Showing posts with label Galileo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Galileo. Show all posts

25 August 2018

Galileo demonstrates potential of telescope

Scientist unveiled new instrument to Doge of Venice


How the Milanese artist Giuseppe Bertini imagined the scene as Galileo demonstrated his telescope to the Doge
How the Milanese artist Giuseppe Bertini imagined the
scene as Galileo demonstrated his telescope to the Doge
The scientist and inventor Galileo Galilei demonstrated the wonders of the telescope to an audience of Venetian lawmakers on this day in 1609.

The 90th Doge, Leonardo Donato, and other members of the Venetian senate accompanied Galileo to the top of the campanile of St Mark’s Basilica, where each took it in turn to look through the instrument.

The meeting had been arranged by Galileo’s friend, Paolo Sarpi, who was a scientist, lawyer and statesman employed by the Venetian government. The two were both professors at the University of Padua.

Galileo, whose knowledge of the universe led him to be called the ‘father of observational astronomy’, was for many years wrongly credited with the invention of the telescope when in fact the first to apply for a patent for the device was a Dutch eyeglass maker named Hans Lippershey.

However, Galileo’s work using uncertain details of Lippershey’s design certainly took the idea to a different level.

Like Galileo, Paolo Sarpi was a professor at the University of Padua
Like Galileo, Paolo Sarpi was a professor
at the University of Padua
Whereas Lippershey’s device magnified objects by about three times, Galileo eventually produced a telescope with a magnification factor of 30.

The one he demonstrated on August 25, 1609, is thought to have had a factor of about eight or nine.

Galileo was the first to realise the potential of the telescope for astronomical study.

He was able to make out mountains and craters on the moon, as well as a ribbon of diffuse light arching across the sky — the Milky Way.  Galileo also discovered the rings of Saturn, sunspots and four of Jupiter's moons.

It was his findings on Jupiter’s moons in January 1610 that would lead him indirectly into trouble with the Roman Inquisition over his belief in heliocentrism, the concept that the sun and not the Earth was the centre of the solar system, as had been theorised by the Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus in the previous century.

In observing the three objects in proximity to the planet Jupiter that he had originally thought to be distant stars, he noticed that their position relative to the planet changed in a way that would have been inexplicable if they had really been fixed stars.

One day he noticed that one of them had disappeared altogether only to reappear later and within a few days had concluded that they were orbiting Jupiter. When, later in the year, he discovered that the planet Venus had ‘phases’ similar to the earth’s Moon, when differences in appearance suggested different positions in the sky, he began to subscribe firmly to the Copernican theory.

This flew in the face of a major part of Roman Catholic belief, based on the Aristotelian principle that all heavenly bodies orbited the Earth.

In time, Galileo was found guilty of heresy and forced to recant his views under threat of torture. He would have spend the last years of his life in prison had the court not shown some clemency and commuted his sentence to house arrest.

The campanile of St Mark's is a famous landmark in Venice, towering over the basilica
The campanile of St Mark's is a famous landmark
in Venice, towering over the basilica
Travel tip:

The Campanile of St Mark’s has become one of the symbols of Venice, instantly recognisable as part of the landscape of St Mark’s Square - Piazza San Marco - standing away from the basilica itself. Constructed in the ninth century, one of its first uses was a watchtower or lighthouse. Over the centuries it has been restored and added to several times, often following regular lightning strikes.  It assumed its definitive shape in the 16th century with restorations made to repair damage caused by the earthquake of March 1511, when the belfry, attic and spire were added. The whole structure collapsed in 1902, a few days after a large crack appeared in the north wall, it is thought because of erosion of the foundations after almost 1,000 years, but was rebuilt over the following 10 years.

Travel tip:

Galileo lived under house arrest was Villa Gioella, a house he rented a couple of miles from the from the centre of Florence in the Arcetri hills.  In Galileo’s time it was a farmhouse, surrounded by many acres of land. The area is also home to the Arcetri Observatory, which was opened in 1872 after astronomers at La Specola Observatory, not far from the Pitti Palace, decided that pollution from artificial light was making clear images impossible.

More reading:

The father of modern science

Galileo Galilei convicted of heresy

How Niccolò Zucchi discovered the 'belts' around Jupiter

Also on this day:

The Feast Day of Saint Patricia of Naples

79AD: Vesuvius erupts


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19 July 2018

Cesare Cremonini - philosopher

Great thinker famous for Galileo ‘denial’


Cesare Cremonini was one of the most revered Aristotelian philosophers of his day
Cesare Cremonini was one of the most
revered Aristotelian philosophers of his day
The philosopher Cesare Cremonini, the contemporary and friend of Galileo Galilei who famously refused to look at the Moon through Galileo’s telescope, died on this day in 1631 in Padua.

Cremonini was considered one of the great thinkers of his time, a passionate advocate of the doctrines of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. He was paid a handsome salary by his patron, Alfonso II d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara, and kings and princes regularly sought his counsel.

He struck up a friendship with the poet, Torquato Tasso, while he was studying in Ferrara, and met Galileo in 1550 after he was appointed by the Venetian Republic to the chair of the University of Padua.

The two built a relationship of respect and friendship that endured for many years, despite many differences of opinion, yet in 1610 their divergence of views on one subject created an impasse between them.

It came about when Galileo observed the surface of the Moon through his telescope and proclaimed that he had discovered mountains on the Moon.

But Cremonini said that Aristotle had proved that the Moon could only be a perfect sphere and was having none of Galileo’s claim that it was not true. Galileo invited him to look through the telescope and see for himself but Cremonini refused.

