Picturing Machines 1400–1700

From Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology

Picturing Machines 1400–1700

Edited by Wolfgang Lefèvre

How technical drawings shaped early engineering practice.





How technical drawings shaped early engineering practice.

Technical drawings by the architects and engineers of the Renaissance made use of a range of new methods of graphic representation. These drawings—among them Leonardo da Vinci's famous drawings of mechanical devices—have long been studied for their aesthetic qualities and technological ingenuity, but their significance for the architects and engineers themselves is seldom considered. The essays in Picturing Machines 1400–1700 take this alternate perspective and look at how drawing shaped the practice of early modern engineering. They do so through detailed investigations of specific images, looking at over 100 that range from sketches to perspective views to thoroughly constructed projections.

In early modern engineering practice, drawings were not merely visualizations of ideas but acted as models that shaped ideas. Picturing Machines establishes basic categories for the origins, purposes, functions, and contexts of early modern engineering illustrations, then treats a series of topics that not only focus on the way drawings became an indispensable means of engineering but also reflect the main stages in their historical development. The authors examine the social interaction conveyed by early machine images and their function as communication between practitioners; the knowledge either conveyed or presupposed by technical drawings, as seen in those of Giorgio Martini and Leonardo; drawings that required familiarity with geometry or geometric optics, including the development of architectural plans; and technical illustrations that bridged the gap between practical and theoretical mechanics.


$45.00 X ISBN: 9780262122696 354 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 129 illus.


Wolfgang Lefèvre

Wolfgang Lefèvre is Senior Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. He is the author or editor of several other books.


  • Lefèvre has orchestrated a rich collection of work by a stellar cast of Renaissance scholars, and the result is a superb volume in the tradition of Michael Baxandall's Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy. These studies explore the invention of pictorial language, as well as the bodies of technical practice that permitted technical drawings to function as mediators between practical engineering, design work, and theoretical knowledge for patrons and professional engineers alike. A brilliant book!

    Tim Lenoir

    Kimberly Jenkins Chair for New Technologies in Society, Duke University

  • This excellent set of case studies offers many rewards. Erudite and skillful specialists, both American and European, show in rich detail how drawings of machines were made and used in early modern Europe. They illuminate the formal development of geometries of representation, the social relations between engineers, artisans, and patrons, and a wide range of other topics. Every essay rests on a deep foundation of drawings, lavishly reproduced and precisely analyzed. Historians of art, of architecture, and of Renaissance court and urban culture, as well as specialists on the history of science and technology, will find this volume indispensable.

    Anthony Grafton

    Henry Putnam University Professor of History, Princeton University