On Friday, April 10 students in JINS 394 Biography: Leonardo will be building a bridge on the Quad according to a design by the Italian Renaissance creator extraordinaire, Leonardo da Vinci. Construction will begin at 10:30 a.m. and should be finished by the end of the 10:30 a.m. class block (so by 11:20 a.m.). The project has been overseen and directed by engineer Mr. Tim Baker (Physical Plant), with some materials donated by Mr. Baker but also funded by Dr. Scott Alberts (Office of Interdisciplinary Studies). Please come join us to watch the bridge being put together!
The design was proposed by Leonardo in an undated drawing which appears above. In the drawing, Leonardo envisioned a bridge which could be put together very quickly using readily available materials (in this case tree trunks) and which could be disassembled just as rapidly. Although the version on the Quad will have some bolts and other reinforcements for safety purposes, Leonardo’s design holds together and supports significant weight without the use of any nails, bolts, or other fasteners; it uses only the notches in the logs and the bridge’s own structure.
Leonardo likely had a variety of applications in mind for this design although it would have been particularly attractive for military uses (other drawings on the sheet relate to cannons). An advancing army could use trees found on site, put the bridge together in a matter of minutes, and then–once used–could pull on strategically placed ropes and the bridge would come apart. The components could then either be taken along or allowed to fall into a river or ravine below and swept away. For more on Leonardo’s mobile bridge designs, please see this National Endowment for the Humanities essay by Leslie Geddes: http://faculty.virginia.edu/Fiorani/NEH-Institute/essays/geddes
The drawing is one of 1,119 sheets found in the Codex Atlanticus in Milan. This massive collection of miscellaneous drawings was assembled in the late sixteenth century, long after Leonardo’s death. As a result, we do not have a good sense of the specific date of the drawing and so cannot speculate here about any specific patron or military campaign which he might have had in mind. For more on the Codex Atlanticus, please visit: http://www.leonardo-ambrosiana.it/en/il-codice-atlantico/ or, to page through the entire codex, please visit: http://www.leonardodigitale.com/
The bridge should be up for two weeks, so until Friday, April 24 so we hope you’ll stop by to see it!
FOR SAFETY’S SAKE, PLEASE DO NOT CLIMB ON THE BRIDGE! Touch with your eyes – not your hands