Did Galileo Truly Say, ‘And Yet It Moves’? A Modern Detective Story

“And nonetheless it moves.” This could be the most renowned line attributed to the renowned scientist Galileo Galilei. The “it” in the quote refers to Earth.  “It moves” was a startling denial of the idea, adopted by the Catholic Church at the time, that Earth was at the heart of the universe and therefore stood still. Galileo was certain that model was incorrect. Despite the fact that he could not confirm it, his astronomical observations and his experiments in mechanics led him to conclude that Earth and the other planets were being revolving about the solar.

That delivers us to “and nonetheless.” As a lot as Galileo could have hoped to encourage the Church that in relocating Earth from its anointed place, he was not contradicting Scripture, he did not entirely respect that Church officials could not acknowledge what they regarded as his impudent invasion into their special province: theology.

In the course of his demo for suspicion of heresy, Galileo chose his words and phrases very carefully. It was only following the demo, angered by his conviction no question, that he was said to have muttered to the inquisitors, “Eppur si muove”(“And nonetheless it moves)”, as if to say that they could have won this battle, but in the stop, fact would earn out.

But did Galileo truly utter those renowned words and phrases? There is no question that he considered together those traces. His bitterness about the demo the actuality that he experienced been compelled to abjure and recant his life’s perform the humiliating actuality that his e-book Dialogue Relating to the Two Main Globe Devices experienced been put on the Church’s Index of Prohibited Guides, and his deep contempt for the inquisitors who judged him continually occupied his intellect for all the years next the demo. We can also be selected that he did not (as legend has it) mutter that phrase in entrance of the inquisitors. Performing so would have been insanely risky. But did he say it at all? If not, when and how did the myth about this motto start circulating?

Science historian Antonio Favaro dedicated four a long time to the analyze and contextualization of Galileo’s life and perform, eventually developing the monumental e-book Le Opere di Galileo Galilei (The Works of Galileo Galilei). As portion of that Herculean effort, in 1911 he also released a handful of content articles describing his extensive exploration devoted to uncovering the origins of the motto. Favaro identified that the earliest point out of the phrase in print was in a e-book entitled The Italian Library, released in London in 1757 by Italian writer Giuseppe Baretti.

Baretti colorfully wrote, “This is the celebrated Galileo, who was in the inquisition for 6 years, and put to the torture, for expressing, that the earth moved. The second he was set at liberty, he appeared up to the sky and down to the ground, and, stamping with his foot, in contemplative temper, said, Eppur si shift that is, still it moves, that means the earth.”

Even if we were being to disregard the unhistorical gildings in this account, it would be tricky to acknowledge the testimony of a e-book that appeared more than a century following Galileo’s death as evidence of the veracity of the quote. Favaro was equally skeptical initially—until an surprising event induced him to reconsider the question.

An Intriguing Painting

In 1911 Favaro obtained a letter from a selected Jules Van Belle, who lived in Roeselare, Belgium. Van Belle claimed to personal a painting that experienced been painted in 1643 or 1645 that contained the renowned motto. If correct, this assertion would have intended that the phrase was now regarded very shortly following Galileo’s death in 1642.

The painting, of which Favaro noticed only a photograph, confirmed Galileo in jail. He held a nail in his proper hand, with which he experienced evidently traced Earth relocating about the solar on the wall with the words and phrases “E pur si shift” penned beneath.

Dependent on an unclear signature, Van Belle attributed the painting to the 17th-century Spanish painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. And he speculated that it experienced initially belonged to the Spanish military commander Ottavio Piccolomini, brother of the Archbishop of Siena, in whose dwelling Galileo served the initial 6 months of his residence arrest.

Favaro publicized this tale of the presumed discovery of a portrait of Galileo relationship to the 17th century and that contains the celebrated motto, and the tale produced it to the webpages of many newspapers. Belgian physicist Eugene Lagrange even went to Roeselare to see the painting with his personal eyes, which he documented in the Belgian newspaper L’Etoile Belge on January thirteen, 1912.

The discovery of the painting unquestionably experienced an influence. Till then most historians experienced considered the renowned phrase to be a myth, but the new getting induced a number of Galileo students to modify their minds. Science historian John Joseph Fahie wrote in 1929, “We have to revise our judgments, and conclude that Galileo did utter these words and phrases, not, having said that, in the awful chamber of the Inquisition, as the fable has it, but to some sympathetic mate outside, from a single of whom, probably, Piccolomini experienced them.” Renowned Galileo scholar Stillman Drake also concluded, “In any situation there is no question now that the renowned words and phrases were being attributed to Galileo just before his death, not invented a century later simply to suit his character.”

Unusually, in spite of its great price for the background of science, Van Belle’s painting has in no way been subjected to any independent assessment by professionals. When I required to initiate these types of a scrutiny, I was astonished to find out that not only was the current place of the painting unidentified but that, as far as I could originally establish, no science or art historian experienced even viewed it following 1912. Normally, I resolved to research for it.

The Hunt

To start with, I required to get an expert impression on the attribution to Murillo. To this stop, I despatched a copy of the photograph of the painting to four Murillo specialists (two in Spain, a single in the U.K. and a single in the U.S.). They all independently responded that while it is tricky to supply conclusive viewpoints centered on a photograph, when thinking of the design and style, matter subject and appropriate historic details, they were being very certain that Murillo did not paint this portrait. Just one said that the painter was likely not Spanish, and yet another instructed that the painting was from the nineteenth century.

