The best telescope production belonging to Venice and Galileo Galilei presenting his “cannon” from the Venetian bell tower

29 November 2021

Venice, 24th November 2021 –  Wood, ivory, bone, parchment are all elements composing the typical Venetian telescopes. Initially, they were used for military purpose and, later, to observe the sky and discover the information revolutionising the history of the universe, beyond being successfully fabricated, assembled and exported in Venice. On 21th August 1609, Galileo Galilei choses the “paron de casa”, St Mark’s Campanile, to present his last sensational discovery: the so-called “cannon”, by Venetian people. Galileo climbs the ball tower together with the highest offices of the Republic of the Serenissima in order to show the potential of the instrument, in front of the 90th doge Leonardo Donà. Galileo has written a presentation to the doge in which he affirms that this innovative instrument could help the Serenissima to defeat her enemies “potendosi in mare in assai maggior lontananza del consueto scoprire legni et vele dell’inimico, sì che per due hore et più di tempo possiamo prima scoprir lui che egli scuopra noi, et distinguendo il numero et la qualità de i vasselli, giudicare le sue forze, per allestirsi alla caccia, al combattimento o alla fuga; et parimente potendosi in terra scoprire dentro alle piazze, alloggiamenti et ripari dell’inimico da qualche eminenza benché lontana, o pure anco nella campagna aperta vedere et particolarmente distinguere, con nostro grandissimo vantaggio, ogni suo moto et preparamento; oltre a molte altre utilità, chiaramente note ad ogni persona giudiziosa”. This is an event which is recalled with a commemorative plaque on the bell tower, unveiled the 7th June 2009 on the occasion of the 400th year from the first astronomical observations: “From here, the 21st August 1609, Galileo Galilei broadened human horizons with his telescope in the fourth centenary”.

This way, glassmakers in Murano started to fabricate an instrument which, later, became fashionable all around the world.

“Galileo in person bought rock crystal lenses produced in Murano until 1620 –  Roberto Vascellari, Venetian optician, collector and president of the Scientific Committee of the Eyewear Museum of Pieve di Cadore, explains – the lens were produced by glassmakers and, then, processed by opticians. Certainly, the combination of a negative lens and a positive one made Galileo improve his first telescope, belonging to Netherlands. The visual quality introduced by Galileo is much higher as compared with the other ones”. So much so that Netherlands declared Venetian telescopes better than any other telescope, especially the ones realised by Bacci. Indeed, the Paduan scientist moved to Florence into the Medici court with the objective of making the lens produce by a Florentine glassmaker. He tried unsuccessfully. Then, he decided again to ask Muranese glassmakers for their great mastery.

In his workshop near Rialto, Vascellari set up a window display entirely dedicated to telescope production typical of 1600 and 1700 starting from Galileo’s discovery, so as to celebrate the 1600th Venetian anniversary. “All of them are made of papier-mâché and have rings supporting the objective lens, made of wood, ivory, horn, silver, or brass – he tells – they are telescopes aimed at the long-distance vision. They follow Galileo’s creation by combining a positive lens with a negative one. In this manner, the image appeared expanded and seen set upright. At a later time, Keplero creates a new telescope for astronomy which upsets the image though. There are also rectifier systems to increase the power more than using Galileo’s telescope, but the initial idea was to have a single lens both positive and negative”. Also small telescopes were exhibited, made of bone and papier-mâché, Venetian lacquer with golden processing. They were used by ladies at the theatre to observe actors better or to “spy on” somebody in the audience.