The Polymath from Pisa’s Mum

Villa BasilicaLigaDue, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Villa Basilica

LigaDue, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Galileo’s mum, Giulia di Cosimo Ammannati, was born in January 1538, in a tiny mountain village called Villa Basilica, in the province of Lucca, in the Tuscan region of Italy.

Her father, Cosimo, was a timber merchant*. Originally from Pescia (another small Tuscan village) we know that he moved to Pisa sometime before 1536.

Giulia had three sisters; Diamante, Dorotea and Ermellina, and a brother, Leone. Her mother was named Lucrezia.

In 1562 Guilia met Vincenzio Galilei in Pisa – its possible the two already knew each other as they were distantly related, but, anyway, they hit it off… and were married on 5 July 1562. By this time her father had died and her brother Leone took responsibility for a dowry of 100 gold scudi (or ducats), cloth and rent on a house for a year.**

Ammannati House), PisaBruno Barral, CC BY-SA 2.5 &lt;;, via Wikimedia Commons

Ammannati House), Pisa

Bruno Barral, CC BY-SA 2.5 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

On 15 February 1564, Guilia gave birth to her first child, Galileo. She and Vincenzo were living in the family house in via Giusti, in the San Francesco district in Pisa. They shared the house with Lucrezia and Guilia’s sister Dorotea. 

Galileo was followed by another boy, Benedetto, we can assume this child died very young, as there is no know record of his birthday or the date of his death.

Vincenzo and Guilia did not have another child until Virginia came along on 8 May 1573, when Galileo was nine. Virginia lived a long life and had four children.

Virginia was followed by Anna in 1574, but like Benedetto, Anna died very young.

Michelangelo was born on 18 December 1575, and lived to the grand age of 96, he fathered eight children.

Livia was born on 7 October 1578, and lived to marry and have four children.

Then in 1580, Guilia gave birth to her last child, a daughter, Lena, who died soon after.

By all accounts Guilia was a discontented person. Like her husband she came from a noble family and had access to privilege but no money to pay for it. Unlike her husband she did not accept this with equanimity, and it seems she resented Vincenzo for forgoing a dull well paid job for chasing a career which made his heart sing, his musical ambitions.

After Vincenzo’s death the financial responsibility for keeping the entire family afloat fell on Galileo’s shoulders., and this in turn, I think made him the recipient of her long-held anger at the hand she’d been dealt and the resentment of their impoverished circumstances. As the quote below from this website makes clear … Guilia was not a happy woman.

Some of Giulia’s letters have survived from Galileo’s time in Padua, in which she complains of her son’s neglect or reminds him of the debt he owes for his sister Virginia’s dowery. Now and then she went to Padua, and her difficult character made these visits very hard on young Galileo.

In 1604 Silvestro Pagnoni, an employee of Galileo’s, reported him to the Inquisition for practicing judicial astrology and for non-observance of his religious duties. Among these accusations he also cites the testimony of Giulia Ammannati about her son: “I am well aware as his mother that he never goes to confession or takes holy communion”.

She even had him spied on to ascertain if he was going to mass or to his girlfriend’s, Marina Gamba.

As Galileo moved to Padua Ammannati sent him letters in which she complained of her son’s neglect.  In 1609 Ammannati wrote a letter from Florence to Galileo’s domestic servants, Alessandro Piersanti where she expressed concern that she hadn’t heard anything from him for several weeks.

I do think its likely Guilia has been treated unfairly by history. She may have been pithy and discontent but Galileo entrusted her with the care of his children, acquiesced to her demands and bore her complaints with equanimity at a time when he could have treated her much worse or abandoned her altogether.

The interior of the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Oltrarno, Florence. By Sailko - Own work, CC BY 2.5,

The interior of the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Oltrarno, Florence. By Sailko – Own work, CC BY 2.5,

Giulia Ammannati died in August 1620 in Florence and was buried in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Oltrarno.

  • * sources online state Guilia’s dad was a wood merchant, a timber merchant and a cloth merchant – however, Guilia’s brother ran a wool-trading company, and Guilia’s dowry included bolts of cloth

  • ** like her father’s occupation, Guilia’s dowry has several iterations in the research, 100 ducats and 2 bolts of cloth, 100 ducats half paid in cloth, enough food for a year, and rent for a year, all crop up.

  • An article about the ins and outs of Galileo’s birthplace is here