Cremonini first met Galileo in Padua in 1550
Cremonini first met Galileo
in Padua in 1550
It may be that Cremonini simply refused to countenance the idea that Aristotle’s assertion may have been wrong. An alternative theory is that he feared for the consequences if he aligned himself with Galileo.

The Tuscan polymath was already in trouble with the Roman Inquisition for stating his belief in heliocentrism - the idea that Earth and the other planets in the solar system revolve around the sun,  which contradicted the idea to which the Catholic Church subscribed - based on the wisdom of Aristotle - that the sun revolved around Earth as the centre of the universe.

Cremonini had himself been under the scrutiny of the Inquisition. Indeed, he had been charged with atheism and heresy for propagating Aristotle’s argument that the human soul was mortal. As a citizen of Padua, however, he was protected by the leniency of Venice and had been spared punishment.

It may be that he felt that if he had seen what Galileo saw with his own eyes he would have been obliged to argue in support of his friend and could land himself in trouble again.  Given that Galileo was threatened with being burned at the stake and was held under house arrest for the remainder of his life over his belief in heliocentrism, some may argue that Cremonini was wise not to get involved.

He also had genuine concerns for Galileo’s wellbeing, warning his friend that if he decided to move to Tuscany from Padua it would bring him under the Inquisition's jurisdiction.

Born in Cento, nowadays a town of around 35,000 residents about 35km (22 miles) southwest of Ferrara, Cremonini was chair of natural philosophy and chair of medicine at the University of Padua from 1591 until his death.

He died in 1631 when an outbreak of plague swept Padua. He was buried in the Benedictine monastery of St. Justina of Padua, to which he also willed his possessions.

Cento's 14th century castle, originally built by the Bishop of Bologna and enlarged by future pope Giulio della Rovere
Cento's 14th century castle, originally built by the Bishop
of Bologna and enlarged by future pope Giulio della Rovere
Travel tip:

Cento, which was part of the Papal States when Cremonini was born, is best known as the birthplace of the Baroque painter Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, better known as Guercino. The town’s main square, the place at which the four ancient roads into the town once converged, is called Piazza Guercino. Monuments around the square include the Palazzo del Governatore, which has a 17th century clock tower, and the Palazzo Comunale, built in 1612 but improved with the addition of an elegant facade in the 18th century. The town has an impressive castle, built in 1378.

Donatello's statue of the condottiero Gattamelata outside St Anthony's Basilica
Donatello's statue of the condottiero
Gattamelata outside St Anthony's Basilica
Travel tip:

Padua’s well-preserved medieval layout and artistic heritage attract many hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, although it is much quieter than Venice, which is only a little over 40km (25 miles) away.  The presence in the city of Giotto, Donatello and Mantegna support the claim that Padua was the capital of Italian art in the 15th and 16th centuries. The most famous example of Giotto’s work are the frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel, there are works by Donatello in and outside the Basilica di Sant’Antonio, including the equestrian statue in front of the church, while there are restored frescoes by Mantegna in the Chiese degli Eremitani.

More reading:

Why the philosopher and scientist Galileo Galilei was convicted of heresy

The mysterious death of philosopher Giovanno Pico della Mirandola

How a simple friar laid some of the cornerstones of Western philosophy

Also on this day:

1249: The death of Jacopo Tiepolo, Doge of Venice

1374: The death of the scholar and poet Petrarch


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13 June 2018

Giovanni Antonio Magini – astronomer and cartographer

Scientist laboured to produce a comprehensive atlas of Italy


The cover of Magini's great work, which was published by his son in 1620
The cover of Magini's great work, which
was published by his son in 1620
Giovanni Antonio Magini, who dedicated his life to producing a detailed atlas of Italy, was born on this day in 1555 in Padua.

He also devised his own planetary theory consisting of 11 rotating spheres and invented calculating devices to help him work on the geometry of the sphere.

Magini was born in Padua and went to study philosophy in Bologna, receiving his doctorate in 1579. He then dedicated himself to astronomy and in 1582 wrote his Ephemerides coelestium motuum, a major treatise on the subject, which was translated into Italian the following year.

In 1588 Magini joined in the competition for the chair of mathematics at Bologna University and was chosen over Galileo because he was older and had more moderate views. He held the position for the rest of his life.

But his greatest achievement was the preparation of Italia, or the Atlante geografico d’Italia, which was printed posthumously by Magini’s son in 1620.

Although Italy as a state has existed only since 1861, the name Italia, referring to the southern part of the peninsula, may go back to the ancient Greeks. It appeared on coins thought to have been produced in the 1st century BC and was eventually applied to the whole of the peninsula. Magini’s atlas set out to include maps of every Italian region with exact names and historical notes.

Giovanni Antonio Magini
Giovanni Antonio Magini
It proved expensive to produce and Magini took on extra posts in order to fund it. These included working as mathematics tutor to the sons of Vincenzo I of Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua.

The atlas is dedicated to the duke, who assisted him with the project by arranging for maps of the many states of Italy to be brought to Magini.

The governments of Messina and Genoa also assisted him financially to help him produce the atlas.

Magini died in Bologna in 1617 and the lunar crater maginus was later named after him.

