Museo Galileo: 1930-2010 : The History of Science at the Museum: 1967-1981

The History of Science at the Museum: 1967-1981

In 1967 the cellars were freed. The instruments that had been housed there, after being restored, were placed on the ground floor, along with the modern library. Although the new arrangement was hampered by lack of space, the meticulous work of restoring the damaged instruments and the necessary rearrangement of the whole collection inspired Righini Bonelli to work on a new catalogue. The resulting volume, entitled the Museo di Storia della Scienza, was published in 1968 under the auspices of the Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze. Published fourteen years after the catalogue of 1954, the new catalogue fully revealed the progress attained in knowledge of the scientific instruments possessed by the Museum.

In 1975, after the Accademia della Crusca had moved to its new seat in the Villa Medicea di Castello, the second floor of Palazzo Castellani was finally granted to the Museum. In this new space, restored and modernized, was placed, in addition to the ancient library, the sections that had occupied the ground floor and basement level since the post-war years. The first three rooms, dedicated to the library, housed the books from the Medici-Lorraine collections; the fourth room contained some texts, accompanied by the instruments they described, explaining otherwise incomprehensible technical details.

On the basis of this model, Bonelli furnished the other rooms with enlarged copies of plates from texts dealing with the machines and instruments displayed. The fifth and sixth rooms were dedicated to Bregans’ burning lens and to the pneumatic machines. 

A great hall formed by demolishing the walls of three rooms housed the electrostatic machines, a collection that had in the meantime been enriched by donations from institutions in Piemonte. This hall was followed by three rooms devoted to medicine and surgery.

With the enlargement of the premises, a screening room for scientific films and a planetarium were added on the third floor.

After the flood many foreign scholars, invited by Righini Bonelli, came to the Museum as Visiting Professors to study the collections and their history. Peter Knoefel (Felice Fontana), Tom Settle (Galileo), Silvio Bedini (Campani) and Albert van Helden (Cimento and Divini) were among the first to frequent the Institute assiduously. In 1976, encouraged by such eminent collaborators, Righini Bonelli founded the international journal Annali dell’Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza. Focussing especially on an unexplored area of investigation, numerous articles were dedicated to the scientific instruments and to the relations between science and the visual arts.

In 1979 the originality, spirit of innovation and scientific value of the many activities carried out by Maria Luisa Righini Bonelli were recognized when she was awarded by the History of Science Society the prestigious Sarton Medal.