1558 - 1948

Museo Galileo Library collections

Museo Galileo - Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza

Ancient books, archival materials and historical photos

With its holdings of nearly 150,000 printed volumes, the Museo Galileo Library offers a rich collection of texts and scholarly monographs in the field of history of science. The antique book collection, consisting of nearly 5,000 works, is supplemented by several 19th-20th century collections as well as a contemporary collection which has an annual growth of about 1,800 new acquisitions. The library is also home to several 18th to 20th century archival collections, an interesting historical photo archive and a notable collection of modern photographs.

Medicean-Lorraine book collection

Niccolò Tartaglia “La noua scientia” (Venezia, 1558); with Galileo’s autograph marginal note.

Among the ancient and rare books, particularly important is the Medicean-Lorraine collection which includes those scientific texts collected over the course of the centuries by the two Tuscan dynasties: under Cosimo I (1519-1574) and his successors, the Medici assembled a large library of scientific texts. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Grand Dukes of Lorraine widely increased the collection with texts on physics, mathematics, chemistry, and astronomy.

The Moon and four little angels with scientific instruments (in: Chérubin d'Orléans “La dioptrique oculaire”. Paris, 1671).
Ground plan and cross section of the transept in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. The plate shows the path of the sun's rays through the gnomon in the dome (in: Leonardo Ximenes “Del vecchio e nuovo gnomone fiorentino...”. Firenze, 1757).

Ottavio Pisani’s Astrologia

Title page of Ottavio Pisani’s “Astrologia” (Antwerp, 1613).

Ottavio Pisani’s Astrologia is a spectacular book that features a large number of hand-coloured moving plates illustrating the structure of the celestial sphere and the movements of the planets. The book is dedicated to Cosimo II de’ Medici. Recent studies provide evidence that our copy was sent by Pisani to Galileo, asking him to present it to the Medici court in order to obtain some financial support for his author.

The sphere of the world with Atlas and Aries (in: Ottavio Pisani “Astrologia”. Antwerp, 1613).
The Earth-Moon system (in: Ottavio Pisani “Astrologia”. Antwerp, 1613) Antwerp, 1613).

Galileo’s Works

Medicean binding and title page of the two-volume set: Galileo Galilei “Opere”. Bologna, 1656.

The first edition of the complete works by Galileo was published some years after his death by his former disciple Vincenzo Viviani and was dedicated to Ferdinando II de’ Medici, the main Galileo’s patron. The aim of this edition was to encourage the scientific research and the Galilean experimental method without stirring up the conflict with the Catholic Church. The “Copernican letters” and the “Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems” were not included, as they had been condemned by the Church and recorded in the Index of forbidden books.

Galileo showing the Medicean planets (Jupiter’s satellites) to the allegories of Optics, Astronomy and Mathematics (in: Galileo Galilei “Opere”. Bologna, 1656).
Galileo’s geometric and military compass on an engraving showing its component parts (in: Galileo Galilei “Opere”. Bologna, 1656).


Most of the maps and atlases housed in the library are part of the cartographic material that the Medici family collected to support its transoceanic expansionist ambitions. In 1592 Ferdinando I de’ Medici founded a cartographic workshop at the service of the Knights of St. Stephen in Livorno. This workshop produced nautical instruments and atlases, among them the one signed by Giovanni Oliva.

 Frontispiece of an anonymous nautical atlas (post 1670), dedicated to Cosimo III de’ Medici.
Central and south America (in: Giovanni Oliva’s Nautical atlas, 1616).
Giacomo Maggiolo’s Portolan (1565).

Scientific iconography

The print and drawing collections cover different historical scientific subjects. Noteworthy are the portrait collection and the prints and drawings (dating back to the period between the end of the 18th and 19th centuries) which represent scientific instruments and machines. Some of them are presently on display in Museo Galileo rooms.

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin, politician and scientist.
Drawing of experimental arrangement of four English portable plate electrical machines. Similar apparatuses are on display in Museo Galileo.
Box of mathematical instruments. The drawing, dating back to the 1st half of the 17th century, shows the original layout of the box.
Box of mathematical instruments (Museo Galileo’s exhibit, late 16th cent.). In the course of the last four centuries, the layout has changed and some instruments are missing.

Archival materials

Plan of the section of the Boboli Garden to be annexed to the Royal Museum Botanical Garden.
Draft of a letter (ca. 1800) from Giovanni Fabbroni to Napoleon Bonaparte asking for the protection of arts and sciences in Tuscany during the French domination.
Admission ticket (ca. 1782) to the R. Museum of physics and natural history.

The library holdings include manuscript and archival collections that are valuable sources for the study of the history of science in general and for that of Florence and Tuscany in particular. An important collection is the Archive of the Royal Museum of Physics and Natural History. 

Founded in Florence in 1775 by Peter Leopold of Lorraine under the direction of Felice Fontana and Giovanni Fabbroni, the Royal Museum also included experimental laboratories, workshops for the construction of scientific instruments, an astronomical observatory, a botanical garden, a library and a lyceum.                    

1857 English patent, Anonymous Society of the Barsanti-Matteucci engine.

Historical photos

The historical photo archive consists of a wide collection of pictures which fully illustrate the history of the scientific instrument collection of our Museum as well as topics, places, persons and institutions related to the development of the scientific thought and the evolution of technics.

Flea (photomicrograph by Giorgio Roster, 1890).
Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence (telephotograph by Giorgio Roster, 1892). It was taken with a telephoto lens which was specially adapted by Roster himself.
Tribune of Galileo interior (photographic print, between 1880 and 1905). Built by Grand Duke Leopold II of Lorraine, the Tribune hosted the statue of the great Pisan scientist and his most important instruments, which are now displayed in Museo Galileo.
A room of our library as it appeared in the middle of the 20th cent (glass plate, ca. 1948).

The Library today

Museo Galileo library reading room.

Museo Galileo library is located in the historical centre of Florence. It is mainly used by scholars and researchers in the history of science, but it is also open to those Museum visitors who, after their tour, would like to learn more about what they have appreciated during their visit. Among the many services is the online collective database (ca. 300,000 bibliographical records), that can be used to search for books, manuscript and archival materials, historical and modern digital photos. Over 15,000 documents are freely available in digital version.

Palazzo Castellani, seat of the Museo Galileo. The library is located on the 3rd floor.
Credits: Story

Curator — Alessandra Lenzi
Curator — Elisa Di Renzo
Photo — Museo Galileo Photographic  Laboratory
Editor — Marco Berni

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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