Look up: Celestial Splendors at Santa Maria Novella

Look up: Celestial Splendors at Santa Maria Novella

The exhibition opens up new skies for the anniversary of Galileo's groundbreaking work.

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Tue 30 Jan 2024 10:47 AM

Our eyes are immediately cast skywards upon entering the astronomical display in the former dormitory at Santa Maria Novella. Framing the entryway is an illustration taken from Galileo Galilei’s pioneering The Assayer (Il Saggiatore), a revolutionary scientific text that celebrates its 400th anniversary, prompting Museo Galileo and the Santa Maria Novella museum complex to bring about this stellar show titled Celesti Splendori, on display until March 17. Words from the work immediately envelop us: “We offer the Saggiatore by our Galileo, the Florentine discoverer not of new lands but of heretofore unseen parts of the sky.”

The first item that attracts our attention is a telescope, the first of which was built by Galileo in 1609 by perfecting the invention of a Dutch eyeglass maker. Both the studious and the curious will find what they are looking for, with detailed videos and panels taking visitors through figures such as Florentine astronomer Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli (1327-1482), the first person to carry out a systematic observation of comets, and the various discoveries and theories of Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brahe, Copernicus and more.

Interactive installations grab the attention of visitors of all ages. By placing your feet on the outlined footprints on the floor, you are brought to discover the planets as they zoom towards you, almost like soaring into space. Kids (and not only) will also appreciate the cartoon Galileo who explains his theories in bite-size chunks, giving you a clear handle on his most noteworthy discoveries.

The multimedia doesn’t end there, with a starry sky spread out the length of one wall, altering its colours and constellations as visitors move past it. A touch screen linked to a full wall projection allows you to rifle through artefacts and timelines, pausing where you would like to learn more, or, as I observed many visitors enjoying, spinning through the images and admiring their impact as they flicker in front of you.

We then spring to more recent times, with the 2008 work by Charles Ross, Seki’s nested magic square. The piece consists of various square tablets that were exposed to sunlight for a number of minutes, corresponding to the numbers in Kowa Seki’s magic square. Land art by Lorenzo Reina (Agrigento, 1960) also intrigues, with sheep arranged according to the constellation of Andromeda. All the while, we feel ourselves floating through the skies as celestial background music suspends us in this lofty exhibition. The earth feels somewhat flat upon exiting, or maybe your minds will be left spinning among the stars.

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