved from the father's cruelty (Saturntended to eat his offspring)by the
mother, who hid him in a cave in Crete. There baby Jupiterwas reared by two
nymphs. One of them, Amalthea,was representedas a goat and was allegorically
associated with divine Providence, while Melissa, the other nymph, was an allegory of divine Knowledge. The message was that Cosimo absorbedthose virtues
in the cradle. In memoryof Amalthea,Jupiteradded the sign of Capricornto the
zodiac. The seven stars of Capricornbecame emblems of the seven virtuesthree theological and four moral. Conveniently, Capricornhappened to be Cosimo's sign, thereby confirmingthe destiny uniting the first grand duke and Jupiter. In essence Cosimo was endowed with divine providenceand knowledgeby
Jupiterand received the seven virtues from Capricorn.
In the dedicationof the Sidereus nuncius to Cosimo II, Galileo himself introduced the analogy between the Medicean stars and Cosimo I's virtues-some
moral, others "Augustean."He claimed that the younger Cosimo obtainedthose
same virtues directly from Jupiter,which was just above the horizon at the moment of his birth. Those virtues were "emanating"from the four stars that-like
innate virtues-always revolved very closely around Jupiter and never abandoned him. Therefore, given the link between Jupiterand Cosimo I, Galileo was
suggestingthat Cosimo I passed on his virtues to his successor throughthe Medicean stars, and that Galileo himself, by revealing these stars was somehow
midwifeto this astrologico-dynasticencounter.The correspondencebetween the
Medicean stars and the four moral virtues was accepted by the Medici's human-
GALILEO THE EMBLEM MAKER
27 Room of Leo X
28 Room of Cosimo
29 Room of Lorenzo
30 Room of Cosimo I
31 Room of Giovanni
dalle Bande Nere
34 Room of Clement VII
Figure 2. Apartment of Leo X, adapted from Allegri and Cecchi, Palazzo
xxi. This and other pictures from SPES by permission
of the publisher.
e i Medici, p.
istic advisers: even in the thirtyyears following Galileo's condemnation,the four
moral virtues were used as painterlyallegoricalrepresentationsof the four stars.
These mythologies were more than a sign of the Medici's imaginativepretentiousness. They constituted the "master narrative"that informed the imagery
used in public political ceremonies and festivals as well as the subject matter of
court poetry, theater, painting,and opera.14They offered a frameworkfor court
culture. When needed, this mythologicalimagerycould be expandedby means of
emblematic translations, conveniently listed in sixteenth-centurycatalogues or
dictionaries of emblems like those of Cesare Ripa, Paolo Giovio, and Andrea
Alciati. The entire culturalframeworkwas maintainedand articulatedby Medicicontrolled institutionssuch as the Accademia Fiorentinaand the Accademia del
Court culture itself was permeatedby these mythologiesfrom the time of Cosimo I. Familiaritywith them allowed the courtiers and the Florentine upper
14Gods' genealogieswere a genre commonlyused in celebratingrulingfamilies. On the use of this
genre in theater see Cesare Molinari,Le nozze degli dei (Rome: Bulzoni, 1968). On the use of
mythologicalimagery and emblems in civic pageantriesin Renaissance and baroque Europe see
David Moore Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry, 1558-1642 (London: Arnold, 1971); and Roy
Strong, Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals, 1450-1650 (Berkeley: Univ. California Press, 1984).
's Cesare Ripa, Iconologia (Rome, 1593); Paolo Giovio, Dialogo dell'imprese militari e amorose
(Rome, 1551);and AndreaAlciati,Emblematumliber(Augsburg,1531).A standardsecondarysource
is Mario Praz, Studies in Seventeenth-Century Imagery (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura,
1964).On the Accademiadel Disegno see ZygmuntWazbinski,L'AccademiaMedicea del Disegno a
Firenze nel Cinquecento,2 vols. (Florence:Olschki, 1987);Karen-edisBarzman,"LiberalAcademicians and the New Social Elite in GrandDucal Florence," in Worldof Art: Themesof Unity and
Diversity,ed. IrvingLavin (Acts of the XXVth InternationalCongressof the Historyof Art) (University Park:PennsylvaniaState Univ. Press, 1989), Vol. II, pp. 459-463; and Mary Ann Jack, "The
Accademiadel Disegno in Late RenaissanceFlorence,"SixteenthCenturyJournal, 1976,7:3-20. For
bibliographicalreferenceson the AccademiaFiorentinasee note 10.
classes to engage in the game of interpretingthe emblematicnarrativesdisplayed
in Medici ceremonies and other political semiologies. As BaldessarreCastiglione
indicatedin his Book of the Courtier,skill in emblematicswas requiredof those
who wanted to engage in courtly life.16 Court society affirmedits own social
identity by differentiatingitself from the lower classes, which-although participating as spectators of some of those public ceremonies-could not fathom their
full meaning.In brief, emblematicswas to court spectacles what etiquette was to
court behavior:it differentiatedsocial groupsand reinforcedsocial hierarchiesby
controllingaccess to meaning.17
This mythologico-emblematicframeworkof Medici court society and culture
constituted the backgroundfor Galileo's representationof his astronomicaldiscoveries as emblems of the Medici dynasty. If he wantedto become a courtierby
differentiatinghimself from the other practitionersof a low-status discipline like
mathematics, Galileo had to play on the same codes that court society had
adopted to differentiateitself successfully from the noncourtlymasses.
II. THE MAKING OF A CLIENT
Galileo's understandingof the courtly cultural context did indeed differentiate
him from most other Italian mathematiciansof the time. His exceptional career
and the pattern of socioepistemologicallegitimationhe pursued are also related
to his unusual culturalbackgroundand to the perceptions of the patronagesystem associated with it.
He was not wealthy, but, like his father Vincenzio, he knew how to present
himself as a gentiluomo. He knew GiovanniDella Casa's Galateo and owned a
numberof texts on rhetoricand literarycomposition.18In the frontispieces of his
books he styled himself a "FlorentinePatrician"even before becoming the "Philosopher and Mathematicianof the GrandDuke." His Latin style was sophisticated and the characterof his Florentinelanguageremarkable.
16 "Sometimesother discussions would turn on a variety of subjects, or there would be a sharp
exchange of quick retorts;often 'emblems'as we nowadayscall them, were devised; in which discussions a marvelous pleasure was had": Baldessare Castiglione, Book of the Courtier, trans.
Charles Singleton (GardenCity, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1959), p. 17. See also AnnamariaPetrioli
Tofani, "Contributiallo studiodegli apparatie delle feste medicee,"Firenzee la Toscananell'Europa
del '500 (Florence:Olschki, 1983),Vol. II, pp. 645-661;PetrioliTofaniand GiovannaGaeta Bertela,
Feste e apparati medicei da Cosimo I a Cosimo II (Florence: Olschki, 1969); Alois Maria Nagler,
Theatre Festivals of the Medici, 1539-1637 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1964); and
Strong,Art and Power (cit. n. 14), pp. 3-74, 126-152.
17 Variousauthorshave noticed this process of semiologicalcontrol. Strongmentionsthat spectators at CosimoI's marriagein 1566complainedaboutthe intricacyof the imagery(Artand Power, p.
27). After 1630, once Florentine court society became both socially and spatially enclosed, less
obscure metaphorsbegan to be utilized in court spectacles (ibid., pp. 31-32). In Vasari'sRagionamenti (cit. n. 7) we find that even Don Francesco de' Medici mentionedthe obscurity of Vasari's
imagery(p. 22): "Principe:Voi mi fate oggi, Giorgio,udirecose che non pensai mai che sotto questi
colori e con queste figurefussino questi significati."Thatthe dialoguewas writtenby Vasariindicates
that he took the perceivedobscurityof his imageryas a tributeto his skill in managingthe codes of
dynasticimagery.On the developmentof etiquettesee NorbertElias, The CivilizingProcess, 2 vols.
18 Galileo cited Della Casa in his "Considerazioni
al Tasso": Opere, Vol. IX, p. 133. Besides texts
on rhetoricand literarycomposition,his librarycontained "how to" books for the courtiersuch as
Idea di varie lettere usate nella Segreteria d'ogni Principe; see Antonio Favaro, "La libreria di
Galileo Galilei," Bullettino di Bibliografia e Storia delle Scienze Matematiche e Fisiche, 1886.
19:219-293,esp. pp. 273-275. The adoptionof the life-style and cultureof the upper classes was a
prerequisitefor artists looking for social legitimationand status; see Francis Haskell, Patrons and
Painters (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1980),pp. 18-19.
GALILEO THE EMBLEM MAKER
Yet he also wrote in a Rabelasianor Ruzantianliterary style, populated with
sarcasm and jokes that blurred into insults. This style was not the sign of a
lower-class background.Ruzante (Angelo Beolco) was himself no memberof the
lower classes, and his use of the vernacularand his aggressive, obscene language
were addressedto the upperclasses, not the village marketplace.Galileo too was
not the smart "manfrom the street" who made it at court. Like Ruzante before
him, he knew how to play at "popularculture,"how to display spontaneityand
unaffected wit to attract an upper-classaudience weary of an increasinglyrigid
baroquecourt etiquette. For example, the Dialogo de Cecco di Ronchitti, which
Drake has, I think correctly, attributedto Galileo, was writtenin the quite vulgar
Paduandialect but addressedto an upper-classaudience, being dedicatedto Antonio Querengo, one of Padua's most importantpatrons of the arts.19Galileo's
style was an antidoteto an overworkedcourtly sprezzaturathat edged over into
pedantry. The same courtly contemptfor pedantryis reflectedin Galileo's abrasive attacks on the Peripatetics. The Simplicio of Galileo's dialogues (or the
philosopherof the supposed Cecco's Dialogo) was not only Galileo's straw man,
but also a representativeof what court culture perceived itself to be rejecting.
