Codex Atlanticus - Civil Machinery

Not only military engineering

Codex Atlanticus, folio 1097 r by Leonardo da VinciVeneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

This story gathers together the most beautiful drawings in the Codex Atlanticus dedicated by Leonardo to various projects for pieces of machinery of various use.

Codex Atlanticus, folio 179 v by Leonardo da VinciVeneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

What stands out first of all, are large pieces of machinery to be used under construction, for which Leonardo took inspiration from those designed and used by Filippo Brunelleschi. The problem was to be able to raise the heavy construction materials to great heights, combining efficiency and speed with safety for the workers.

Codex Atlanticus, folio 106 r by Leonardo da VinciVeneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

Equally interesting are the machines for the nascent textile industry: once again the purpose was to mechanize the work procedure as much as possible, making it automatic, but at the same time more productive.

Codex Atlanticus, folio 156 r by Leonardo da VinciVeneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

In all these projects, Leonardo always proposed new views of the problems of automating, accelerating, improving production, or modernizing. Often he also found sources of energy independent from human muscles, to operate and maintain the action of his various devices.

Codex Atlanticus, folio 3 r by Leonardo da VinciVeneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

Excavating and Hydraulic Machine

Codex Atlanticus, folio 4 r by Leonardo da VinciVeneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

This machine was explicitly designed by Leonardo to automate the excavation of a canal, reducing time and effort. In fact, it is substantially constituted by an enormous two-armed crane, operated by a single cord, moved in turn by the principle of weight and counterweight.

The entire machine is mounted on what appears to be a system of tracks, allowing it to be shifted forward gradually as the excavation of the canal proceeds.

Codex Atlanticus, folio 26 v by Leonardo da VinciVeneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

This is one of the most beautiful folios of the entire Codex Atlanticus, made particularly fascinating by the variety of drawings, the refined of execution, the graphic precision, and not least, for the "disorder" with which Leonardo realized them.

The sheet shows various methods for lifting and transporting water.

Dominating the center is a complicated machine consisting of a mill wheel driven by the motor force of a stream.

In the upper right, we see another hydraulic wheel that scoops up water from a well, emptying it into a fountain, seen spouting forth its water.

Codex Atlanticus, folio 1069 r by Leonardo da VinciVeneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

In this folio as well, many devices are crowded together, in a somewhat disorderly manner, but as usual, to a great visual effect.
Highly accurate in their graphic realization, they all connect to the problem of raising water.

The most interesting is the one on the upper right quadrant: a mill wheel turned by the current of a river drives the movement of a water screw that scoops up water and transports it to the top of a tower.

Codex Atlanticus, folio 1099 r by Leonardo da VinciVeneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

Here, once again, we find ourselves before one of the most beautiful drawings in the Codex Atlanticus, where graphical accuracy is matched with the refined use of watercolour.

The drawings show two projects regarding a pump-powered fountain: below, the hydraulic devices itself;

above, the architectural elaboration of the fountain.

Codex Atlanticus, folio 5 r by Leonardo da VinciVeneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

This folio bears two drawings of unrelated themes. The most imposing of the two is the drawing of a large hydraulic machine, devised for raising water: it is a sort of siphon into which a bellows pumps air; the air then pushes the water contained in the siphon upward in tube.

But even more curious is the second drawing: a man appears seated before a particular optical instrument, observing an armillary sphere through a hole in the first of two frames; at the same time, using his right hand, he traces the drawing on a second frame, situated between the first frame and the sphere. According to experts, this would be a perspectograph, an instrument allowing one to draw the three-dimensional objects upon a plane surface.

Codex Atlanticus, folio 812 r by Leonardo da VinciVeneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

Leonardo's automated cart

This is one of the most famous folios of the Codex Atlanticus, since the drawing it shows is often defined as Leonardo's automobile.

Indeed, it is the drawing for a self-moving carriage, which would appear to anticipate modern devices for automated locomotion.

Substantially, the problem was finding the manner of substituting the traditional animal traction with more efficient mechanical devices: in this case, the combination of spring-motors and gears seemed to be a possible solution.

Codex Atlanticus, folio 29 r by Leonardo da VinciVeneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

Stamping press

This is one of the most beautiful technological projects of the Codex Atlanticus. Also, its combination of black and red pencils makes the entire drawing particularly enjoyable. This is a complex machine that, by means of a system of weights, counterweights, and gears mounted inside a framing, moves a vertical stamping tip that beat upon a slab of metal. This in turn, again by means of gears and counterweights, is moved forward and backward.  

The device has been interpreted in various manners: some have seen it as a simple gold-beating machine; others, as a stamping press for the production of gold coins or of plaquettes made of precious metals to be used as decorative elements.

Codex Atlanticus, folio 1105 r by Leonardo da VinciVeneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

Machines for the textile industry

With these machines Leonardo faces once again the problem of how to automate and speed up the work process in the textile industry.

Codex Atlanticus, folio 106 r by Leonardo da VinciVeneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

In this case the problem was that of rendering the work of carding fabrics more efficient, rapid, and productive: the process consisted in brushing the fabric using special instruments produced from the thorny blossoms of the dry thistle. This caused the fibers of the fabric to rise, making the cloth soft and velvety.

With the project of this teasling machine, Leonardo intended to make the processing faster and increase production, since the machine allowed the simultaneous teaseling of five pieces of cloth mounted on two rollers, which were activated by the gear mechanisms shown to the lower left. Additionally, the process of brushing the fabric would be automated and no longer manual, because the fabric was carded at the lower part of the machine, where the thorny brushes were arranged, as explained in the handwritten caption.

Codex Atlanticus, folio 12 r by Leonardo da VinciVeneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

In this folio, we find ourselves before a beautiful drawing, with carefully refined details and excellent perspective effect, presenting a machine for making ropes.

Codex Atlanticus, folio 13 r by Leonardo da VinciVeneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

In this case too Leonardo drew a machine for making ropes with meticulous refinement and attention to effects of chiaroscuro.
By comparison to the preceeding one, here the artist wanted to pay even greater attention to the aesthetic presentation of the machine, with numerous decorations in curved lines.

Credits: Story

Collegio dei Dottori della Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

Monsignor Alberto Rocca
Direttore della Pinacoteca Ambrosiana

Monsignor Francesco Braschi
Dottore della Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana

Ufficio mostre ed eventi:
Elena Fontana
Michele Figlioli
Carolina Donzelli

Referenti Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana per il progetto Google Arts&Culture:
Michele Figlioli
Carolina Donzelli

Creazione stories e editing testi:
Federica Lamberti con la supervisione di Carolina Donzelli

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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