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  • The Invented World of Mariano Taccola:Revisiting a Once-Famous Artist-Engineer of 15th-Century Italy
  • Lawrence Fane, (sculptor) (bio)

The Sienese artist-engineer Mariano Taccola left behind five books of annotated drawings, presently in the collections of the state libraries of Florence and Munich. Taccola was well known in Siena, and his drawings were studied and copied by artists of the period, probably serving as models for Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks. However, his work has received little attention from scholars and students in recent times. The author, a sculptor, has long been interested in Taccola's drawings for his studio projects. Although Taccola lacked the fine drawing hand displayed by many of his contemporaries, his inventive work may appeal especially to viewers today. Based on examination of the original drawings, the author discusses the qualities that make Taccola's drawings unique and considers what Taccola's intentions may have been in making them.

The name Mariano Taccola (1382-ca. 1453) means little to most students of the Renaissance or to the general public, and yet he was a prominent figure in Siena in the 15th century, leaving behind hundreds of extraordinary drawings of machines, war implements and other inventions, set in fascinating environments with figures and animals. Taccola, who called himself "the Sienese Archimedes," was primarily known as an engineer. His drawings, which he carefully organized in bound notebooks, were studied by contemporary artists, copied by followers and distributed to military leaders and statesmen throughout Europe. These pages were probably known to Leonardo da Vinci, who was born around the year of Taccola's death, and possibly served as models for

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Fig. 1.

(a) Taccola, CLM 28,800, folio 60v; (b) Taccola, CLM 28,800 folio 61r, black ink turned brown, on paper. (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich)

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Fig. 2.

Taccola, CLM 28,800, folio 76v, black ink turned brown, on paper. (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich)

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Fig. 3.

Francesco di Giorgio, water purifier, Ms. Ashburnham 361, folio 24r, ink on paper with color washes. (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence; with permission of the Ministry of Culture.)

Leonardo's own notebooks. But Taccola's drawings vanished from sight and general interest soon after his death, and it was not until 1972 that a major biography of him was published [1].

I am a sculptor and for many years have been fascinated by Taccola's drawings, sometimes copying them and often using them as sources for my own projects. This essay is not a study of Mariano Taccola so much as an appreciation and is based on my examination of his original drawings as well as facsimile reproductions.

I am continually surprised at how few artists and art historians with whom I have spoken are familiar with Taccola. Yet they are invariably intrigued when they first see reproductions of his drawings [2]. The only recent books I have found that include reproductions of Taccola's drawings deal primarily with better-known figures: The Writings and Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci by Robert Zwijnenberg, the exhibition catalog Mechanical Marvels: Inventions in the Age of Leonardo, the catalog Prima di Leonardo from an exhibition in Siena, a book dealing with Giotto and geometry, and a recent study of Brunelleschi's Dome in Florence [3]. When discussed, Taccola's drawings are given historical importance but are rarely viewed as artistic accomplishments. And yet these drawings appeal to our contemporary taste in a way that they would not have some years ago. In addition to introducing Taccola's drawings to those unfamiliar with them, one of my purposes here is to study how our reading of these works can reveal something about why we respond as we do to certain kinds of imagery. These folios bring up questions about the function of drawings, how they communicate their information, the place of Renaissance perspective in drawing, the "power of will" that can overcome an artist's weakness in traditional drawing skills and the diverse readings of artworks by people of different times and cultures. Also, since Taccola's drawings were copied by his contemporaries...


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