University philosophers had been a target of the satires of court writers and
academiciansas early as the work of Annibal Caro and they continued to be in
the work of Galileo's friendJacopo Soldani.20
Galileo had access to court as a teenager, for he met his future mathematics
teacher, Ostilio Ricci, there. He probablyinheritedfrom his father some of his
early connections with the Florentinecourt as well as the knowledge of courtly
etiquette. Vincenzio was a well-known musician and music theorist and a
memberof the Cameratade' Bardi-an institutionthat could be consideredFlorence's first music academy. That a career at court was not an inappropriate
thought for a Galilei is shown by the life of Galileo's brother Michelangelo,
who-a musicianlike his father-worked at various Europeancourts.
Galileo's early literary productions were all framed by Florentine academic
and courtly culture of the period. His orations on the geometry of Dante's Inferno, presentedat the AccademiaFiorentinain 1588,dealt with what was probably the canonical text of that institution.21His critique of Tasso and praise of
Ariosto were equally the productof Florentineacademicculture. Quite unoriginally, Galileo representedthe official position of the Florentine Accademia della
Crusca-an academy to which he was elected in 1605-which sided with Ariosto
19Dialogo de Cecco di Ronchitti da Bruzene in perpuosito de la stella nova (Padua, 1605), trans.
StillmanDrake, in Drake, Galileo against the Philosophers(Los Angeles: Zeitlin & Ver Brugge,
1976), pp. 33-53. On Ruzante see Ludovico Zorzi's introductionto Ruzante, L' Anconitana, ed.
Zorzi (Turin:Einaudi, 1965),pp. v-xi.
20 AnnibalCaro, Comediadegli straccioni(Turin:Einaudi, 1967),p. 24; and Jacopo Soldani, Contro i peripatetici, as quoted in Alberto Asor Rosa and Salvatore Nigro, I poeti giocosi dell'eta bar-
occa (Bari: Laterza, 1975),p. 167. On Galileo's literarystyle and its audience see Robert S. Westman, "TheReceptionof Galileo'sDialogue,"in Novita celesti e crisi del sapere, ed. Galluzzi(cit. n.
1), pp. 331-335.
21 Galileo, "Due lezioni all' AccademiaFiorentina...,"
in Opere, Vol. IX, pp. 29-57. Dante's
work was one of the institutionalfoci of the Accademia Fiorentinabecause of its relation to the
Florentinevernacular.The geometry of Dante's Inferno was also treatedby the architectAntonio
Manetti;see Manetti, "Circail sito, formae misuradell' Infernodi Dante Alighieri,poeta eccellen-
tissimo," in Studi sulla Divina Comedia di Galileo Galilei, Vincenzo Borghini ed altri, ed. Ottavio
Gigli(Florence:Le Monnier,1855),pp. 35-114. Galileo'slecturesmusthave received some attention,
for they were still rememberedin 1594;see LuigiAlamannito GiovanniBattistaStrozzi, 7 Aug. 1594,
in Galileo, Opere,Vol. X, no. 54, p. 66.
against Tasso.22Similarly,Galileo's later letter to Ludovico Cigoli on the status
of sculptureand paintingdealt with a topic that was frequentlydiscussed in the
Accademia del Disegno (to which he was elected in 1613)and other Florentine
Galileo's involvementwith these literaryactivities does not mean that he contemplateda career as a writer;rather,like any ambitiousyoung man looking for
patronage,he needed to prove his competence in courtly and academic culture.
Duringthese early phases of his career, Galileo was introducednot only to Florentine court and academicculturebut into patronagenetworksas well. As I have
shown elsewhere, it is to this period of his life, to the culturehe absorbedand the
patrons and friends he met (with whom he kept up duringregularsummervisits
to Florence from Padua), that we can trace most of the patronagestrategies he
developed later in his life.24
The social groups Galileo frequented in Venice and Padua after 1592 were
similar to those he was familiarwith in Florence, but because Venice had no
centralized court, Paduan and Venetian culture were quite different from the
Florentine, and patronagewas of the patricianratherthan the princely type. If
GiovanfrancescoSagredowas a patricianpatronin Venice comparableto Filippo
Salviati in Florence, we still cannot find the Cosimo II for Galileo's Paduan
period. Salons, casini, and private academies rather than the court or official
academies were the loci of such patronage.25Moreover, although Venice was
quite concerned with maintainingits own state myths (especially in its period of
decadence at the turn of the century), these were centered not on a specific
family dynasty but on the idea of the republic.26Galileo's discoveries could not
22 Galileo, "Considerazioni
al Tasso," in Opere, Vol. IX, pp. 59-148; and Galileo, "Postilleall'Ariosto," ibid., pp. 149-194.The dates of these two worksare uncertain.Favaroseems to thinkthatthe
"Considerazioni"were probablywrittenin the 1590s(ibid., pp. 12-14). On Galileo's election to the
Accademiadella Cruscasee ibid., Vol. XIX, p. 221; to the Accademiadel Disegno, ASF, "Accademia del Disegno 124,"fol. 52r. Galileo's perspectiveson Ariosto and Tasso are discussed in Erwin
Panofsky, Galileo as a Criticof the Arts (The Hague:MartinusNijhoff, 1954).Tasso was excluded
from the Vocabolario degli accademici della Crusca, first published in Florence in 1612; see Salva-
tore Nigro, "Dallalinguaal dialetto:La letteraturapopolaresca,"in I poeti giocosi dell'etd barocca,
ed. Asor Rosa and Nigro (cit. n. 20), p. 66.
23 Galileo to Ludovico Cigoli, 26 June 1612, in Opere, Vol. XI, no. 713, pp. 340-343. Favaro is
skepticalaboutthe authenticityof this letter, mostly on stylisticgrounds.His positionwas refuted-I
think convincingly-by MargheritaMargani:"Sull'autenticitadi una lettera attribuitaa G. Galilei,"
Atti della Reale Accademia delle Scienze di Torino, 1921-1922, 57:556-568. The debate on the pri-
macy of sculptureover paintingis a frequenttheme in sixteenth-centuryacademicwritingon the arts.
The Lezione di Benedetto Varchi nella quale si disputa della maggioranza delle arti, which Varchi
read to the AccademiaFiorentinain 1547,is an exampleof this academicgenre;it is partiallyreproduced in Paola Barocchi, ed., Scritti d'arte del Cinquecento(Turin:Einaudi, 1977), Vol. I, pp.
24 ApparentlyGalileo's literaryefforts were quite successful, for his academicfriends in Florence
kept writinghim in Paduato ask for commentson their own sonnets and books; see Galileo, Opere,
Vol. X: no. 52, pp. 63-64; no. 72, pp. 82-83; no. 76, pp. 86-87. On the Florentinecourtierswho acted
as patronsor brokersfor Galileo before his arrivalat the Medici court in September1610see Mario
Biagioli, "Galileo'sSystem of Patronage,"Hist. Sci., 1990,28:1-62, esp. pp. 6-13.
25 Krzysztof Pomian, Collectionneurs, amateurs et curieux (Paris: Gallimard,1987), pp. 81-158,
213-287;Gino Benzoni, Gli affanidella cultura(Milan:Feltrinelli,1978),esp. pp. 7-77; Benzoni, "Le
accademie,"in Storia della culturaveneta, ed. G. Arnaldiand M. Pastore Stocchi (Vicenza: Neri
Pozza, 1984), Vol. IV, Pt. 1; GaetanoCozzi, Paolo Sarpi tra Venezia e l'Europa(Turin:Einaudi,
1979),pp. 135-234;AntonioFavaro,Amici e corrispondentidi Galileo, ed. Paolo Galluzzi(Florence:
Salimbeni,1983),Vol. I, pp. 65-91, 191-322,Vol. II, pp. 703-736;Favaro, "Un ridotto scientificoin
Venezia al tempo di Galileo Galilei,"Nuovo Archivio Veneto, Ser. 2, 1983,5:199-209;and Favaro,
Galileo Galilei e lo Studio di Padova (Padua: Antenore, 1966), Vol. II, pp. 69-102.
AlbertoTenenti,Piracy and the Decline of Venice, 1580-1615 (Berkeley:Univ. CaliforniaPress,
GALILEO THE EMBLEM MAKER
be made to fit those state myths in any relevantor particularlyrewardingway. In
fact, he offered the telescope to the Venetian Senate as an instrumentof navigation and warfareratherthan as a viewer of dynastic monuments.
The initiationinto Florentinecourt and academiccultureprovidedGalileo with
the competence necessary to see naturaliaas potentialMedicidynastic emblems.
Galileo understoodthat he needed an absolute prince as a patron-and not just
because, as he told Vinta, only a prince could have offered him the salary and
leisure he was seeking. Only an absolute prince could granthim the social legitimation he needed for himself and his work, once he made his marvels fit the
dynastic discourse of such a ruler.27When he discovered Jupiter's satellites at
the end of 1609, he realized that Venice was not the best marketplacefor his
However, the understandingof patronagedynamics and of the codes of academic culture that Galileo had developed during his Florentine youth was not
wasted in Padua and Venice. He managed to develop patronage relationships
with powerfulVenetianpatricianslike Sagredo,had access to the most respected
salons, and took an active part in Padua's academic life. In 1599 he was among
the foundingmembers of the PaduanAccademia dei Ricovrati, taking the name
"Abbattuto."Together with other colleagues he was in charge of designing the
academic impresas for that body.28The impresa Galileo proposed for Cosimo's
wedding with Mary Magdalenof Austriain 1608showed his mastery in emblematics and in the culture of the Medici court.
III. FROM LODESTONES TO SATELLITES
Knowingthat gold and silver medals were usually struckto commemoratemajor
dynastic events, in September 1608 Galileo wrote Cosimo's mother, the Grand
Duchess Cristina, to propose an emblem for a medal. The letter is a concise
summary of Medici dynastic ideology and presents a quite subtle "scientific"
metaphorfor the "naturalness"of the Medici rule. Referringto the lodestone he
had bought for Prince Cosimo from Sagredo a few months earlier, Galileo compared the power of a future absolutistrulerlike Cosimo to that of the lodestone.
