Verantius, Faustus (also known as Fausto Vrancic or Veranzio)

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(b. Šibenik, Dalmatia, 1551; d. Venice, Italy, 20 january 1617),


Son of Michael Vrančić, a diplomat and port, and of Catherine Dobroević, Verantius came from a noble Croatian family; its members, aristocracy of the city of Šibenik, were related to several Church dignitaries and to a viceroy of Croatia. His uncle, Anthony Verantius (1504–1573), was archbishop of Esztergom, primate of Hungary, cardinal, and an influential statesman. He took charge of Verantius’ education, sending him to study philosophy and law at Padua (1568–1570) and initiating him into the political intrigues of the day. Although Anthony Verantius was principally a man of letters, he was greatly interested in the art of fortification and supervised the construction of the fortress at Eger. It is possible that his uncle’s enthusiasm for technical problems influenced Verantius.

In 1579, Verantius became commander of the citadel at Veszprim. Two years later he resigned this post to accept an offer from Emperor Rudolf II to become secretary of the royal chancellory of Hungary. Thus from 1581 to 1594 Verantius was a diplomat, working at times for the emperor at Prague as well as for Archduke Ernest at Vienna. In his leisure time Verantius studied mechanics and mathematics.

In 1594 Verantius resigned his position at the Hapsburg court. From then until 1598 he lived in Dalmatia and Italy, mainly Venice, where, in 1595, he published a dictionary in five languages (Latin, Italian, German, Croatian, and Hungarian). Verantius had two children, and following the death of his wife, he took religious vows. In 1598 Rudolf II granted him the title of bishop of Csanad, an honorary office since the bishopric was then occupied by the Turks. Nevertheless, Verantius interrupted his literary and scientific work in order to accept an important political assignment, as imperial counselor for Hungarian and Transylvanian affairs. Although he was a skillful courtier and an able administrator, his career was hampered by his impetuous nature. Disappointed in his political ambitions, he left the court at Prague in 1605 and became a member of the Congregation of St. Paul, in Rome.

Verantius became friendly at Rome with Giovanni Ambrogio Mazenta, a Barnabite like himself and, from 1611, general of the Congregation of St. Paul. Very possibly it was Mazenta who interested Verantius in the construction of machines and in architectural problems. Verantius undoubtedly had an opportunity to see many of Leonardo da Vinci’s technical drawings, of which Mazenta had prepared a list about 1587. During his stay at Rome, Verantius had drawn and engraved a series of “new machines.” At his request on 9 June 1614 Louis XIII granted him a privilege for printing a “book of machines.” According to its terms, for fifteen years no one would be permitted to publish another edition; and for thirty years no French subject would be allowed, without Verantius’ permission, to “put into use . . . the said machines of his invention [which have] never been seen before.” Cosimo II de’ Medici, grand duke of Tuscany, granted Verantius an analogous privilege (June 1615) for the book “that the latter wishes to publish.”

During this period Verantius fell gravely ill; and his doctors advised him to leave Rome. He drew up his will on 12 June 1615 and decided to return to Šibenik to await his death. His efforts to publish the book on machines in France, Rome, or Florence were unsuccessful. He was so intent on carrying out his project, however, that on his way to Dalmatia he stopped at Venice, where in 1616 he published a treatise on logic (which he called “ars discendi et docendi scientias”) and, most important, a splendid folio volume entitled Machinae novae. Too ill to continue his trip, Verantius died in Venice; but in accordance with the provisions of his will, his body was taken to Šibenik and placed in the family burial vault on the isle of Prvić.

Machinae novae poses some bibliographic problems, since it is undated and the surviving copies are not identical. The work consists of a title page, forty–nine plates, and five sets of explanations of the plates. Each set has a new pagination and is written in a different language (Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, and German). Although there are atleast two different title pages and some copies do not contain explanations in five languages, it can be assumed that the work was published only once and, in particular, that all the plates are from a single printing. The publication dates of 1595, 1605, and 1617 found in the literature and in certain library catalogs must be considered erroneous. The printing of the Machinae novae was completed during the first half of 1616 (or perhaps the last two months of 1615), for in July 1616 several of Verantius’ friends thanked him for sending them the book.

Some of Verantius’ inventions are applicable to the solution of hydrological problems, for example, the project for preventing the Tiber from overflowing its banks at Rome and that of providing Venice with fresh water. Others concern the construction of clepsydras, sundials, mills, presses, and bridges and boats destined for widely different uses. Unlike Leonardo da Vinci, Verantius had no interest in machines of war; rather, he devoted himself especially to perfecting agricultural implements. He foresaw the advantages of the assembly line, and in his many designs for mills he was especially concerned with the rational use of various sources of energy. In this connection his idea of utilizing the motive force of the tides is particularly important. His devices demonstrate an intuitive grasp of the principle of the mechanical moment and of the triangle of forces. His designs for a wind turbine, a funicular railway, and a bridge suspended by iron chains represent a definite advance over contemporary techniques. Although some of Verantius’ “machines” are not wholly original or independent inventions, many of them are explained for the first time in print in Machinae novae. One example is homovolens. the first published mention of a parachute.


I. Original Works. The original ed. of Machinae novae is rare. but the work is now available in two fasc. eds., edited by F. Klemm and A. Wissner (Munich, 1965) and by U. Forti (Milan, 1968). Dictionarium quinque nobilissimarum Europae linguarum (Venice, 1595) is also available in modern editions (Bratislava, 1834; Zagreb, 1971). The treatise on logic is Logica nova suis ipsius instrumentis formata et cognita (Venice, 1616).

II. Secondary Literature. There is still no critical study of Versntius’ life, ideas, and inventions. The best sources for biographical details are the obituary by J. T. Marnavich, oratio habita in funere ill. ac rev. viri Fausti Verantij (Venice, 1617); and the study by G.Gyurikovits, “Biographia Verantii,” in Verantius’ Dictionarium pentaglottum (Bratislave, 1834), ix–xx. On his scientific and technical work, see G. Boffito, Scrittori barnabiti, IV (Florence, 1937), 148–152; H. T. Horwitz, “Ueber Fausto Veranzio und sein Werk Machinae novae,” in Archeion, 8 (1927), 169–175; V. Muljević. “Faust Vrančić kao fizičar i konstruktor,” in Hrvatsko sveučilište (Zagreb), 1 , no. 6 (1971), 13–15; and F. Savorgnan di Brazza, “Un inventore dalmata del 500: Fausto Veranzio da Sebenico,” in Archivio storico per la Dalmazia, 13 (1932), 55–73.

M. D. Grmek