Martini, Francesco Di Giorgio

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also known as Francesco di Siena (b. Siena, Italy, 1439; d. Siena, November 1501),

architecture, sculpture, painting, technology.

Little is known of Francesco’s early life. He was apparently born to humble and trained as a painter, probably in Siena. He married twice, in 1467 and 1469. A document of the latter year shows that he, together with a certain Paolo d’Andrea, received a commission from the municipal authorities of Siena to improve the water supply system of that city. From this period of his career until his death it is possible to trace his activities with some facility; until 1477, when he entered the service of Federigo Francesco as “dipintore,”a painter.

In Urbino, Francesco participated not only in the decoration but also in the architectural design of the great ducal palace that Federigo was building. At a somewhat later date he became the duke’s chief military engineer; he accompanied Federigo on his campaigns and was responsible for the artillery, as well as for the manufacture of gunpowder. He also built a large number of fortresses for the duke.

In 1479 Francesco went to southern Italy as artist and military engineer to Ferdinand I, king of Naples. He returned to Urbino in 1481, and remained there for some time after the death of Federigo in 1482. A number of documents suggest that he was concurrently in the employ of Sienese officials, however, and by 1485 he was again working primarily in Siena, as artist and city engineer. During this time he made frequent trips to other parts of Italy in the service of various rulers. In 1486 Francesco returned Urbino; his skills had made him so famous that governments competed for his services.

Francesco went to Milan in 1490 at the request of Gian Galeazzo Sforza. He submitted a proposal for the completion of Milan’s cathedral, which lacked its dome; his project was accepted for execution by local workmen. In the same year Francesco met Leonardo da Vinci (although they may have had some previous contact); in June the two men were at Pavia, inspecting the construction of the cathedral there. In 1490, too, Francesco may have been asked to submit a design for the facade of the cathedral of Florence.

Francesco was summoned to Naples by Alfonso, duke of Calabria (and king of Naples in 1494–1495), on three separate occasions in 1491,1492, and 1495, respectively. On his last mission for Alfonso, Francesco used gunpowder to undermine and destroy the fortress of Castelnuovo, which was held by the forces of the invading French king, Charles VIII. Although earlier writers, among them Taccola, had discussed this technique, Francesco seems to have been the first to succeed with it. In 1499 Francesco returned to Urbino to advise on fortifications intended to stem the advance of Cesare Borgia’s forces. He continued to be active as both an artist—he probably resumed painting in his later years—and an engineer until the time of his death.

Francesco’s reputation lay in his work as a painter, sculptor, and architect, until the discovery that a number of important writings on technology,circulated anonymously, were in fact his. These treatises and notes mirror the full range of Francesco’s concerns—among their subjects are civil and military engineering, surveying, hydraulic engineering, both offensive and defensive war machinery, mechanical technology (especially millworks, devices for raising water, and cranes), studies on proportion, and notes and relief drawings of Roman monuments (which he observed in the course of his travels). In all of these writings the influence of Vitruvius is clear. (Indeed,an autograph draft of Francesco’s translation of Vitruvius’ treatise is itself preserved in Florence.) Francesco’s importance to the history of technology lies in these works, which were widely influential among his contemporaries and successors, although they were not printed under his name until the middle of the nineteenth century.

Although certain of Francesco’s mechanical projects were borrowed from earlier authors (especially Taccola), they gain significance from the artistic and technological superiority of his rendering. His method of illustration was itself influential. One of his particular One of his particular techniques, that of confining the machine illustrated within a frame, may be taken as an index to the extent of his authority in books on machinery in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Many manuscript technical and military collectanea of this epoch also bear his mark, including those of Leonardo, whose inventory of books (Codex Madrid II)contains the entry “Francesco da Siena.” Francesco’s ideas appeared, without credit, in the later works of such composers of “Theaters of Machines”as Jocob de Strada, Vittorio Zonca, and Agostino Ramelli, as well as the somewhat later authors G. A. Böckler and Heinrich Zeising. The technology that Francesco represented even found its way, at quite and early date, to the Far East; the Ch’i Ch’i T’u Shuo (“Diagrams and Explanation of Wonderful Machines”), published in 1627 by the Jesuit missionary Johann Schreck and Wang Cheng, includes several devices that clearly derive form Francesco’ work.

