Museo Galileo: 1930-2010 : The Museo Nazionale di Storia delle Scienze: 1930-1945

The Museo Nazionale di Storia delle Scienze: 1930-1945

The first major step in the program for promoting and showcasing the national scientific heritage launched by Corsini in 1922 was the inauguration, on  May 18, 1930, of the Museo Nazionale di Storia delle Scienze. Annexed to the Institute, the Museo inherited the objects acquired in 1925 and, most notably, the priceless instruments displayed in the 1929 exhibition. The seat of the new Istituto e Museo, assigned by the Ministry of Public Education, was the prestigious Palazzo Castellani, which had until then housed the manuscripts of the Biblioteca Nazionale. Inaugurated in the presence of Benito Mussolini, who seemed interested in its rapid development, the future of the Istituto e Museo Nazionale looked bright.

But the promises were not kept. Only the ground floor of Palazzo Castellani was freed to make room for the instrument collections and the library. The manuscripts were moved to the new facilities of the Biblioteca Nazionale at a snail’s pace, while the Accademia della Crusca and the Deputazione di Storia Patria continued to occupy the remaining space. Moreover, an inspection by the Civil Engineers Corps revealed numerous cracks in the walls, calling for major repairs, which were made in the early Thirties. The funds promised for rearranging the rooms and publishing the catalogue of the 1929 exhibition did not arrive, however, and other technical difficulties delayed the museum’s opening to the public until April 1931.

In 1933, when the first floor of Palazzo Castellani became available, an agreement between the Museum and the University of Florence established the mode of conservation of the materials loaned. At this time the museum’s staff consisted of only two persons, besides the director. Despite these difficulties, Corsini managed to enrich the museum with important scientific instruments from the collections of the University of Padua as well as from legacies and donations.

By 1934 the Museum’s displays occupied fourteen rooms. Only the content of the following ten is known: I, mathematical instruments; II, Galilean memorabilia and telescopes; III, Della Volpaia’s armillary sphere and Bregans’ lens; IV, the Accademia del Cimento; V, Peter Leopold’s chemistry cabinet; VI, medicine; VI, Segato’s “petrifications”; VIII, microscopes; IX, memorabilia  of Alessandro Volta; and X, electrical machines.

In October 1942, in connection with the celebrations for the third centenary of Galileo’s death, the Museum published an important text by Luigi Castaldi on the history of Galilean microscopes. At the presentation of this volume some relics of Galileo, consisting of two fingers and a tooth, were displayed to a large public. Belonging to the Rosselli Del Turco family, they had been rediscovered by Corsini and Leoncini.

The success of the Galilean celebrations conferred new impetus on the project for rearranging the Museum’s exhibits, and for this purpose Maria Luisa Bonelli was hired on April 1, 1942. But just as she was starting work, the project was interrupted by the looming threat of war. Already in December of that same year the most precious instruments in the collection, including the Galilean memorabilia and the delicate glass apparatus of the Accademia del Cimento, were moved to Galileo’s villa, “Il Gioiello”, on Pian de’ Giullari. In the last years of the war, Palazzo Castellani was damaged by mines exploding in the vicinity. The roof and windows in particular were heavily hit, and many instruments were destroyed.