Galileo and Perspective Drawing

iBook Exhibit Guide

Galileo's World at a Glance | Gallery at the Exhibit Website
What was it like to be an astronomer in an era when art and mathematics were intertwined?

In the Starry Messenger (1610), Galileo reported his discovery of four satellites of Jupiter and mountains on the Moon. These sensational telescopic discoveries were made possible by Galileo’s training and experience in Renaissance art. Galileo’s scientific discoveries occurred in the context of a specific artistic culture which possessed sophisticated mathematical techniques for drawing with linear perspective and handling light and shadow. When Galileo peered through his telescope and discovered mountains on the Moon, he did so because he was seeing with the eyes of an artist. Contemporaries without artistic training were not able to see what Galileo saw; they were able to look but not to see.

1. Galileo, Sidereus nuncius (Venice, 1610), photograph of Moon engravings.
2. Euclid, Elements of Geometrie (London, 1570), trans. Henry Billingsley., "Elements of Geometry"
3. Ibn al-Haytham, Opticae thesaurus (Basel, 1572), "Treasury of Optics"
4. John Peckham, Perspectiva (Paris, 1556), "Perspective"
5. Athanasius Kircher, Ars magna lucis et umbrae (Rome, 1646), "The Great Art of Light and Shadow"
6. Leon Battista Alberti, “On Painting,” in Opuscoli Morali (Venice, 1568), "Moral Essays"
7. Niccolo Tartaglia, Opere... Nova scientia (Venice, 1606), "Works. . . A New Science"
8. Luca Pacioli, Divina proportione (Venice, 1509), "The Divine Proportion"
9. Leonardo da Vinci, Trattato della Pittura (Paris, 1651), 1st ed., "Treatise on Painting"
10. Albrecht Dürer, Institutionem geometricarum (Paris, 1535), "Principles of Geometry"
11. Lorenzo Sirigatti, La Pratica di Prospettiva (Venice, 1596), "The Practice of Perspective"
12. Jean François Nicéron, La Perspectiva Curieuse (Paris, 1663), "The Curiosities of Perspective"

Further reading:
  • Samuel Y. Edgerton, The Mirror, the Window and the Telescope (Cornell, 2009)
  • J.V. Field, The Invention of Infinity (Oxford, 1997)
  • Martin Kemp, The Science of Art (Yale, 1992)
  • Mark A. Peterson, Galileo's Muse (Harvard, 2011)
Curators: Kerry Magruder and Brent Purkaple. Links are to the Exhibit Guide, also available from the iBook Store. Open Educational Resources are available at and ShareOK.

Works listed here are on display in Bizzell Memorial Library (Fall 2015, Summer-Spring 2016) and also at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art (Spring 2016). We thank Mark White, Director of the Fred Jones Museum, Francesca Giani (curator), Melissa Smith (educator) and all the Museum staff for incorporating many books described in “Galileo and the Telescope,” “The Moon and the Telescope,” “Galileo and Perspective Drawing,” and “The Sky at Night,” into their Spring 2016 exhibition, “An Artful Observation of the Cosmos.” Each of these galleries takes its point of departure from Galileo’s Sidereus nuncius (1610), which is listed as the first item for each of these galleries. Museum curator Francesca Giani took these themes to heart and illustrated them with art from the Museum. Her captions for that exhibit, relating the books to the art, were based in varying degrees upon the original captions provided beforehand in the Exhibit Guide and the Exhibit website. The melding of art and science by the Fred Jones Museum in their exhibit is a powerful example of the ability of Galileo’s World to throw light upon the world of OU today.