Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Ramelli and Fontana

Just how big can Lake Lugano be? Admittedly, I'm from Canada where our lakes are generally quite big. And I'm also from the 20th century and easily dismiss distances. Nonetheless, it's tempting to imagine that Agostino Ramelli and Domenico Fontana were chums. Ramelli hailed from Ponte Tresa and was born in 1531; Fontana, born in 1543, was from Mili (now Melide). As the crow flies, barely 20 km separate the two towns. Of course that distance contains a mountain or two but the two towns are connected by water. 20 km hardly seems like a challenge for these men. Ramelli went on to become an engineer of the French king while Fontana went to Rome in the employ of the Pope. He worked on the dome of St. Peter's and--notably--moved the obelisk. The plates of Ramelli's Diverse et Artificiose Machine and Fontana's Transportatione dell Obelisco demonstrate remarkable similarities.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Wittgenstein and the Theatrum Machinarum

I came across a thread that you may find interesting. In pursuing the readers of the Theatrum Machinarum I came across a surprise: Wittgenstein had several in his collection. It would seem that he collected them sometime before 1913. While he didn't have copies of Besson or Ramelli, he owned a number of their descendents. Wittgenstein--like Hooke--owned a copy of Boeckler's "Theatrum Machinarum Novum" (1661). It is bound with a copy of Johan Wilhelm's "Architectura Civilis" (1668). He also own five voluems of Jacob Leupold's "Theatrum Machinarum" (1725) that were purchased from "Max Harrwitz, Potsdamer Str. 113, Berlin W., Buchhandlung und Antiquariat" for "K.180".

Wittgenstein's copies of these works ended up in the possession of Bertrand Russell, eventually landing at McMaster. I can only imagine what inspiration he found in them.


Hide, O. (2004). Wittgenstein's books at the Bertrand Russell Archives and the influence of scientific literature on Wittgenstein's early philosophy. Philosophical Investigations. 27.1: 69-91.
Quick Thought

As I piece together some of my background information, I had a thought: the theatrum machinarum use no classificatory framework. Instead, they depend largely on extant representational mechanisms. Admittedly, the later work of Leupold developed representations with some solid--if wrong--mathematical rigour. The early works, however, were largely devoid of those classifications.

That said, where exactly did Agricola come up with his break-away and exploded views? Were those tropes completely sui generis?

Following on from my previous note, check out the work of Dymock Cressy or try a search for "Moxon AND mechanick".
Theatrum Machinarum in England

Why are the theatrum machinarum uniquely non-English? A recent paper--the author's names completely escapes--notes that the genre was dominated by French and Italian authors in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. German and Dutch authors took over in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Where are the English authors? Why are there no equivalent treatises published in a language that I natively read? We know that there was a market for these works in the English world. Hooke, for example, owned copies of Boekler and Besson (in German and Spanish) while James Watt learned German just so he could read the work of Leupold. I find it hard to believe that neither England nor--later--the colonies were able to produce something equivalent especially given the presence of the Royal Society. Did the advanced rhetoric of English science crush opportunites for these works of technology? Did English scientific publishing proclivities (e.g., the journal article) destroy the market for the plate-heavy and very expensive book of mechanical inventions? Was there no market demand or interest due to the undeveloped industrial state of England (I find this hypothesis impossible to believe!). Was the guild/artisan movement so prevalent that no works were required? Has the work of Moxon been overlooked as a member of this genre simply because it was written in English? The answer to all of these questions is: I have no idea. This complete absence, however, is a bit mysterious.