Nicolaus Copernicus
Portraits

Ptolemy Ptolémée

Ptolemaeus

2nd Century A.D. - IIe siècle après J.C.


Galileo Galilei
Portraits

Iconography of Ptolemy's Portrait
Iconographie du portrait de Ptolémée

1645 Niccolo Tornioli

Niccolo Tornioli (17th century), The Astronomers, 1645, oil on canvas, 148 x 218,5 cm, Rome, Galleria Spada.

Niccolo Tornioli (XVIIe siècle), Les astronomes, 1645, huile sur toile, 148 x 218,5 cm, Rome, Galleria Spada.

Collaboration from Sandra CHENG

21-22 January 2001

I recently completed a master's thesis on Niccolo Tornioli's Astronomers for the Department of Art History, University of Delaware. The thesis was entitled, Niccolo Tornioli's Astronomers: Art, Science, and Politics in Mid-Seventeenth-Century Rome.

There is indeed a figure in this picture that has been identified as Ptolemy. He is a younger man, who wears an elaborate helmet, and he is located at the far left.

The painting is rather large, oil on canvas, 148 x 218,5 cm, and it is in the collection of the Galleria Spada, Rome. The painting has remained within the Spada family's collection since 1645 when it was commissioned from Tornioli.

The other figures of note in this painting are: Aristotle who stands next to Ptolemy; Copernicus at the center; and most important to my thesis is the figure on the extreme right who I propose is Galileo.

Since you worked a lot on this painting, I would appreciate having a longer text to publish under your name. Could you write such a text, equivalent of a few pages (3-4). The content could touch these aspects:
  • Tornioli biography and commission for this painting: relationship of Spada with astronomy.
  • Review of historiography on this painting.
  • Identification of subjet and all caracters in the painting.
  • Iconography and Iconology.
  • Its importance in Art, Science, and Politics in Mid-Seventeenth-Century Rome.
Any other aspects you might want to throw in. But for the web it cannot be to long... I strongly hope that you will be able to find some time to write this resume of your thesis. [Robert DEROME]

You've given me encouragement to continue this work. I'd be happy to write a synopsis of my argument. I will forward a brief analysis that relates this picture to the Copernican controversy of the 17th century and specifically to Galileo's heresy trial of 1633.

According to Sandra Cheng, "the iconography of Tornioli's Ptolemy is odd. To explain the ceremonial helmet, the art historian Federico Zeri has argued this figure is a conflation of the Ptolemy the astronomer image with Tolomeo the Egyptian warrior king." This is indeed a very unusual portrait if this is Ptolemy (see Imaged Index)!

The old white-bearded man, at the left forefront (Aristotle?), seems to be engaged in a very lively debate as his theories and the Ptolemy's ones would very lively have been debated in the middle of the 17th century!

It would surely help to have a closer look at the figure in the open book, held by the bearded man, to dertermine which system is exactly depicted by the graph: Aristotle's or Ptolemy's?

If the central figure is Copernicus, a very different portrait than his usual, pointing at armillary spheres, he could be discussing both with Aristotle and Ptolemy as in the 1632 engraving of Della Bella from Galileo's Dialogo... But Tornioli's Copernicus looks much younger than Della Bella's...! New young theories could therefore be stronger thant millenary arguments!

 

And how can we interpret what seems to be a broken sphere in in the middle of the representation?

The character on the right, which "does not portrays a historical astronomer" according to Sandra Cheng, seems to be looking through a telescope to a star system in this huge middle sphere!

 

More information on the other documents on the right of the painting are also needed: can we read titles, figures, etc.?

The figure identifiied by Sandra Cheng as "Galileo is on the extreme right, under the two celestial spheres of the upper right corner. Galileo is nearly lost in shadow, hovering behind the group of astronomers. Please note the resemblance to Leoni's well-known engraving."

 

Collaboration

CHENG Sandra, PhD Candidate, Department of Art History, University of Delaware.
MITCHELL James, Assistant Reference Librarian, Frick Art Reference Library, 10 East 71st Street, New York, NY 10021 (212-547-0661).

 

Web

Roma, Galleria Spada

 

mise à jour le 28 janvier 2001

Nicolaus Copernicus
Portraits

Ptolemy Ptolémée

Ptolemaeus

2nd Century A.D. - IIe siècle après J.C.


Galileo Galilei
Portraits

Iconography of Ptolemy's Portrait
Iconographie du portrait de Ptolémée

web Robert DEROME