From the 6th of September 2013 until the 6th of January 2014 “Da Vinci – The Genius“, the most comprehensive exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) to tour the world, is open for public in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, at Post Rotterdam. This exhibition brings to life the genius of Leonardo as an inventor, artist, scientist, anatomist, engineer, architect, sculptor and philosopher. Working from Leonardo’s codices, Italian artisans have faithfully crafted interactive and life-size machine inventions. These works include the first concepts of a car, bicycle, helicopter, glider, parachute, SCUBA, submarine, military tank and ideal city to name a few. In this blog I will focus on the military technology introduced by Leonardo da Vinci.
Carro Armato (Tank)
Leonardo designed a huge offensive weapon: An armored vehicle capable of moving in any direction and bristling with cannons on all sides. One soldier sat in the turret to give directions. To move it, eight men inside the tank turned cranks attached to trundle wheels which were in turn attached to the four large wheels. In Leonardo’s drawing, the wheels were geared to turn in opposite directions. And who was to load and fire the cannons? The concept of an armored covered vehicle backed up by foot soldiers came to fruition during World War I.
Cannone a Vapore (Steam Cannon)
This machine was designed to harness steam power so as to project missiles from a cannon. No gunpowder was required. The copper cannon, on wheels, could easily be moved over the battlefield. Once in place, the breech of the cannon is heated to a high temperature, water is poured into it, and the resulting steam pressure forces the cannonball out of the barrel. There would have been a loud explosion with great clouds of smoke. Leonardo copied this idea from the Greek mathematician Archimedes.
Mitragliatrice a Ventaglio (Multi-Directional Gun Machine)
Leonardo also drew a machine with cannons arranged in the shape of a fan. It could fire single shots or simultaneous rounds of fire. The machine, on wheels, could be easily moved so that the cannons were facing the direction of the enemy. The crank at the back could be adjusted to alter the height and trajectory of the missiles but this machine would have been difficult to reload in the middle of a battle.
Mitragliatrice a Tre Registri (Three-Registered Gun Machine)
Leonardo wanted to increase the rate of fire of weapons so he designed this multi-barreled gun machine which is perhaps the forerunner of the modern machine gun. This machine had thirty barrels, in three racks on a revolving framework. As soon as the top row of ten cannons had been fired the next row was loaded. At the same time a third rack was cooling off.
The wonderful drawing of a horrible machine demonstrates Leonardo’s artistic and technical abilities. It was a presentation piece, drawn for a potential patron in the hope of attracting ongoing financial support. In the drawing, Leonardo detailed the parabolic path the shells followed after they were fired, and how they exploded as they hit the ground. The heavy cannons were mounted on strong wooden platforms. The angle of fire could be regulated by a wheel moved by a worm screw that was in turn moved by a jack.
This is just a small selection of the objects on display, definitely worth checking out the works of Leonardo da Vinci. See this link for more info.