Starry Messenger: Observing the Heavens in the Age of Galileo
An exhibition at the Beinecke Library, April 18 – June 30, 2009
In the autumn of 1609, the Italian mathematician and astronomer Galileo Galilei turned his telescope to the heavens, deciphering the cratered face of the moon, the four satellites of Jupiter, and other previously opaque features of the heavens. When, in 1610, Galileo published his Sidereus Nuncius, or Starry Messenger, the German astronomer Johannes Kepler responded with enthusiasm, praising the significance of Galileo’s observations with his own Dissertatio cum Nuncio Sidereo, or, Conversations with the Starry Messenger (1610).
To whom else did the stars speak in the early modern period? This selection of engravings, charts, diagrams, and texts reveals the furred and cratered faces, the portents and instruments in European observations of the heavens from the sixteenth through the eighteenth century. Drawing in part on a recently acquired collection of early modern comet literature, these items explore the fascination and anxiety with the world, its state, and its possibilities of imperfection that infused the early modern European discussions of the stars.
Galileo’s illustration of the constellation of the Pleiades, in the first edition of Sidereus Nuncius. At top: Galileo’s illustrations of the surface of the moon, also from the first edition of Sidereus Nuncius.
Above: images of the moon from the first pirated edition of Sidereus Nuncius, issued in Frankfurt in 1610.
Above: portrait of a cheerful Galileo, included as the frontispiece to the posthumous Opere (1666).
Hevelius’s image of the astronomer at work (above) and of the phases of the moon (below) in his exquisite lunar atlas, the Selenographia (Danzig: Hünefeld, 1647).
Novelists, as well as astronomers, began to colonize the landscapes of the heavens, as can be seen in this wonderfully witty satire by de Bergerac. Selēnarhia, or, The government of the world in the moon : a comical history [Histoire comique des états et empires de la lune]. London: J. Cottrel, 1659.
A collection guide, containing further images and works scanned from this exhibition, can be found in the Beinecke Library’s digital library. This exhibition is one event in Yale University’s celebration of the 2009 International Year of Astronomy, and a calendar of lectures, viewings, concerts, and other events has been posted by the Yale Office of Public Affairs.
An exhibition opening will be held at Beinecke Library on Tuesday, April 28, following a lecture by Dava Sobel, author of Galileo’s Daughter and Longitude. The lecture, sponsored by the Yale University Department of Astronomy, will be held at 4 pm in the Yale Law School Levinson Auditorium. Both lecture and exhibition opening are free and open to the public.