Using the terminology of the emblematist Giovio, Galileo proposed that the
"body" (i.e., the image) of the impresabe a globe-shapedlodestone that held a
numberof small pieces of iron around it.29The "soul" of the impresa (i.e., the
motto) was Vimfacit amor ("Love produces strength").
Galileo recognized the ambiguityof representationsof the Medici's absolute
rule that stressed its "naturalness"and the acquiescence of its subjects while
also emphasizingits power and its lack of tolerance for deviant behavior;in the
1967); James C. Davis, The Decline of the Venetian Nobility as a Ruling Class (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins Univ. Press, 1962); Richard T. Rapp, Industry and Economic Decline in Seventeenth-Cen-
tury Venice (Cambridge,Mass.: HarvardUniv. Press, 1976);and EdwardMuir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice (Princeton,N.J.: PrincetonUniv. Press, 1982).
27 Galileoto BelisarioVinta, 7 May 1610,no. 307, in Opere,Vol. X, pp. 348-353.
28 Favaro, Galileo e lo Studio di Padova (cit. n. 25), Vol. I, pp. 36-77, Vol. II, pp. 1-7, 18-32;
Benzoni, Affani della cultura(cit. n. 25), p. 176;and Galileo, Opere, Vol. XIX, pp. 207-208.
29 Galileo to Cristina,Sept. 1608, no. 199, in Opere,Vol. X, pp. 221-223;Giovio, Dialogo dell'impresse militarie amorose (cit. n. 15), ed. MariaLouisa Doglio (Rome:Bulzoni, 1978),p. 37. On the
political symbolismof cosmologies during(and before) the ScientificRevolutionsee Keith Hutchison, "Towarda PoliticalIconology of the CopernicanRevolution,"in Astrology, Science, and Society, ed. PatrickCurry(Woodbridge,Suffolk:Boydell Press, 1987),pp. 95-141. I owe this last reference to StephenPumphrey.
sympatheticattractionbetween the lodestoneand the smallpieces of iron he found
a fine metaphor for such a political scenario. According to Galileo's image,
the pieces of iron (the subjects) seemed to be voluntarilydriven up (elevated)
toward the lodestone (the Medici power), for its force was not felt by other
materials. They wanted to be attracted. At the same time such an upliftingattraction was powerful and ultimatelyinevitable. It was based on love but manifested itself as power. The motto Vimfacit amor capsulizes the meaningof the
image. Accordingto Galileo, the allegoricmeaningof the motto was that
as fragmentsof iron are lifted up and held by the lodestone (but with a sort of loving
violence, for they seek the stone avidly, as if they were rushingvoluntarilyto it) so
that it is difficultto tell whether such a tenacious bind is the result of the strengthof
the magnet, the naturaltendency of the iron, or the loving dialectic of power and
obedience, the pious and courteous affectionof the prince-represented by the lodestone-does not oppress but rather lifts up his subjects, and makes them-represented by the fragmentsof iron-love and obey him.30
Galileo then explainedto Cristinathat the globe-shapedlodestone was itself an
allegory of Cosimo qua cosmos and of the Medici coat of arms, which contains
six spherical balls. Those analogies had been employed fifty years earlier by
Vasari in the Palazzo della Signoria's Room of the Elements. There the painter
presented a Capricorn(Cosimo's ascendantsign) holdingin its paws a globe that
signified both one of the balls and the cosmos held in check by Cosimo. The
Cosimo qua cosmos theme recurs in other paintings in the Apartment of the
Elements, as well as in the palazzo's Room of the GeographicalMaps. This room
containeda large armillarysphere, as well as a terrestrialglobe in the center and
maps representingthe entire world, all designed and partially executed by the
The analogy between "Cosimo"and "cosmos" (which Galileo would bringup
againa few years later while negotiatingthe dedicationof the Sidereus nunciusto
Cosimo II) had been an importantpart of Medici mythology since the midsixteenth century. Names incorporatingthe element "cosmos"proliferated.Thus
when in 1548Cosimo I gained control of Portoferraio,Isola d'Elba's most important harbor, he had it fully fortified and called "Cosmopoli." This onomastic
revisionism found perhaps its strongest expression duringthe "culturalrevolution" that accompaniedthe constitutionof the grandduchy of Tuscany that institutionalized the absolute power of the Medicis. At that time Cosimo replaced
Florence's old patron saints Zenobi and Giovanni, who were perceived as emblems of the old republican tradition, with Saints Cosma and Damiano, who
while on earth were practicingphysicians-"medici" being the Italian term for
"physicians." The holiday of Saints Cosma and Damiano coincided with the
birthdayof Cosimo il Vecchio-the pater patriae. Like Cosma, both Cosimo I
and Cosimo il Vecchio were representedas the physicians of Florence, because
they had saved the city from the deadly plague of political disorder. Even as
30 Galileo to Cristina,Sept. 1608, p. 222. See also Galileo's previous attemptto develop a politically connotedemblembased on the lodestone:Galileoto Vinta, 3 May 1608,no. 187,in Opere, Vol.
X, pp. 205-209.
31 See Vasari, Ragionamenti (cit. n. 7), p. 32; Allegriand Cecchi, Palazzo Vecchio e i Medici (cit.
n. 11), p. 22, 67, 303; and Detlef Heikamp, "L'anticasistemazionedegli strumentiscientificinelle
collezioni fiorentine," Antichitd Viva, 1970, 9:3-25.
GALILEO THE EMBLEM MAKER
early as 1513 Leo X, the Medici pope who was instrumentalin securing the
duchy of Florence for the Medici, had institutedan annualholiday-the Cosmalia-allegedly in honor of Saint Cosma. In fact the Cosmalia were dedicated to
the memory of Cosimo il Vecchio and were meant as tributes to the Medici
In the 1560s the logo Cosmos Cosm6i cosmos-Greek
for "The cosmos is
Cosimo's world (or domain)"was includedin Medici-commissionedworks of art.
Referencesto Cosimo qua cosmos continuedto emergein Medici-relatedcultural
productions, especially when "Cosimo" happened to be the current ruler's
name.33In his proposal for the impresa of 1608, Galileo reinforcedthe Cosimocosmos theme by suggestingMagnus magnes Cosmos as the motto of the other
side of the medal, which was to contain Cosimo's effigy. "If taken literally [the
motto] means only that the world is a greatlodestone, but, taken metaphorically,
it also confirmsthe impresa."34By substituting"Magnes"for "Dux" in the standard Latin version of Cosimo's title, "MagnusDux Cosmos" ("Cosimo Grand
Duke"), Galileo made the magnetmetaphorfor the rulerby reinforcingthe analogy between magneticattractionand the prince's power.
Besides Galileo's remarkableskills in emblematics, this impresa reveals, I
think, a turningpoint in his strategies for patronage.35By 1608 he must have
realizedthat the inventionof militarycompasses, however useful, would not help
him obtain a high-statusposition at court. Quite probablythe compass brought
him a good numberof private students interested in fortifications,but it did not
make him a desirable client to a majorprince who was more preoccupied with
the celebration of his own image than with the quality of his court teacher of
mathematics.The Gonzaga appreciatedthe gift of the compass and the Medici
welcomed the dedication of the book that explained its use, but neither prince
offered Galileo the position he was lookingfor. I thinkGalileo realizedhe needed
to producegifts whose virtueswere less mechanicalthan those of a compass if he
wanted to go to court as a gentlemanratherthan as a teacher of mathematicsor a
The impresa of 1608 indicates that Galileo understood that marvels such as
"mysteriously"behaving lodestones were more rewardingthan instrumentsespecially when they could be representedas an emblematicarticulationof the
discourse of the court. And indeed the imageryGalileo used in the 1608impresa
had been part of court discourse at least since BaldassarreCastiglione'sBook of
For Galileo's later use of the Cosimo-Cosmosanalogy see Galileo to Vinta, 10 Feb. 1610, no.
265, in Opere, Vol. X, p. 283. On Cosmopoli see Amaldo Segarizzi, Relazioni degli ambasciatori
veneti al senato (Bari: Laterza, 1916), Vol. III, p. 256. On the new patron saints of Florence see
Wazbinski, L'Accademia Medicea del Disegno a Firenze nel Cinquecento (cit. n. 15), Vol. I, p. 83.
On the Cosmaliasee Cox-Rearick,Dynasty and Destiny (cit. n. 9), p. 33.
33 For the art logo see Cox-Rearick,Dynasty and Destiny, p. 279. Culturalproductionsusing the
Cosimo-cosmos motif include Gabriello Chiabrera, La pieta di Cosmo: Dramma musicale rappresentato all' Altezze di Toscana (Genoa, 1622); and Giovanni Carlo Coppola, Cosmo, ovvero l'Italia
34 Galileoto Cristina,Sept. 1608,p. 223.
35 Galileoowned Paolo Giovio's and Ettore Tasso's texts on impresas;see Favaro, "La libreriadi
Galileo"(cit. n. 18), pp. 285, 287. One of his sonnets is dedicatedto the enigmaitself: "Enimma,"in
Galileo, Opere, Vol. IX, p. 227. As I have mentioned,he was in charge of the impresasof Padua's
Ricovrati(see at n. 28). Finally, he liked to play with enigmasto communicatehis discoveries, as in
the case of the phases of Venus (Galileoto Giulianode' Medici, 1 Jan. 1611,no. 451, ibid., Vol. XI,
p. 12) or of the shape of Saturn(ibid., 13 Nov., 11 Dec. 1610,nos. 427, 435, Vol. X, pp. 474, 483).
the Courtier. There Castiglione discussed the skills expected of a successful
courtier, one able to develop an elaborate presentation of the self "that will
attractthe eyes of the spectators even as the lodestone attractsiron." The same
analogybetween the behaviorof the lodestone and that of the attractivepower of
virtu'occurs in the letters Galileo exchangedwith Medici courtiers. For instance,
in December 1605 he received a letter from one CiprianoSaracinelli, who concluded by confirminghis friendshipfor and patronageof Galileo: "[But]I would
have done the same even if I did not know you, because what is beautiful and
good-that is, virtue-has the power to attract from far away the soul and the
will of even those who can barely recognize it."36Vinta was even more explicit
about the attractiveforce of virtue. In a letter to Galileo in March 1608, concerning the purchase of the lodestone impresa for Cosimo, he concluded: "AndYour Lord's value being a lodestone that attractsand forces me to love and serve
you-I beg you to use me for anythingyou may desire or need." A week later
Galileo returnedthe courtesy, writing Vinta: "I will never admit that the lodestone of my value could attractthe affection of Your Most IllustriousLord, for I
know that I do not possess those qualities that would deserve so much favor.