Giotto's brilliant frescoes cover the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel, one of the Italy's great artistic treasures
Giotto's brilliant frescoes cover the walls of the Scrovegni
Chapel, one of the Italy's great artistic treasures
Travel tip:

Padua in the Veneto, where Magini was born, is one of the most important centres for art in Italy and home to the country’s second oldest university. Padua has become acknowledged as the birthplace of modern art because of the Scrovegni Chapel, the inside of which is covered with frescoes by Giotto, an artistic genius who was the first to paint people with realistic facial expressions showing emotion. At Palazzo Bo in the centre of the city, where Padua’s university was founded in 1222, you can still see the original lectern used by Galileo and the world’s first anatomy theatre, where dissections were secretly carried out from 1594.

The courtyard of the Archiginnasio, the oldest surviving building of the University of Bologna
The courtyard of the Archiginnasio, the oldest surviving
building of the University of Bologna
Travel tip:

Bologna University, where Magini occupied the chair in Mathematics, was founded in 1088 and is the oldest university in the world. The oldest surviving building, the Archiginnasio, is now a library and is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 7 pm, and on Saturdays from 9 am to 2 pm. It is a short walk away from Piazza Maggiore and the Basilica di San Petronio in the centre of the city.

Also on this day:

The feast of St Anthony of Padua

2000: Mehmet Ali Agca, the gunman who tried to kill Pope John Paul II, is granted a state pardon by the Italian government

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23 May 2018

Ferdinando II de’ Medici – Grand Duke of Tuscany

Technology fan who supported scientist Galileo


Ferdinando II, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, portrayed by Flemish painter Justus Sustermans
Ferdinando II, the Grand Duke of Tuscany,
portrayed by Flemish painter Justus Sustermans
Inventor and patron of science Ferdinando II de’ Medici died on this day in 1670 in Florence.

Like his grandmother, the dowager Grand Duchess Christina, Ferdinando II was a loyal friend to Galileo and he welcomed the scientist back to Florence after the prison sentence imposed on him for ‘vehement suspicion of heresy’ was commuted to house arrest.

Ferdinando II was reputed to be obsessed with new technology and had hygrometers, barometers, thermometers and telescopes installed at his home in the Pitti Palace.

He has also been credited with the invention of the sealed glass thermometer in 1654.

Ferdinando II was born in 1610, the eldest son of Cosimo II de’ Medici and Maria Maddalena of Austria.

He became Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1621 when he was just 10 years old after the death of his father.

His mother, Maddalena, and paternal grandmother, Christina, acted as joint regents for him. Christina is said to have been the power behind the throne until her death in 1636.

Ferdinando II and his wife, Vittoria della Rovere
Ferdinando II and his wife, Vittoria della Rovere
Ferdinando II was patron and friend to Galileo, who dedicated his work, Dialogue Concerning the two Chief World Systems to him. This work led to Galileo’s second set of hearings before the Inquisition. Ferdinando II kept Galileo safely in Florence until the Inquisitors threatened to bring him to Rome in chains if he would not come voluntarily.

When plague swept through Florence in 1630 it killed 10 per cent of the population. Unlike other members of the Tuscan nobility, Ferdinando II and his brothers stayed in Florence to try to help the suffering people.

To combat the economic depression, Ferdinando II instigated a public works programme. This included the building of an aqueduct and new public fountains as well as improvement to Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens.

Architects and artists were also employed to develop the Cappella dei Principi at the Basilica di San Lorenzo.

The Grand Duke married Vittoria della Rovere, the granddaughter of the Duke of Urbino, in 1633 and they had four sons, although only two lived to become adults.

Ferdinando II was a loyal friend and supporter  of the scientist and philosopher Galileo
Ferdinando II was a loyal friend and supporter
 of the scientist and philosopher Galileo
Influenced by Galileo, Ferdinando II invented the sealed-glass thermometer by sealing the glass lip of a tube containing coloured alcohol. Glass bubbles filled with air changed position as the temperature rose or fell. Marked off with 360 degrees it became known as a spirit thermometer or Florentine thermometer.

Ferdinando II also used a type of artificial incubator to hatch chicks in his greenhouses in the Boboli Gardens, which was regulated according to the temperature shown on a thermometer placed under the hen.

Tuscany was victorious in a military conflict against the forces of Pope Urban VIII in 1643 but the Treasury was nearly empty after the mercenaries had been paid and interest rates had to be lowered.

Ferdinando II died in the Pitti Palace on May 23, 1670 of apoplexy and dropsy and was interred in the Basilica di San Lorenzo.

Visitors to the Pitti Palace in Florence can also explore  the beautiful Boboli Gardens
Visitors to the Pitti Palace in Florence can also explore
 the beautiful Boboli Gardens
Travel tip:

The Pitti Palace - Palazzo Pitti - in Florence, where Ferdinando II was born and died, was originally built for the banker Luca Pitti in 1457 to try to outshine the Medici family. They bought it from his bankrupt heirs and made it their main residence in 1550. Today visitors can look round the richly decorated rooms and see treasures from the Medici collections. The beautiful Boboli Gardens behind the palace are 16th century formal Italian gardens filled with statues and fountains.

The Basilica di San Lorenzo, where Ferdinando II is buried, is one of Florence's largest churches
The Basilica di San Lorenzo, where Ferdinando II is
buried, is one of Florence's largest churches
Travel tip:

The Basilica di San Lorenzo is one of the largest churches in Florence, situated in the middle of the market district in Piazza di San Lorenzo. It is the burial place of the principal members of the Medici family. Brunelleschi was commissioned to design a new building in 1419 to replace the original 11th century Romanesque church on the site but the new church was not completed until after his death. It is considered one of the greatest examples of Renaissance architecture. Ferdinando II is interred in the Cappella dei Principi, which is surmounted by a tall dome, along with five other Grand Dukes of Tuscany. 

