Leonardo da Vinci – renaissance engineer

Posted by jerry on April 23rd, 2004 — Posted in History, Technology

Leonardo was certainly one of the greatest engineers of his time, but he was one of quite a number from whom he clearly learnt a lot. What he did accomplish was a good record of the engineering achievements, both his own and those of fellow engineers of the period – remember copyrights and patents weren’t as stringently enforced in those days – so, for example it seems clear that Leonardo borrowed fairly heavily from his contemporaries and immediate predecessors, such as Brunelleschi. And a wonderful exhibition of his work and that of his near contemporaries has been put together over several years showing a good cross-section of the achievements of the time in mechanical engineering, fluid dynamics and a whole host of conceptual groundwork for the achievements of our own time.

Brunelleschi was famous as the young engineer who solved the problem of how to build a big cathedral dome without central scaffolding (the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – Florence cathedral). Along the way he devised cranes, very similar to today’s tower cranes, for shifting the stone blocks into position with considerable precision. Some excellent sketches survive of Brunelleschi’s cranes – detailed enough for working models to be built.

Brunelleschi\'s crane
Brunelleschi’s crane

But possibly Brunelleschi’s greatest achievement was in the organisation of the logistics flow and workforce organisation that enabled construction to take place within a relatively narrow physical urban area and to enable construction to meet scheduled deadlines – on time and on budget – unlike so many renaissance cathedral projects! Check out the exhibition site – it’s well worth a visit


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