• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2013

    Important Scientific Books: The Richard Green Library

    17 June 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 132

    GALILEI, Galileo. Sidereus nuncius magna, longeque admirabilia spectacula pandens. Venice: Tommaso Baglioni, 1610.

    Price Realised  


    GALILEI, Galileo. Sidereus nuncius magna, longeque admirabilia spectacula pandens. Venice: Tommaso Baglioni, 1610.

    4o (204 x 148 mm). Baglioni's woodcut device on title, woodcut headpiece and initial, 5 half-page etchings in the text showing the lunar surface and phases, 3 woodcut text diagrams, 3 woodcut star maps, one covering one page, and 65 one-line typographical diagrams showing the varying positions of Jupiter and its moons. This copy with the pasted cancel slip, correcting "Cosmica" to "Medicea" in the heading on B1r. (Paper splitting along lower platemark of engraving on B4, blank margin of C1 and C2 cut irregularly by binder, woodcut illustration on D5 trimmed closely cutting away two tiny stars and shaving two others.) Disbound from a sammelband; quarter morocco folding case.

    FIRST EDITION OF THE FOUNDATION WORK OF MODERN ASTRONOMY, CONTAINING THE FIRST ACCOUNT OF ASTRONOMICAL DISCOVERIES MADE WITH THE TELESCOPE. Having learned from Paolo Sarpi in 1609 of the invention by Hans Lipperhey of a device for making distant objects appear closer, Galileo set out to construct his own instrument. Within a few months he had improved his first nine-power instrument to one of about thirty-power, the practicable limit for a telescope of that type (with plano-convex objective and plano-concave eyepiece). He first turned his telescope to the heavens in early January 1610 "...with startling results. Not only was the moon revealed to be mountainous and the Milky Way to be a congeries of separate stars, contrary to Aristotelian principles, but a host of new fixed stars and four satellites of Jupiter [which he named the Medicea Siderea in honor of Cosimo II de' Medici] were promptly discovered. Working with great haste but impressive accuracy, Galileo recited these discoveries in the Sidereus nuncius, published at Venice early in March 1610" (DSB).

    Galileo's discoveries, which won him instant fame, did not prove that Copernicus was correct, only that the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic view of the universe was false. Nowhere in the Sidereus nuncius did Galileo explicitly express his private views in support of heliocentrism. Nevertheless, the work was immediately the object of virulent attacks, which questioned the reality of rather than the implications of his observations. "The reliability of the telescope, rather than the philosophical or theological plausibility of the Copernican system, was the main target of Galileo's adversaries and the subject of his replies in the period immediately following the publication of the Sidereus nuncius" (M. Biagioli, Galileo Courtier, Chicago 1993, p. 95). Galileo's defense against these attacks was to legitimize his discoveries by linking them to his Medici patrons, not only through the dedication of his work to Cosimo II and his naming of the "Medicean stars", but more pointedly through his use of the Medicean diplomatic network to distribute telescopes and copies of his work to the European princes and cultural elite. The debate on Copernicanism was, however, reignited by this epochal work, the opening salvo of the assault of modern astronomy on the medieval view of the cosmos.

    Carli and Favaro 30; Cinti 26; Dibner Heralds of Science 7; Grolier/Horblit 35; Norman 855; PMM 113.

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766