Leonardo and the Engineers of the Renaissance

Posted by jerry on April 30th, 2004 — Posted in History, Technology

Now here is a seriously good site – it’s a pity the slide shows are all in Italian – perhaps I could learn it during the downloads (Italian servers seem very slow) but it’s well worth the wait!

This site is an online museum display of renaissance engineers’ work housed at the Museum of the History of Science (Instituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza) and the site is divided into three main entry points: Filipo Brunelleschi; The Sienese Engineers and Leonardo da Vinci. The 3D modelling is good and there are excellent descriptions of Leonardo’s flying machines (as well as his robots, crossbows, machine elements, etc etc). There are again hints that towards the end of his life, Leonardo focussed on fixed wing gliders and hints that a student of his may have actually flown (and crashed, breaking his leg). As for Leonardo’s helicopter, while there are the usual gripes about the inadequacy of human power, it clearly points to the helicopter being derived from a well known flying toy that appears to have been around for about 100 years before Leonardo’s time. So the principle must have been okay, just a poor power-to-weight ratio.

Also, having designed a steam cannon, and several pumps – it’s a wonder that he didn’t come up with a viable steam engine as a motive power. It seems to be a case of all the elements but lacking the one concept to link them together. Other forms of power were seriously considered, such as clockwork and water power – but it seems that was one that got away lest the industrial revolution happen 250 years earlier than it did!


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