The Ancient Books Collection

The ancient books collection of the National Institute for Astrophysics consists of about 7,000 volumes.

All the Astronomical Observatories of ancient origins have precious book collections, but the original core collections of the various libraries were formed in different ways.

In the case of Brera, for example, the first volumes came from the rich library collection of the Jesuit College of Brera, of which the Observatory was a part.

In Palermo, instead, the Library originates from the bequest of the first Director of the Observatory, Giuseppe Piazzi, who donated his own personal book collection.

In Naples, the Capodimonte Observatory Library was born in the years 1812-1815, together with the construction of the Observatory, on the initiative of Federigo Zuccari and was later enriched by the donation made by Giuseppe Cenzato.

In Padua, the original collection of books present since the founding of the Observatory was beautifully enhanced by the donation made by Giovanni Santini in 1873.

In Rome, the ancient Library was founded by the merger of the collections from the historical observatories of the Roman College and of Campidoglio and the collection assembled by the Polish historian Arthur Wolynski for  the Astronomical and Copernican Museum (donation of June 1882). It represents a unique example of completeness, with the presence of over 4,000 volumes including a fourteenth-century manuscript code, which brings together the major astronomical texts of the period.

In all cases, however, the libraries began to enrich their collections gradually as the scientific activities of the Observatories acquired importance.
The books, for the most part, deal with astronomy and physics, but there are texts in meteorology, mathematics, geography and philosophy, disciplines related to astronomy. Some books represent milestones for culture : the works of Galileo, Copernicus , Ptolemy , Kepler and Newton (often held in their first editions); they are considered the "banners” of the scientific revolution and have pointed the way to modern science.

In addition to the value connected to the content and meaning that these volumes have for the history of the Western culture, the iconographic value of many of them must also be considered.
Since the birth of printing, the astronomical texts offer a large and rich iconographic legacy with dual function : documentary and decorative . However, it is only since the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the observation of the sky is no longer  made by the naked eye but with the use of the telescope, that the scientific book is accompanied by more specific and detailed illustrations.

The celestial world, thus, reveals a myriad of details never seen before, that are well illustrated in great detail in works of rare beauty which blends art, myth and science. We cite, for example, the wonderful star atlases of Johannes Hevelius, Johann Gabriel Doppelmayer, John Flamsteed and Johann Elert Bode, the cometographs and selenographs of the astronomers of Northern Europe. We mention also the representations, increasingly precise, of  the observational instruments, like those designed by Giovanni Giacomo Marinoni in his De astronomica specula domestica (1745 ) or the allegories, that lend themselves to the description of the world beyond the Earth.