Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Quick Thoughts on the Origins of the Theatrum Machinarum
  1. Books were a way of gaining patronage and demonstrating competence. Since there was no school credential or professional accreditation, engineers had to demonstrate what they knew in a novel way. Perhaps the TM were as much portfolio as anything else. Political leaders may have struggled with a crisis of information i.e., there wasn't enough.
  2. Math was important. The mechanical arts could be viewed as either manual and below dignity. Or they could be viewed as an important part of mathematics. The introduction was thus very important.
  3. Nobles loved machines. As demonstrated by Wolfe, everyone was fascinated by machines because the demonstrated many of the noble qualities of the courtier. Ramelli and Besson's machines also appealed to an emergent sense of utility.
  4. Machines were safe. Competitive professionals such as architects were hobbled by their interactions with self-interested guilds. Masons, for example, were very invested in protecting their own knowledge. Ramelli and Besson's machines were not the domain of any guild. Sure, carpenters and masons built machines (as demonstrated by Plate 43 of Villard de Honnecourt's manuscript), but none of them had specific domain over their design and creation. Instead, machines were individually the domain of artifice.
  5. Fortification design was... well, I just don't know. Besson didn't create a work of fortifications because he wasn't an architect or engineer. Ramelli's designs may have been stolen by Bachot. Errard did create a work on fortifications. Perhaps there was an issue with Vitruvius. Machines were mentioned in Vitruvius and became increasingly important with the translation of Hero, Archimedes, the Mechanica, etc. But maybe architecture was completely the domain of Vitruvius and from a humanistic perspective everything had already been said.
Mukerji to the Rescue

I stumbled on the work of Chandra Mukerji in an innocent manner. Her work on the Canal du Languedoc is quite interesting. In addition to here recent T&C article on hydraulic cement and tacit knowledge--you had to be there--she has an entry in Smith and Findlen's Merchants and Marvels. Entitled Cartography, Entrepreneurialism and Power, the chapter discusses the backstory of the Canal du Languedoc. She notes that the project had been proposed many times in the past (including a proposal by Leonardo) but it only became doable in the seventeenth century. Previously, the risk--or at least the perception of risk--was simply too great. Eventually, however, a combination of paper exemplars, military rationale, and economic justification finally convinced the powers that were.

The realization of the canal required a number of innovations. The first was the establishment of a consistent pattern of problem solving. This was accomplished through a diversity of means, including the creation of maps and representations, standardization of reports using academic techniques, and the capture of lore and narrative to establish key criteria such as the location of headwaters. These innovations enabled a pattern of distributed learning that carried throughout the project. A key to this success was the stability of the workforce which Riquet ensured through generous pay for workers and lucrative bonuses.

Despite the innovations, Riquet also depended on experts to identify best practice and to recruit additional resources for the project. Some of the limitations of the construction of the port at Sete occurred because there was no one individual with sufficient experience in the construction of such a facility.

While at the library reading Mukerji's work on the canal, I reviewed one of earlier articles: "Toward a sociology of material culture", which appeared in Sociology of Culture (pg. 143-163). In this chapter, Mukerji reacts against Foucault's omni-presence in the study of science and technology. She maintains that there is more than just language and discourse in the operation of science and technology:

"What if the power of science and technology is derived less from their status as knowledge systems than their role as systems of material practice." (pg. 144)

She uses the book as just one example of material practice:

"The book, for example, lies as much in the world of goods as it does in some abstract family of word-meanings, and its coordinating possibilities result in part from the symbols it carries and also in part from its physical reproducibility." (pg. 145)

Mukerji also points to weapons as an area where the word-intensive structure of science and technology crosses directly into the everyday world of consumers and material culture. She even makes a direct reference to an era that's of direct interest to me:

"In seventeenth century France, we can see one of the least obvious and most important sites where the resources of science and technology were mobilized to make nature service systems of culture and power." (pg. 158)

Update: Other sources on the Canal du Midi include an article by Ermenc who notes that Leonardo initially proposed a canal through Languedoc but that he was thwarted by technical and administrative challenges. One of the great innovations in canal design was the introduction of the lock gate rather than the portcullis gate. This innovation gets great coverage in Zonca's Nova teatro of 1656. The real precursor of the Languedoc canal was the Briare canal which linked the Seine and the Loire.

