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He was also distinguished as a military engineer. Indeed, if we may judge from his letter to Lodovico Sforza (see p. 144), it was in that department that he himself believed that he chiefly excelled.
Before we can arrive at trustworthy conclusions upon this side of his activity, we must, I think, determine with some exactness what his attitude towards the antique tradition really was.
Here, as in artistic matters, he took from the Greeks and Romans a great deal more than is usually supposed. His hero was Archimedes, whose biography he may have read in Plutarch's Lives. Like the famous Syracusan, he flattered himself he could rout the enemy by the aid of his miraculous machines. But while Archimedes long held the Roman armies in check with inventions which, after all, he only put forward as more or less playful experiments in geometry, Leonardo never, so far as we know, succeeded in applying any of the apparently redoubtable contrivances of which he speaks.
A long series of drawings acquaints us with the more or less chimerical contrivances of Da Vinci. Sometimes he shows us horses armed with lances, at others chariots with hooks and scythes upon their wheels.2 Here we see a sort of flying defence, a kind of screen, intended to shelter archers (M. Valton's collection and others), there, new sorts of battering rams, balistas, and catapultas.
The uselessness of most of these engines cannot be better indicated than by metioning that Leonardo generally puts bows into the hands of his soldiers, just as though firearms had not long been discovered. 3
1 In one of his notes he writes down the names of the famous engineers of antiquity : Callias of Rhodes, Epimachus of Athens, Demetrius Poliorcetes, Callimachus the architect, Diogenes the philosopher of Rhodes, Calcedonius the Thracian, Febar of Tyre (Richter, vol. ii. p. 422). As for Archimedes, his name crops up continually. The inventions of Leonardo have, in fact, a curious parallel in those of Archimedes during the siege of Syracuse. But just as the genius of Marcellus was too much for the ingenuity of Archimedes, so would the guns of Louis XII. have made short work of Leonardo's machines, had they ever come into action. See Plutarch's life of Marcellus.
2 Windsor, Grosvenor Gallery series, no. 51.–British Museum.-Library of the Institut de France.—Turin, Royal Library, no. 10.--Demetrius and Mithridates, to go no further back, employed chariots armed with scythes (see Plutarch's lives of Demetrius and of Sylla). Cf. Müller-Walde, p. 204-210.
3 Maindron, Les Armes, p. 207.--In the army led into Italy in 1494 by Charles VIII., musketeers marched beside the archers, cross bowmen, and Swiss pikemen. (Fr. Delaborde, L'Expédition de Charles VIII. en Italie, p. 459.)
FOWLER RELEASING A BIRD AN EMBLEM
OF SHORT-LIVED LIBERTY.
(Library of the Institut de France.)
Elsewhere he proposes to asphyxiate besiegers with the smoke of feathers, sulphur, and di-sulphide of arsenic.1
With ideas like these, it was only natural that he should turn his attention to the composition of Greek fire, “fuoco greco," for which he gives the receipt in the most simple good faith.2
If Lodovico Sforza's artist did even more for him than he promised, his engineer did a great deal less. He nursed, indeed, the most curious delusions. When we compare his promises
with the results he produced, it is difficult (Library of the Institut de France.) to avoid being irritated by his optimism,
not to say his extravagant self-confidence. He calmly proposed to the Milanese ruler as practical and well-tested methods what were, in fact, nothing more than experiments in a laboratory. Projects on paper, which would not have stood the test of experiment for a single moment, were recommended as if they were tried and infallible processes. Otherwise, Lodovico would have been invincible; if Leonardo had been able to fulfil his promises, the armies of Charles VIII. and Louis XII. would have been routed at the first discharge. It cannot be said that Da Vinci had no chance of using his amazing inventions. The wars waged by his two patrons, Lodovico il Moro and Cæsar Borgia, gave him plenty of opportunities. The truth is that he dwelt in an atmosphere of pure speculation, and felt no real interest in material results.
