New College of the Humanities

A New Heaven: Galileo and the Artists

Margaret M. Byard investigates the intriguing links between the astronomical discoveries of Galileo and the paintings of his Italian contemporaries.

Fresco by Giuseppe Bertini depicting Galileo showing the Doge of Venice how to use the telescopeIn recent years we have cheerfully come to accept a 'photograph' of a galaxy light years away in space as a lozenge in purples and blues. Our familiar continents are shown in deep black surrounded by bright green oceans, their depths varying from yellow to brick red. Venus, the serene evening star, is a whirling dervish of intense blue and green. This extraordinary disorientation that we accept has come about because of science's new techniques of imaging through infra-red, radio, and X-ray radiation. Through them we get satellite 'photos' created out of dot impressions received from space and assembled in photomontages to give us an idea of our world and what is beyond it. These new ways of imaging were only developed about thirty years ago and are part of a scientific revolution that has taken most of us unaware. Only now, since IBM's recent exhibition 'Twenty-Five Years of Space Photography' and others like it, do we begin to realise what a mind-shaking change in our way of seeing has taken place.

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