Saturday, November 26, 2005

Hagiography: Fausto Veranzio

  • 1551. Fausto Veranzio is born in the Dalmatian town of Sebenico. His father was Michele Veranzio (son of Franceso) and his mother, Catherine, was a member of a minor noble family of Dalmatia. Michele was in the employ of the King of Hungary and traveled widely. Fausto was raised by his Uncle Antonio Veranzio, Archbishop of Gran, Primate and Viceroy of Hungary. Antonio made many diplomatic missions, including a trip to Constantinople (1556-1557). He was an accomplished humanist and had an interest in mechanics.
  • 1569. Veranzio attends the University of Padua. Later, he voyages to Pressburg.
  • 1574. Antonio dies. Fausto returns to Sebenico and then travels to Venice with his mother and aunt. He then returns to Pressburg.
  • 1578. He marries Marietta.
  • 1579. The Bishop of Veszprim and Szbad gives him command of the fortress of Vesprim and makes him administrator of the bishop’s estates. Veranzio travels widely and takes an avid interest in the humanities and languages. He writes a number of books.
  • 1608. Veranzio desired to take Barnabite orders. A reference letter provides a great deal of deal on his life:

    Note written by Giovanni Antonio Gabuzio (Curate of Collegio di San Paolo in The Piazza Colonna, Roma) to Father General of the Minor Clerks of San Paolo in Milan.

    …For eight years he was bishop of Ciannoavio, a city in Hungary, but since the said city was in the hands of the Turks he was only a bishop in title and not as a guardian of men’s souls. He was also a priest of Sciago which was then occupied by rebels. In Hungary when a youth, he had studied the humanities in the house of his uncle who was archbishop of Stregonia… and in whose house he was brought up. In Padua he studied logic for a year and published a Compendium and a dictionary of five languages: Latin, Italian, German, Hungarian, Polish, as well as other languages which he knew. He also had published another book in the Dalmation language on the twelve Holy Virgins. He also studied some cases of conscience, and was well versed in moral philosophy, history and other various disciplines. At the age of 27 he took a wife and remained married for seven years. He had sons who since died by a girl from outside who still lives and is married and fairly well off. He was both captain and judge in a castle in Hungary for two years; he was administrator of criminal justice which was irregular but he received a dispensation from the Pope and said mass every feast-day in our church of San Paolo [Rome] and in our congregation of the lay brothers of the Annunciation of which he is prefect. He was secretary to the Emperor for the State of Hungary for about 13 or 15 years and was also a councilor of the same state. He was made a bishop, being elected by the Emperor, while he was in Italy for some negotiations. He has been in Rome for two years, to take orders [since 1606] although this has been his desire for the last ten years. He had tried various religions, our own for the last ten years, but he was no received into it since he then had a living son and an unmarried daughter, but in these last years he has sought no other religion than our own, He is in good health, sturdy, high in stature, grave in aspect, modest, quiet, and has shown himself to be very prudent and judicious in his conduct. He has no religious failings, is without debts and has always lived an honest life, never having committed any offence, theft, larceny or anything of a like nature, nor has he ever been accused or suspected of such offences. He has more than six hundred scudi to his credit, in the banks of Rome and when he takes orders he will leave such provisions for his own person so the he will not be a burden or encumbrance to the said order… He had never suffered head aches from study or any other occupation. Neither he nor his parents have ever suffered from melancholy humours or madness… I have also summoned the Capitular Fathers to a congregation so that, at “uno ore et datis suffragis” they may judge him suitable for our congregation… Praying his to give me his blessing and to recommend me in his prayers. D. Giovanni Antonio Gabuzio, Priest. Counter-signed: D. Prospero Grasso, Descreto. – D. Giovannin I Ambrosio Mazenti, Discreto – D. Sigismondo, Chancellor.
    (Pg. 52-53)

  • March 15, 1608. Letter from Father German Manicelli notes that Veranzio, age 57, as “of a very robust complexion and more active than a man of 41 years.” (Pg. 53)
  • June, 1608. Veranzio begins his novitiate at Zagarolo (Catelli Romanni).
  • August, 1608. He becomes a Barnabite friar.
  • September, 1609. Veranzio still on good terms with Barnabites according to a letter written by him to Mazenta and republished in Hugo Th. Horwitz, Ueber F.V. und sein Werk “Machinae Novae” in Archeion (ed. Aldo Mieli). Roma, anno VIII, no 2. May-July 1927. Mazenta was both a Barnabite and Leonardo’s first biographer and keeper of his manuscripts.
  • 1615. Government of Tuscany grants him a privilege that prohibited the reprinting of Machinae Novae by unauthorized printers for 15 years and the use of his machines without license for another thirty years. This document, discovered by Professor Vincenzo Miagostovish at Sebenico among the manuscripts of Count Franceso de Draganich Veranzio of Sebenico reads:

    Cosmo II. By the Grace of God, we the third Grand Duke of Tuscany, fifth duke of Florence and Siena, Count of Pitigliano, Lord of Portoferraio on the Isle of Elba, of Castiglione at Pescara, and the island of Giglio, Grand Master of the Holy Order of Saint Stephen, etc.