From such later books Francesco’s ideas passed into the works of eighteenth-century, writers, for example, Jacob Leupold and Stephan Switzer, and even into mechanical handbooks of the early nineteenth century. Some of the basic mechanisms described by J. A. Borgnis in his Traité complet de mécanique appliquée of 1818–1823, for example, are still very similar to Francesco’s prototypes. Even when the machines that Francesco described became obsolete, his renderings of them lingered as technological symbols, and as such they may be seen in the form of colophons of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century technical works.

Francesco’s practical work as a military engineer was equally influential. Among his innovations was the system of fortification by bastions and curtains that replaced the medieval concept of the turreted castle. The final development of this phase of his work appeared in the great French fortresses designed by Vauban for Louis XIV.


I. Original Works. Francesco’s writings are preserved in six MSS:

1. Taccuino Vaticano, Vatican Library, Rome, Urb. Lat. 1757, an autograph pocket encyclopedia, on vellum, with sketches of a great number of mechanical contrivances. The first entry is dated 1472; others are spread out over many years. Marginal notes in the hand of Leonardo da Vinci.

2. British Museum Codex, British Museum, London, 24.949, a series of drawings of machines, on vellum, dedicated to Federigo da Montefeltro, datable between 1474 and 1482. An excellent copy is Biblioteca Reale, Turin, Ser. Mil. 383.

3. Codex Laurenziano Ashburnhamiano, Laurentian Library, Florence, 361, datable ca. 1480, probably the first version of the Treatise on Architecture with marginal illustrations.

4. Codex Saluzziano, Biblioteca Reale, Turin, 148, datable ca. 1485, a version of the immediately preceding, although lacking several chapters. Apparently a copy by a professional scribe, although the marginal illustrations may be in Francesco’s own hand.

5. Trattato d’architettural civile e militare Biblioteca Comunale, Siena, S.IV.4, datable ca. 1490, a copy on paper of a lost orginal.

6. Codex Magliabechiano, National Library, Florence, II.I. 141, datable ca. 1492, an expanded and integrated version of the Siena manuscript above. Besides the beautifully illustrated text of the Trattato, it contains the auto-grapy translation of Vitruvius and a collection of drawings of was machines and fortifications.

Editions of Francesco’s work are Carlo Promis, ed., Trattato di architettura civile e militare,2 vols. and atlas (Turin, 1841); and, more useful, Corrado Maltese, ed., Trattati di architettura ingegniera e arte militare,2 vols. (Milan, 1967), which includes complete annotated transcriptions of the Turin, Siena, and Florence MSS, an index of variants and concordances, and reproductions of all illustrated pages.

II. Secondary Literature, On Francesco and his work see Selwyn Brinton, Francesco di Giorgio of Siena,2 vols. (London, 1934–1935); P. Fontana, “I codici di Francesco di Giorgio Martini e di Mariano di Jacomo detto il Taccola,” in Actes du XIVeCongrès International d’histoire de l’art,(Brussels, 1936), P. 102, which discusses the influence of Taccola on Francesco; G. Mancini,Giorgio Vasari: Vite cinque annotate (Florence, 1917); Roberto Papini, Francesco di Giorgio architetto, 3 vols. (Florence, 1946), a superb graphic presentation, but marred by polemics and unwarranted attributions; A. E. Popham and P. Pouncey, Italian Drawings in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum: the XIVth and XVth Centuries (London, 1950), which gives an accurate description of the British Museum codex; Ladislao Reti, “Francesco di Giorgio Martini’s Treatise on Engineering and its Plagiarists,” in Technology and Culture, 4 , no. 3 (1963), 287–298, on the transmission of Francesco’s technological Drawings; E. Rostagno and T. Lodi, Indici e cataloghi VIII. I codici Ashburnhamiani della Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziann,I (Rome, 1948), 468–474, a study of the early versions of the Trattato;Mario Salmi,Disegni di Francesco di Giorgio nella Collezione Chigi Saracini (Siena, 1947); Luigi Michelini Tocci, “Disegni e appunti autografi di Francesco di Giorgio in un codice del Taccola,” in Scritti di storia dell arte in onare di Mario Salmi, II(Rome,1962), 202–212, which is concerned with Taccla’s influence on Francesco; and Allen Stuart Weller, Francesco di Giorgio 1439–1501 (Chicago, 1943), the best available biography of Francesco, with a bibliography complete up to 1942.

Ladislao Reti

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Martini, Francesco Di Giorgio

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