Florence – Lasting Innovation Beyond Art
Aug 8, 2017 News Archive
This past month, while touring Tuscany with my family, I was surprised when I suddenly realized that Florence Italy had much more to offer than just great art and architecture. Somehow, I had forgotten that Leonardo Da Vinci did not just paint the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, but he developed plans for tanks, helicopters and many other engineering marvels that were well ahead of his time. Similarly, I had placed Galileo Galilei in too-narrow a segment of influence, relegating him to his most famous accomplishment – the telescope and confirmation of Copernicus’ theory that the earth revolves around the sun. In fact, Galileo’s work and influence in physics is comparable to Newton’s.
As indicated in his name, Leonardo was born in Vinci, a small town west of Florence and only a few miles from where we actually stayed while in Tuscany, in Cerreto Guidi, Toscana, Italy (see Figure below). Galileo was born in Pisa.
Not only that, but these two men bracketed four other major Italian icons that have greatly influenced the world we live in, namely Michelangelo, Machiavelli (both born in Tuscany), and Christopher Columbus (born in Genoa) and Amerigo Vespucci (after whom the American continent is named).
While at the da Vinci museum in Florence, and always looking for things that relate to the work we do, I was pleased to see that Leonardo worked on rack/pinion systems. The pictures below are from the Leonardo da Vinci museum – some of them taken by me and others from the museum’s website. The pictures show some of the artifacts in the museum. Some of these artifacts I had seen when the Houston Museum of Science had the traveling exhibition, but being there was quite different! I even had a picture of the road sign pointing to Vinci taken as we were driving by it. The Galileo museum has a free App. One of the things I liked most from the Galileo museum was a machine (and describing video) of a mechanical paradox, in which a rolling object “appears” to be moving upwards when let go.
While I could write a lot more about these men and Tuscany, I am simply going to say that this is one of the reasons I enjoy traveling to distant places so much – many times you find what you are looking for, other times you find things you never expected; and still other times you are simply reminded of things you once knew and had not had time to reflect upon in a while. I leave you with super short bios from these incredible Italian men of the 15th and 16th centuries (taken from Wikipedia). One thing that immediately jumps at me is the fact they contributed to so many areas (as true Renaissance men). If, like me, it’s been a while since you reflected on their contributions, I encourage you to explore their works in more detail. I also encourage you to tell me about it, as I am curious to hear what you think about all this.
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci; (15 April 1452 – 2 May 1519), more commonly Leonardo da Vinci or simply Leonardo, was an Italian Renaissance polymath whose areas of interest included invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography. He has been variously called the father of palaeontology, ichnology, and architecture, and is widely considered one of the greatest painters of all time. Sometimes credited with the inventions of the parachute, helicopter and tank, he epitomised the Renaissance humanist ideal.
Amerigo Vespucci; (March 9, 1454 – February 22, 1512) was an Italian explorer, financier, navigator and cartographer who first demonstrated that Brazil and the West Indies did not represent Asia’s eastern outskirts as initially conjectured from Columbus’ voyages, but instead constituted an entirely separate landmass hitherto unknown to Old Worlders.
Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli; (3 May 1469 – 21 June 1527) was an Italian Renaissance historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist, and writer. He has often been called the founder of modern political science.3 He was for many years a senior official in the Florentine Republic, with responsibilities in diplomatic and military affairs. He also wrote comedies, carnival songs, and poetry. His personal correspondence is renowned in the Italian language. He was secretary to the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence from 1498 to 1512, when the Medici were out of power. He wrote his most renowned work The Prince (Il Principe) in 1513.
Christopher Columbus; (c.?1451 – 20 May 1506) was an Italian explorer, navigator, and colonizer. Born in the Republic of Genoa, under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain he completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean. Those voyages and his efforts to establish settlements on the island of Hispaniola initiated the permanent European colonization of the New World.
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni; (6 March 1475 – 18 February 1564) was a Florentine sculptor, painter, architect, and poet of the High Renaissance who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art. Considered to be the greatest living artist during his lifetime, he has since been described as one of the greatest artists of all time.  Despite making few forays beyond the arts, his versatility in the disciplines he took up was of such a high order that he is often considered a contender for the title of the archetypal Renaissance man, along with his rival and fellow Florentine Medici client, Leonardo da Vinci.
Galileo Galilei; (15 February 1564 – 8 January 1642) was an Italian polymath: astronomer, physicist, engineer, philosopher, and mathematician…
Galileo’s championing of heliocentrism and Copernicanism was controversial during his lifetime, when most subscribed to either geocentrism or the Tychonic system …
He was tried by the Inquisition, found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, and forced to recant. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest. While under house arrest, he wrote one of his best-known works, Two New Sciences, in which he summarized work he had done some forty years earlier on the two sciences now called kinematics and strength of materials.
He has been called the “father of observational astronomy”, the “father of modern physics”, the “father of scientific method”, and the “father of science.”