My period as Artist in Residence at the Museo Galileo in 2016 provided an outstanding opportunity to work with the scientific collections of the Medici family, originally housed in the Uffizi. The Museo Galileo offers a superb insight into our scientific heritage. It includes objects and documents brought to Europe by the great Italian trading empires: Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Florence.

I worked in the galleries when the museum was closed to the public and so had a magical, solitary experience of centuries of scientific history, that led the way to our modern world. Galileo’s own telescope is there! As well, I was given access to the museum’s database of images, to layer and merge with my own photographs. I was welcomed by museum staff, who were most generous with their time and knowledge. The images in this virtual exhibition are inspired by the timeline of scientific history. My thanks are extended to the Museo Galileo, as my host, and also to the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana and the INAF–Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri for access to their wondrous collections.

The Path from the House of Wisdom, is a visual celebration of the transmission of scientific knowledge, from the medieval Arabic world to the West. The period, often described as the Golden Age of Arabic science, began in the 8th century AD and continued until the 15th century. My project explores the legacy passed to the West from this great flowering of sciences in the Arab world.

Beginning as the private library of his father, Caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd in 8th-century Baghdad, the public institution of learning, known as the House of Wisdom, was the brainchild of Abbasid dynasty Caliph al-Ma’mūn. Scholars, scientists, writers and translators from Muslim, Jewish and Christian backgrounds, worked together, in an open and innovative atmosphere, to create the greatest centre of learning and knowledge of its time.

Trade routes, developed by the great Italian city-states, that linked the Byzantine and Ottoman empires with Europe, extended throughout the Mediterranean. Knowledge and texts, preserved and translated from ancient Greek, as well as new discoveries in science, were transmitted to the western world, along with spices and silks.

The paths of transmission of this knowledge were varied. They included the routes of pilgrims and Templars returning from the Holy Land. Sicily continued to respect Arabic language and culture for some two hundred years after the conquest by Roger I in 1071. Al Andalus and the Maghreb provided further access.

Florence, in particular, as the cultural and scientific epicentre of its time, was highly influential in absorbing and utilising new information. The Medici family, a great supporter of arts and sciences, seized the creative opportunities presented by an influx of talented refugees, following the fall of Constantinople in 1453. This influx supported the explosion of culture and science that we call the Renaissance. With Florence attracting the greatest scientist of his day, Galileo Galilei, in the 17th century, the timeline continues to some of the most important discoveries of the modern world.

The artists

Christine Gates is a photographic and video artist, living in Melbourne, Australia. Her work has been exhibited in Australia, Europe, USA and Mexico and she is represented in many international collections. Christine’s project, as Artist in Residence at the Museo Galileo, examines connections between cultures that originate through science. Working at the intersection of art and science, she draws on historic references to present contemporary events in a fresh light. Her work honours the wisdom and knowledge of past centuries, providing a new experience of our modern world.

Mehrnaz Rohbakhsh is an interdisciplinary artist based in Toronto, who focuses on visual art and sound. Her practice consists of studying the comparisons between music and astronomy, using methods of cartography to connect their mathematical underpinnings. She has exhibited her work in Canada, the US and Italy, and is currently pursuing a Master of Visual Studies at the University of Toronto.

The images


Istanbul, the meeting place Istanbul was the meeting place of Europe and Asia, across the waters of the Bosphorus. Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires sailed their fleets here, while European city-states vied for a foothold on its shores. A satellite image of modern Istanbul contrasts with the oldest known map by Portuguese cartographer, Lopo Homem, showing the limits of the known world in the 16th century. An X-ray image of a huge armillary sphere by Medici family cosmographer and cartographer, Antonio Santucci, overlays Istanbul’s western side. A tympanum from a 14th-century Arabic plane astrolabe overlays the east. ---------------- Antonio Santucci, Armillary sphere, Museo Galileo, inv. 714 Unknown, Plane astrolabe, Museo Galileo, inv. 1109 Lopo Homem, Planisphere, Museo Galileo, inv. 946 Satellite image of Istanbul, NASA