Lifting and moving architectural elements, from the smallest to the largest ones, has always been an admired operation and the history of cranes, winches and mechanical devices in general is long and rich in important fundamental phases. From here Andrea Bernardoni and Alexander Neuwahl certainly made a courageous yet promising choice to go back over these fundamental phases from the most ancient lifting machines to the Renaissance. In folio 333 v-a [909 v] of the Codex Atlanticus, especially known for studies in submarine attacks and datable to about 1485-1487, next to vivid and exuberant notes Leonardo makes sketches that have the impulsive characteristics of some of his most ancient technological essays. Besides the annotation “ma prima fa patto per istrumento”(but first have an understanding about the agreement) that enables Leonardo to take refuge in his “secret” due to the lack of a patent for his invention, we find the clue “vuolsi ’nprontare una delle 3 viti di ferro dell’Opera di Santa Liberata” (you need to take an impression of one of the three iron screws of the workshop of Santa Liberata) for which screw mechanisms were used to rip out the hulls of enemy ships.
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The cultural renaissance of the XV and XVI centuries also involved the technical world and in half a century the consolidation of a tradition of engineers-authors was established. This tradition put the artes mechanicae in the limelight. The De la pirotechnia is surely one of the most important expressions of this movement and its release, in Venice in 1540, marked a change in the history of the “fire arts”. Biringuccio assumes a net position against the alchemists and philosophers who had dealt with the generation and transmutation of metals, arriving at delineating the confines of a new technical and scientific discipline to be named “pirotechnia”. This greatly prefigures what was to be the operative dominion of the future chemical science. The double nature of Biringuccio’s treatise – on one hand it dialogues with alchemists and philosophers and on the other with technicians- made it possible for the De la pirotechnia to have international and long-lasting success up to and beyond the XVII Century. This contributed to the spread and standardization of the metallurgic-melting techniques. It also contributed to the problematization of the theoretical debate on mineralogy and metallurgy.
Review: Pamela Long, in Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 65, No. 4, Winter 2012
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