Military Machines

Leonardo da Vinci1485

British Museum

British Museum

This is one of a number of sheets of drawings by Leonardo in which he designed instruments of war. He drew them while working for Ludovico Sforza, duke of Milan (1494–99). Under each drawing in ink and brown wash, Leonardo has written words of explanation in his characteristic reversed writing (that is it needs to be read in a mirror).

At the top of the sheet is a chariot with scythes on all sides. Below it Leonardo has written: 'when this travels through your men, you will wish to raise the shafts of the scythes so that you will not injure anyone on your side'. At lower left is an upturned armoured car without its roof, showing 'the way the car is arranged inside' with the line 'eight men operate it and the same men turn the car and pursue the enemy'. At lower right, the same tank-like vehicle is shown moving and firing its guns, with the line below: 'this is good for breaking the ranks, but you will want to follow it up'. At the far right is a more conventional weapon of the time, a large pike or halberd, perhaps more ceremonial than practical.

Leonardo's fertile imagination and scientific knowledge are here combined in the creation of war machines for his warlike patron. It is highly unlikely, however, that any of these machines were ever made or used in contemporary warfare. Indeed, as Leonardo himself wrote in his Notebooks, such new weapons were often as dangerous to their users as to the enemy.

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  • Title: Military Machines
  • Creator: Leonardo da Vinci
  • Date Created: 1485
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 173.00mm; Width: 245.00mm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Medium: Drawn
  • Technique: drawn
  • Subject: military; arms/armour
  • Registration number: 1860,0616.99
  • Producer: Drawn by Leonardo da Vinci
  • Material: paper
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Woodburn, Samuel. Purchased through Christie's. Purchased through Tiffin, Walter Benjamin. Previous owner/ex-collection Mariette, Pierre Jean. Previous owner/ex-collection Lawrence, Thomas