Museo Galileo: 1930-2010 : The dawn of a new age: 1962-1965

The dawn of a new age: 1962-1965

During years fraught with problems, Andrea Corsini launched many initiatives to consolidate and enlarge the Museum’s exhibitions. But the failure to obtain official recognition as a “National” Museum and the founding, in 1953, of the Museo Nazionale Leonardo da Vinci in Milan, dampened the effect of his efforts.

It was at this moment, apparently unpromising, that Maria Luisa Bonelli became director of the Museum. With her exceptionally enthusiastic and creative personality, Bonelli conferred on the exhibitions a new and more modern aspect. Unlike Corsini, whose interests had focussed mainly on the history of medicine, Bonelli concentrated on the Museum’s collections, especially the section devoted to the Accademia del Cimento, publishing a new edition of the Saggi di naturali esperienze [Essays on Natural Experiments] in 1957.

As scientific secretary of the Eighth International Congress of the History of Science in 1956, Bonelli invited all of the leading historians of science of the time to the Museum, promoting the collections on an international level. Her expertise acquired in the field of scientific instruments found an interested public in the numerous articles she published in Physis, the new international journal of the history of science founded by the Museum in 1959 in collaboration with other institutions.

In 1960 Bonelli was appointed Honorary Inspector for research on and conservation of historic documents on science and technology. This was a first major official recognition of the cultural importance of the national scientific heritage.

Upon becoming director of the Institute after the death of Corsini in 1961, Bonelli worked energetically to reorganize the collections. In 1962, to compensate for the chronic lack of space, the cellars were paved and restored, bringing to light the splendid medieval vaulted ceiling. The models of Leonardo’s flying machines, the antique bicycles and draisienne, the replicas of ancient typographies and the mechanical clocks, along with a small section dedicated to ancient technology, displaying farm machinery, were moved to these rooms.

This left enough space on the ground floor for the collections of alchemy, chemistry and medicine, for Gaetano Zumbo’s wax obstetrical models, for the anatomical “petrifications” of Gerolamo Segato and Francesco Spirito (now returned to the Specola), for the curious optical and acoustical instruments, and for the pneumatic, electromagnetic and electrostatic machines.

On the first floor the exhibition layout dating from the early Fifties was retained, with some modifications.

In 1964 the exhibition celebrating the fourth centenary of Galileo’s birth, held at the Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze, gave still further lustre to the Museum’s collections.

On May 13, 1965, Bonelli was qualified as university lecturer on the history of science. In this formal act, the direction of the Museum and Institute, the tutelage of the instrument collections and their historical contextualization, were finally united in a unique, totally original synthesis of knowledge. That same year Bonelli married the astronomer Guglielmo Righini, director of the Arcetri Observatory and a member of the Museum’s Board of Directors.