The “New York” Copy of the Starry Messenger
Attributed to Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642)
Ink and watercolor on paper
Forged by Marino Massimo De Caro (before 2005)
Photographs by Barbara Herrenkind (2008)
Courtesy of Barbara Herrenkind
“I have learnt, in a bitter way, what I knew before, but not in this concrete sense: that phenomena can be looked at from different perspectives and that from different viewpoints they tell completely different narratives.”
(Horst Bredekamp, Art Historian; in: Bredekamp, Brückle & Needham, 2014)
What makes this copy of Galileo Galilei’s Starry Messenger special are the watercolor drawings of the moon. Assuming this would make the book extremely valuable on the market, the owner Richard Lan, a New York book seller, asked art historian Horst Bredekamp for an in-depth analysis of its authenticity in 2005. Bredekamp’s analysis concluded that there was no evidence of forgery, but that the “New York” copy was most likely a print template for all later editions of the Starry Messenger.
But some doubts remained. In 2011, Georgia State University art historian Nick Wilding compared the “New York” copy to other known copies of the work and discovered anomalies, such as misspellings, a closed circle in the stamp of the Cesi library, as well as some distorted portions of text, which are not typical for a letterpress print. After more evidence was collected, it became obvious that the “New York” copy indeed must have been a forgery – created from the digital version of another edition.
Given this proof, Bredekamp and colleagues started another research project in which they critically reflected on their own authentication methods. Since it was now clear the book was not an original, more invasive techniques could be applied. The material analysis of a fiber sample eventually revealed that the manuscript contained cotton linters, which were not used in paper production before the 19th century.
Bredekamp, Horst. Galilei der Künstler: Der Mond. Die Sonne. Die Hand. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2009.
Bredekamp, Horst, Irene Brückle and Paul Needham, (ed.). A Galileo Forgery: Unmasking the New York Sidereus Nuncius. (Galileo’s O: III) Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014.
Brückle, Irene, Oliver Hahn, Paul Needham (ed.). Galileo’s Sidereus nuncius: A comparison of the proof copy (New York) with other paradigmatic copies. (Vol. I). Needham: Galileo makes a book: the first edition of Sidereus nuncius, Venice 1610. (Vol. II) Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012.
Mazzotti, Massimo. “Faking Galileo.” LA Review of Books, June 25, 2014. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/faking-galileo/#.
Reichert, Uwe. “Der Gefälschte Sternenbote.” Spektrum der Wissenschaft, February 22, 2014. https://www.spektrum.de/news/der-gefaelschte-sternenbote/1223565.
Schmidle, Nicholas. “A very Rare Book: The Mystery Surrounding a Copy of Galileo’s Pivotal Treatise.” The New Yorker, December 16, 2013. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/12/16/a-very-rare-book.