This Day in History (13-Feb-1633) – Galileo Galilei arrives in Rome for trial after publishing his thoughts on heliocentrism

Galileo used his mathematics knowledge and technical skills to  build a telescope in 1609.  Galileo’s observations strengthened his belief in Copernicus’ theory (published in 1514)that Earth and all other planets revolve around the Sun. Galileo expected the telescope to quickly make believers in the Copernican system out of all educated persons, but he was disappointed. The Catholic Church, which was very powerful and influential in Galileo’s day, strongly supported the theory of a geocentric, or Earth-centered, universe. In 1616, on orders of the Pope Paul V, Cardinal Bellarmine called Galileo to his residence and administered a warning not to hold or defend the Copernican theory; Galileo was also forbidden to discuss the theory orally or in writing. After repeated convincing attempts by Galileo, Pope Urban VIII allowed him to write about the Copernican theory as long as he treated it as a mathematical hypothesis.

In 1630 he completed his book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in which the Ptolemaic and Copernican models were discussed and compared. Vatican cleared (conditionally) to publish the book. The book was printed in 1632 which was quickly sold out and soon became the talk of the literary public. Enemies of Galileo had convinced the Pope that the Dialogue was nothing but a thinly-veiled brief for the Copernican model. Pope Urban VIII, convinced by the arguments of various Church officials, stopped its distribution; the case was referred to the Inquisition and Galileo was summoned to Rome despite his infirmities, to answer the charges in February 1633. Old Galileo travelled for twenty-three days in cold winter from Florence to Rome.

He was formally interrogated for 18 days and on April 30 Galileo confessed that he may have made the Copernican case in the Dialogue too strong and offered to refute it in his next book.  Galileo was sentenced to life imprisonment. Because of his age and poor health, he was allowed to serve his imprisonment under house arrest until his death in 1642. The Church finally accepted that Galileo might be right in 1983.



This Day in History (11-Dec-1913) – “Mona Lisa”, stolen from the Louvre Museum in 1911, recovered

On August 21, 1911, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, one of the most famous paintings in the world, was stolen right off the wall of the Louvre (famous museum in Paris, France). The Louvre was closed for a week to aid the investigation. Police found the plate of glass which was placed on the painting and Mona Lisa’s frame lying in a staircase. But investigation headed nowhere.

In the Autumn of 1913, a well-known antique dealer, Alfredo Geri, innocently placed an ad in several Italian newspapers which stated that he was “a buyer at good prices of art objects.” Soon after he placed the ad, Geri received a letter dated November 29 (1913), that stated the writer was in possession of the stolen Mona Lisa. The letter had a post office box in Paris as a return address and had been signed only as “Leonardo.” Geri contacted Commendatore Giovanni Poggi, museum director of the Uffizi (museum in Florence, Italy). Geri replied showing interest. Another letter came almost immediately asking Geri to go to Paris to see the painting. Geri replied, stating that he could not go to Paris, but, instead, arranged for “Leonardo” to meet him in Milan.

On December 10, 1913, an Italian man appeared stating he was Leonardo Vincenzo and that he had the Mona Lisa back in his hotel room. Leonardo explained that he had stolen the painting in order to restore to Italy what had been stolen from it by Napoleon. Thus, Leonardo made the stipulation that the Mona Lisa was to be hung at the Uffizi and never given back to France. Upon his leaving, Geri contacted the police and the Uffizi. The following day, Geri and Poggi (the museum director) appeared at Leonardo’s hotel room. Leonardo pulled out a wooden trunk. After opening the trunk, Leonardo pulled out a pair of underwear, some old shoes, and a shirt. Then Leonardo removed a false bottom — and there lay the Mona Lisa. The museum director said that he would need to compare the painting with other works by Leonardo da Vinci. They then walked out with the painting. Leonardo Vincenzo, whose real name was Vincenzo Peruggia, was arrested. Peruggia hadn’t had a plan to dispose of the painting; his only goal was to return it to Italy. The painting was displayed throughout Italy before it was returned to France on December 30, 1913.