Notes on science and technology

Notes on science and technology

During his first Florentine period, prior to 1481, Leonardo drew up a great number of studies and technological projects on folios that have been collected mainly in the Codex Atlanticus, as well as the Codex Arundel and the collection of the Cabinet and Prints and Drawings at the Uffizi. These studies show remarkable evolution in the graphic aspect and methodology as compared to those of the Renaissance engineers who preceded him, from Brunelleschi to Francesco di Giorgio Martini. Moreover, references to Graeco-Roman scientific treatises are evident. Interest in science and technological studies were at the centre of Leonardo's studies in his second Florentine period as well.

  • The Renaissance artists/engineers already felt the problem of protecting their inventions with what are now called patents. Around 1506, in the Codex Leicester (f. 15A-22v), Leonardo asked himself, «Why do I not write about my method for remaining under water?… I do not publish or divulge it due to the evil nature of men, who would use it for assassination at the bottom of the sea …». This passage shows an ethical sense of secrecy that seems to contrast with the notes on a youthful folio, where Leonardo shows himself primarily jealous of his secrets («Do not teach and you alone will excel»).

  • Leonardo was not yet twenty years of age when he collaborated with his teacher Verrocchio in the realization of the great copper sphere that was destined to be placed atop the dome of the Cathedral of Florence on 27 May 1471. This memorable event was recorded by Luca Landucci in his Diario Fiorentino. In a note dating to around 1515 Leonardo himself recalled that he had witnessed the soldering of the sphere.

  • In Florence there are many place names deriving from the activities controlled by the rich and powerful Arte della Lana: Via and Piazza del Tiratoio (drying shop), Via dei Tessitori (weavers) Via dei Cardatori (carders), and Corso dei Tintori (dyers). Silk-working instead had been controlled by a powerful mercantile guild, the recollection of which has survived thanks to the work of the Antico Seticio Fiorentino (ancient Florentine silk manufactory). This manufactory, established near the end of the 18th century still works with a weaving machine that, according to ancient tradition, derives from the drawings of Leonardo, and still produces rare and precious fabrics using techniques dating from the 15th and 16th centuries.

  • Among the famous protagonists of the Florentine Renaissance, some showed interest in the problems of theatrical scenography . Memorable, in fact, were the theatrical/technical sets designed by Brunelleschi for some of the Florentine churches. Undoubtedly, Leonardo had in mind these elaborate theatrical sets when he designed the complex mechanical devices for the staging of Bernardo Bellincioni's Paradise Festival, presented in Milan in 1490. Sophisticated mechanisms operated by counter-weights were used for Poliziano's Orpheus, whose stage sets included a "mountain that opens" from which emerged Pluto.

  • Leonardo recalls Monte Ceceri and Fiesole in his Codex on the Flight of Birds: first for having sighted there a cortone "bird of prey", and again for his prophecy on human flight from Monte Ceceri. Legend has it that one of his followers, Zoroastro from Peretola, tried to fly from Monte Ceceri, but the attempt ended in a disastrous fall. Leonardo's first drawing of a flying machine dates from his first Florentine period, around 1480.

  • Leonardo's relations with the "Spedale" of Santa Maria Nuova are documented at various moments during his entire lifetime. Here he conducted anatomical studies, he deposited cases of printed books, manuscripts and albums of drawings, and here he had also his bank. Before leaving for Milan in 1506, he left 150 florins that were to serve as guarantee to the Florentine Signoria that he would return to the city within three months. Leonardo did not return to Florence in time, and the Signoria confiscated the money. A tradition, which has turned out to be more legend than documented history, tells of two great stone basins situated in the undercroft of the Hospital and used for the cadavers studied by Leonardo.