He Looked at Galileo 'Treasure' Online, Grew Concerned

University of Michigan confirms its Galileo manuscript is fake
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 19, 2022 7:55 AM CDT
Galileo 'Treasure' May Have Come From 'Forgery Factory'
The manuscript attributed to Galileo, now revealed to be a forgery.   (University of Michigan)

The University of Michigan Library touted a single piece of paper as one of its "great treasures." The draft of a letter signed with the name Galileo Galilei was followed by sketches of the moons Galileo observed around Jupiter in 1610, an observation that upended the long-held notion that everything in the universe revolved around Earth. Though Galileo's discovery is well-documented elsewhere, the university said the manuscript included "the first observational data that showed objects orbiting a body other than the earth." It did not. The manuscript attributed to the 17th-century astronomer is "a 20th-century forgery," the university acknowledged Wednesday. Forgery expert Nick Wilding, who made the discovery, believes it came from a notorious Italian counterfeiter who had seven mistresses to support.

Wilding, a Georgia State University historian who previously uncovered another Galileo forgery, discovered signs that the library's manuscript was fake while looking at an image of it online in May. It not only contained "weird" letter forms and word choices, but the ink on the top and bottom sections, supposedly written months apart, appeared to be "exactly the same color brown," he tells the New York Times. Weirder still, he could find no record of the manuscript in Italian archives. The first record of it came from the 1934 auction where the document was purchased by a Detroit businessman, who donated it to the university upon his death in 1938. The catalog said it had been authenticated by an archbishop of Pisa, who'd compared it to two Galileo-signed documents in his collection.

But Wilding learned those documents had come from Tobia Nicotra, whose Milan apartment was revealed to be a "forgery factory" when it was raided by police in 1934. He suspects Nicotra is also tied to the library's manuscript, whose watermark indicates the paper originated in Bergamo, Italy, no earlier than 1770. That revealed a second forgery as a similar watermark appears on a 1607 letter attributed to Galileo, held at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York. Though disappointed by the news, both libraries say the forged documents may be used in the future to aid in the research of forgeries and hoaxes—"a timeless discipline that's never been more relevant," U of Michigan library editor Lynn Raughley says, per ARTnews. (More forgery stories.)

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