In recent decades the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza has greatly expanded. The visibility of the museum has soared thanks to its numerous activities and to the temporary exhibitions it has organized, many of them highly successful on an international level. The museum has thus come to the forefront in the public eye, overshadowing the activities of research and documentation; and this despite the impressive growth of the library, the intense promotion of research, the publication of numerous journals and volumes, and, last but not least, the massive investment over the last twenty years in information and communication technology, thanks to which digital archives of vital importance for research in the history of science have been created.
The Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza is heir to a tradition of five centuries of scientific collecting, which has its origins in the central importance assigned to scientists and scientific instruments by the Medici and Lorraine families.
1562 - The Medici Wardrobe
The Medicean collection of scientific instruments was begun by Cosimo I (1519-1574), who housed it in the Wardrobe of Palazzo Vecchio, known today as the "sala delle carte geografiche" (Map Room). The room was decorated between 1563 and 1581 by Egnazio Danti and Stefano Buonsignori, who painted on the 57 doors of the wardrobes the geography of the known world. Against the end wall was the planetary clock by Lorenzo della Volpaia. According to the original project, two large globes, one terrestrial, the other celestial, were to hang from the ceiling.
1600 - Mathematics Room
In 1600 Ferdinando I (1549-1609) transferred the collection to a small room in the Uffizi Gallery which became known as the "stanzino delle matematiche". Giulio Parigi depicted on the ceiling the instruments in the collection. Here and on the adjoining terrace (which once housed the great armillary sphere built by Antonio Santucci in 1593) the instruments bequeathed by Robert Dudley and those purchased in Germany by Mattias de' Medici were displayed.
1657 - The Accademia del Cimento
With the foundation of the Accademia del Cimento (1657), inaugurated by Ferdinand II (1610-1670) and Leopold de' Medici (1617-1675) for the purpose of conducting the experimental investigation of nature, the collection was enriched with new instruments designed mainly for thermometric, barometric and pneumatic research. The Accademia was located in the Pitti Palace where all the instruments in the Medici collection were subsequently moved.
1775 - The Museum of Physics
In 1775 the instruments were moved from the Pitti Palace to the Royal Museum of Physics and Natural History in Palazzo Torrigiani on Via Romana, where the Specola Museum is located today. Grand Duke Peter Leopold Habsburg-Lorraine (1747-1792) appointed as director of the museum Abbot Felice Fontana, who built an observatory and upgraded the collection with new instruments of mathematics, physics, meteorology and electricity, many of which were constructed in the Museum workshops.
1829 - The Museum Workshops
After their decline during the French occupation (1799-1814), the museum and its workshops were reorganized upon the return to power of the Lorraine Family. Under the direction of Vincenzo Antinori, such outstanding astronomers and physicists as Giovanni Battista Amici, constructor of microscopes, telescopes, micrometers and spectroscopes, and Leopoldo Nobili, inventor of electromagnetic and galvanometric instruments and thermo-electric piles, contributed to the development of the Museum workshops.
1841 - The Tribune of Galileo
The Tribune was built in 1841 in the Museum of Physics, on the initiative of Leopold II (1797-1870). The architect Giuseppe Martelli planned it to contain a statue of Galileo, surrounded by frescoes and bas-reliefs illustrating the discoveries and the most important instruments of the great scientist: the geometric and military compass, an armed loadstone, two telescopes, and the objective lens of the telescope with which Galileo discovered the Jupiter satellites. The Renaissance instruments and those of the Accademia del Cimento were also displayed in the Tribune.
1927 - The Institute of the History of Science
After the Unification of Italy, the collections were dispersed among several university departments. The state of abandonment of the collection was condemned in 1922 by the promoters of the "Group for the Preservation of National Scientific Heritage". In 1927, thanks to their commitment, the Istituto di Storia delle Scienze was founded, with the goal of "collecting, cataloging, and restoring" the scientific collections.
1929 - The National Exhibition
In 1929, the newborn Istituto organized in Florence the First National Exhibition of the History of Science. Numerous Italian institutions participated in the show, which served to enhance the vast dimension of scientific heritage, its nationwide diffusion and its poor state of preservation. Following the show, in 1930, the University of Florence opened to the public in Palazzo Castellani the permanent exhibition of the Istituto di Storia della Scienza, to which the Medici-Lorraine collection of instruments had been conferred.
1966 - The Flood
After the damage caused by the bombings that destroyed the bridges of the Lungarno at the end of the Second World War (1944-45), another hard blow was dealt to the collection by the flood of 1966. The instruments that at the time were stored in the basement and ground floor of the Museo were seriously damaged. Thanks to international solidarity and the efforts of Maria Luisa Righini Bonelli, then-director of the Museum, it was possible to quickly carry out recovery of the instruments, reopen the exposition rooms to the public and return energies towards library collecting and research activities.
A few years ago, an ambitious project was launched for rebalancing the institution’s many different fields of operation – research, documentation, publishing, advanced training, preservation of scientific heritage, showcasing the museum’s large collections, disseminating scientific culture, organizing events, conferences and exhibitions, and so on. This project has now reached its conclusion with the inauguration of a museum the premises and contents of which have been radically renovated. It is fitting to begin this new stage by adopting a new name: Museo Galileo. The subtitle, Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza, provides a link to its earlier history and shows that the activities of documentation and research have always been, are now and will continue to be, the focus of highest attention.
The Palazzo Castellani, site of the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza since 1930, nowadays Museo Galileo, is a building of very ancient origin, dating from the late 11th century. Known at the time of Dante as Castello d'Altafronte, from the name of the family who owned it until 1180, when it became the property of the Uberti, the Castello was inserted in the city's very oldest ring of walls. After having passed from the Uberti to the Castellani family in the 14th century, it was the site, from 1574 to 1841, of the Giudici di Ruota (magistrates or judges of the high court of the Grand Duchy); even today the coats-of-arms of two of the magistrates remain on the walls of the entryway and remind us of this function. No documentation exists on the functions of the building in the 17th and 18th centuries. During the first half of the 19th century, the Palazzo underwent large-scale restoration. After the Unification of Italy, the collections of manuscripts owned by the Biblioteca Nazionale (National Library) were transferred to the Palazzo, where they remained until the 1920s. The Palazzo has also housed the Accademia della Crusca and the Deputazione di Storia Patria per la Toscana. Today, the Museo Galileo occupies the whole building. The spaces have been restored and adapted to the new uses. The work of restoring the basement level, carried out over the two-year period 2002-2003, has brought to light the four massive stone foundation arches of the ancient Castello d'Altafronte.
Situated in the heart of Florence, on the Arno, near the Galleria degli Uffizi, the Palazzo is a Medieval building with a facade of bare stone. It rises for six floors and is distinguished by rounded windows and rusticated stone arches.
The Palazzo Castellani is the property of the Italian State, which in turn leases it to the Museo Galileo at a token fee.
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