Tag Archives: Isaac Newton

Galileo’s finger points across the centuries

Galileo's finger: Was the guy really that skinny? Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza di Firenze

Art Scatter’s cup runneth over. Well, it’s not our cup, actually; it belongs to the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza di Firenze in Florence, Italy. And that papery-looking swizzle stick inside? If researchers are correct, it’s the finger of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), the great astronomer, physicist and mathematician who ran afoul of the Inquisition by daring to suggest that the Earth was not the center of the universe. (He voted for the Sun.)

Crayon portrait of Galileo, by Leoni. Wikimedia CommonsThanks once again to Art Daily Newsletter for bringing a piece of fascinating cultural news to our attention.

Apparently admirers of the scientific trailblazer removed three fingers and a tooth from his corpse in 1737 (almost a century after Galileo’s death, which suggests a certain level of deterioration had already set in) and cradled them lovingly in the family collection as macabre intellectual souvenirs. Considering Galileo’s conflicted relationship with the Jesuits and the church, that finger in the glass could have multiple layers of meaning.

One finger (they’re from Galileo’s right hand) was recovered fairly quickly. The other two and the tooth were rediscovered recently, and are set to go on display at the Florence science museum in the spring.

Here at Art Scatter World Headquarters we can hardly wait to wheel out the corporate jet from its hangar and head on over for a first-hand look-see. After all, we’re great admirers of Mr. Galilei, too. His father, Vincenzo, was a notable lutenist and composer in the years straddling the late Renaissance and Baroque eras, and we think it’s fair to say that Galileo himself explored the music of the universe.

Plus, he was a supporter of the ideas of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), the Polish astronomer who kicked off all this Earth-is-not-the-center-of-the-universe fuss in the first place. It’s not unfair to say that between them, Copernicus and Galileo dragged the Western world kicking and screaming toward modernity. Besides, Mr. Scatter lived many years ago in Binghamton, New York, a city that has a large Polish population that celebrated the astronomer’s birthday (February 19) every year and referred to him proudly as Kopernik.

Still, that finger in the glass is an odd historical souvenir. We’re hopeful that someday soon the core of the apple that bopped Sir Isaac Newton on the bean will be discovered tucked away in a corner of a Calvados distillery somewhere in Normandy. We’d drink to that.


  • Top photo: One of two recently discovered fingers purported to have come from the corpse of Galileo Galilei. Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienze di Firenze.
  • Inset photo: Crayon portrait of Galileo, by Leoni. Wikimedia Commons.