John Heilbron, professor of history and vice-chancellor emeritus of the University of California, Berkeley, is one of our most distinguished - and prolific - historians of science. His latest book, The Ghost of Galileo In a Forgotten Painting from the English Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2021), records how, during a tour of an English country house, he stumbled across what might be the earliest visual reference to Galileo outside portraiture. Heilbron's quest to understand this reference has resulted in a long and extraordinary account of debates in early modern science, religion, and medicine. Heilbron explains that there are reasons why a jobbing artist, working in the royalist base of Oxford during the first English civil war, might include in a double portrait of a tutor and his melancholy pupil this reference to recent trends in cosmology. In this lavishly illustrated and copiously argued book, Heilbron sets new agendas for our understanding of the politics of royalism, the material contexts of portraiture, and the religious significance of science.
Crawford Gribben is a professor of history at Queen’s University Belfast.