It seem that I am having a Galileo week. Eric Diaz The Rock-Whacking Philospher at Scientific Blogging has a post describing what he sees as the surprising connection between Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574) the Renaissance artist and art historian and Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642) well-known Renaissance mathematicus. The connection is naturally not really that surprising and is the simple fact that both were clients of the patronage of the Medici Clan, Varasi of Cosimo I (1519 – 1574) and Galileo of Cosimo II (1590 – 1621). In his article I think Eric Diaz exaggerates the significance of Varasi in the rule of Cosimo I but that is not the reason that I have singled his post out for comment, in his remarks on the relationship between Galileo and the Medici he manages to get almost everything wrong that it is possible to get wrong.
It was Cosimo II who became patron to Galileo Galilei (pictured left) who had also been Cosimo’s II childhood tutor. Galileo was also tutor to the children of Cosimo II.
Galileo served two functions for the de’ Medici family. The first function of course was that mentioned above, namely giving a scientific education to the de’ Medici children, the future rulers of Florence and Tuscany. The other function was as a courtier, to dazzle and amaze those at court by taking what would otherwise be dry scientific demonstrations and turning them into awe-inspiring spectacles.
Apart from showing important guests the Medicean Stars (the satellites of Jupiter) with one of his telescopes Galileo did not perform scientific demonstration but instead took part in philosophical disputations for the amusement of his patron and his guests.
Remembering his beloved teacher, Cosimo II in 1610, appointed Galileo Royal Professor of mathematics and philosophy at a generous salary of 1,000 scuti per year. Galileo by this time had gained a reputation of being both a brilliant thinker and a trouble maker. So the de’ Medici legitimized Galileo iconoclastic boldness by granting him celebrity and protection as his reputation spread throughout Europe. In return, Galileo promised that all of his discoveries would first be presented at the court of the de’ Medici.
Galileo received the patronage of Cosimo not because of any fond memories but because he dedicated the Sidereus Nuncius to him and presented him the Medicean Stars as a gift. At the time he had neither attained the reputation as a ‘brilliant thinker’ nor as a ‘trouble-maker’ both coming later in his carrier but was a respected but fairly insignificant professor of mathematics.
Of all of the children of Cosimo II, perhaps Galileo favorite pupil was Ferdinando II de’ Medici (pictured left). Ferdinando as a youth assisted Galileo in his experiments of falling bodies and in his astronomical observations of the Moon, the phases of Venus and the moons of Jupiter, which in honor of his patrons, Galileo named the Medicean planets. It was Ferdinando who night after night would assist Galileo at the telescope as he made detailed drawings of the surface of the Moon (pictured below).
Galileo conducted his astronomical observations between 1610 and 1613 only using his telescope after this time to display his discoveries to influential admirers. Ferdinando must have truly been an exceptional wunderkind as he was born in 1610 and was only three years old as Galileo closed this chapter of his scientific activities. As well as being a wunderkind he must also have possessed a time machine as Galileo conducted his famous experiment on the fall laws between 1602 and 1604.
Ferdinando remained deeply devoted to his mentor and close friend all of his life and as Grand Duke of Tuscany even tried to protect Galileo from the Roman inquisition after Galileo had published his work, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.
In truth Ferdinando refused to support Galileo in his problems with the Vatican but insisted that he bow to the authority of the Pope. On previous visits to Rome Galileo had been housed as representative of the Medici at their expense in their Rome embassy. When in Rome for his trial he was denied this privilege and had to pay his own costs.
But after the Protestant revolt and the Sack of Rome, the Roman Catholic church and in particular the Pope was in no mood for what they regarded as a challenge to their authority. It was only through the freedom afforded to him by the de’ Medici court that Galileo was able to explore new ideas and make the discoveries that he did. He would not have been able to accomplish that in the university setting of the day. So it could be argued that had it not been for the de’ Medici court, Galileo most likely would have never been able to make the contributions to science that he did–at least not to the degree to which he did, and the Enlightenment possibly might not have taken off the way it did.
Although he did not publish them till much later all of Galileo’s scientific discoveries were made whilst he was professor of mathematics at Padua University. After he became court philosophicus and mathematicus to the Medici he distinguished himself as disputant and polemicist in aristocratic circles but his life as an active researcher was effectively over.
For a brilliant discription of the client patron relationship between Galileo and the Medici I recommend without reservations Mario Biagioli’s Galileo Courtier: The Practice of Science in the Culture of Absolutism.