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Astronomical Images : Frontispiece of Galileo's Dialogo

Galileo Galilei

Astronomical Images

<p style='text-align: justify;'>The frontispiece of Galileo's <i>Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems</i>, published in the summer of 1632, was engraved by the young Stefano della Bella (1610-1664). Under a banner showing the title of the work and the dedication to the ruling Medici, Duke Ferdinand II, three bearded men immersed in deep conversation stand in front of a harbor backdrop. By inscriptions on their garments they are identified as Aristotle, Ptolemy and Copernicus. Aristotle and Ptolemy occupy the left half of the picture. Aristotle, bent on a stick, and thus apparently having difficulty standing up, points to an armillary that Ptolemy, whose dark eye sockets indicate poor eyesight if not blindness, holds in front of him. The right half of the picture is occupied only by Copernicus, whose facial features, however, resemble those of Galileo. In his left hand he holds a tellurium, and with his right, he gestures towards the armillary with a certain detachment. There is a clear opposition of views as Aristotle argues the case for Ptolemy against Copernicus. The harbor scene is a reference to Galileo's experiences in the Venetian Arsenal, and the fact that the <i>Dialogo</i> was originally to be called the<i> Dialogue on the Tides </i>(<i>Dialogo del flusso e reflusso del mare</i>), since Galileo saw the phenomenon of the tides as his main argument in favour of the Copernican system. The pro-Copernican stance of the <i>Dialogo</i> and its opposition to 'lame' Aristotle and 'blind' Ptolemy was visibly manifest in the frontispiece. A Latin translation of the <i>Dialogo</i> by Matthias Bernegger appeared in 1635 and was to circulate widely. It was published with a frontispiece that closely followed the original design of della Bella, but in this version Aristotle, Ptolemy and Copernicus were given clearer features.</p>

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