Rather, it is my needy status to act as a magnet that moves the pious affection
and most courteous attitude of Your Most IllustriousLord into loving and protecting me." A month later Galileo presented Vinta with the lodestone-based
impresahe would rework and finallypropose to Cristinafor Cosimo's wedding's
The originalityof Galileo's impresadoes not lie in the use of technology-based
devices in emblems. Giovio had alreadydiscussed them in his emblematicstextbook.38 What was new about Galileo's translatingscientific mirabilia into the
discourse of the court (or of a specific dynasty, as in the case of the satellites of
Jupiter)was that he did so also as an attemptto legitimize scientific discoveries
For instance, Galileo's claim that the motto Magnus magnes Cosmos meant
both that "the world is a great lodestone," as WilliamGilbert had argued, and
that the attractive force of Cosimo's power was legitimate and "natural"had
importantimplications. It associated Gilbert's theory (one that could be used
against the accepted Aristoteleancosmology) with that of the naturalnessof the
Medici absolute rule. By strikingsuch a medal the Medici would help legitimate
Gilbert's theory; at the same time, Galileo's "magnetic"interpretationof the
Medici power representedthat rule as "natural."The medal Galileo proposed to
Cristina had two inseparablefaces and meanings. Galileo's strategy aimed at
legitimizingscientific theories by includingthem in the representationof his patrons' power, thus securingboth their involvement and their endorsement.
Probablythe obscurity of the imageryof the impresa(who could distinguisha
magnet attractingiron fragmentsfrom a globe surroundedby irregularlyshaped
CiprianoSaracinellito Galileo, 5 Dec. 1605,no. 129, in Opere,Vol. X, p. 150. See also Castig-
lione, Book of the Courtier (cit. n. 16), p. 100.
Vinta to Galileo, 22 Mar. 1608,no. 178, p. 198;and Galileo to Vinta, 4 Apr., 3 May 1608, nos.
180, 187, pp. 200, 205-209.
38 Giovio, Dialogo dell'impresse militari e amorose (cit. n. 15), p. 37. See also ibid., pp. 66-68;
Allegriand Cecchi, Palazzo Vecchio e i Medici (cit. n. 11), pp. 113, 149;and KarlaLangedijk,The
Portraitsof the Medici, 2 vols. (Florence:SPES, 1980),p. 212, n. 110,on the use of technologicaland
pieces of some unspecifiedmaterial?)made it unacceptable.39Nevertheless, Galileo's attempt was not a total failure but one step in a trial-and-errorstrategy.
Whathe did two years later in bindingthe Medici name to the satellites of Jupiter
was a successful replay of the same strategy. By turningan astronomicaldiscovery into a dynastic emblemhe became a very importantclient-a sort of "cosmic
midwife." At the same time he turned Medici power to the legitimationof his
discoveries and of his telescope.
IV. FROM CLASSIFIED INSTRUMENTS TO DYNASTIC HOROSCOPES
After donating his telescope to the Venetian Senate in August 1609 and being
rewarded with tenure and a remarkable salary increase, Galileo wrote his
brother-in-lawBenedetto Landucci that, given the new developments, he perceived his life and career as permanentlybound to Padua and its university.
However, a few months later he was negotiatingwith Vinta for his position as
"Filosofo e Matematicodel Granducadi Toscana," which he formally obtained
in July 1610.40 The four satellites brought about this striking change in socioprofessionalstatus and patronagestrategies.
For all the remarkablecharacteristicsGalileo recognized in the telescope in
August 1609, he presented it to the Doge Leonardo Dona as a military instrument. The telescope was a marvel, but one not tailoredfor any specific patron.
Despite its truly exceptional features, it was patronage-generic,a gift for everybody and for nobody in particular.Galileo correctly perceived the telescope as
belongingto the same patronagecategory as the militarycompass, the only importantdifference being that the telescope was much more useful than the compass and therefore could triggerthe curiosity and interest of a much wider audience. From his correspondence of the period we see that until he discovered
Jupiter'ssatellites, Galileo did not make any serious attemptto use the telescope
to move to the Medici court. At this point in Galileo's career, the telescope was
still a thing: it was not yet a messenger of dynastic destiny. Although Cosimo II
asked Galileo for a good telescope, his interest in the instrumentwas not essentially differentfrom that he had shown in Sagredo'slodestone a few years before.
Galileo's commitmentto Copernicanismseems to fluctuatewith his grasp of
possibilities for court patronage.The conditionsof his gift of the telescope to the
Venetian Senate indicate that, at that time, Galileo representedthe telescope not
as a scientific instrumentthat could supportthe Copernicancause, but as a sort
of classified weapon. In this, Galileo's representationof the telescope's use was
identical with that of his Dutch predecessor Hans Lipperhey. In his letter to the
Doge LeonardoDona, Galileo claimed that, judgingthe telescope as "worthyof
being received and estimated as most useful by Your Lord, I decided to present
it to you and have you decide about the future of this invention, orderingand
providing accordingto your prudence whether telescopes should or should not
39 Giovio, Dialogo dell'impresse militari e amorose, p. 37. On the obscurityof impresassee also
Frances Yates, "The ItalianAcademies,"in CollectedEssays, Vol. II (London:Routledge, 1983),
40 Galileo to Benedetto Landucci,29 Aug. 1609,no. 231; and Cosimo II to Galileo, 10 July 1610,
no. 359; in Opere, Vol. X, pp. 253-254, 400-401. Favaroquestionedthe authenticityof the letter to
Landucci, but EdwardRosen convincinglyrefuted his argumentin "The Authenticityof Galileo's
Letter to Landucci," Modern Language Quarterly, 1975, 12:473-486.
be built.''41 This last statementindicates that initiallyGalileo was ready to withhold an effective instrumentfrom other astronomers. Such behavior does not
qualify him as heavily committedto the Copernicancause. But Galileo's Copernican leanings reemergedand his patronageperspectives and strategies changed
abruptlywhen, four months later, he observed Jupiter'ssatellites.
The story of the negotiation that Galileo and Cosimo II conducted through
Vinta during the first half of 1610 has been told many times.42What has not
received much attentionis Galileo's strategyfor gainingsocial status for himself
and epistemological legitimationfor the Medicean stars by representingthem
withinthe discourse of the Medici mythology, as he had previouslytried to incorporate Gilbert'sviews on magnetism.
Astrologicalpredeterminationwas a recurrenttheme in Galileo's presentation
of his discoveries to the Medici. Whathe had observed, Galileo claimed, was not
a discovery but a confirmationof the Medici's destiny-almost a scientific proof
of their dynastic horoscope. As he told Cosimo in the dedicationof the Sidereus
nuncius, it was not by chance that the "brightstars offer[ed] themselves in the
heavens" right after Cosimo II's enthronement.It was not by chance that these
stars were circling aroundJupiter(Cosimo I's planet) like his offspringand that
Jupiterwas actuallyjust above the horizon at the time of Prince Cosimo's birth,
thus passing on to him the virtues of the founderof the dynasty. And-one might
add-it was not by chance that the stars were four in number,like Cosimo II and
his brothers.43Consequently, Galileo's role in the appearanceof this dynastic
omen could not have been a casual one either.
In the dedication Galileo tended to hide the economic dimensions of the patronage relationshiphe was trying to establish. As he presented it, he was not
trying to sell the Medici a particularlyfitting dedication. His relationshipwith
them was a most disinterested one. It was more than completely voluntary: it
was predetermined.Yes, the Medici and Galileo were broughttogether by the
stars. It could not be by chance that Galileo, a Medici subject and the private
mathematicstutor of Prince Cosimo II himself, had discovered the stars: only he
could discover them. And in a sense the stars did not need to be dedicatedto the
Medici: they had always been theirs. As Galileo put it, four stars had been reserved for the illustriousname of Medici-assigned to them, like Galileo himself,
from the beginning.44
Appropriately,Galileo referrednot to a discovery but to an "encounter"be41 Galileo to Doge Leonardo Dona, 24 Aug. 1609, no. 228 in Opere, Vol. X, p. 251 (emphasis
added). Lipperheytried to obtain a patentfor his telescope in 1608.In presentingthe instrumentto
Prince Maurice,he-like Galileo a year later-stressed its militaryusefulness; see Albert Van Helden, "The Invention of the Telescope," Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 1977,
67:20-21, 26, 36.
42 Westfall, Scientific Patronage (cit. n. 1), pp. 16-21; StillmanDrake, ed., Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1957), pp. 1-20; and Galileo, Sidereus nuncius, trans.
Van Helden (cit. n. 6), pp. 1-24.
43 Galileo,Sidereusnuncius,trans. Van Helden, pp. 30-31. Galileodid not makethis last point, the
connection between the four stars and the four brothers, explicit in the Sidereus nuncius, merely
claimingthat they were "childrenof the same family"(ibid., p. 31), but he did makeit in the letter to
Vinta of 13 Feb. 1610(no. 265, p. 283, cit. n. 32).
