Trattato della sfera di Galileo Galilei, con alcune prattiche intorno a quella, e modo di fare la figura celeste, e suoi direttioni, secondo la via rationale.

Rome: Nicolò Angelo Tinassi, for Domenico Grialdi, 1656.

First edition, very rare, and probably a presentation copy, of one of Galileo’s earliest works, probably composed around 1590, and of particular interest for the development of his scientific method prior to 1610 and the publication of Sidereus nuncius. The Sfera gives a university-level outline of Ptolemaic astronomy. Galileo “continued to teach Ptolemaic astronomy until the early 1600s, as is seen in his Trattato della Sfera, student copies of which were prepared from an original in Galileo’s own hand between 1602 and 1606. The autograph has been lost, but Drake speculates that it was begun as early as 1586-1587, in conjunction with Galileo's private teaching of astronomy. More likely, it was composed toward the end of 1590, when he wrote to his father requesting that his copy of the Sfera be sent to him at Pisa (Sfera here meaning the text of Sacrobosco with Clavius’s commentary)” (Cambridge Companion to Galileo, p. 35). “Nothing was said [in the Trattato] about the Copernican annual motion of the earth, which was irrelevant in any case to the principal matters dealt with in cosmography. These concerned definitions and explanations of horizon, meridian circle, equator, zodiac, colures [the principal meridians of the celestial sphere], tropics, and polar circles; right and oblique ascensions of stars, the seasons, life in various climatic zones, latitude and longitude, eclipses and lunar phases. A final section dealt with the phenomenon of precession of the equinoxes and the introduction after Ptolemy of two additional spheres to account for the supposed motion of trepidation” (Drake, Galileo at Work, pp. 54-5). It might seem surprising that Galileo, who is known to have embraced the Copernican system as early as 1597 (in letters to Kepler and Mazzoni), could have publicly espoused Ptolemy, but this presumably reflects the time-lag that often occurs between revolutionary science and what is taught in the classroom. The first part is the printing of the manuscript of Galileo’s Treatise; the second part contains a series of astronomical problems based on the Treatise which were devised for his students by Bonaventura Cavalieri who had studied with Galileo at Padua and who, throughout his life, always considered himself a disciple of Galileo’s. The work ends with a series of directions on how to chart the heavens. The editor of this volume was Urbano d’Aviso, whose name appears in an anagram on the title page. This copy conforms to the collation in Cinti, with a frontispiece, 2 folding tables and 2 engraved plates (though he locates both plates at the end, unlike in this copy). The binding bears the arms of Cardinal Niccolo Albergati-Ludovisi, a cousin of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi. It should be noted that the Library of Congress’s copy of the Trattato della sfera exhibits the same tooling on the binding, but with a different archbishop’s arms, suggesting that this binding was done for presentation. ABPC/RBH list 7 copies since 1934, but no other copy in a presentation binding.

Provenance: Cardinal Niccolo Albergati-Ludovisi (1608-87) (binding with his arms). Albergati-Ludovisi was appointed Archbishop of Bologna by Pope Innocent X on February 6, 1645, and elevated to the rank of Cardinal the following month. He served as Cardinal-Priest at the Basilica di Sant’ Agostino and then the Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri. In 1650 he was appointed Major Penitentiary and in 1683 he was appointed Dean of the College of Cardinals. He held both position until his death. Between 1658 and 1659 he served as Camerlengo of the Sacred College of Cardinals.

“One of the earliest works attributed to Galileo is called Trattato della sfera ovvero cosmografia [Treatise on the Sphere, or Cosmography]. Its date of composition is unknown (probably before 1600) and it was published posthumously by the priest Urbano d’Aviso. It is a short and elementary geocentric astronomical treatise. Its content and structure generally follow Johannes de Sacrobosco’s medieval Tractatus de sphæra. A first look at the contents and style of the Trattato della sfera ovvero cosmografia (hereinafter called Trattato in brief) provides no internal evidence that it was written by Galileo. It includes no reference to Copernicus or his ideas; it accepts and defends the main geocentric astronomical ideas: that the Earth does not move in any way, that it is at the center of the universe, and that the Sun, the Moon, the planets and the stars move around it. Also, it contains no recent information that became available during the sixteenth century, such as new evaluations of the size of the Earth, the knowledge of stars visible from the Southern hemisphere, or the existence of people living in the tropical zone. Due to its contents, it is understandable that after its publication the Trattato did not attract much attention, and up to the nineteenth century, there were strong doubts concerning its authenticity. Of course, it provides no information concerning Galileo’s later ideas; however, it is an important source for studying his early acquaintance with the astronomy of his time …

