Galileo and the Visual Arts - The Unity of Science and Design

Galileo Galilei, the founder of observational astronomy and modern physics, spent some of his formative years studying mathematics – inclusive of geometry and perspective - and drawing, at Florence’s Academy of Art. This proved integral to many of his later scientific observations and conclusions. For example, his artistic knowledge of chiaroscuro, the effect of the fall of light and shadow, played a significant role in deducing the nature of the moon’s irregular shape through the telescope and in visually recording the observations of its phases. Discover an individual who exemplified the Renaissance belief in the integrated nature of all disciplines, with a renewed interest in the necessity of clarity in all arts, whether poetic or scientific.


  • Face-to-Face


  • Ariosto, Ludovico. (1516), trans. Barbara Reynolds (1973). Orlando Furioso, Penguin Books, ISBN: 9780141960524
  • Bredekamp, Horst. (2014), trans. Mitch Cohen (2019). Galileo’s Thinking Hand: Mannerism, Anti-Mannerism, and the Virtue of Drawing in the Foundation of Early Modern Science, Walter de Gruyte, ISBN 978-3-11-052006-4
  • Galilei, Galileo. (1632), trans. Stillman Drake (2001). Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Random House, ISBN 10 037575766X
  • Greco, Pietro. (2018) Galileo Galilei, The Tuscan Artist, Springer International Publishing, ISBN 978-3-030-10149-7
  • Peterson, Mark. (2011). Galileo’s Muse: Renaissance Mathematics and the Arts, Harvard University Press
  • Sobel, Dava. (1999). Galileo’s Daughter: A Drama of Science, Faith and Love, Fourth Estate Limited, ISBN 1-85702-712-4
  • Reeves, Eileen. (1999). Painting the Heavens: Art and Science in the Age of Galileo, Princeton University Press, ISBN 10 : ‎0691009767
  • Wooton, David. (2010). Galileo: Watcher of the Skies, Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0-300-19729-7


  • Galileo and the Florentine Art Academy (Accademia del Disegno): As a young man, Galileo first learnt mathematics - a subject then disdained at the University of his hometown of Pisa - from Florence’s Art Academy. We will see how a textbook on mathematics composed by the fifteenth century Renaissance humanist and artist, Leon Battista Alberti, gave Galileo a foundation in the use of geometry to calculate heights and depths that would play an inherent role in his later scientific observations.
  • The Materiality of the Starry Messenger (Sidereus Nuncius): Galileo’s famous astronomical work was the first published scientific text on observations made through a telescope. Out of concern that his discoveries might be preempted, the book was rushed to publication at breakneck speed. As a result, Galileo and his publishers were forced to hastily draw upon a variety of graphic and visual means to both illustrate and format the text. We will examine how woodcuts, etchings made by Galileo’s own hand and even the printer’s typeface, were employed to visually communicate the new discoveries.
  • Galileo and the artist Ludovico Cigoli – the bond of friendship and collaboration: One of Galileo’s closest friends since his time at the Accademia del Disegno, was the painter, Ludovico Cardi di Cigoli. An artist who was contemporaneous with, and equal in fame at the time, to Caravaggio. We will examine their friendship in the context of the collaborative scientific investigations of sunspots. Concluding with their discussions on art criticism, which revolved around an artistically progressive rejection of Mannerism in art.
  • Galileo as Michelangelo reborn: The great sculptor and painter of the High Renaissance, Michelangelo, died three days after the birth of Galileo. Even during Galileo’s lifetime, the artistic achievements of the one and the scientific accomplishments of the other, were perceived as intertwined by their shared innovation within their respective disciplines. We will conclude by examining how this played out as a form of hagiography, post the natural philosopher’s death.


By the end of this course, student should be able to:

  1. Have gained an integrated understanding of Galileo as a polymath of natural philosophy (science), artistic, literary and musical talent.
  2. Relate an emerging scientific world view to its broader early modern cultural and artistic context.
  3. Critically analyse the visual output of Galileo, the painter Ludovico Cigoli and other artists who contributed to, or were influenced by both scientific inquiry and discovery.
$49 Limited

<p>Galileo Galilei, the founder of observational astronomy and modern physics, spent some of his formative years studying mathematics – inclusive of geometry and perspective - and drawing, at Florence

01 Apr

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