Enthusiastic to keep on to look into by these unanimous, surprising judgments, I discovered that an article about the painting appeared simultaneously in two Belgian newspapers (De Halle and De Poperinghenaar) on February 23, 1936. The characteristic documented that an crucial portrait of Galileo experienced been exhibited at Museum Vleeshuis in Antwerp, Belgium.

Inquiry at Vleeshuis disclosed that on September thirteen, 1933, Van Belle experienced in truth loaned it a painting entitled Galileo in Jail. The mortgage was also documented (with the title Galileo and His “E pur si muove”) in the Gazet Van Antwerpen on September fifteen, 1933. Further inquiries uncovered the astonishing actuality that Stedelijk Museum Sint-Niklaas (SteM Sint-Niklaas) in Belgium has in its collection a painting that seems to be similar to the a single loaned to Vleeshuis. Furthermore, a close inspection of the wall in entrance of Galileo in this painting disclosed a drawing of Earth orbiting the solar, a handful of other drawings (quite possibly of Saturn or the phases of Venus) and the renowned motto. This portrait was documented as obtaining been painted in 1837 by the Flemish painter Romaan-Eugeen Van Maldeghem. It was donated to the metropolis of Sint-Niklaas by art collector Lodewijk Verstraeten. And the museum received it following his wife’s death in 1904 or 1905.

Detail of Van Maldeghem’s painting “Galileo in Jail,” exhibiting the motto “E pur is move” and the Earth orbiting the Sun. Credit history: Gerald Delvaux

This advancement created a very fascinating circumstance. There were being two just about similar paintings. Just one, owned by Van Belle, was claimed to have been painted in 1643 or 1645. The other, by Van Maldeghem, was painted in 1837. The Van Belle painting produced its initial documented public look in 1911. It was loaned to Vleeshuis in 1933 and was exhibited there in 1936. Because then its whereabouts have been unidentified. The 2nd painting has been in the collection of SteM Sint-Niklaas given that 1904 or 1905. The excessive similarity of the two paintings left no question that possibly Van Maldeghem copied an before painting or that someone copied Van Maldeghem’s painting, possibly in the nineteenth or early twentieth century.

To complicate items further, I discovered that in 2000 the Antwerp auction residence Bernaerts Auctioneers took bids on a painting entitled Galileo in Jail. It was mentioned as obtaining been painted by Flemish painter Henrij Gregoir in 1837—the very same year in which Van Maldeghem painted his portrait of Galileo with the very same title. The good news is, I was able to acquire a photograph of the painting, and while the title is the very same, the artwork is very diverse.


To make further progress, I tried out to uncover more facts about Van Maldeghem and his painting. Two Flemish guides on the life and is effective of Flemish and Dutch artists—one by J. Immerzeel, Jr., from 1842, and yet another by Christiaan Kramm from 1859—listed Galileo in Jail as a single of Van Maldeghem’s authentic paintings , without having any trace or recommendation that it might have been a copy. Appreciably, these two guides were being released though Van Maldeghem was still alive, when all the facts relating to the painting was still easily accessible. It was tricky, therefore, to steer clear of the perception that his painting was the authentic following all. This sensation was further improved by the realization that the topic of Galileo’s conflict with the Inquisition turned very common with painters only in the nineteenth century. And it was also entirely dependable with the viewpoints previously expressed by the Murillo professionals. Remember that a single instructed that the painter was not Spanish, and yet another judged that the painting was from the nineteenth century.

All of this, having said that, still did not reveal what happened to Van Belle’s painting following 1936. I could consider of 3 major opportunities: The painting could have been offered by Jules Van Belle himself. Or it could have been inherited by a relative (and perhaps offered later). Or it might have been ruined through Globe War II. Following this line of considered, I resolved to attempt some genealogy exploration.

To make a very lengthy tale limited, with a major effort, substantial support and very a little bit of luck, I managed to locate a living great-grandson of Van Belle’s niece. And via him, I discovered that in 2007 his grandmother offered a collection of paintings through the Campo & Campo auction residence and gallery in Antwerp. Whole lot number 213 on the record was entitled Galileo in Jail. The auction house’s photograph exhibits it to be the very painting I was hunting for. I rediscovered Van Belle’s painting!

The painting “Galileo in Prison” offered in 2007 by the Campo & Campo auction residence. Credit history: Campo & Campo

Typical observe in the art globe prevents auction houses from revealing the identity of buyers, but I did locate out that the painting was purchased by a non-public collector and not by a vendor. There were being two other noteworthy parts of facts that were being disclosed in the auction. To start with, Campo & Campo judged the painting to be from the nineteenth century. Next, a close inspection did not locate any day or signature. This observation was verified by a representative from the auction residence.

So what can we say about the question of whether or not Galileo said those renowned words and phrases? The historic evidence factors to the tale initial showing up (or at the very least remaining documented) only in the center of the 18th century—long following Galileo’s death. This will make the motto a lot more very likely to be apocryphal. Nevertheless, it would be thrilling if (perhaps as a result of the current article) the current owner of Galileo in Jail will allow it to be extensively examined to establish its actual age.

Even if Galileo in no way spoke those words and phrases, they have some relevance for our current troubled periods, when even provable details are underneath attack by science deniers. Galileo’s legendary mental defiance—“in spite of what you consider, these are the facts”—becomes more crucial than ever.