“[The Trattato] does not contain a translation of the Sphæra, and does not even cite Sacrobosco’s name. Sacrobosco’s work contains a preamble and four chapters. The Trattato begins with a long methodological introduction (with no correspondence in the Sphæra) followed by 24 small chapters. Generally, the chapters of the Trattato follow the order of the content of Sacrobosco’s work. There are, however, important omissions and additions. At the end of the first chapter, the Sphæra describes the ancient measurements of the size of the Earth; this subject is lacking in the Trattato. Most of the content of the second chapter of Sacrobosco’s book does appear in the Trattato, but in a different sequence; and it omits the final part of chapter two, about the five terrestrial zones. The third chapter of the Sphæra explains the several types of astronomical risings and settings; the Trattato omits this subject altogether. The rest of the third chapter is largely followed by the Trattato, but it adds a more detailed elucidation of latitude and longitude and describes 22 geographical climes, instead of the seven classical ones. The beginning of the fourth chapter of Sacrobosco’s work explains the motions of the Sun and planets; the Trattato omits several parts of this content. The Trattato contains a description of the phases of the Moon and its visibility—subjects that do not appear in the Sphæra, although they are discussed in Sacrobosco’s De anni ratione (1573). The final part of Sacrobosco’s work expounds the miraculous eclipse of the Sun during Christ’s passion; the Trattato does not refer to this miracle but includes a discussion of the motion of the 8th sphere and its trepidation that is lacking in the Sphæra. Of course, there are several other differences between the contents of these two works.

“The editions and commentaries of the Sphæra frequently contained several illustrations. The Trattato contained only one single figure [p. 24]. Another curious difference is the complete lack of classical literary citations in the Trattato, whereas Sacrobosco’s book contained several citations of Virgil, Lucan, and Ovid. The overall tone used in the Trattato is very similar to Sacrobosco’s approach. It simply exposes accepted knowledge; there is no polemical character in any part of the book, in strong contrast with Galileo’s later famous works.

“Another relevant difference between the two works was their languages. Since the Tractatus de sphæra was used as a textbook in European universities, most of its versions were written in Latin … This raises a question concerning the aim and the target readers of the Trattato ovvero cosmografia. Galileo’s teaching subjects at the universities of Pisa and Padua included Sacrobosco’s Sphæra and the use of Latin in the lectures was obligatory. One of the reasons was that many of the students attending those universities came from other countries and the only lingua franca available at that time was Latin. Galileo must have used some Latin version of the Sphæra in his public teaching activities, and it would have been useless to prepare an Italian textbook for those students. Stillman Drake and William Shea conjectured that the Trattato was composed for private teaching in 1586-1587 after Galileo left his medical studies and before he became a professor at Pisa. However, there is no evidence that he knew or taught astronomy during this period … 

“Besides his official duties at the universities, Galileo delivered private classes on several subjects, as a way to improve his financial income. It is certain that he taught astronomy to some students in the early years of the seventeenth century—at the time when the extant manuscript copies of the Trattato were produced. It is unlikely, however, that he wrote a textbook for those private lessons. Firstly, many of his students were foreigners. According to extant records, in the period 1601-1607, about 10 private students studied the sphere under Galileo. One of them was British, two were Hungarian and seven were Polish. It is doubtful whether they would have appreciated a textbook in Italian. Secondly, Galileo could deliver private classes on astronomy without the inconvenience of writing a textbook for his students: he could use any of numerous available treatises—both in Latin and in Italian. Composing a new textbook would be understandable if Galileo intended to impart new knowledge, not available in the usual treatises. The Trattato, however, could not fulfill this purpose, as all its content could be found in works published one century earlier. It did not include updated information about the size of the Earth, or the stars visible from the Southern hemisphere, or the existence of people living in the Torrid Zone, for instance. It did not address the practical navigational use of astronomy that was very important during the sixteenth century, or the use of new astronomical instruments. Neither did it discuss recent astronomical theories (such as those of Copernicus and Tycho Brahe) or fresh observational findings (such as comets and Tycho’s nova). 