44 Galileo, Sidereus nuncius, trans. Van Helden, pp. 32, 31. The theme of the predestinationof a
patronagerelationshipwas not a new one. Vasari used it a few decades earlierwhen he signed his
letters to Cosimo I "Servitorper fortunae per istella, GiorgioVasari";see Carteggiodi Vasari, ed.
Frey (cit. n. 11), p. 443.
GALILEO THE EMBLEM MAKER
tween the Medici and their destiny. His role in this encounter was that of the
mediator,and a lowly one at that. As he told Vinta, it was in the best interest of
the Medici to "ennoble"him because "thereis only one thing that largely diminishes the greatness of this encounter, and that is the ignobleness and low status
of the mediator. Nevertheless .
. the ennoblement of the mediator is no less in
the range of possibilities of His Most Serene Highness than the demonstrationof
my most devout observance was in mine."45If the Medici hesitated, the celestiality of the encountermightbe pollutedby the hands of the lowly mediator.
However, Galileo was not asking the Medici for a title in exchange for a dedication. If the "encounter"was a predestinedone, then his role as mediatorwas
predestined too. He was de facto (or ex Deo) the Medici oracle. The Medici
needed only to recognize it. And, with some help from Galileo, they eventually
Cosimo's "ennoblement"of Galileowas more than a simple matterof noblesse
oblige. The more the Medici recognized Galileo's "nobility"and disinterestedness, the more they legitimizedtheir dynasty by representinghis discovery as a
preordainedcelestial encounter with their destiny. For this discovery to be an
omen from the stars (a sidereus nuncius) Galileo must be given the status of
starry ambassador-that is, of philosopherof the grandduke. Similarly,Galileo
presentedthe telescope to the Medici both as a scientificinstrumentand as a sort
of dynastic relic. When, in March 1610, he sent the telescope to Cosimo II together with the presentationcopy of the Sidereus nuncius, Galileo told him that
the rough-lookingand unpolishedinstrumentshould be left in its state, for it was
the "instrumentthroughwhich such a great discovery was achieved." The grand
duke, Galileo continued, would receive many and more elegant-looking telescopes, but only this one was "there"at "that time."46It alone, of all possible
telescopes, carriedthat special auraof hinc et nunc with it. It alone was notjust a
telescope but a nuncius.
In a sense, Galileo was perfectly right in presenting himself as a "natural"
client of the Medici. When he observed the satellites at the end of 1609, he realized that, given the structureof the Medici's mythology and the patronageconnections he had developed over the years, the Medici were the best (if not the
only) patrons he could possibly attract. Quite probablyJupiterplayed a role in
the political mythologies of other Europeandynasties, but there is no evidence
that Galileo knew of them or had brokers in those courts who could help him
quickly negotiate a dedication.
V. SUSPICIOUS STARS
Galileo's strategyfor the legitimationof both his new instrumentand the discoveries it made possible does not seem essentially differentfrom the one he had
tried out with Cosimo's 1608 impresa. By transformingthe instrumentand the
discoveries into Medici fetishes, he tried to tie his patron's image and power to
them. But the use of patronsas legitimizinginstitutionswas not an unproblematic
strategy. Patronsdid not usually want to risk their status for their clients', even
45 QuotingGalileo to Vinta, 19 Mar. 1610,no. 277 in Opere, Vol. X, p. 301. For the theme of the
encountersee ibid., p. 298, and Galileoto Vinta, 13 Mar. 1610,no. 271, p. 289.
46 Galileoto Vinta, 19 Mar. 1610,pp. 297-298.
when an importantcontributionto their own image was at stake.47The cautious
Cosimo II was not always quick to upholdGalileo againsthis challengers,and his
son FerdinandII would be even less supportive.
Just a week after the publicationof the Sidereus nuncius in March 1610, Galileo wrote Vinta that, it
being most true that our reputationbegins with our own self-confidence, and that
whoever wants to be esteemed oughtto have self-esteem first, when His Most Serene
Highness will demonstraterecognitionof the importanceof this encounter [the discovery of the Mediceanstars], no doubt not only all his subjects but all nations will
recognize its importancetoo, and there will remain no feather in the wings of fame
that will not write praisingthe glory of this event.
Galileo then suggested that the distributionof copies of the Siderius nuncius and
of telescopes to Europeankings and princes would be most appropriatelycarried
out by the Medici ambassadorsin the various Italianand Europeanstates.48That
would have lent legitimationto his discoveries while giving those princes a reliable "viewer" and the related "instructions"to observe the Medici's glory. But
while the Medici accepted Galileo's proposal of distributingthe books and instrumentsthroughtheir official diplomaticchannels, they avoided taking an official stand on the reality of the satellites of Jupiter.49
Writingagain to Vinta on 7 May, Galileo went back to the same issue. After
reassuringVinta and the Medici that he had both publicly refutedhis challengers
at Paduaand received a long and very supportiveletter from the "Mathematician
to the Emperor,"Galileo claimedthat the Medici's image in connection with the
discoveries had been safely defended. But now: "We-but especially our Most
Serene Lords-have to sustainthe importanceand reputationof the discovery by
demonstratingthe esteem such a remarkablenovelty deserves, it being so considered by everybody who speaks sincerely." But the Medici maintainedtheir
cautious stand. Vincenzo Giugni-the supervisor of the Medici artistic workshops-wrote Galileo on 5 June to say that productionof the dies to strike the
medal celebratingthe discovery of the Medicean-stars had been put on hold by
the grandduke himself. Cosimo II had told Giugnito wait until the debate on the
stars was settled.50
By this time Galileo had received a long letter from Johannes Kepler (published soon after as Dissertatio cum Nuncio sidereo) in which he confirmedGalileo's observations. Confident of the internationalcredibility brought him by
Kepler's endorsement,Galileo showed himself annoyed by the grandduke's extreme caution and mentionedto Giugnithat the king of France had intimatedhis
willingnessto accept the dedicationof whateverplanets Galileo mightdiscover in
the future. Therefore, Galileo suggested to Giugni that, "whenever possible,
please make sure that Your Most Serene Highness would not delay the flight of
fame by taking an ambiguousstand about what he has seen many times by him,self-something that fortune reserved to him and denied to everybody else. 951
Biagioli, "Galileo'sSystem of Patronage"(cit. n. 24).
Galileoto Vinta, 19 Mar. 1610,pp. 298 (quotation),299.
Vinta to Galileo, 22 May 1610,no. 311, in Opere, pp. X, pp. 355-356.
50 Galileo to Vinta, 7 May 1610, no. 306; and Vincenzo Giugnito Galileo, 5 June 1610, no. 326,
ibid., pp. 349, 368-369.
51 Galileoto Giugni,25 June 1610,no. 339, ibid., pp. 381-382(see also pp. 379-380);and Johannes
Kepler to Galileo, 19 Apr. 1610, no. 297, ibid., pp. 319-340. We know of a numberof people who
GALILEO THE EMBLEM MAKER
Althoughby the time Galileo sent this letter he had been assured by Vinta of his
position at the Medici court, it may be not by chance that he had not yet received
a contract, which in fact reached him only in July.
Cosimo II was not alone in his cautiousness. The Florentineacademiciansand
court writers were not celebratingthe Medicean stars as enthusiasticallyas Galileo hoped and expected they would. Two weeks after the publication of the
Nuncius, Alessandro Sertini-a longtime Florentine friend of Galileo's and a
memberof the AccademiaFiorentina-wrote him saying that his efforts to mobilize the "TuscanMuses" had not been very successful. The Medici court writers
seemed to be waitingfor one of them to give the signal:"TheMuses are moving a
bit slowly, because nine of them are laggingbehindwaitingfor a tenth one to take
the lead. Your Lord should write him if you want to make sure that he will write
somethingon the Medicean Stars."52
In a letter of 10 July, SertiniinformedGalileo that attacks by GiovanniMagini
and MartinusHorky on his discoveries had been widely publicized in Florence
and that Ludovico delle Colombe seemed to join the challengers' side. Thus
Sertiniwas unsure of the Florentinewriters' willingness to publish their sonnets
on the stars. Galileo had proposed to the grand duke the publicationof a more
elegant version of the Sidereus nuncius in the Florentinelanguage,one including
the sonnets dedicated to the Medicean stars.53Such a version would have been
tailored for the Florentine court audience, for the sonnets would spell out the
connections between the stars and the Medici mythology. Those connections
were not elaboratedin the first Latin version of the Nuncius because the European audience to which it was primarilyaddressed could not have understood
them. In fact, it was, I think, because he had a Europeanaudience in mind that
Vinta, when consulted by Galileo on the name to be assigned to the satellites in
the Sidereus nuncius, replied that, of the two names proposed by Galileo, "Medicea Sydera" seemed more appropriatebecause "CosmicaSydera" might have
been misunderstoodas referringto "cosmos"ratherthan to "Cosimo."54A Florentine audience would have not made that mistake.
The writers were still unenthusiasticin August, when Sertini wrote Galileo:
"everybody here is worried because you said you wanted to print [the poems].
[Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger] would prefer not to have his name
printedbut-like Piero de' Bardi-he would be happierif it would say: 'Made by
the Impastato, Member of the Academy of the Crusca.'" The court writers,
knowing that Galileo now wanted to publish not only their sonnets but the challenges to his discovery, together with his responses, in the new edition of the
Nuncius, were uncomfortablewith the idea of being perceived as Galileo's allies
in his predictablyaggressivecounterattacks.Sertiniwent so far as to suggest that
tried to replicate Galileo's patronage strategies; see Westfall, "Scientific Patronage" (cit. n. 1), p. 20,
n. 36. It seems that Nicolas Claude Fabri de Peiresc planneda "Frenchversion" of the Sidereus
nuncius dedicated to Mariade' Medici. The sketch for the frontispiecesurvives. It depicts Maria
sittingon Jupitersurroundedby the four stars, which Peiresc had namedafter the four granddukes:
Cosmus Major, Franciscus, Ferdinandus,and Cosmus Minor:La corte, il mare, i mercanti;La
rinascita della scienza; Editoria e societa; Astrologia, magia e alchimia (Florence: Edizioni Medicee,
1980)(an exhibitioncatalogue),pp. 230-231.
