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Optics, Pictures and Evidence: Leonardo's Drawings of Mirrors and Machinery

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image of Early Science and Medicine

Leonardo's drawings of optical machinery have been used (by David Hockney and others) as evidence for the claim that Leonardo built machines to make concave mirrors with which he could project images. This paper argues that Leonardo's drawings cannot be used as evidence for this claim. It will be shown that Leonardo used the drawings to communicate with his patrons and craftsmen, to experiment on paper, to record trials with models, and to think about 'theoretical' problems in optics. At both the theoretical and the practical level, Leonardo was only concerned with the burning properties of concave mirrors, not with their imaging properties. The paper will conclude that the drawings of optical machinery allowed Leonardo to differentiate himself from the ordinary mirror-makers in his workshop. The same drawings, however, also forced him to remain within the conceptual framework of perspectivist optics.


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