Saturday, April 13, 2019

Leonardo da Vinci's Map of Imola

In the early Sixteenth Century Niccolò Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci accompanied Cesare Borgia on his rampages through the Romagna region of northern Italy. Borgia, acting in the name of his father, Pope Alexander VI, was busy capturing city after city in order to create his own northern state in Italy. Machiavelli had been sent by Florence to accompany Borgia as an emissary-cum-spy. Leonardo was there because he had been employed by Borgia as a military architect and engineer.

While working in the role of military engineer Leonardo da Vinci created the 1502 Map of Imola. Borgia had captured the city of Imola at the end of the 15th century, which he then used as a base to attack Bologna, the main city in the region. Leonardo da Vinci was given the task of mapping Imola, possibly as a plan to strengthen the city's defenses. The map that he created is now renowned as one of the first scientifically accurate maps ever created.

If you want to explore the map in detail you can view an interactive zoomable version of Leonardo's Plan of Imola at the Royal Collection Trust. You can also view an interactive version of the map at Google Arts & Culture.

Leonardo's Plan of Imola is reported to be the oldest extant ichnographic or zenith map. An icnographic map shows every location depicted as it would be seen when looking directly down from above. The accuracy of the Leonardo map is a testament to da Vinci's scientific knowledge and probably to his own inventions of accurate scientific measuring tools, including the odometer and magnetic compass.

While surveying Imola Leonardo da Vinci may well have walked the city with his own design of odometer (measuring wheel). You can view one of da Vinci's odometer designs on Google Arts and Culture. This odometer consists of a wheel, used to measure the distance on the ground, and a tray of balls. The odometer holds a tray with a number of sections, each of which contains a ball or a stone. This tray is pushed along as the odometer moves. When each box passes over a hole the ball or stone it holds falls into a drawer. The number of balls dropped into the drawer gives the distance traveled.

As well as accurately measuring the lengths of roads, walls and buildings Leornardo da Vinci would also have had to measure the angles of the streets, building walls and city fortresses. To do this he could use his own design of magnetic compass. Henry Gillete in 'Leonardo da Vinci, Pathfinder of Science' describes this compass as "a board with an arc on it and a compass needle, and was probably the first magnetic needle on a horizontal axis."

The map itself contains a form of compass rose which frames the whole map. We are accustomed to seeing a compass rose placed in one of the corners of a map. The Plan of Imola doesn't have a small compass showing the cardinal directions. Instead the circular plan is marked itself with eight lines emanating from the center of the circle. The lines marking the cardinal directions are marked in da Vinci's own hand at the outer rim with the names of the main winds.

While in the city Machiavelli and da Vinci cooked up a plan (ultimately unsuccessful) to support the ambitions of Florence by stopping the Arno river from reaching Pisa, thus depriving the city of water. After leaving Imola, Machiavelli went on to write The Prince, of which the eponymous character appears, at least partly to be based on Cesare Borgia. Borgia himself wasn't able to enjoy his conquest of northern Italy for very long. After the death of his father, the Pope, in 1503, his fortunes quickly turned and he was killed in 1507.

Leonardo da Vinci went on to accomplish much more before his death in 1519. Not least among these achievements was his painting of the Mona Lisa. The mountains in the background of this painting are the Apennine mountains which da Vinci rode through while working as military engineer for Cesare Borgia.

If you want to see how revolutionary Leonardo da Vinci's map was then you can compare it with Hanns Rüst's Mappa Mundi. This map of the world was created around 22 years before the Plan of Imola. Despite being created within a short period of time the maps belong to completely separate eras. Hanns Rüst's map, inspired by a religious understanding of the world, is a product of the Middle-Ages while Leonrando da Vinci's Plan of Imola, created with scientific instruments, heralds the new Renaissance.

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