52 AlessandroSertinito Galileo, 27 Mar. 1610,no. 282, in Opere, Vol. X, pp. 305-306.
53 Sertinito Galileo, 10 July 1610,no. 357, ibid., pp. 398-399;and Galileoto Vinta, 19 Mar. 1610,p.
54 Galileo to Vinta, 13 Feb. 1610, no. 265; and Vinta to Galileo, 20 Feb. 1610, no. 266; ibid., pp.
Galileo answer everybody "without mentioning anybody, and by remaining
within the specific boundariesof the issue, for it seems the best thing to do, and
the one I would prefer."55
Although the Medici and the court writers were not Galileo's scientific peers,
their behavior is reminiscent of colleagues' cautious evaluations of a scientific
discovery. At first glance it may seem odd that neither Cosimo nor the court
writers seemed to take the opinions of members of the professional elite of astronomers,like Kepler, as decisive in determiningtheir own endorsements.56But
Cosimo and the writers were in fact Galileo's peers or superiors by virtue of
belongingto the same institution:the court. The court was not a scientific institution, but the place where representationsof the prince's power were produced;
and Galileo was hired there less as an astronomerper se than as a producerof
spectaculardynastic emblems. Therefore, he needed the writers to accept and
articulatehis discoveries in court culturalproductionsand representationsof the
grandduke's power. On the other hand, the Florentinecourtiersdid not need to
believe Kepler or, for that matter, Galileo himself. The opinions of leading astronomerswere not bindingon courtiers. The only authoritythey knew was that
of their prince or of their prince's patrons.
Galileo's delicate position in this phase of his transitionfrom the university to
the court reflects the novelty of the socioprofessionalidentity he was trying to
establish for himself. In a sense, Galileo was a socioprofessional hybrid. He
presented himself as a "new philosopher," a role that-given the disciplinary
hierarchy structuringthe university-could be legitimized only at court. Yet,
even thoughthe people who had the professionalskills to judge his achievements
were not court writers and gentlemen, but mathematicians,and even though
Galileo might have been in serious trouble had Kepler turned down his claims
about the existence of the satellites of Jupiter, Kepler's recognition of his
discoveries was not sufficient to win over the courtiers. Galileo needed the
endorsement of courtiers and prince because only at court could he become a
philosopher. Schematically put, the mathematicians'endorsement of Galileo's
discoveries would have been necessary and sufficientto establish his credibility
as a mathematician,but that same endorsement was only necessary (and no
longer sufficient)in certifyingGalileo's credibilityas a court philosopher.
Steven Shapin's study of the seventeenth-century "house of experiments"
suggests that the legitimationof experimentalpractices in Englandwas caught in
an analogous social paradox. Those who had the technical skills to performexperiments (and quite likely to understandthem) did not have the social status
needed to be perceived as having "the qualificationsto make knowledge."57Conversely, many of the gentlemen who had the social qualificationsto "make
ss Sertini to Galileo, 7 Aug. 1610, no. 372, ibid., pp. 411-413, quotingfrom p. 412. For Galileo's
plan see Galileoto Vinta, 18 June 1610,no. 332, ibid., pp. 373-374.
56 Medici respect for the Jesuits' scientificauthoritymay seem to contradictmy point. However,
the Medicis'appreciationof Jesuitrecognitionin December1610that Galileo'stelescopic discoveries
were reliable is not a sign of the Jesuits' "technicalcredibility"only. Their opinion was probably
more influentialthan Kepler's because they were correctlyperceived as the mathematiciansof the
pope. This was particularlytrue in Florence, where, with the legitimacyof the Medici dynasty precariously dependenton the pope, religious orthodoxy and respect for the church's positions were
crucial. So, in respectingthe Jesuits' views, the Florentinecourtierswere bowingto the authorityof
57 Steven Shapin, "The House of Experiment in Seventeenth-CenturyEngland," Isis, 1988,
79:373-404,on p. 395.
Figure 3. Gaspare Mola, oval medal struck around 1610 to commemorate Cosimo II and the
discovery of the Medicean stars. From KarlaLangedijk,The Portraitsof the Medici (Florence:
SPES, 1983), Vol. I, p. 579.
knowledge" did not have skills. They could certify, but they often could not
figureout how or what to certify.
VI. THE CAREEROF THE MEDICEANSTARS
Although Galileo was not successful in his first attempts to tie the court writers
to his wagon, the Medicean stars eventually became an integralpart of the discourse of the court.58The medal celebratingGalileo's discovery of the satellites
was eventually struck. Jupitersittingon a cloud with the four stars circlingabout
him was presented as an emblem of Cosimo II, whose effigy occupied the other
side of the medal (Fig. 3). The stars were representedin sonnets, in theatrical
machines, in operas, in medals, and in frescoes celebratingthe divine pedigreeof
the house of Medici. We encounterthem again in the most importantcourt spectacle of the carnivalof 1613-the barrieraof 17 February.
It began at two o'clock Florentinetime in the theaterof the Pitti Palace in front
of a selected courtly audience.59After a virtuoso display of spectaculartheatrical
machines and effects designed by the court engineer Giulo Parigi, the spectacle
deployed its mythologicalplot.
58 The vernacularversion of the Sidereus nuncius was never printed. Survivingsonnets to the
Mediceanstars includethose of Buonarroti(in Galileo, Opere, Vol. X, p. 412), Salvadori(ibid., Vol.
IX, pp. 233-272), and Piero Bardi (ibid., Vol. X, p. 399). ClaudioSeripandi'sis lost; Niccol6 Arrighetti's was left in manuscriptform untilit was publishedin Nunzio Vaccaluzzo,GalileoGalileinella
poesia del suo secolo (Milan:Sandron,1910),pp. 59-60. We do not know whetherChiabrerawrote a
sonnet after Sertini's invitation, only that Galileo sent him an autographedcopy of the Sidereus
nuncius(now at the Universityof Oklahomaat Norman).Salvadori's"Perle Stelle Mediceetemerariamenteoppugnate"makes explicit the use of patronagefor the legitimationof Galileo's discoveries.
After retracinga mythologicalhistoryof the Medicifamilythat stresses the link between the Medici
and Jupiter(and his tremendouspower), Salvadoridisplays his incredulityat the arroganceof those
who, by challengingthe existence of the Medicean stars, were challengingJupiter's(or Cosimo's)
own power (Galileo, Opere, Vol. IX, p. 272).
S Nagler, TheatreFestivals of the Medici (cit. n. 16), pp. 119-121.
Cupid set his own realm over Tuscany, inauguratinga Golden Age, but peace
was soon threatened. Cupid and his knights (six court pages) were faced by a
monstrousdragonspittingflames and smoke and twelve Furies led by Nemesis.
Although the dragon, Nemesis, and the Furies were eventually made to disappear into a trapconveniently connected to hell, Cupidand Tuscany were not safe
yet. Sdegno Amoroso (Disdain of Love) and his five ferocious and barbarouslooking "Egyptianknights"jumped on stage from the hellmouth.60 A new tilt
began, but peace and Tuscany's Golden Age were quickly reestablishedby divine (Cosimo I's?) intervention.
Thunderwas heard, and Jupiterarrivedon a shimmeringcloud (partof a very
complicated machine that changed in appearanceas it moved about the stage).
Jupiterwas not alone:
Down below, amongthe clouds, appearedthe four stars that circle Jupiterdiscovered
by GalileoGalileifrom Florence, Mathematicianto His Highness, with the marvelous
spyglass, and like the ancients who transposedto the sky their greatest heroes, hehaving discovered these stars-called them Medicee, and has dedicated the first to
His Most Serene Highness, the second to Prince Don Francesco, the thirdto Prince
Don Carlo, the fourthto PrinceDon Lorenzo.61
The machine brought Jupiter close to the grand duchess, to whom he sang an
aria;then it slowly disappearedfrom the stage. In the process the four Medicean
stars turned into four flesh-and-bloodknights: "After Jupiter finished his song
some thunders were heard, the cloud vanished and there appeared four stars
which soon turnedinto four knightswho stood up." The Cyclops (who had come
on stage right before Jupiter's arrival)handed thunderboltsto the four knights.
With such weapons, they were ready to start the new joust in Jupiter's name.
The name of the tilt was "The Arrival of the Knights of the Medicean Stars."
Peace soon followed. The ladies in the audiencejoined the knights on stage and
the finalball began.62
The rest of the city had its share of the Medicean stars: two days later a
simpler version of the barrierawent throughthe city as a carnival procession.
The Medicean stars, together with the Furies and Nemesis, were in the second
troupe of the pageant.
Probably as a result of the Bellarmin'sadmonitionto Galileo in 1616 and of
Cosimo II's declininghealth and control over culturaland politicalpolicies, Galileo's discoveries did not continue the career in the Medici mythology they had
begun so brilliantly.Their visibility declined even furtherafter 1621 when-following Cosimo II's death-the GrandDuchess Cristinaand her counselors took
over the governmentof Tuscany and the managementof court culture. Carnival
festivals were played down, and sacred comedies became the dominantgenre.63
Moreover, the lack of an actual prince (FerdinandII would reach majorityonly
in 1628) made it difficult to develop new prince-centeredcultural productions.
When FerdinandII finallytook power in 1628,Galileo had alreadydeveloped a
Ibid., pp. 121, 122.
Giovanni Villifranchi, Descrizione della barriera e della mascherata fatte in Firenze a' XVII & a'
XIX di febbraio 1613 ... (Florence: Sermartelli, 1613), pp. 32-33.
