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The face of Galileo

The reputation that Galileo enjoyed among his contemporaries can be evinced from the numerous portraits painted of him during his lifetime. Santi di Tito, Domenico Tintoretto, Giovanni Battista Caccini, Francesco Villamena, Ottavio Leoni, Domenico Passignano, Joachim Von Sandrart and Charles Mellin are only a few of the artists who paid tribute to Galileo.

The portrait of Galileo that is best known today is by Justus Suttermans, who painted it in 1636. This Flemish artist also painted a portrait of Galileo for Grand Duke Ferdinando II, known today only through a series of copies. The important copy displayed here, showing Galileo holding a telescope and wearing a ring signifying his membership of the Accademia dei Lincei, shows us one of the poses preferred by the Medici family, who had a keen interest in promoting his role as an innovative astronomer and skilled maker of measuring instruments. This vision is confirmed by the bust of Galileo by Carlo Marcellini, which shows the scientist with a compass and a telescope. The diffusion of Galileo's myth in the Tuscany under the rule of the Medici is also borne out by the solemn musealisation of the Pisa-born scientist's finger, which was removed from his tomb when his mortal remains were exhumed in 1737.