Earliest published microscopic study

Originally posted at ouhos.org, the now-discontinued blog of the OU History of Science Collections. Neither this post nor any of its content should be taken as an official communication of the University of Oklahoma.

Galileo’s Sidereus nuncius (Venice, 1610) created an international sensation as the first published record of observations made with a telescope. Yet many people do not realize that Galileo was also involved with the first published record of observations made with the microscope.

In 1616 Galileo was silenced on Copernicanism, but he bounced back with gusto in 1623. In that year his supporter and friend, Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, a former patron of the Academy of the Lynx and uncle of Cardinal Francesco Barberini , became Pope Urban VIII. The election of Barberini seemed to assure Galileo of support at the highest level in the Church. A visit to Rome confirmed this.

The Apiarium (Rome, 1625) was a gift of the Lynx to the new pope. Galileo adapted the telescope into a new instrument, named a microscope by a member of the Lynx. In the Apiarium, the first publication of observations made with a microscope, Federico Cesi (1585-1630) and Francesco Stelluti (1577-1651) studied the anatomy of the bee.

Only a few copies of this broadsheet were printed. See how the type bit deeply into the hand-made cotton paper? (below).

Along the top of this extremely rare document are representations of ancient coins depicting bees (below). Note the Barberini crest. The classical age of microscopy thus began with diplomacy.

The text includes classical references to bees as well as new knowledge, integrated in a tabular outline (below). Cesi had a fondness for tabular layouts, even in classification.

In a work of the same time, Stelluti published drawings. On the title page (below, left), note the Barberini bees, and the name of their patron, Francesco Barberini. And the Lynx. A remarkable plate displays the fine anatomical structures of bees, arranged in the pattern of the Barberini crest (below, right; click thumbnails for larger versions).

Just as Galileo’s telescope brought near the Moon and stars, so the eyes of the Lynx could see the secrets of the small, portraying structures of the bee never seen before.

An early alumna of the OU History of Science program, Clara Sue Kidwell (right, and below left) translated the Apiarium as part of her PhD dissertation in 1970. The translation appears as an appendix to a larger study of the Academy of the Lynx. Kidwell explains that Curator Duane Roller used to keep the temperature so low in the Collections’ former location on the 3rd floor in order to prevent the old graduate students from spoiling!

Prof. Kidwell later served as Director of the Native American Studies program at OU (1995-2006) and as Director of the American Indian Center at the University of North Carolina (2006-present).

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