Also on this day:

1498: The execution of 'Bonfire of the Vanities' preacher Girolamo Savonarola

1933: The birth of Sergio Gonella, the first Italian to referee a World Cup final


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25 April 2018

Leon Battista Alberti - Renaissance polymath

Architect with multiple artistic talents


Leon Battista Alberti contributed to many aspects of Renaissance cultural development
Leon Battista Alberti contributed to many aspects
of Renaissance cultural development
The polymath Leon Battista Alberti, who was one of the 15th century’s most significant architects but possessed an intellect that was much more wide ranging, died on this day in 1472 in Rome.

In his 68 years, Alberti became well known for his work on palaces and churches in Florence, Rimini and Mantua in particular, but he also made major contributions to the study of mathematics, astronomy, language and cryptography, wrote poetry in Latin and works of philosophy and was ordained as a priest.

He was one of those multi-talented figures of his era, along with Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and, a little later, Galileo Galilei, for whom the description Renaissance Man was coined.

Alberti was born in Genoa in 1404, although his family were wealthy Florentine bankers. It just happened that at the time of his birth his father, Lorenzo, was in exile, having been expelled by the powerful Albizzi family.  Leon and his brother, Carlo, were born out of wedlock, the product of their father’s relationship with a Bolognese widow, but as Lorenzo’s only offspring they were given a privileged upbringing.

Lorenzo would be allowed to return to Florence in 1428, by which time Leon - at the time known simply as Battista - had been educated in Padua, Venice and Bologna before taking holy orders in Rome.

The facade of the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence was designed by Alberti
The facade of the church of Santa Maria Novella in
Florence was designed by Alberti
His great intellect soon became apparent. As a young man at school, he had written a comedy in Latin that for a while was taken to be the lost work of a Roman playwright. In 1435 he began his famous work Della pittura (On pictures), a groundbreaking study in which he analysed the nature of painting and explored the elements of perspective, composition and colour.

His first major architectural commission was for the facade of the Rucellai Palace in Florence in 1446, followed in 1450 by a commission to transform the Gothic church of San Francesco in Rimini into a memorial chapel, which became known as the Tempio Malatestiano.

In Florence, he famously designed the upper parts of the white marble facade for the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella.

He is also credited with the Piazza Pio II, and its surrounding buildings, in the Tuscan village of Pienza, and both the church of San Sebastiano and the Basilica of Sant’Andrea in Mantua.

A page from Alberti's Della pittura shows his grasp of perspective and his ideas for how to use it in paintings
A page from Alberti's Della pittura shows his grasp
of perspective and his ideas for how to use it in paintings
In 1452, Alberti completed De re aedificatoria, a treatise on architecture, using as its basis the work of Vitruvius and influenced by the archaeological remains of Rome that had fascinated him while he was studying for the priesthood.

In the field of philosophy, Alberti’s treatise Della famiglia established his reputation as an ethical thinker. He wrote the text in accessible language, rather than Latin. Based largely on the classical works of Cicero and Seneca, and addressed the day-to-day concerns of a bourgeois society, tackling such topics as the fickleness of fortune, meeting adversity and prosperity, husbandry, friendship and family, education and obligation to the common good.

Alberti’s important contribution to cryptography came with his invention of the first polyalphabetic cipher, which became known as the Alberti cipher, and his Cipher Disk, which consisted of two concentric disks, the outer one carrying capital letters and numbers, the inner one lower case letters, attached by a common pin.

Although clearly he made a scholarly contribution to the understanding of art, he produced very few paintings or sculptures in his own right. Giorgio Vasari, the artist whose Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects is considered the first history of art, described Alberti as an artist who “concentrated on writing rather than applied work”.

The Basilica of Sant'Andrea in Mantua
The Basilica of Sant'Andrea in Mantua
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Sant'Andrea, which looms over the Piazza Mantegna in Mantua, is considered one of the major works of 15th-century Renaissance architecture in Northern Italy. Commissioned by Ludovico III Gonzaga, the church was begun in 1472 according to designs by Alberti on the site of a Benedictine monastery. Although it was 328 years before it was finished, with changes that altered Alberti's design, the church is still considered to be one of Alberti's most complete works.




The hill town of Pienza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The hill town of Pienza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Travel tip:

Pienza, a town in the province of Siena between Montepulciano and Montalcino, is described as the "touchstone of Renaissance urbanism." The whole of the centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. The trapezoidal Piazza Pio II is defined by four buildings, the Palazzo Piccolomini, the Duomo, the Palazzo Vescovile and the Palazzo Comunale.

More reading:

The unparalleled genius of Leonardo da Vinci

La Pietà - Michelangelo's masterpiece

Brunelleschi and the incredible dome of Florence's Duomo

Also on this day:

The Festa della Liberazione

1973: The death of World War One flying ace Ferruccio Ranza

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15 September 2017

The first free public school in Europe

Frascati sees groundbreaking development in education


José de Calasanz arrived in Rome from his native Aragon in 1592
José de Calasanz arrived in Rome from
his native Aragon in 1592
The first free public school in Europe opened its doors to children on this day in 1616 in Frascati, a town in Lazio just a few kilometres from Rome.

The school was founded by a Spanish Catholic priest, José de Calasanz, who was originally from Aragon but who moved to Rome in 1592 at the age of 35.

Calasanz had a passion for education and in particular made it his life’s work to set up schools for children who did not have the benefit of coming from wealthy families.

Previously, schools existed only for the children of noble families or for those studying for the priesthood. Calasanz established Pious Schools and a religious order responsible for running them, who became known as the Piarists.

