Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

Italian reliquary pearwood bust of Galileo, the Pisan-born experimental natural philosopher and astronomer. He is shown head, shoulders and upper torso, in old age and slightly larger than life, looking to his left and dressed in a robe with a fur collar. A ribbon with an indeterminate pendant hangs over the collar and a loose shirt is visible round the neck beneath it. At the back is a circular glazed recess containing a relic in the form of a piece of crimson velvet with a fringe, possibly (according to previous notes) a piece of fabric from Galileo's academic chair. The carved socle consists of a group of astronomical and mathematical instruments round a flared square base surmounted by a globe, which has been carved back to leave a tilted ecliptical band of the signs of the zodiac round it in high relief. This item was previously in the Methuen collection at Corsham Court, Wiltshire, from which it was sold at Christie's in 1920. The exact date is not yet known but a manuscript note, added to the bust's entry (p.11) in the 1903 printed Methuen catalogue still held at Corsham, records the sale and that the purchaser was 'Gubb' (i.e., George Gabb) for 58 guineas. The former Corsham portrait of Galileo by Sustermans (BHC2700), sold for the same price in a different Christie's sale that year, was also bought by Gabb though not apparently at the auction. A photograph at Corsham, taken about 1882, shows the bust standing on a square wooden plinth in the lower corridor there, where the Sustermans portrait also hung at that time. Like the painting, and many other items there, the bust was acquired by the Revd John Sanford (d. 1855) who lived and collected in Florence for about five years up to 1837. In Sanford's privately printed catalogue raisonée of his collection of 1847 (p. 40, no. 11) it is simply listed as 'purchased in Florence' and, with the rest, was inherited by his daughter who in 1844 married Frederick Methuen, later second Lord Methuen. The Gabb Collection, including this bust and another in bronze (SCU0022), and all three of the Museum's oil portraits of Galileo, was purchased en bloc for the Museum by Sir James Caird, formal acquisition being on 1 March 1937. The carver of this bust not known, but it has recently been suggested that it may be someone in the circle of Giovanni Battista Foggini (1652-1737), who was the leading sculptor in Florence from the mid-1680s and who designed the monumental tomb in Santa Croce to which Galileo's remains were moved in 1737. [Entry updated, 21.7.10]

Object Details

ID: SCU0023
Collection: Sculpture
Type: Bust
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Foggini, circle of Giovanni Battista; Unknown
Date made: circa 1690 -1710
People: Galilei, Galileo
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Measurements: Overall: 1000 mm x 640 mm x 300 mm x 70 kg

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