Mukerji also discussed the Languedoc canal in a different article. She discusses it in the context of its importance as place. She notes that:

"The physical world has been politically more than a repository of resources with politico-economic value. It has been a place to demonstrate intelligence, a collective cognitive capacity to dominate that has been a foundational and legitimating principle of power. Engineered locales--from cities to water supplies and military installations--are places where power is exercised and the technical capacity for it is palpably demonstrated. And so they are also places where power and its legitimacy can be questioned and undermined." pg. 656

She notes that the canal was less about personal brialliance than it was about the alignment of resources, an alignment that required Huguenot know-how and Occian orneriness.

Ermenc, Joseph J. 1961. The Great Longuedoc Canal. The French Review. 34.5: 454-460.
Mukerji. 2003. Intelligence Uses of Engineering and the Legitimacy of State Power. Technology and Culture. 44: 655-676
So where was Ramelli?

Assuming that Ramelli stayed with the Marquis of Marignano until after the siege of Siena, we still have a number of years to account for. Here are some options:

  1. He may have worked with Henry I, Duke of Guise, on the restoration of the fortifications of Metz. He may have stayed in Metz during the construction of the citadel (1552-1562). He may have stayed on with Henry I through the Battle of Saint-Denis in 1567, Jarnac, and Moncontour in 1569, where he may have met Henry II, then the Duke of Anjou. The tensions between Henri II and Guise didn't really start until after the Edict of Beaulieu and the formation of the Catholic league.
  2. He may have stayed in Italy, perhaps working with Pius IV, the brother of the the Marquis de Marignano, on plans for fortifying Bologna (a project first envisioned by Antanio da Sangallo the Younger in the 1520s). The pope charged his cousin, Gabrio Serbelloni, to review the fortifications throughout the Papal State. In December 1561, Serbelloni ordered a repairs of the medieval walls, the construction of two bastions, and the installation of earthworks. The work was entrusted to a papal captain, Giovan Giorgio Lampugnani and Scipione Dattari, the chief municipal engineer, was named architect. The Bolognese resisted. In 1563 or 1564 the military architect Francesco Laparelli noted that the earth works had been completed but the city remained very weak. The Bolognese called in their own military expert: Plinio Tomacelli, a native of Bologna who had advised both Gian Andrea Doria and Philip II of Spain. He wrote a discourse that refuted the need for fortifications noting that Bologna had walls to defend against skirmishers and would have sufficient time and resources to prepare additional defenses in the even of a full scale attack. His discourse stresses the importance of loyal citizenry and demonstrates Machiavellian leanings. With the death of Piux in December of 1565, construction stopped. (see Tuttle, Richard J. (1982). Against fortifications: The defense of Renaissance Bologna. The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. 41.2: 189-201)
  3. Perhaps he journeyed to the "cockpit" of fortifications: the Spanish Netherlands. His book certainly pays a great deal of attention to pumps for dewatering foundations and marshes. I'm just not sure how he would have gotten there. Perhaps with Phillip II after the abdication of Charles V.
  4. Turin is another possibility. Francesco Pacciotto began working on the citadel in 1564 on the orders of Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy. Pacciotto also constructed the citadel of Antwerp in 1567. Perhaps he is the lowland connection. This approach may also explain how Ramelli transitioned from the employ of the Medicis and the Roman Empire to that of the French king. There is other evidence for his presence in Turin such as the presence of an unpublished manuscript copy of another work in the hand of Ramelli.
I need to bone up on my knowledge of Siena, Bologna, and the Dutch Revolution. But we'll get there.