Calasanz had been a priest for 10 years when he decided to go to Rome in the hope of furthering his ecclesiastical career.  He soon became involved with helping neglected and homeless children via the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

He would gather up poor children on the streets and take them to schools, only to find that the teachers, who were not well paid, would not accept them unless Calasanz provided them with extra money.

Calasanz, who was a well-educated man, responded by setting up the first Pious School in the centre of Rome in 1600, so that homeless, orphaned and neglected children had somewhere to go and could be provided with a basic education.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart owed his early education to a Pious School
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart owed his early
education to a Pious School
An annual contribution from Pope Clement VIII helped fund the project, which grew so quickly that it was not long before Calasanz was helping around 1,000 of Rome’s most deprived children.

He rented a house nears the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle in central Rome, where he founded the Order of the Pious Schools or Piarists. He wrote a document setting out the principles of his educational philosophy, with regulations for teachers and for students.

The Frascati school differed from others he had set up in that it was open to all children, not only those he rescued from poverty on the streets.  It was also open to children who were not orphaned or neglected, but who came from poor families and would not otherwise have had the chance to receive a formal education.

It is therefore recognised as the first free public primary school in Europe.

The Piarists spread the concept of free primary education and as well as setting up many more schools across Europe encouraged many states to follow their lead.

Francisco Goya, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, Gregor Mendel and Victor Hugo all owed their early education to Piarist Schools.

The church of San Giuseppe Calasanzio in Milan
The church of San Giuseppe Calasanzio in Milan
Calasanz died in 1648 at the age of 90, his legacy tarnished, unfortunately, by clashes with powerful senior figures in the Catholic Church over his support for the heliocentric theories that landed Galileo Galilei in trouble, and also over the behaviour of some clerics involved in the Piarist Schools.  As a result, Calasanz was removed as senior general of the Order.

However, eight years after his death, Pope Alexander VII cleared his name and that of the Pious Schools.  In 1748 he was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV and canonised by Pope Clement XIII in 1767.

In 1948, Pope Pius XII declared Saint Joseph of Calasanz the patron of Christian popular schools.

A number of churches have been dedicated to Saint Joseph, including the modern Chiesa di San Giuseppe Calasanzio in via Don Carlo Gnocchi, in the San Siro district of Milan, which was designed by the architect Carlo Bevilacqua and completed in 1965.

The Villa Aldobrandi in Frascati
The Villa Aldobrandi in Frascati
Travel tip:

Situated just 21km (13 miles) from the centre of Rome, Frascati offers visitors to the region an alternative to staying in the capital that is more peaceful and relaxed.  One of the towns that make up the Castelli Romani, it is perched on a hill to the southeast of Rome, offering fine views across the city as well as cleaner air. It was popular with the wealthy from Roman times to the Renaissance, and remains a draw for Romans today, although thankfully with bars and restaurants to suit all pockets.  In its heyday there were many grand villas and it was unfortunate that the town’s strategic position made it a target for bombing during the Second World War, with many buildings destroyed. The Villa Aldobrandi, which overlooks one of the main piazzas, is one that remains, with extensive gardens open to the public.

The Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle
The Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Sant’Andrea della Valle, situated in the heart of historic Rome where Corso del Rinascimento meets Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, is as famous for having been an important setting in the Puccini opera Tosca as it is for its baroque art and architecture. The first act is set inside the 17th-century baroque church, whose dome is the third largest in the city after the Pantheon and St. Peter's. Like the façade, the dome was designed by Carlo Maderno.  The humanist popes from Siena, Pius II and Pius III, are both buried inside.






29 July 2017

Pope Urban VIII

Pontiff whose extravagance led to disgrace


Caravaggio's portrait of the future Urban VIII
Caravaggio's portrait of the future Urban VIII
The controversial Pope Urban VIII died on this day in 1644 in Rome.

Urban VIII – born Maffeo Barberini – was a significant patron of the arts, the sponsor of the brilliant sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whose work had a major influence on the look of Rome.

But in his ambitions to strengthen and expand the Papal States, he overreached himself in a disastrous war against Odoardo Farnese, the Duke of Parma, and the expenses incurred in that and other conflicts, combined with extravagant spending on himself and his family, left the papacy seriously weakened.

Indeed, so unpopular was Urban VIII that after news spread of his death there was rioting in Rome and a bust of him on Capitoline Hill was destroyed by an angry mob.

His time in office was also notable for the conviction in 1633 for heresy of the physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei, who had promoted the supposition, put forward by the Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus, that the earth revolved around the sun, which was directly contrary to the orthodox Roman Catholic belief that the sun revolved around the earth.

A bust of Urban VIII sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1637-8
A bust of Urban VIII sculpted by
Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1637-8
Urban VIII was born to Antonio Barberini, a Florentine nobleman, and Camilla Barbadoro, in Florence in April 1568, moving to Rome after the death of his father in 1571 to be placed in the charge of his uncle, Francesco Barberini, who was part of the papal staff.

He was educated by the Jesuits, received a doctorate of law from the University of Pisa and, through the influence of his uncle, was appointed by Pope Clement VIII to be a papal legate to the court of King Henry IV of France.

He became rich overnight at the death of his uncle, who had some years earlier named him as his heir. He immediately bought a palace in Rome that he turned into a luxurious Renaissance residence.

He maintained his high status in the church under Clement VIII’s successor, Pope Paul V, who raised him to the order of the Cardinal-Priest, with the titular church of San Pietro in Montorio. On the death of Paul V’s successor, Pope Gregory XV, he was chosen as pope in 1623.