62 Ibid., p. 38; and Nagler, Theatre Festivals of the Medici (cit. n. 16), pp. 123-125.
63 Ludovico Zorzi, Il luogo teatrale a Firenze (Milan:Electa, 1975),p. 88.
Figure 4. Pietro da Cortona,Jupiter, Accompanied by the CardinalVirtues, Florence, Palazzo
Pitti, Room of Jupiter, detail of ceiling. From Langedijk,Portraitsof the Medici, Vol. 1,p. 209.
new patronage niche in Rome. However, the Medicean Stars enjoyed a minor
revival duringthe later partof Ferdinand'sreign. As a result of the court moving
from the Palazzo della Signoria to Palazzo Pitti, a new Medici Olympus was
painted in the new palace's PlanetaryRooms. Just as Galileo linked the Medicean stars to Jupiter-CosimoI's virtues in the dedication of the Sidereus nuncius, the Palazzo Pitti's Room of Jupiter(one of the PlanetaryRooms) presented
the god surroundedby the Mediceanstars qua the four cardinalvirtues (Fig. 4)."
The Medicean stars figured even more conspicuously in Medici mythology
duringthe reign of Cosimo III. The grandduke's name lent itself to references to
the Medicean stars-especially because, having five ancestors, he could be portrayed as directly relatedto Jupiterand the four stars. Cosimo III's revival of the
Medicean stars was most evident in 1661, on the occasion of his marriageto
Marguerite-Louised'Orleans-the cousin of Louis XIV. The Mondo festeggiante, an equestrian ballet, was the highlightof a long series of ceremonies,
pageants, and spectacles celebratingthis importantpolitical event. Accordingto
the official description, twenty thousandspectators attendedthe ballet.65
The spectacle began with the entrance of an exceptionally large theatrical
"The frescoes in the room of Jupiterwere begunby Pietroda Cortonaand completedaround1665
by his pupilCiro Fern; see Langedijk,Portraitsof the Medici (cit. n. 38), Vol. II, pp. 210-212.
65For accountsof the weddingfestivities see Memoriedellefeste fatte in Firenzeper le reali nozze
de' SerenissimiSposi Cosimo Principe di Toscana e MargheritaLuisa d'Orleans (Florence, 1662)
(for the size of the crowd see p. 106);and AlessandroCarducci,Il mondofesteggiante, balletto a
cavallofatto nel teatro congiuntoal Palazzo del Sereniss. GranDuca per le reali nozze de' Serenissimi Principi Cosimo Terzo di Toscana e MargheritaLuisa d'Orleans (Florence, 1661). See also
HaroldActon, TheLast Medici (London:Methuen, 1958),pp. 68-83.
i. ;;w..... ....
, } 11
FIgure5. From Alessandro Carducci, 11mondofesteggiante(Florence, 1661). Courtesy of the
machine representingHercules carrying the cosmos on his shoulders (Fig. 5).
Once Hercules reached the center of the stage, the machine slowly transformed
itself into Mount Atlas. Numerous knights representingthe earth's four continents entered the stage, paying homage to Hercules and-implicitly-to the new
"Herculean"couple being celebratedthere. But while the knightsof Europe and
Americawere happy about the wedding, those of Asia and Africa felt threatened
by such a powerfulunion. An elegant duel-balletbetween the two factions began
but did not last long.66
Powerfulthunderwas heard, announcingJupiter'sarrivalon a very tall theatrical machine surroundedby clouds. Immediatelyall the knights stopped dueling.
As soon as the machine had lowered Jupiterto the level of the stage, the clouds
disappearedand "four knights ridingfour elegant horses appearedvery close to
Jupiter.They symbolized the four Medicean stars which [this is a quotationfrom
the Sidereusnuncius]never depart from his side" (Fig. 6). Jupiterthen sang a
song celebratingthe wedding, which would make Cosimo's Medicean stars even
more beautiful and shining because of the new splendor contributed by the
golden lilies of Marie-Louise.Apollojoined Jupiterin praisingthe weddingas the
union of the "French sun and the Medicean stars." As the spectacle continued,
"four Medicean stars reached His Highness and took their places around him,
that is, aroundthe Tuscan Jupiter,and they never left him duringthe remaining
part of the ceremony, but they always accompaniedhim and remainedorderly
and close to him in all his pageants."67
The Medicean stars also appearedin a medal struckon the occasion of Cosimo
66 Carducci,Il mondofesteggiante, p. 46.
Ibid., quotingfrom pp. 49, 53, 61; for Jupiter'ssong see p. 51.
Figure6. FromCarducci,1Imondofesteggiante.Courtesyof the HarvardTheatreCollection.
Jupiter arriving among clouds appears at the rear center, with the four "Medici star" knights
just below(see arrow).
III's wedding. His impresa was a ship at sea guided by the Medicean stars, with
the motto Certafulgent sidera (Fig. 7). When Cosimo III died in 1723, a similar
medal with the Medicean stars was placed on his chest (Fig. 8). The Medici
dynasty survived him by only fourteen years.
Even as the Medicean stars began to reappearin court mythology during the
reign of FerdinandII, their association with Galileo was on the wane. His condemnationin 1633hastened the process. Galileo's role in the satellites' discovery
was mentioned in the barriera of the carnival of 1613, but no such reference
occurs in the Mondofesteggiante of 1661. By that time Medici court culture had
severed the Medicean stars not only from their discovererbut from astronomyas
well, so that, stars no longer, they became a dynasticfetish, a name ritualistically
assigned to Jupiter-Cosimo's knights. Analysis of this process of fetishization
uncovers both the avenues and the limits Medici court patronageoffered to the
Because Medici patronagerewardedmarvelsthat would fit the discourse of the
court but not scientific theories or research programs,Galileo tended to present
the satellites of Jupiternot as astronomicaldiscoveries supportinga new cosmology but as dynastic emblems, and himself not as a discoverer, but only as the
mediatorof an encounter. Thus, paradoxically,for Galileo's patronagestrategy
to be succesful, he had to efface his authorshipin the discovery so as to become
a more legitimate author-that is, a philosopher. Or, to put it differently, he
needed to efface both the astronomicalrelevance of his discovery and the role his
skills as a mathematicianand an instrumentmaker had played in it in order to
gain the title of philosopherthat, in turn, could offer epistemologicallegitimation
to both Copernicanastronomy and the mathematicalstudy of nature he practiced.
Moreover, to succeed, Galileo could not simply donate to the Medici what he
had discovered; rather, he had to spin a mythological narrative according to
which the discovery of the stars had never "belonged"to him. He claimed to
present the Medici with somethingthat had never been his but had always been
theirs. Although he was offering them a most prized marvel, Galileo-with an
extreme expression of courtly sprezzatura-had to represent himself as giving
them nothing.The complete alienationof the stars and their discovererdisplayed
in the Mondo Festeggiante and in other later representationsof the Medicean
stars was already inscribed in the patronage strategy Galileo had implemented
fifty years before.
In the long run Galileo's extraneousnessto the discovery of the stars, which he
had claimed rhetorically,became a reality. The Medicean stars became nothing
but Medici fetishes and were celebratedas such within Medici court cultureuntil
the very end of the dynasty. Galileo left the stage much sooner. To sum up,
because he understoodthe codes of Medicifetishism, Galileo obtainedthe title of
philosopher, but he was not able to gain full Medici supportfor his attempt to
legitimize Copernicanismand the mathematicalanalysis of nature.
Although the practices of Medici court patronagewere both a blessing and a
curse for Galileo, they represented-as the saying goes-an offer he could not
refuse. The paradoxes inherent in Galileo's patronage-boundrepresentationof
the Medicean stars were connected to the other paradoxembodiedin his moving
to court, that is, to an institutionthat could legitimize the new socioprofessional
role he was seeking but could not understandor care about the technical dimensions of his work.
Although the Medici's patronageagenda may have overlappedonly locally or
temporarilywith Galileo's strategies for social and cognitive legitimation, the
overlap was of great historical significance. Besides its obvious importancefor
Galileo's own career, his being hired at the Medici court with the title of philosopher may mark the intersectionbetween two more general historicalprocesses:
the formationof court culture associated with the emergence of the absolutist
state, and the process of the social legitimationof science. Let me brieflyoutline
certain traits of court society and culture, then turn to how Galileo's strategies
for the social and cognitive legitimationof science, as they emergefrom an analysis of his career, may be comparedto other patterns of socioprofessionallegitimation associated with that culture.
Recent works on early modern courts suggest that although baroque courts
differed, their culture-being closely associated with the discourse of increasingly absolute princes-displayed a number of commensurablefeatures across
national boundaries.68One of them was its self-referentiality.Especially after
" See, e.g., NorbertElias, CourtSociety (Oxford:Blackwell, 1983);Elias, The CivilizingProcess
(cit. n. 17); Louis Marin, Portrait of the King (Minneapolis:Univ. MinnesotaPress, 1988);JeanMarie Apostolides, Le prince sacri;fie (Paris: Minuit, 1985); Apostolides, Le roi machine (Paris: Min-
uit, 1981);Sergio Bertelliand GiulianoCrif6, eds., Rituale, cerimoniale,etichetta (Milan:Bompiani,
1985); Amedeo Quondam and Marzio Achille Romani, eds., Le corti Farnesiane di Parma e Piacenza, 2 vols. (Rome: Bulzoni, 1978);AdrianoProsperi,La corte e il "Cortegiano": Un modello
Figure 7. Francesco Travani,later copy (1666) of a medal Travanimade on the occasion of the
marriage of Cosimo Ill and Marie-Louised'Orleans in 1661. From Langedilk, Portraitsof the
Medici, Vol. 1,p. 640.
