Galileo’s Library

The web version of this project is a space for thinking, teaching, and connecting tools with ideas and content. For an overview of how Digital Humanities (DH) approaches are inflecting the research, see Rationale and Galileo’s Database. Contextualized, preliminary results are offered in the remaining sections.

Current research on primary and secondary sources related to the library can pinpoint over 340 specific volumes that Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) owned, including author, title, publisher, and year of the edition.1 Marginalia, correspondence, quotations and the secondary sources written within decades after Galileo’s death (detailed below) provide ample data for standard digital and computational visualizations. Yet, while they are informative, the visualizations also obscure the fact that all of the sources other than marginalia also provide partial information for a further 350 books in the collection.

Galileo’s collection is modest compared to many of his contemporaries. The Renaissance philosopher Pico della Mirandola owned 1,190 volumes in 1498.2 Antonio Querenghi, the Paduan patrician who subsequently hosted this salon for Venetian intellectuals, established an inventory of over 1,700 volumes in his possession prior to his death in 1633.3 Federico Cesi, founder of the Accademia dei Lincei, to which Galileo was later admitted, amassed a princely collection of over 2000 volumes.4 The English poet John Milton (1608-1674), who purportedly visited Galileo during a trip to Italy, owned 1520 books.5

Copernicus, on the other hand, owned just 117 works in Latin and Greek, only two of which were manuscripts.6 His collection represented 84 authors (not including those in collections of works under a single title). 30 of these authors were classical, 15 medieval, and the rest were contemporaries.More than half of these volumes were theological, juridical, philosophical, historical and literary. The remaining titles were scientific (dealing with mathematics, astronomy, medicine and naturalism).

Although the information for the entire collection is partial, the trends revealed by the 340 books for which complete bibliographic data is available reveal certain trends:

Click here for a visualization of chronological information.

Click here for maps of where the books were published.

Click here for the investigation of networks of people and places mentioned on title pages.

[1] Current details on Galileo’s library can be found in the article: Crystal Hall, “Galileo’s Library Reconsidered,” Galileaena XII (2015): 25-78; bibliographic information and a partially searchable database can be found at the website of the Galileo Museum in Florence:

[2] Pearl Kibre, The Library of Pico della Mirandola (New York: AMS Press, Inc., 1966): 21.

[3] Umberto Motta, “La biblioteca di Antonio Querenghi. L’eredità umanistica nella cultura del primo Seicento,” Studi secenteschi 41 (2000): 180.

[4] Maria Teresa Biagetti, “La biblioteca di Federico Cesi. Un progetto di Ricostruzione,” in Biblioteche private in età moderna e contemporanea. Atti del convegno internazionale. Udine, 18-20 ottobre 2004, ed. Angela Nuovo (Milan: Edizioni Sylvestre Bonnard, 2005): 100.

[5] Jackson Campbell Boswell, Milton’s Library: A Catalogue of the Remains of John Milton’s Library and An Annotated Reconstruction of Milton’s Library and Ancillary Readings. New York: Garland, 1975.

[6] P. Pizzamiglio, “Le biblioteche di Copernico e Galileo e il ruolo della stampa nella nascita della scienza moderna,” in Galileo e Copernico: Alle origini del pensiero scientifico moderno, ed. Carlo Vinti (Perugia: Edizioni Porziuncola, 1992): 123.