Recreating lost masterpieces

The story of the reconstruction of Leonardo's automata just published

The blockbuster thriller "The Da Vinci Code" has created tremendous interest in the Italian Renaissance genius. Just as impressive as Leonardo's artistic work are his 7,000 pages of notes and drawings which fuse art and science. Mark Rosheim, in Leonardo's Lost Robots, reinterprets Leonardo da Vinci's mechanical design work, revealing a new level of sophistication not recognized by art historians or engineers.

Self-taught, Rosheim has been interested in robotics since he was a child. His quest to understand the mechanical principles of human motion and dexterity led him to investigate the anatomical and mechanical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. By the early 1990s his research, funded by NASA, led him to build the first humanoid robot with fully functioning joints for the shoulder, wrist and hand. In a 1996 article in the journal Achademia Leonardi Vinci, Rosheim offered compelling historical and mechanical evidence that da Vinci had designed automata. The subsequent paper was reported in the press and led to his first BBC appearance.

Identifying Leonardo's major technological projects, the book reinterprets his legacy of notes, showing that apparently unconnected fragments from dispersed manuscripts actually comprise cohesive designs for functioning automata. Using the rough sketches scattered throughout almost all of Leonardo's notebooks, the author has reconstructed Leonardo's programmable cart, which may have supported a Robot Lion, a Robot Knight, and a "digital," hydraulically powered automaton for striking a bell. Through a richly illustrated, lively narrative, Mark Rosheim explains how he reconstructed Leonardo's designs.

Mark Rosheim holds over 20 patents in robot technology, and has published and lectured extensively around the world on the topic of robot technology and history. His work has attracted attention worldwide, including articles in the New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, and Wired, and has been the subject of news features and films on several Italian television stations, the BBC, PBS and the History Channel.


This text has been updated since it was originally posted.

Mark Elling Rosheim
Leonardo's Lost Robots
Springer 2006, 188 pp. 203 images
Hardcover EUR 29.95, 23.00, $39.95, sFr 54.50
ISBN: 3-540-28440-0

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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