1550, court culture tended to close itself off (both culturallyand geographically)
from surroundingsociety to focus on and refer exclusively to itself, to the prince,
or to the culture of other courts. It is to this process that we can relate the
development of the closed theatricalcourt spaces that then replacedpublic spectacles. Similarly, if we look at court literatureand poetry, we soon notice that
their subject matterwas a more or less subtle mix of the rulingfamily's mythologies with contemporaryevents (ceremonies, militaryexploits, public works and
monuments)and the lives and works of living courtiers.The works of the writers
Galileo hoped would celebrate the Medicean stars (GabrielloChiabrera,Michelangelo Buonarrotithe Younger, Andrea Salvadori)and those of his friend Salvadore Coppolaare full of referencesto actualcourt life. A similarpatterncan be
found in court paintings.69
The effect was a culturalclosure that sometimesaccompaniedthe geographical
isolation of the court from the rest of society. Versailles is probably the most
visible example of this process, but the various Medici's ville in the countryside
near Florence shared Versailles's political function. They were princely "Gardens of Eden." Together with this cultural-geographicalisolation of the court
from the city and the crowds that populatedit, we find the formationof a new
social group, court society, out of the former patriciateof commercial origins.
This closure gave the would-becourtiersa sense of differentiationfrom the urban
crowds and'helped shape their new social identity. Contemporarytreatises on
the court refer to its culture with a specific term: civilta. As Matteo Peregriniput
it in 1624, "The Prince is the heart and the court the limbs of civilized living (vita
civile)," and courtly life-style is civility itself.70
europeo(Rome:Bulzoni, 1980);and FrankWhigham,Jr., Ambitionand Privilege:TheSocial Tropes
of ElizabethanCourtesyTheory(Berkeley:Univ. CaliforniaPress, 1984).
9 See, e.g., Allegriand Cecchi, Palazzo Vecchioe i Medici (cit. n. 11), pp. 145-147.See also note
70 Matteo Peregrini,Che al savio e convenevole il corteggiare(Bologna, 1624), pp. 82, 171. The
sociogenesisof the notion of civiliteas foundin Frenchcourtliteratureis analyzedthroughoutElias's
But the formationof court society and its increasingisolation from the lower
classes did not affect the status only of the upper classes that it included or
controlled. The development of court society requiredmore than the formation
of a court aristocracy, that is, of a collusive audience for the representationsof
the prince's power. Competentproducersof those representationswere needed
as well. Although artists have always celebratedthe image of the powerful, we
find that with the emergence of the baroquecourt and the centralizedstate, the
artistic representationsof the prince's power began to be controlled by specialized institutions:the officialacademiesof fine arts. As a result of their incorporation in this sort of "artistic bureaucracy," academic artists obtained a much
higher social status than the nonacademic craftsmen who practiced the visual
It is here that the developmentof court society and culture intersects with the
process of the social legitimationof science. While princes like the Medici were
trying to develop absolutist states and needed legitimizing representations of
their power, university mathematicianslike Galileo were facing a status gap between themselves and the philosophers. As mentionedearlier, this gap delegitimized the use of mathematicsas a tool for the study of the physical dimensions
of natural phenomena. Therefore, in the same way that artisans had become
academic artists by representingthe prince's mythologies of power in painting,
sculpture, and architecture,Galileo turned himself from a mathematicianinto a
philosopherby representingthe satellites of Jupiteras Medici dynastic emblems.
Althoughthe court was not a scientific academy, it was an institutionthat could
offer some level of social legitimation,and that, in turn, could help establish the
Given this scenario of discicredibility of mathematicians-turned-philosophers.
plinary hierarchies, existing social institutions, and patterns of sociocultural
change, the court representedGalileo's most promisingoption for socioprofessional legitimation-although a problematicone.
There is a last specific aspect of court patronagethat played an importantrole
in Galileo's strategies of social legitimation.While negotiatingwith Vinta about
his position at court, Galileo stressed his desire to serve only one patron rather
than the many he had in Padua and Venice. He also insisted that a republicwas
not the kind of state that could give him the kind of status he was looking for.72
Then, in the dedicationof the Sidereus nuncius, he effaced the economic dimensions of the patronagerelationshiphe was seeking and presentedit as "astrologically predetermined."
As I have shown elsewhere, Galileo's relationshipwith Cosimo II reflected a
type of patronage that occurred between a great patron and a high-visibility
client-a type of patronageencounteredin importantcourts. Michelangelo'srelation with Julius II and Corneille's and Racine's with Louis XIV also fell in this
Court Society (cit. n. 17). On the court as Eden see Apostolides, Le roi machine (cit. n. 68), esp.
"Les plaisirsde l'ile enchantee,"pp. 93-113.
71 Vasari, a foundingmemberof the Accademiadel Disegno, expressed the gap between his own
social status and that of Perinodel Vaga, a nonacademicpainter,by describingthe latter as "one of
those who keep an open shop and stand there in public, workingat all sorts of mechanicaltasks";
quotedin Peter Burke, TheItalianRenaissance(Princeton,N.J.: PrincetonUniv. Press, 1987),p. 81.
For a generaltreatmentof the topic see NikolausPevsner,Academiesof Art (Cambridge:Cambridge
Univ. Press, 1940).For the Accademiadel Disegno see note 15.
72 Galileo to Vinta, 7 May 1610, in Opere,Vol. X, no. 307, p. 351. See also Galileo to "S. Vesp.,"
Feb. 1609,no. 209; pp. 232-233;and Galileoto Cristina,8 Dec. 1606,no. 146;ibid., pp. 232-233, 165.
Figure8. AntonioSelvi,reverseof an undated
category.73The peculiarityof this type of patronageis to be found in the denial,
on both sides, of the economic basis of the relationship.Greatpatronscould not
present themselves as buying a client's celebrationof their image without staining that image. Only those who did not have an imposing image would have to
pay somebody to produce one. Symmetrically,importantclients tended to deny
the cash nexus in order to present themselves as "disinterested," that is,
"noble." A client seeking high status throughthe supportof a great patroncould
not be perceived as having the ethos of a shopkeeper, of someone who sold
artifactsto whoever entered the shop at whateverprice the marketwould bear.
But high-visibilityclients did not simply deny their interest in entering a patronage relationshipwith a great patron. If they wanted to qualify for exclusive
and powerful patronage,they also needed to celebratethe image of their patrons
in innovative, provocative, and risk-takingways. They had to present themselves
as sharing the aristocratic ("heroic")ethos of their great patrons.74Such highpatronage relationships were importanttools of self-fashioning,used by court
visual artists like Michelangelo and court writers like Racine and Corneille to
gain high social status and to differentiatethemselves from the less original,less
daring,profit-seekingmembersof their professions. Michelangeloremarkedthat
he "was never a painter or a sculptor like those who set up shop for that purpose." Through similar patronagedynamics, Racine and Corneille managed to
upgradetheir own social status. They were perceived not as paid pens, but as
Galileo's strategies for patronagewere not unlike those of Michelangelo, Racine, and Corneille. He did not present his discoveries as somethinguseful to be
73On Racine see RaymondPicard,La carrierede Racine (Paris:Gallimard,1961);and AlainViala,
Naissance de l'ecrivain(Paris:Minuit,1985).On Corneillesee ibid. On Michelangelosee the interestingly biased Giorgo Vasari, La vita di Michelangelonelle redazionidel 1550 e 1568, 5 vols. (Milan/
Naples: Ricciardi, 1962).I have analyzedthis type of patronagein "Galileo'sSystem of Patronage"
(cit. n. 24).
74 "Aussi peut-on bien parler 'd'heroismelitteraire':leur gloire d'ecrivainleur conquiertla noblesse commejadis les exploits au combatfaisaientde l'hommelibreun chevalier":Viala, Naissance
de l'ecrivain,p. 222.
75 This is the argumentof Viala's book; see esp. pp. 217-236, 270-299. For the quotationfrom
Michelangelosee Burke,Italian Renaissance (cit. n. 71), p. 80.
rewardedeconomically. Useful devices were the domain of engineers. Galileo,
instead, presented himself as a disinterestedmessenger of dynastic destiny. By
denyinghis economic interest and by celebratingthe power of a great patronin a
very personalizedway, Galileo managedto be transformedfrom a mathematician
into a philosopher. But the social escalation so obtained had cognitive implications. Being disinterested-that is, not havingone's mind clouded by the idols of
the marketplace-was a prerequisitefor having credibility, and a gap in epistemological credibility separatedmathematiciansfrom philosophers. The peculiar
type of patronagerelationshipGalileo developed with Cosimo II was instrumental in closing this gap. This is also why, as he told Vinta, Galileo needed the
absolute prince he could not find in Venice. He needed a patron important
enough to give him not only money and free time, but also cognitive legitimacy.
And, in general, great patronswere absolute princes with courts.
My concern here is not to present Galileo's career as determinedby the court
and its forms of patronage.Galileo did not need to move from the university to
the courts, and he did not discover the satellites of Jupiter because he was a
client of the Medici. However, the historicalprocesses, institutions, and patronage dynamics that made Galileo's career possible were not unique to him. Similarly, the fundamentalaspects of baroquecourt culture and patronagerelated to
the discourse of the absolute ruler,and the low epistemologicalstatus assigned to
mathematicsby a university disciplinaryhierarchythat privileged theology and
philosophy, were by no means exclusive to the Florentinecontext.76
To say that Galileo was simply lucky with his patronagestrategies-as to say
that he was just an exceptional scientist-is to ignore the more general sociohistoricalprocesses that made possible his unusualcareer and framedhis strategies for the legitimationof Copernicanismand mathematicalphysics. Rather, I
would say that Galileo was a great bricoleur. Many of the ingredients of his
career, from telescopes to courts, were alreadythere. The bricolagewas not.
Westman,"Astronomer'sRole in the SixteenthCentury"(cit. n. 4); and Biagioli, "SocialStatus
of ItalianMathematicians"(cit. n. 4).