Galluzzi’s lavishly illustrated The Italian Renaissance of Machines lacks a full-fledged introduction and contains no conclusion. Hence, it lacks an overarching framework that explains how the three chapters that compose virtually all of it fit together to form a unifying theme. To be sure, Galluzzi offers certain comprehensive arguments in the brief preface: “From the first decades of the fourteenth century, Italy was the stage of a revival of interest in technical issues, of original discussions on the very concept of machine, and of the development of new graphic conventions for effectively representing its structure, components, and functions” (vii). As he also observes, “The most original contribution of these new authors was indeed the systematic recourse to images and the prominent role assigned to them” (ix). As a result, “these works displayed a new dimension of the very concept of ‘text,’ as verbal descriptions now engaged in a constructive dialogue with a vast apparatus of evocative visual representation” (ix).
The book manifestly unfolds chronologically as it traces the interactions of text and image throughout roughly 250 years—from the fifteenth-century works of the Sienese artist-engineers, such as Taccola, to the sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century works produced by the commentators on Vitruvius’ De architectura, various authors of the theaters of machines, and mathematicians of the new science, such as Galileo. In his preface, Gallucci states his intention to link the rise in stature of the “artist-engineer,” as he entered the “literary scene” and acquired distinction and “social prestige,” with humanism as a cultural and educational program (x). Yet all in all, the compact preface cannot adequately bear the burden of unifying the entire book, as learned, informative, and elegantly designed as that book is.
Thus, The Italian Renaissance of Machines reads like a series of connected but not yet completely integrated scholarly essays centered on a set of common critical concerns (they grew out of Galluzzi’s 2014 Berenson Lectures at Villa I Tatti). That said, it does tell an important story about the rise and decline of the cognitive function of the image in texts devoted to machines in the long Italian Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci’s manuscripts function as the innovative intellectual and artistic climax. To oversimplify matters dramatically, before and after Leonardo, images largely served to clarify and/or elaborate an idea explicated in a text. If not completely subservient to such text, as mere illustrations, they tended not to occupy a separate conceptual plane, even though they could sometimes be speculative, fanciful, or even innovative. Leonardo’s images instead functioned as entirely separate ways of working out ideas. They were not just part of the process of contemplating a mechanized nature—from actual machines to the human body conceived as an intelligible one—but absolutely essential to it.
In other words, Leonardo’s drawings represented an independent mode of thinking—the art of disegno—distinct from writing, at once exploratory, generative, material, and experiential. Leonardo produced many of them rapidly, as if jotting down ideas rapid fire, much as an inspired writer dashes down ideas on paper. Word and image exist in Leonardo’s manuscripts in dialectical tension, each bumping against its limits as a mode of representation and inquiry while complementing the other. By the time of Galileo, the language of mathematics, not the language of drawing, had begun to underpin exploration and cognition. Machine images, however, had by no means become superfluous; they were still purposive, though no longer serving the same probing, cognitive function. Rhetorically speaking, they became more stripped down, purged of the sometimes obscuring colors of elocutio to showcase instead what’s essentially at stake in an inventio itself—“geometry,” say, or “the universal principles of mechanics” (x).
Other stories weave through Galluzzi’s compelling and erudite book. The text offers much to ponder, and the beautifully reproduced images much to admire. The book is well worth exploring again and again.