Only 56 when he began he reign, he was seen as an elegant, refined figure with an aristocratic bearing and regarded as an excellent debater. He also was skilled in writing Latin verse and was the author of a number of hymns and scriptural works.

Yet he was extraordinarily extravagant and with shameless nepotism appointed several members of his family to prominent positions in the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini took on many commissions for Urban VIII
Gian Lorenzo Bernini took on many
commissions for Urban VIII
He elevated to Cardinal his brother Antonio Marcello Barberini and his nephews Francesco Barberini and Antonio Barberini. He also gave another nephew, Taddeo Barberini, the titles Prince of Palestrina, Gonfalonier of the Church, Prefect of Rome and Commander of Sant'Angelo.  The effect of this was that the wealth of the Barberini family grew massively.

Urban VIII’s sponsorship of Bernini was also extremely expensive, for all that it enriched the landscape of Rome for posterity.

In addition to having him sculpt several portrait busts of himself, Urban commissioned Bernini to work on the family palace in Rome, the Palazzo Barberini, the College of the Propaganda Fide and the Fontana del Tritone in the Piazza Barberini.

Urban appointed Bernini architect of St Peter’s in succession to Carlo Maderno. Many important additions were down to Bernini, including the gilt-bronze baldacchino over the tomb of St Peter and the colonnades enclosing the piazza in front of the basilica, which is considered his greatest architectural achievement.

Numerous members of the Barberini family also had their likenesses sculpted by Bernini, such as his brothers Carlo and Antonio. Urban also had Bernini rebuild the Church of Santa Bibiana and the Church of San Sebastiano al Palatino on the Palatine Hill.

Urban VIII’s spending extended to building the grandiose papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, fortifying the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, erecting the strategically located Fort Urbano at Castelfranco Emilia, near Modena, developing Civitavecchia, north of Rome, into a flourishing port with a military harbour, and enlarging the arsenal at Tivoli.

Bernini's Fontana del Tritone in Piazza Barberini is one of the sculptor's many famous works in Rome
Bernini's Fontana del Tritone in Piazza Barberini
is one of the sculptor's many famous works in Rome
With the acquisition of the Duchy of Urbino in 1626, he had established the Papal States as a compact, well-defended bloc dominating central Italy.

But then came the war against Odoardo Farnese, the Duke of Parma, which some historians blame on his nephews.

The conflict was rooted in a quarrel over questions of etiquette during the Duke’s visit to Rome in 1639. In revenge,  the nephews persuaded Urban to ban the export of grain from Castro, an ancient city controlled by the Farnese family in what is now northern Lazio, to the Papal States.

This deprived Farnese of an income he needed to pay the interest on his borrowings. The Duke's creditors complained to the pope, who took forcible possession of Castro in order to assure the payment. When the Duke still failed to meet his debts, Urban excommunicated him and deprived him of all his fiefs.

What Urban VIII had not foreseen was that the Farnese would enlist the support of Tuscany, Modena, and Venice in raising an army of about 3000 horsemen, who put the papal troops to flight. When Urban refused to accept proposed peace terms, hostilities were renewed and continued until the pope finally conceded defeat in March, 1644.

By then the debts of the Papal States had grown so huge that 80 per cent of their annual income was spent on paying the interest alone.

Urban VIII died disliked and in disgrace, his achievements as pope, such as denouncing the slave trade in the West Indies and Brazil, clearing the way for Jesuit missionaries to travel to South America, China and Japan and banning the use of tobacco in holy places – a decree that was repealed 100 years later – not given the recognition they deserved.

His tomb, sculpted by Bernini, is in St Peter’s Basilica.

The papal palace at Castel Gandolfo opens on to the town's main square, Piazza della Libertà
The papal palace at Castel Gandolfo opens on to the
town's main square, Piazza della Libertà
Travel tip:

Visitors to the town of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills, overlooking Lago Albano in the area known as the Castelli Romani, can now go inside Urban VIII’s 17th century papal palace, which ceased to be a papal residence in 2016 at the behest of the incumbent Pope Francis, ending its centuries’ old role as the summer retreat for the pontiff.  Built on the site of what was once the residence of the Roman emperor Domitian, the palace was designed for Urban VIII by the then architect of St Peter’s, Carlo Maderno.

Tortellini are said to be shaped to represent a female navel
Tortellini are said to be shaped to represent a female navel
Travel tip:

Castelfranco Emilia is a town just to the east of Modena, straddling the ancient Via Emilia, the Roman road that ran from Piacentia (now Piacenza) to Ariminum (now Rimini) on the Adriatic coast. It is said to be the home of tortellini, the stuffed pasta supposedly created by an innkeeper to represent the navel of a female guest with whom he was particularly taken and whom he had spied upon while bathing.







12 July 2017

Stefano della Bella – printmaker

Artist sketched important events preserving them for posterity


Carlo Dolci's 1631 portrait of Stefano della Bella, which currently resides in the Pitti Palace
Carlo Dolci's 1631 portrait of Stefano della
Bella, which currently resides in the Pitti Palace
Stefano della Bella, who produced hundreds of sketches of court festivities held by the Medici, as well as visual records of important public occasions, died on this day in 1664 in Florence.

Della Bella was a draughtsman and printmaker known for his etchings of military and court scenes. He left more than 1000 prints and several thousand drawings, but only one known painting.

He was born into a family of artists in Florence in 1610 and was apprenticed to a goldsmith. However he went on to become an engraver and studied etching.

