Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sketch Bombing in the Mechanical Renaissance

[click images for larger versions]

This 17th century sketchbook of 600+ pages is written predominantly in italian with some spanish and is online at the Library of Congress. There are hundreds of illustrations, mostly in ink but with a few watercolours. There are perhaps 50+ blank pages and the text takes up about 1/4 of the remainder.

The book covers pyrotechnia, fortress styles, geometry, archimedes screw and hydaulic machinery, bomb construction, rope and pulley mechanisms, with apparent instructions and recipes for weaponry, elements of camouflage and advisory illustrations for hiding death traps thrown in for good measure.

The name Francesco Tensini (author of La Fortificatione, 1624) is mentioned twice.

That is unfortunately the extent of my knowledge about the work. Perhaps we should ask George if he knows anything more.


George Goodall said...

What a stunning find. I've never seen this particular work. I have no idea who the author was or who put it together.

The author has obviously copied from a variety of different works: Tensini and Errard on fortification, Biringuccio (and perhaps Babington) on pyrotechnics, Du:rer on perspective, etc.

What I'd like the work to be is the sketchbook of Ramelli that Ambroise Bachot purloined. Unfortunately, the mismatch between Ramelli's condemnation of a member of his household (1588) and the references to Tensini (1624) disqualify my hypothesis. It's still interesting to compare Ramelli's original drawings (here's my take) with the sketches in this work.

The work clearly shows the varied nature of the Renaissance engineer: geometry, fortification, surveying, engineering, and perspective. I'm particularly tickled by the prevalence of Florence's Santa Maria del Fiore in some of the perspective sketches--an homage to Brunelleschi perhaps?

It's also possible that the work was prepared in anticipation of publication. Most of the text is written on the verso in accordance with the tradition set by Besson, Errard, and Ramelli. Then again, I hate using the verso in my own sketch books so this point may be moot. I suppose one approach would be to determine if this work is a sketchbook in the spirit of Villard de Honnecourt, or a machine or fortification book in the spirit of Besson, Ramelli, Errard, or Lorini.

peacay said...

Thanks for that George. I imagine it would entail contacting the LOC to obtain details about the provenance of the book to even begin to pin down more precisely where/when/who was involved in its production.

I also wonder whether the LOC contacted any professional associations (eg Engineering or the like) to advise them of the existence of the digitized version. You would think that something so obviously unique and rich in background influences would have had some sort of scrutiny and related academic publication.


peacay said...

I came across an interesting reference to this manuscript in a National Gallery of Art Center 24 - Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts pdf document.

On about p.108 Daniela Lamberini (Prof. Architecture at Uni. Florence) opines that the codex is Florentine in origin and likely to have been produced by the circle associated with the architect, engineer and stage designer, Giulio Parigi who taught mathematics, art and military architecture to the 'young noblemen at the Medici court'. [LINK - ~5Mb]

George Goodall said...

Giulio Parigi? I have to admit that I feel a bit disappointed. I'm not sure why but I certainly can't argue with Prof. Lamberini's scholarship. She delivered a presentation a few years ago with the very compelling title "Pictures and Possibilities: Prediction and Problems in Early Modern Machine Design" . She also wrote a chapter called "Machines in perspective : technical drawings in unpublished treatises and notebooks of the Italian Renaissance".

It looks like I've got some reading to do! Thanks for the update.

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