History: the 18th Century
the Collection of Giovan Battista Clemente de Nelli

The unknown prehistory of Nelli's collection (1703 - 1750)

The fate of Galileo's manuscripts after Vincenzo Viviani's death in 1703 (that is, after its 17th century history) is not entirely clear; see, on this subject, BERTI 1875-76; FAVARO 1885. What is clear is that the manuscripts had become scattered due to the negligence of the brothers Carlo and Angelo Panzanini, heirs of the Abbot Jacopo Panzanini who had received Viviani's collection of manuscripts through inheritance, see NELLI 1793, II, pp. 761-765, pp. 874-875; BERTI 1875-76, p. 99; FAVARO 1885, pp. 51-58, pp. 201-205.

The Nelli collection (1750 - 1793)

Between 1750 and 1754, the Florentine senator Giovanni Battista Clemente de' Nelli purchased a great many autographs of both Galileo and his disciples. Nelli made use of the manuscripts as documentary sources for his massive biography of Galileo, which was published only after his death in 1793. By purchasing the autographs, Nelli was able to save the core of the present Collezione Galileiana from the threat of destruction.

The fate of the collection after Nelli's death (1793 - 1818)

After Nelli's death his sons were trying to sell the manuscripts, but the Tuscan government intervened to stop them, promulgating a decree of attachment. The index of Nelli´s collection (see below), which is still preserved in Ms. Gal. 323, was used during this juridical dispute. In 1806 Florentine magistracy entrusted Francesco Del Furia, a librarian in the Laurenziana library, to check the state of the collection. The inspection was carried out with the help of Nelli's catalogue, as indicated by the numeration used to mark the manuscripts; see FAVARO 1885, pp. 207-209. (Del Furia noticed the disappearance of 18 manuscripts listed in Nelli's catalogue.) The whole of Nelli collection was eventually purchased by the Lorraine house, the Tuscan ruling family after the extinction of the Medici in 1737. The Abbot Francesco Fontani was asked to estimate the worth of the Nelli collection. In Fontani's report we find a mention of what probably corresponds to the present Ms. 72, marked by the Nellian classification "Ms. 471," see FAVARO 1885, p. 212. In October 1818, Ferdinando III of Lorena, Grand Duke of Tuscany, acquired the Nelli collection at the price of 1046 sequins, see FAVARO 1885, pp. 58-60, pp. 206-223. It appears that the state of what is today Codex 72 remained more or less unchanged from the time in which Nelli described it in his catalogue until the acquirement of the collection in 1818 by the Lorraine house.

Galileo's notes on motion and mechanics in the catalogue of the Nelli collection

The current Ms. Gal. 323 in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence contains an index of the manuscripts in the Nelli collection in which entries entered are quite consistent with the contents of the present Codex 72 (or, more exactly, with the part comprising the notes on motion and mechanics):

"Galileo Galilei. 471. Named Tome IX, comprising the original volumes III and IV of the published works of Galileo Galilei. They are:

("Galileo Galilei. 471, Detto Tomo IX, che comprende gli originali del Tom. III e IV delle Opere stampate di Galileo Galilei e sono:

The third item of the inventory ("Non-ordered sheets belonging to the Dialogues on New Sciences") refers unequivocally to the present Ms. Gal. 72, folio 33 to folio 194; see also FAVARO 1886, p. 28. The mention of volumes III and IV of Galileo's works refers to the Paduan edition of 1744, edited by Giuseppe Toaldo (Opere di Galileo Galilei divise in quattro tomi, in questa nuova edizione accresciute di molte cose inedite, Nella stamperia del Seminario, Padova, 1744, 4 volumes). The third volume of Toaldo's edition comprises the Discorsi, the report on the Bisenzio River and a miscellany of writings entitled "Problemi varij di Galileo" ("Various problems of Galileo"). The title "Tomo IX" in Nelli's index probably refers to the original classification of the manuscript in the library of Viviani. The number "471" relates to the position of the codex in Nelli´s collection, of which the above mentioned Ms. Gal. 323 was the catalogue.

A comparison between Viviani's and Nelli's lists

It is quite likely that the entries in Viviani's list and Nelli's list essentially refer to the same works, although this may not be obvious at first glance. In particular, Viviani's list mentions documents regarding a dispute between Galileo and Nozzolini on the estimation of a horse. These documents are, however, not explicitly mentioned in Nelli's list. But that is understandable since they were partly lost by the editors of the 1718 edition of Galileo's works (Opere di Galileo Galilei Nobile Fiorentino, In Firenze, Per G. Tartini e S. Franchi, 1718), see Avvertimento, in Opere, VI, p. 566. What remained of the documents concerning this dispute was possibly covered by the heading "Various problems" in Nelli's list. In fact, in the third volume of the 1718 edition, the remaining documents pertaining to the quarrel with Nozzolini are placed after a collection of fragments entitled "Problemi varj" di Galileo Galilei, see volume III of the 1718 edition, pp. 47-89. (The remaining documents on the dispute are Galileo's "resolution" of the matter and a letter to Andrea Arrighetti; these documents are now in the Ms. Gal. 84, ff. 44r-56r.)

The only other apparent discrepancy between Nelli's index and Viviani's note concerns precisely the drafts entitled "Non-ordered sheets belonging to the Dialogues on New Sciences" which correspond, in Viviani's list, to the entry "Treatise on Mechanics etc." But in spite of the difference in wording, the latter reference probably comprises the notes on motion and mechanics in today's Codex 72, as well as a folio dealing with the properties of the lever (folio 27r-v). The first draft of Le Mecaniche (folios 9-26, see other writings in Codex 72) was, however, not initially in the codex, contrary to what Viviani's list might suggest. It rather came from the Biblioteca Riccardiana in Florence; see Ms. Gal. 72, f.2r ("Delle utilita' che si traggono dalla Scienza Meccanica, e dai suoi strumenti, Trattato di Galileo in copia del tempo, pervenuto dalla Riccardiana e mancante").

Ms. Gal. 318, f. 710r (Viviani's note) Ms. Gal. 323, f. 9r (Nelli's index)
[1] - Un discorso sopra il fiume Bisenzio 1. Discorso sopra il fiume Bisenzio.
[2] - Tutta la disputa tra il Sig. Galileo et

il Nozzolini circa la stima d'un cavallo

2. Problemi varii.
[3] - Trattato di Meccaniche etc. 3. Fogli senz'ordine appartenuti ai Dialoghi

delle nuove Scienze.

[4] - Varie cose attenenti al Dialogo proibito 4. Fogli appartenenti ai Dialoghi dei Massimi Sistemi.

History: the 18th Century
the Collection of Giovan Battista Clemente de Nelli