    Wishing to grant the request of Monsignor Fausto Veranzio, Bishop of Chanadio and being moved by reasons of public utility, and by our own visual benignityh, by these our letters we command to all printers, booksellers and such similar traders who live in our states, thaty they may not, for the next fifteen years, presume without the license of consent of the said Bishop, or that of any delegated by him, to have his book on new machines, which he wishes to render public, reprinted in Florence, Siena, Pisa or any other city or place in our dominions. We also prohibit for the space of thirty years, any other person in our states from fabricating or erecting the said new machines, invented by him and named in his said book, nor may they use such machines, without his license of socnsent as stated above, upon pain of having to share with him the half of the costs of the said book or machines, all expenses deducted, and if they should not do this spontaneously they lose the right to reproduce the books and the machines, of which the rights are granted to the author. We therefore command to all the Magistrates, Rectors, and Officials of our states, to observe and make observed this our concession and privilege despite any proclamation, order of law to the contrary. In faith of which we have had the present letter made, signed by our hand and stamped with our customary lead seals. Given, in our town of Petraia, on this June the 16th, year MDCXV of the Redeeming Incarnation, and the year VII of our tenure of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, and other Duchies.

    The Grand Duke of Tuscany
    Curzio Picchena first secretary
    Niccolò dell’Antelli
    Lorenzo Usimbaro.
    (Pg. 54)

  • 1617. Veranzio dies after spending his last years in Venice and Tuscany. His body was taken to Sebenico and buried in the church of the island of Provicchio.

Copies of Machinae Novae exist in two different copies with different frontispieces. The first has the text in Latin and in Italian. The second contains translations in Spanish, French, and German. The work contains forty-nine plates. Five of the plates show two different inventions so a total of fifty-four machines are depicted. Veranzio, however, provides a list of sixty-eight inventions, fourteen of which are neither explained nor illustrated.

The depicted machines fall into a limited set of categories:

  1. Warfare
  2. Exploitation of wind and water power
  3. Transport and communications (e.g., carriages, boats, bridges, etc.)
  4. Agriculture and the preservation of food-stuffs
  5. Other. Particularly machines attributed to unknown friends or gentilhuomo francese (de Serres perhaps?)

Some devices of note include his many designs for various bridges. Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture or the many bridges of Errard may have influenced him. He also suggested a new means of printing that used a millstone for applying weight (Plate 46: didn’t Errard also suggest a roller-type press?). Veranzio also depicted mill wheels mounted on barges with paddlewheels (Plate 18 & 19). According to Kirby, Willington, Darling, and Kilgour (1856, pg. 89), this type of mechanism was utilized by Belisarius, commander for the Emperor Justinian during the siege of Rome in CE 537. The Goths cut the aqueducts on the far side of the Tiber and stopped the city’s flower mills. So Belisarius had hawsers stretched across the river and moored barges together in pairs. Between each pair hung water wheels connected to mill stones.

Notably, Veranzio depicted Homo Volans, a man using a parachute (Plate 38). This creation is remarkably similar to Leonardo’s parachute depicted in the Atlantic Codex, folio 381 verso. Given Veranzio’s relationship with Mazenta, it is possible that he knew of Leonardo’s earlier efforts.

Veranzio’s machines demonstrate a true commitment to practical machinery. Many of the works of Ramelli or Besson were essentially impossible due to the difficulties in creating screws. Veranzio’s machines, however, seem far more plausible. For example, he attaches wheels to shafts with clasp-arm construction (i.e., four transverse members which cross to form a gap that fits a square shaft). He also was aware of the variable nature of power. The mill depicted on Plate 11, for example, has four different stations which can be powered or not.


Forti, Umberto (1968). Introduction: Fausto Veranzio and the Machinae Novae. From Machinae Novae (trans. Raymond Rudorff). Ferro Edizioni, Milano.

Kirby, Richard Shelton, Sidney Withington, Arthur Burr Darling, and Frederick Gridley Kilgour (1956). Engineering in History. Mc-Graw Hill Book Company, New York.