“Perhaps Galileo did not compile the Trattato for his students. It might be just a set of notes he wrote for himself, when he was learning the traditional astronomy he was going to teach in Pisa. William Wallace conjectured that it was composed towards the end of 1590, when he wrote to his father requesting his copy of the Sfera. Maybe he used these annotations as guidelines for his classes, later; and he could have lent the manuscript to some students who wanted to copy it …

“Some authors have claimed that the main source of the Trattato was the famous commentary on Sacrobosco’s Sphæra written by Christoph Clavius … Of course, most of the contents of the Trattato can be found in Clavius’ book … One peculiarity of the Trattato is the inclusion of 22 geographical climes, supplying a table with their data. The descriptions contained in the table are in Latin, not in Italian, suggesting that it was copied from a Latin book. The declination of the ecliptic used for the computation was 23°29’, a figure that was not very common during the sixteenth century. An almost identical table can be found in Clavius’ treatise. Hence, William Wallace concluded that it was copied from that book, thus establishing a strong link between the Trattato and the famous commentary … Another particularity of the Trattato is its description of the phases of the Moon and the condition of its visibility. Although these are elementary astronomical topics that could have been introduced by Sacrobosco in his Sphæra, he did not include them in that work, and Clavius’ commentary also does not contain this subject. Therefore, his book could not be the source from which the Trattato drew its description of the phases and visibility of the Moon. Analyzing further details of the Trattato we find several other relevant differences between its content and Clavius’ work—for instance, some of the specific arguments concerning the immobility of the Earth … The general style of the Trattato and the very language that was chosen for its composition also suggest that its main source should be sought elsewhere.

“Taking into account its language, the Trattato della sfera ovvero cosmografia might have been inspired by some previous vernacular publication … During the sixteenth century, there appeared several astronomical books inspired by Sacrobosco’s work but that did not follow it in a strict way. Most of them were in Latin, but there were also vernacular ones. The most famous was Alessandro Piccolomini’s De la sfera del mondo, first issued in 1540 … The analysis of Piccolomini’s work is particularly relevant for us because, according to Domenico Berti, Galileo wrote numerous annotations in a copy of Piccolomini’s book on the sphere. Antonio Favaro reported that Galileo had a copy of the 1572 edition of De la sfera del mondo … Alistair Crombie has already remarked that Galileo’s style is somehow similar to Piccolomini’s, from whom he borrowed some relevant phrases such as ‘sensate esperienze e certe dimostrazioni’ … Several characteristics of Piccolomini’s work have counterparts in the Trattato. First of all, the use of Italian as a language for exposing astronomical knowledge. Secondly, the absence of a rigid correspondence between Piccolomini’s composition and Sacrobosco’s Sphæra. Thirdly, a preoccupation with epistemological and methodological issues. Fourth, the inclusion of the phases of the Moon among its topics, adjacent to the explanation of the eclipses. Both treatises lack the discussion of the miraculous eclipse at the time of Christ’s passion. Another curious similarity is the deficiency of citations of the classic poets in the Sfera del mondo

“Although the influence of Piccolomini’s Sfera del mondo upon the composition of the Trattato might have been very strong, it certainly could not be the only source used by Galileo. Indeed, there are some features of the Trattato that did not appear in Piccolomini’s work. The very title Trattato della sfera ovvero cosmografia was extraordinary and implied an equivalence between astronomy and cosmography that was not acceptable to most authors of that time—including Piccolomini. Galileo might have been influenced by Oronce Finé’s De mundi sphaera, sive cosmographia or by Francesco Barozzi’s Cosmographia, a commented version of Sacrobosco’s Tractatus de sphæra. Barozzi’s Cosmographia is especially relevant since Galileo had a copy of this book, and some parts of the Trattato may have been inspired by this work” (Martins & Cardoso).

Carli and Favaro 252; Cinti 133; Fahie 39; Gamba 393; Riccardi I, 519, 18; not in Houzeau & Lancaster. Martins & Cardoso, ‘Galileo’s Trattato della sfera ovvero cosmografia and Its Sources,’ Philosophia Scientiæ 21(2017), pp. 131-147. See also: Drake, Galileo at Work, 1978, pp. 51-55; Drake, Essays on Galileo (ed. Swerdlow & Levere), 1999, vol. I, p. 67.




12mo (130 x 72mm), pp. [xvi], 296, [4, including errata leaf and final blank], engraved frontispiece, 2 folding engraved plates, 2 folding tables, woodcut initials and headpieces (first plate just shaved along left edge, occasional browning). Contemporary Roman gold-tooled vellum, presumably for presentation, corners with fan-shaped device, arms of Cardinal Niccol Albergati-Ludovisi at centre of each side, smooth spine gilt, edges gilt (lacking ties); white vellum folding case. A very fine copy in a contemporary Roman presentation binding.

Item #5280

Price: $95,000.00