Astronomical Images : Aristotle, Ptolemy and Copernicus with tellurium and armillary sphere

Galileo Galilei

Astronomical Images

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This image is the engraved title-page of Galileo's <i>Systema cosmicum</i>, the 1635 Latin edition of his <i>Dialogue</i>. Belonging to the iconographical tradition of philosophical conversation (typified by Raphael's <i>School of Athens</i>), this image presents an imagined conversation between three men, representing from left to right, Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Copernicus. Between them spanning an historical period from Antiquity to the sixteenth century, these three illustrious predecessors of Galileo represent both the development and antiquity of his discipline. Reference is also made to the importance of instruments to astronomy; both Ptolemy and Copernicus hold models of the cosmos as they understood it, Ptolemy holding an armillary sphere and Copernicus holding a tellurium, a model showing the Moon circling the Earth circling the Sun. This image is based on the frontispiece of the original Italian edition (1632), in which the face of Copernicus resembled Galileo's. The figure of Copernicus, on the right of the image, was reproduced by John Wilkins in the frontispiece of his 1640 <i>A Discourse Concerning a New World and another Planet</i> (though reversed due to the process of tracing and engraving). In this later text, Copernicus's arm with open palm is replaced with one pointing heavenwards, but the clothing, posture, and even slightly protuberant knee are retained, as is the tellurium that Copernicus holds in his other hand.</p>

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