It’s a Fake: Prized University of Michigan Galileo Document Proven to be a Forgery
It was considered the "crowned jewel" at the University of Michigan. An authentic manuscript from the master of star gazing, Galileo himself.
But now researchers aren't so sure that the Prized Wolverine Possession is real, and experts are saying it's a forgery.
The document is an alleged manuscript from Galileo Galilei, an Italian Physicist, Engineer, and most notably, Astronomer. He was the man who first discovered craters and mountains on the moon. He first documented the phases of Venus, the stars of the Milky Way, created the first pendulum clock, and discovered many of Jupiter's moons.
In the University's document, Galileo allegedly gives a presentation of a recently built telescope to the Doge of Venice on August 24, 1609. The bottom half of the document contains draft notes, recording his telescopic observations of the moons of Jupiter from January 7-15 in 1610.
It rose to fame in 1934 when the auction firm American Art Anderson Galleries was selling the library of the late Roderick Terry, who was a wealthy collector of manuscripts and early printed books. The Galileo document was allegedly authenticated by Cardinal Pietro Maffi, the Archbishop of Pisa, who compared the writing in this document with a truly authenticated autograph from Galileo in his own personal collection.
But nearly 90 years later, historians are saying, "not so fast."
A Georgia State University Professor of History named Nick Wilding is researching Galileo documents, and raised some questions.
The University of Michigan issued several statements.
"Wilding... raised a number of questions... the most decisive of which was the dating of the paper. Specifically, the monograms in the paper's watermark date the paper to no earlier than the eighteenth century. He also discovered a similar Nicotra Galileo forgery - a letter to 'an unnamed person of rank' that claims a 1607 origin - held by the Morgan Library in New York City."
The name reference in the statement, "Nicotra," is Tobia Nicotra, who is a well-known forger of documents from Italy in the early 20th century. One of his most notorious forgeries was a copy of "Baci amorosi e cari," that was attributed to Mozart at the Library of Congress. He also forged signatures and documents by Christopher Columbus, Leonardo da Vinci, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther, Michelangelo, and George Washington.
And now, you can add Galileo Galilei to the list of names.
U-M spokespersons say the findings will require a "reconsideration" of its place in the collection, and they will update the metadata on the document.
All told, this is embarrassing for Michigan, but it's not the first time Nicotra has duped people, even beyond the grave. But maybe there were a few red flags that might have alerted people early on, as there is no history of the document before 1930.
Also, Nicotra was a member of the National Fascist Party of the Kingdom of Italy at the time, and routinely forged signatures for the government... so there's that.