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Galilei, Galileo (1564-1642)

Istoria e Dimostrazioni intorno alle Macchie Solari e loro accidenti, comprese in tre lettere scritte all'illustrissimo signor Marco Velseri Linceo. Rome, Giacomo Mascardi, 1613.

€ 48.000
It is now the turn of your adversaries to be vanquished... - Federico Cesi to Galileo -
Galilei, Galileo (1564-1642). Istoria e Dimostrazioni intorno alle Macchie Solari e loro accidenti, comprese in tre lettere scritte all'illustrissimo signor Marco Velseri Linceo.. Rome, Giacomo Mascardi, 1613.

4° (245x175 mm]. Collation: A6, B-S4, T6, V4. [4], 164 pages. The leaf A2 paginated as page 4. Roman and italic type. Woodcut device of the Accademia dei Lincei on the title-page. Galileo's engraved portrait on fol. A5r. Thirty- eight separate copperplates showing sunspots; five full-page engravings of Jovian satellites (unnumbered as pages and unsigned, but counted within the foliation and pagination); woodcut diagrams in text. Woodcut initials. Contemporary boards ‘alla rustica'. Spine with author's name inked horizontally on two lines. In a modern clamshell box. A large, untrimmed copy. Some foxing on the upper part of the title-page, light uniform browning throughout, more prominent to quire R. Light brown spots on some leaves, a paper flaw in the second of the five plates depicting the Satellites of Jupiter. Some contemporary underlining and vertical strokes in brown ink.

Provenance: on the title-page the early inked note ‘FL' or ‘FTL', presumably referring to the first owner of the copy; the bookseller Angelo Delai from Brescia (1842-1911; his stamp on the front flyleaf).

A fine, wide-margined copy of the first edition, in the issue without Scheiner's letters (no priority), of this work first announcing Galileo's adherence to the Copernican system.

In 1611, the German Jesuit and astronomer Christoph Scheiner (1573- 1650) sent three letters to Marcus Welser announcing his discovery of sunspots. Welser himself published these letters in Augsburg in 1612, under the title Tres epistolae de maculis solaribus; the work was illustrated by engraver Alexander Mayr (ca. 1559 - ca. 1616), while the author's identity remained disguised as ‘Apelles'. It circulated widely, reaching Galileo himself, as well as the circle of the Accademia dei Lincei, the Roman scientific academy patronized by Federico Cesi (1585-1630), provoking a certain amount of irritation. Indeed, the Florentine scientist had begun observing sunspots in 1610, and had already represented them thanks to a sophisticated system of telescopic drawings. Prompted by Cesi, Galileo decided to reply, publishing his Istoria e Dimostrazione intorno alle Macchie Solari both to claim the priority of his discovery and to contrast Scheiner's interpretations. The German Jesuit had, in fact, refused to admit any element of corruptibility on account of the heavens, and consequently had attributed these alleged ‘imperfections' to the effects of stellar shadows; meanwhile, Galileo convincingly argued that sunspots are nothing more than vapours issued by the sun itself owing to the extreme pressure of the heat.

The Lincei Academy decided the book would be supplemented with illustrations befitting to both the wonder of Galileo's discoveries and the accuracy of his drawings, with Cesi writing to the Florentine scientist on 8 September 1612: “it is now the turn of your adversaries to be vanquished by this sense experience because, arguing with it, they abuse reason” (Galilei, Opere, vol. xi, p. 393; transl. in A. van Helden, “Galileo and Scheiner on Sunspots”, p. 378). The Academy paid no mind to expenses, and the skilled artist Mattheus Greuter (1564-1638) was entrusted with the challenging task of proffering the pictorial evidence. Cesi himself supervised the enterprise, constantly informing Galileo on its progress. Greuter created thirty-eight separate copperplates depicting sunspots, with each etching measuring 12.5 cm in diameter and closely matching Galileo's drawings, now held at the Vatican Library. The artist employed an elaborate technique, combining intaglio finissimo, geometric precision, and the use of special inks. The visual effect is extraordinary: Greuter's spots “ghost across the paper's surface, adumbrating the sunspots' analogous transmutations – disappearing, reappearing, metamorphosing” (R. S. Noyes, Mattheus Greuter's Sunspots Etchings, p. 466).

Two different issues of Galileo's Istoria e Dimostrazioni intorno alle Macchie Solari are known, published at the same time. In one issue, Scheiner's De maculis solaribus tres epistolae Disquisitio as Marcum Velserum is appended at the end, introduced by a half-title and featuring separate paging. The other issue, an example of which is presented here, does not contain Scheiner's text. The issue supplemented with the letters was likely intended for the Italian market, while the other was probably destined for north of the Alps: in fact, the German Jesuit was then lecturing at Ingolstadt, and it is possible that a publication of his letters by a Roman printer might have led to a privilege conflict.

STC 17th century Italian 373; Cinti 44; Carli-Favaro 60; Dawson 2587; Gingerich, Rara Astronomica 32; Riccardi i, 509; Sparrow, Milestones of Science 77; Stillman Drake, Galileo at Work, 198; A. van Helden, “Galileo and Scheiner on Sunspots: A Case Study in the Visual Language of Astronomy”, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 140 (1996) pp. 358–396; R. S. Noyes, “Mattheus Greuter's Sunspot Etchings for Galileo Galilei's ‘Macchie Solari' (1613)”, The Art Bulletin, 98, No. 4 (2016), pp. 466-487.