Thanks to the patronage of the Medici family, Della Bella was able to study for six years in Rome living in the Medici Palace in the Villa Borghese area.

Della Bella produced views of Rome, drawings of antiquities and sketches of crowded public occasions in a series of sketchbooks, many of which were later turned into prints.

He also made trips to Florence to record Medici court festivities and during this period his style developed from Mannerist to Baroque.

A scene in Rome typical of those drawn by Della Bella shows the Arch of Constantine
A scene in Rome typical of those drawn by Della
Bella shows the Arch of Constantine
Della Bella captured major events of his time, just like a photographer does today, and his prints have enabled people to see in detail the lavish festivities held by the Medici family and what daily life was like in Rome - and also in Paris - in the first half of the 17th century.

While in Rome, Della Bella created a series of six prints, which formed a long panel measuring 2.5 metres, showing the Polish ambassador’s ceremonial entry into Rome. He also created many intricate prints showing views of Rome as they were at the time.

In 1639 Della Bella went to Paris, where he adapted his style to suit French taste. In 1641, Cardinal Richelieu sent him to Arras to make drawings for prints recording the siege and taking of Arras by the Royal Army. Then, in 1664, Cardinal Mazarin commissioned him to create four sets of educational playing cards for the young Louis XIV.

Della Bella also created views of Paris, including a very large print of the Pont Neuf, looking south from the entrance from the Place Dauphine, with accurate depictions of the buildings on the banks of the Seine and including more than 400 distinct figures, such as beggars, gypsies, children and animals. During this period Della Bella also travelled to Holland, where he was profoundly influenced by Rembrandt.

Della Bella's detailed print showing the Pont Neuf in Paris
Della Bella's detailed print showing the Pont Neuf in Paris
On his return to Florence, Della Bella was granted a pension by the Grand Duke and was given the task of instructing his son, Cosimo III de' Medici, in drawing.

Della Bella continued to send plates to Paris publishers and is also known to have illustrated some of the discoveries of Galileo.

But he did little work after suffering a stroke in 1661 and he died three years later.

The Villa Medici, where Della Bella lived during his time working for the Medici family in Rome
The Villa Medici, where Della Bella lived during his
time working for the Medici family in Rome
Travel tip:

The Villa Medici in Rome, where Della Bella lived during his time in the capital, is on the Pincian Hill next to the Church of Trinità dei Monti. The villa was founded by Ferdinando I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, in 1576. It became the principal Medici property in Rome, intended to assert the family’s importance and their permanent presence in Rome.

Travel tip:


Della Bella would have regularly visited Palazzo Pitti to give the future Cosimo III de' Medici drawing lessons. The child was born in the palace in 1642, on the south side of the River Arno in Florence, a short distance from the Ponte Vecchio. Palazzo Pitti was originally the home of Luca Pitti, a Florentine banker. It was bought by the Medici family in 1549, after which it became the chief residence of the ruling family of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

22 June 2017

Galileo Galilei convicted of heresy

'Father of Science' forced to deny that earth revolved around sun


This 1857 painting by Cristiano Benti depicts  Galileo's appearance before the Inquisition
This 1857 painting by Cristiano Benti depicts
Galileo's appearance before the Inquisition
One of the more bizarre episodes in the history of human intellectual advancement took place in Rome on this day in 1633 when Galileo Galilei, the brilliant astronomer, mathematician, philosopher and engineer – often described as ‘the father of science’ - was convicted of heresy.

His crime was to support the view – indeed, to confirm it with scientific proof – that the sun rather than the earth was the centre of the solar system, as had been theorised by the Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus in the previous century.

This flew completely in the face of a major plank of orthodox Roman Catholic beliefs, within which the contention that the sun moved around the earth was regarded a fact of scripture that could not be disputed.

Galileo, something of a celebrity in his day who won the patronage of such powerful Italian families as the Medicis and the Barberinis following the discoveries he made with his astronomical telescope, had been essentially under surveillance by the Church since 1609 after publishing details of observations he had made that supported Copernicus’s theory of heliocentrism.

In 1616 the Copernican view was formally declared heretical and the biblical interpretation of creation was reaffirmed, part of which said that “God fixed the Earth upon its foundation, not to be moved forever.”

Pope Urban VIII - Matteo Barberini -  was sympathetic to Galileo
Pope Urban VIII - Matteo Barberini -
was sympathetic to Galileo
Galileo feared arrest but was given permission by Pope Urban VIII, a member of the Barberini faily, to continue his studies into Copernican theory provided his findings drew no definitive conclusions and acknowledged divine omnipotence.

However, when in 1632 Galileo published his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems – namely that proposed by Copernicus and the traditional view put forward by the second century astronomer Ptolemy – he came down heavily in favour of Copernicus.  He was considered by the Church to have gone a step too far and Urban VIII, fearing for his future in a fiercely political climate, felt compelled to act.

Galileo was summoned to Rome for trial by Inquisition in 1633 and despite the strength of his evidence he was found guilty of heresy and forced to recant his own findings as “abjured, cursed and detested”. He did so with great reluctance but little choice, given that the alternative was to be burned at the stake.

As it was he was sentenced to be imprisoned indefinitely, his Dialogue was banned and the future publication of any of his research was forbidden.  He is said to have muttered the words “E pur, si muove” – “And yet, it moves” – after declaring the earth to be a fixed object, which had it been overheard might have enraged the court still further.

Yet he was again shown some clemency, the sentence of imprisonment being commuted to house arrest the following day, after which he was allowed to live out the remainder of his days at his villa at Arcetri, near Florence.  

