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Galileo Galilei, 1564-1642

Fine art

Object connections:

Collection Fine art, Oil paintings
Gallery locationNot on display
PeopleDepiction: Galilei, Galileo

Object details:

Object ID BHC2701
Description A half-length portrait of Galileo, the Italian mathematician, astronomer and experimental philosopher, in old age. The original version was painted in Florence in 1636 by Justus Sustermans. It was sent by Galileo to a friend in Paris but soon returned to Florence and has been in the Uffizi collection since at least 1678. Compared to Sustermans' slightly later portrait of Galileo seated in a chair, in repose (BHC2700), this probably shows him standing, in a slightly different black doublet, with a higher white collar also of different style. Unlike the seated version, the torso is also slightly turned to the right but with the sitter's head turning left and looking upward, making this a more dynamic image. This portrait, with BHC2700 and BHC2699, and two Galileo busts, was formerly in the Gabb Collection of scientific instruments, which was purchased en bloc for the Museum by Sir James Caird in 1937. Its received and hitherto repeated attribution has been to 'N. Cochin' after Sustermans. Why is unclear, since it is inscribed on the back of the original canvas with a different albeit only semi-legible name: 'Sustermans of Galileo /Copied by N. Ceco [mi (?)] / 1879'. Whatever the reason, this has led to previous confusion that it was either by or after one of the French 17th-century Cochin brothers (Nicolas or Noel). It is a good copy of the Sustermans original and now (2011) beyond reasonable doubt that it is by Niccolo Cecconi (1835-1902) a Florentine painter of historical and genre pictures, and portraits, who also worked as a copyist and pastel artist. He has a brief entry in Benezit's 'Dictionnaire... des peintres' which mentions royal portraits that he painted (e.g. of King Vittorio Emmanuele) and a 'Pompeian bath scene' which has been in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, since 1891. Signed 'N. Cecconi' (his usual form) the latter is a fine example of his historical work. There are at least three other copies of the present portrait in Britain, two good ones in the Royal Society and Wellcome collections, and a second not so good also in the latter.
Date made 1879

Artist/Maker Sustermans, after Justus
Cecconi, Niccolo
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Frame: 818 x 715 x 75 mm;Painting: 610 mm x 510 mm
  • Galileo Galilei, 1564-1642 (BHC2701)
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