Leonardo at the London Science Museum in 2016

LdVCertainly a must-see for me, the Science Museum in London is holding a special exhibition, Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius, from 10 February to 4 September next year. Here’s the announcement:

Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius is the internationally-acclaimed, must-see exhibition of 2016.

It’s your chance to investigate both the facts and the misconceptions that surround this great genius of the Renaissance: Was he the period’s only designer of machines? Did all of his designs get fully constructed?

Find out the answers to these questions and many others at a unique exhibition of remarkable prescience, rare beauty and astonishing creativity.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • 40 historical models of Leonardo’s inventions including flying machines, diving equipment and weapons
  • Large-scale reproductions of Leonardo’s famous drawings and sketches
  • 13 Interactive games and 10 multimedia installations
  • Modern examples of bio-inspired robotics, aviation and materials technology

You know Leonardo the artist from paintings including The Last Supper and Mona Lisa – now discover Leonardo the brilliant, insatiably curious engineer.

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“How Money and Politics Worked in 1519”

Jacob Fugger counting his money

Jakob Fugger counting his money

Nine years later than the 1510 setting, admittedly, and a few hundred miles to the north, but this intriguing — in ever sense — account from Atlas Obscura of how the German Fugger banking family tried to buy the Holy Roman Empire for what in modern terms would be around $100 million is well worth a read. Jakob Fugger “the Rich” would, I suspect, be at home with a Super-PAC, and one wonders about the scope for banking-fuelled political shenanigans in an Italy going through the immense changes of the clockpunk revolution.

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Lorenzo Neroni, Ruthless Venetian Magistrate

As this project slowly continues, every now and then I’ll gladly release a little teaser. Here is the text to accompany one of Johnny Shumate’s brilliant colour character pieces, of a potential nemesis, albeit an honourable one…

FalconeLorenzo Neroni, Ruthless Venetian Magistrate

Half secret policeman, half thief-catcher, Neroni understands the truth well, and it takes such an understanding to know how to make it dance and sing when the interests of the Venetian state demand it. As an adolescent, he watched his aristocratic family all but destroyed and his father forced to slash his wrists in appeasement, when lie after lie turned a petty infraction into a treasonous scandal. Since then, he has always rigidly told the truth, even if his brooding and mercurial intellect is well versed in the ways to shade and couch the truth to mislead. Perhaps in unconscious apology for his family, he is one of the most relentless and feared magistrates of the Venetian Inquisition, but while he will do whatever is necessary to protect the state, Neroni is also an honorable official, as willing to tackle corruption in the Grand Council as a backstreet murder. A man like that must be driven by restless inner demons and make many enemies, not that any turmoil or uncertainty makes it past his controlled exterior.

Man of the truth 7d, Perceptive investigator 7d, Ruthless 5d, Many an enemy 6d, Self-control 5d, I am an agent of the Venetian state 7d, Inner demons 6d

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‘Inside the Mind of Leonardo’

LEONARDO_FINAL_POSTERJust a quick note of this forthcoming 3D History channel film, with Peter Capaldi as Leonardo da Vinci, that explores his ideas, experiences and travails with his own words and with what looks like some very nifty animation, too. This article has a link to a short trailer. Well worth checking out.

And likewise, let me very much recommend Leonardo Among Us: What Would da Vinci Think of Our Modern World?, a fascinating graphic musing spurred by the release of this film and how his ideas might mesh or clash with today’s realities.

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Leonardo’s Viola Organista

Viola OrganistaIt wasn’t just tanks, flying machines and siege engines. Da Vinci’s inventions also ran to a strange and novel musical instrument, the viola organista, that merged harpsichord and cello to be a keyboard instrument that sounds like strings, as spinning wheels of horsehair run along the strings as the keys are played. And, as this news item notes, Polish concert pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki has built one to his design–and, as the embedded video in that piece demonstrates, it has a fascinating and rather rich sound. Ah, Leonardo: just what didn’t you dream up?

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Fighting in full armour: how it’s really done

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 11.48.55(Surfacing briefly after an extraordinarily busy year…)

Myths abound on the question of how far full armour of the kind still used in the early 16th century allowed its user to move, run and fight, and what kinds of tactics such human tanks could use, and could be used against them. This fascinating short video from the Musée National du Moyen-Âge at Cluny and the University of Geneva dispels many; I was especially struck by the way that knight-versus-knight fighting depended on finding ways to bypass the armour rather than the classic movie smash-and-bash style. Well worth a watch.

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1510: all at sea

The great naval powers of the Mediterranean are Venice and the Ottoman Empire, followed by Genoa, Naples, Spain and the pirates of the Moslem Barbary Coast and the Christian Knights of St John in Malta. Florence has never been a maritime state, but as its strength and ambitions grow, it is beginning to lay the keels for a new kind of vessel, the screwship. Powered not by wind or oars but by gears, slaves or springs driving underwater propellors, these ships promise to make other vessels obsolete, not least by offering a flat platform for naval artillery, and so Florence’s rivals are duly concerned. On the other hand, they tend to scoff at the suggestion that the rising power is also working on a sommersibile, a vessel able to travel beneath the waves…

Story Seed: The Hunt for Red Ottavio

Sub1This prototype sommersibile was named Red Ottavio after Ottaviano de’Medici, an enthusiastic young scion of that line, who appeared a fervent champion of Florence’s underwater ambitions. He appeared to have  thrown his lot–and his fortune–in with the Republic, but this now seems to be in doubt.

The Red Ottavio is a small but exquisite confection of carved wood and burnished brass, its propellor and air pumps powered by a pre-coiled springs, supplemented by a hand-crank. Crewed by a dozen stalwarts and captained by the doughty Capitano de’Marchi, it set out secretly from Marina di Pisa at dawn yesterday on its third shake-down cruise. On it was Ottaviano himself: having plowed so much of his personal fortune and energy into the project, he could hardly be refused.

It ought to have returned from at dusk. It is now the day after, and there is still no sight of it. Is it now languishing on the bottom of the Mediterranean, having sprung a leak? Did it become lost, perhaps dragged off course by an unexpected current, and is it now becalmed at sea, its springs unwound? Or was Ottaviano a traitor all along, and is the sommersibile now on its way to a foreign port, to be turned against Florentine vessels or sold to the highest bidder? And what can be done about it? Already, Florence’s small navy is sending two fast galiots out to hunt for it, and the war galley La Riga is being signaled to quarter the waters off the Tuscan coast, but what if it is headed to those pirates at Genoa? Or those murderous hypocrites in Rome? Maybe it is time some trusted people were sent up and down the coastline for any sight of this marvel, while others quietly made their way to Milan to listen for any rumors that Ottaviano was working for his kin there…?

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