He went blind in 1638 and died in 1642 but was able, nonetheless, to reconstruct and summarise the discoveries he had made earlier in his life in Two New Sciences, which was smuggled out of Italy and published in Holland.

The 1630 portrait of Galileo by Peter Paul Rubens resides in a private collection
The 1630 portrait of Galileo by Peter Paul
Rubens resides in a private collection
Of course, Copernicus and Galileo were subsequently proved beyond any doubt to be have been right.  Amazingly, it took the Catholic Church more than 350 years to formally acknowledge their error.

In 1757, Galileo’s Dialogue was removed from the Vatican’s list of banned publications and in 1984 a panel of scientists, theologians and historians, assembled in 1979 to look into the 1633 accusations, published a preliminary report which accepted that Galileo had been wrongfully condemned.

However, it was not until 1992 that the investigation was closed and Galileo was officially vindicated in a statement issued by Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the investigation, which said: “We today know that Galileo was right in adopting the Copernican astronomical theory.”

Galileo's house in Arcetri, the Villa Gioella
Galileo's house in Arcetri, the
Villa Gioella
Travel tip:

The house to which Galileo returned after his sentence was commuted to house arrest is called Villa Gioella, which he rented. It is situated just three or four kilometres – a couple of miles – from the centre of Florence in the Arcetri hills.  In Galileo’s time it was a farmhouse, surrounded by many acres of land. He lived there with his daughter Celeste, who was a nun in an adjoining monastery.

Travel tip:

The Palace of the Holy Office, the building in Rome to which Galileo would have been summoned for trial in 1633, is what is known as an extraterritorial property of Vatican City, in that it lies outside the confines of the Vatican itself. The palace, originally built in 1514 for Cardinal Lorenzo Pucci and called Palazzo Pucci, is situated south of St. Peter's Basilica near the Petriano Entrance to Vatican City. In 1566–67, the palace was purchased by Pope Pius V and it was converted into the seat of the Holy Office.




7 December 2016

Gian Lorenzo Bernini – sculptor and architect

Italy's last universal genius


Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a self-portrait from 1623,  which is housed in Rome's Galleria Borghese
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a self-portrait from 1623,
 which is housed in Rome's Galleria Borghese
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who was considered the greatest sculptor of the 17th century, was born on this day in 1598 in Naples.

Bernini developed the Baroque style, leading the way for many other artists that came after him. He was also an outstanding architect and was responsible for much of the important work on St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Bernini began his career working for his father, Pietro Bernini, a Florentine who moved to live and work in Rome.

The young Bernini earned praise from the painter Annibale Carracci and patronage from Pope Paul V and soon established himself as an independent sculptor.

His early works in marble show his amazing ability to depict realistic facial expressions.

The Fontana del Tritone - the Triton fountain - in Rome's Piazza Barberini
The Fontana del Tritone - the Triton Fountain - in
Rome's Piazza Barberini
Pope Urban VIII became his patron and urged Bernini to paint and also to practice architecture. His first major commission was to remodel the Church of Santa Bibiana in Rome.

Bernini was then asked to build a symbolic structure over the tomb of Saint Peter in Rome. The result was the immense gilt-bronze baldachin executed between 1624 and 1633, an unprecedented fusion of sculpture and architecture and the first truly Baroque monument.

After the death of Carlo Maderno in 1629, Bernini became architect of St Peter’s and Palazzo Barberini.

A fervent Roman Catholic, he believed that the purpose of religious art was to teach and inspire the faithful. His tomb for Urban VIII shows the pope seated with his arm raised in a commanding gesture, with two white marble figures below him representing the virtues.

Bernini’s fountains are his most obvious contribution to the city of Rome, in particular the Triton fountain, constructed in 1642 with its four dolphins.

The Fontana dei Quattro Fiume - the Fountain of the Four Rivers - in Piazza Navona in Rome
The Fontana dei Quattro Fiume - the Fountain of the Four
Rivers - in Piazza Navona in Rome
Perhaps one of his most spectacular works is the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Rome’s Piazza Navona, with four marble figures symbolising the four major rivers of the world.

Bernini’s greatest architectural achievement is the colonnade enclosing the piazza in front of St Peter’s Basilica, which holds the crowd gathered for the papal benediction at Easter and on other special occasions.

Bernini died at the age of 81 after having served eight popes. He was considered not only Europe’s greatest artist, but also one of its greatest men. He was possibly the last of Italy’s universal geniuses, a polymath to be ranked alongside Galileo, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

Travel tip:

St Peter’s Square - Piazza San Pietro - was designed by Bernini to provide a large space where the faithful, from all over the world, could gather together. It is filled to capacity by pilgrims and visitors on Easter Sunday, Christmas Day and other important religious occasions when the Pope appears to address the crowd. These events are televised and watched by viewers all over the world.

Hotels in Rome from Hotels.com

The Basilica of St Peter in Rome
The Basilica of St Peter in Rome
Travel tip:

The stunning Renaissance Basilica of St Peter was completed and consecrated in 1626. Believed to be the largest church in the world, it was built to replace the original fourth century Basilica that had been constructed on what was believed to be the burial site of Saint Peter. Bernini made many important artistic and architectural contributions to St Peter’s during his life.

More reading:


Cigoli - Tuscan architect who left his impression on Rome

Why Michelangelo was regarded as the greatest painter and sculptor of all time

Galileo Galilei - the great thinker dubbed the father of science


Also on this day:



(Picture of St Peter's by Alvesgaspar via Wikimedia Commons)

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