Galileo - Still it Moves

A nineteenth-century painting, by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury depictis Galileo before the Inquisition

In this nineteenth-century painting, by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury, Galileo appears before the Holy Office of the Roman Inquisition.  Whether here, or more likely elsewhere, he reportedly said "Still it moves" (even though he'd officially recanted his beliefs and observations). 

The following account (written by a leading Galileo scholar) provides more background on when (and how) the story of "Eppur si muove" (still it moves) developed:

In 1911, a Belgian family which owned a painting supposed to represent Galileo in the dungeons of the Inquisition, dated 1643 (1645?) and attributed to Murillo or some painter of his school at Madrid, sent this painting to be cleaned.  When it was removed from the frame it was found to be larger than supposed, having been deliberately folded back when originally framed. 

As previously seen, the gaunt figure representing the prisoner seemed to be pointing with a finger at a dungeon wall precisely at the edge of the painting as framed.  Unfolded, it revealed the words Rppur si muove written on that wall.  There was no question of the authenticity of the painting or of its Spanish origin, though the date was party illegible.

Nothing would have been more in character for Galileo, at the moment of leaving the hospitality of his good friend and host Ascanio Piccolomini [an Archbishop of the Catholic Church] , than - just before his entering the waiting carriage - to stamp a foot on the ground, perhaps wink, and utter the famous words.  Ascanio's brother Ottavio was then stationed in Madrid as a professional soldier. 

Quite possibly the story, which could not be circulated widely with safety to Galileo, was passed on within the family and the picture was commissioned by Ottavio at Madrid at the time of Galileo's death.  Thereafter it [the story of Galileo's comments] lived on in oral tradition ... In any case there is no doubt now that the famous words were already attributed to Galileo before his death, not invented a century later merely to fit his character.

Click on the image for a larger view.

Media Credits

Image online, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Quoted passage from Galileo at Work, by Stillman Drake, page 357 - online, courtesy Google Books.


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"Galileo - Still it Moves" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Feb 24, 2020.
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