Galileo wrote the Difesa to attack a rival, Baldassare Capra (1580-1626), who had laid claim to Galileo’s invention of the compasso, a multipurpose calculating instrument, plagiarised a manual Galileo had published explaining its use (1606), and impugned Galileo’s reputation. Although Galileo discusses the instrument’s applications, and how it was made, the Difesa is mostly a presentation of his grievances against Capra and an account of the legal proceedings that ensued, which led to the seizure and destruction of all accessible copies of Capra’s book.
The Riformatori were three Venetian Senators appointed by the Republic on two-year terms to administer Padua University. Girolamo Cappello (1544-1611) served as a Riformatore for three terms; his third appointment commenced in August 1605, and it was during this period that he supported Galileo's request for an increased salary (from 320 to 520 florins). On 4 May 1607, Cappello and his two colleagues, Francesco Molin (1540-1611) and Antonio Querini (1560-1607), delivered their sentence, ordering sequestration and destruction of 453 copies of Capra's book (the remainder of the edition - 30 copies - had already been distributed; see lot 101). Shortly thereafter, in October 1607, Cappello was appointed provveditore generale for Crete, where he died in 1611.
The book has Tommaso Baglioni’s name and Girolamo Polo’s device on title-page (Minerva riding a lion), but Baglioni’s name and Roberto Meietti’s device (two roosters) at the end; most probably, it was printed by Meietti on Polo’s press, and distributed by Baglioni. Meietti had been excommunicated the previous year and any printer or bookseller dealing with him faced excommunication, heavy fines, and other punishments, thus his participation in the publication was disguised.
At least forty copies of the Difesa are known, of which about ten have been seen on the market over the past 100 years, most recently in 2008 (sale of the Richard Green Library, Christie's, 17 June 2008, $230,500) and 2016 (sale of the Giancarlo Beltrame Library, Christie's, 13 July 2016, lot 40, £242,500). Besides the present copy, eight copies are known to contain a legible dedicatory inscription in Galileo’s hand (a further copy has an obliterated inscription: ETH Zürich, Rara Rar 4432: 3). The last of these dedication copies to be seen on the market was inscribed by Galileo "All’ Ill.tre S. Cipriano Saracinelli, l’Autore" (the inscription cropped by a later binder); it was offered by Peter Harrington in 2005 (London Book Fair, £500,000), and sold by Jonathan Hill in 2011 (Catalogue, 200, item 28, $750,000) to the Library of Congress.
In this copy of the Difesa, two watermarks are observed: a Crown with trefoil above the linked letters S C (in conjugate folios K1/K4, L2/L3), and letters C B (or GB?, visible in all other gatherings except I, which is an unwatermarked stock). It is well known that Galileo’s publications were often issued on papers of different qualities. The paper stocks of nine fine-paper copies of the Sidereus Nuncius and one of the Compasso are noted by Paul Needham, who explains their creation as “a reflection of Galileo’s belief in the significance of his discoveries”, and suggests that these special copies were intended for presentation. According to Needham, “The Difesa of 1607 has several paper stocks: one is marked with an open Crown with cornermark of Z linked to another letter, a trefoil on the link; another is marked with M M, the link between the letters with a trefoil surmount; another is marked with A M, the link with a trefoil surmount, and another marked with A P, the link with a trefoil surmount”. “So far as we now know”, Needham concluded, the Difesa did not have a special-paper issue. Since none of the paper stocks seen by Needham in the Difesa occurs in this presentation copy, it may be that those stocks are found in ordinary-paper copies, and the paper stocks observed in our volume are typical of fine-paper copies (P. Needham, Galileo makes a book: the first edition of the Sidereus Nuncius Venice 1610, Berlin 2012, pp.30-31).
Dedication copies of the Difesa
• Giovanni Battista Amadori (1567-1621; Florentine physician), "All’ Ecc: S. Giab.ta Amadori l’Aut.re". Recent provenance: Everette Lee DeGolyer (1886-1956), his bequest to the University of Oklahoma Libraries (10994-1001)
• Lodovico delle Colombe (b. 1565; Florentine mathematician, astronomer). Present location: Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze, Archivio Storico (X.IV.6)
• Angelo Contarini (1581-1657; diplomat, appointed Riformatore dello Studio di Padova in 1634), "Al Clar. S. Angelo Contarini l’autore". Recent provenance: James David Forbes (1809-1868), purchased in 1845; his bequest to the University of St Andrews Library (For QB41.G2D5)
• Francesco Molino (1540-1611), "All' Illmo. Et eccmo. S. Franco. Molino Can: e Proc: l'autore". Present location: Yale University, Beinecke Library (QB41 G323 1607)
• Silvio Piccolomini (Medicean courtier and patronage broker). Present location: Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (B.R. 165)
• Cipriano Saracinelli (d. May 1608; Medicean courtier and patronage broker), "All’ Illtre Cipriani Saracinelli l’Autore". Recent provenance: Franklin Benjamin Sanborn (1831-1917), purchased in Genoa in 1892; William Harris Arnold (1854-1923; his sale, Anderson Art Galleries, 10-11 November 1924, lot 344); Peter Harrington (London); Jonathan Hill (New York); Library of Congress (QA71.C363 G35 1607)
• Benedetto Tiepolo (1580-1618; owner of a compasso supplied to him by Galileo), "Al clar.o S. Benedetto Tiepolo l’autore". Recent provenance: Guillaume Libri, his gift to Augustus de Morgan (1806-1871) in 1859; University of London, Senate House Library ([DeM] M [Galileo] SSR)
• Richard Willoughby, "Al M. Ill.re S. Riccardo Villobeo, l’Autore". Present location: Biblioteca Universitaria di Padova (S.N. 11910)
Sotheby’s are grateful to Prof. Nick Wilding for confirming the authenticity of Galileo’s inscription in the present copy from direct examination in February 2018.
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