With such a man as Leonardo, however, we must not rest too long under the influence of such unfavourable ideas as
(Library of the Institut de France.) these. He was one of the first to re
SKETCH FROM ONE OF LEONARDO's
1 Ravaisson-Mollien, Les Manuscrits, vol. ii. fol. 63, verso. Cf. fol. 69, verso ; 72.
2 Richter, vol. ii. p. 280-281.—Beltrami, Il Codice di Leonardo da Vinci, fol. 43. Cf. p. 306.
commend the use of mines for the destruction of fortifications. He anticipated the inventors of our own time in suggesting breech-loading guns, and mitrailleuses with many barrels, fixed or movable (Codex Atlanticus). According to information I have received from M. Henry de Geymüller, certain engines of this nature are to be found in many collections of arms, among others in that of Venice.
No doubt his advice on the construction of flying bridges also contains many valuable suggestions.2
Leonardo seems to have put his pencil at the service of fencingmasters, among other people. Lomazzo tells us that he drew for Gentile dei Borri the different positions of a horseman fighting with a man on foot, and showed “how a man on foot may attack a horseman,
(Library of the Institut de France.) or defend himself against one, taking account of the difference in their arms. It is a great pity,” Lomazzo goes on to say, “that this work has not been given to the public; it would have added glory to that wonderful art." 3
1 Müller-Walde, in his Leonardo da Vinci, gives an ample dissertation on the firearms invented or improved by the master (pp. 184-197, 211, et seq.).
2 Müller-Walde, p. 165-170.
3 In a drawing published by Gerli (pl. vii.), a horseman armed with a lance charges a foot soldier, who defends himself with a lance-shield, shaped like an umbrella. This is Lomazzo's commentary : "Ma ritornando ai professori delle armi, eccellente appresso ai
In the matter of hydraulics, Leonardo has hitherto passed for the inventor of many practical innovations, and also of a vast number of mere projects, the credit for which must be withdrawn from him in view of recent researches, especially those of Beltrami.
Take, for instance, his innovations in the making of locks.
According to Fumagalli, Leonardo invented the sluices contrived in lock gates, and substituted the sliding sash system of fixing them, for the vertical double doors on hinges. In short, he refers the whole modern system of working locks to Leonardo.
The truth is that the system of having practicable sluices in the gates of locks was made use of before the time of Leonardo. In 1481 the Venetians had constructed a lock on this system on the Piovego ; while Filippo Maria Visconti had caused one to be made as early as 1440: “Meditatus est et aquæ rivum, per quem ab Abbiate Viglevanum usque sursum veheretur, aquis altiora scandentibus machinarum arte, quas conchas appellant. ....” “It is obvious,” adds Venturi, “that the historian looked upon it as a common and well-known contrivance which had already received a name of its own.” In the Trattato d'Archittetura, compiled in 1450 at the very latest, L. B. Alberti describes the whole system in all its details. It is even possible that locks on this system were known as early as the fourteenth century.
Let us now turn to Leonardo's canals. Vasari declares that Leonardo, while still a youth,2 elaborated a scheme for a navigable canal between Florence and Pisa. He did not propose to embank and dredge the Arno, as Viviani did later, but to dig a separate canal, which should start from the Arno and traverse the districts of Prato, Pistoia,
nominati fu Gentile dei Borri, al quale Leonardo Vinci designo tutti gli uomini a cavallo, in qual modo potevano l'uno dallo altro defendersi con uno a piedi, ed ancora quelli che erano a piedi come si potevano l'uno e l'altro defendere ed offendere per cagioni delle diverse armi. La qual opera è stato veramente grandissimo danno che non sia stata data in luce per ornamento di questa stupendissima arte.” (Trattato, lib. vi. cap. xl.) The designs are believed to be those in the Trattato di Scienzia d'arme of the Milanese, Camillo Aggrippa (1553). (Amoretti, pp. 129-130.)
i Beltrami says that the famous architect and engineer of Siena, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, had described the system of coupled basins as early as 1447. But this date is clearly wrong, as Francesco was only born in 1439.
2 According to Milanesi, this scheme dates from the year 1500. (Vasari, vol. iv., p. 89.)