The World, Great and Small <

The ancients called man a world in miniature, and that is well-said, because indeed man is made of earth, water, air, and fire, and thus his body is like the Earth. Just as man has bones as a support and framework for his flesh,

so the world has stone to support the Earth …
Leonardo da Vinci
Paris MS A, fol. 55v. Translation: Amanda DeMarco




Visual arts, science, and technology were closely intertwined in 15th-century Italy. At the same time, the individual disciplines were part of the evolution of a more comprehensive worldview and the intensive exploration of the relationship between the macrocosm and the microcosm.
The worldview at large continued to rely on the geocentric tradition handed down from antiquity, with the Earth as the center of the universe surrounded by different hierarchically arranged spheres, from the sphere of water to the sphere of the fixed stars. The steady growth of knowledge, due not least to the geographical insights gained by voyages of discovery, increasingly called this view into question. In addition, intensified studies of nature in general and of the human body in particular, expanded knowledge of the world on the small scale.
It was hoped that this would lead not only to advances in science, medicine, and artistic representation, but also to a deeper understanding of the fundamental principles of life. The quest for such knowledge of nature was a central motif in Leonardo da Vinci’s creative work. The rapid development of printing continually increased the knowledge sources available to the artist-scientist, facilitating his search for an integrative worldview. At the same time, he was able to help shape this worldview through his own contributions: on a small scale through his analytical studies of the human body, and on a large scale through maps and depictions of astronomical phenomena.


Near and Distant Views <

Charles François Delamarche.

Geocentric armillary sphere

Paris, ca. 1800

The armillary sphere, named after the Latin word armilla (bracelet), and also called the “world machine,” is not a measuring instrument but an object for astronomical demonstration to illustrate the motion of celestial bodies. Developed in antiquity and mediated through the Islamic world, it became the hallmark of astronomers and the main symbol of the cosmos in the 15th century. This late specimen made by the French cartographer Charles François Delamarche (1740–1817) is an everyday object made of cheap materials with obvious marks of wear and tear, and generally differs little from its predecessors in earlier centuries. In the center is the fixed globe of the Earth encircled by the solar and lunar disks on metal brackets. Then comes the movable pasteboard ring sphere that depicts the equator, ecliptic (solar orbit), the tropics, and polar circles, and can be adjusted according to the geographical latitude of the location. Although the geocentric image of the world has long been obsolete, the object clearly retains great educational value. Its maker also wrote a practical guide on the use of spheres and globes.



    Nolte, Friedrich. 1922. Die Armillarsphäre. (Diss.). Abhandlungen zur Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften und der Medizin 2. Erlangen: Mencke.