Le diverse et artificiose machine belongs to a new genre that emerged in the late 16th century, the "theatre of machines," which offered original mechanical solutions to the problems of everyday life. Ramelli's book includes ingenious designs to address water management, the milling of grain, excavation, the hauling of heavy objects, the siege and defense of cities, and even the entertainment of the social elite. Each of Ramelli's nearly two hundred machines is illustrated with a full-page or double-spread engraving accompanied by detailed textual descriptions of the mechanism in both Italian and French; Ramelli, an Italian military engineer, spent the latter half of his life and career in France as ingénieur du roi (engineer to the King) in the service of Henri III and Henri IV.
The book's engraved plates reveal the machines' inner workings through clever cut-away views into their casings. In some cases, key parts and tools are re-illustrated in the foreground for greater clarity. For the most part, the images prioritize the representation of the machine, with multiple viewpoints (eye-level, elevated, worms-eye) often conflated within a single depiction to better convey the mechanisms. Nevertheless, the plate designer was also interested in the artistic value of the plates. He created interesting surface patterns and satisfying compositions with a limited repertoire of landscape elements (e.g., stumps, turf, plants, and stones) and details of setting (e.g., brick and stonework). Additionally, conspicuous ornamental details reflect the contemporary vogue for antique motifs: machines are buttressed with strapwork volutes, while wells, fountains, spigots, and pitchers are embellished with grotesques, masks, putti, garlands, animals, and hybrid monsters.
The list of technical mechanisms given for each plate is taken from The Various and Ingenious Machines of Agostino Ramelli, translated from the Italian and French with a biographical study of the author by Martha Teach Gnudi; technical annotations and a pictorial glossary by Eugene S. Ferguson; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.
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