This gorgeous, near-dadist image belongs to Niccola Zabaglia, who published it in his book Castelli, e ponti di maestro Niccola Zabaglia con alcune ingegnose practice, e con la descriziojne del trasporto dell’obelsico Vaticano, e di altri del cav. Domenico Fontana, in Rome, in 1743. This is the literal and absolute height of pre-modern, pre-mechanized building construction in the soaring Roman Baroque, ordained by “maestro”, the master, Zabaglia (1664-1750), a spectacular (and necessary) proponent of practical mechanics as applied to the building trades. Among the “Castles” and churches and bridges alluded to in the title of his book, Zabaglia was responsible for affecting the maintenance and repair of St. Peter’s (more particularly to the basilica and the vault)—specifically, he had to figure out how to get the workmen and materials into place, and into very difficult and very high places, without damaging or destroying any of the existing decoration, artwork, sculpture, frescoes, and so on. This was no easy feat to perform back there in the dim, 265+ years-ago pre-electric pre-power past, with enormous technical and operational difficulties, and Zabaglia accomplished this was superior affect, devising complex and elegant moving and stationary scaffolds, hoisting and holding mechanisms for the ladders, and much else. He did just beautiful work, and he is a patron saint in the history of repair.
Ladders and scaffolds were important of course but were among the least of Zabaglia’s numerous accomplishments and inventions—they were so plentiful and useful that two Pope Benedicts ago (Pope Benedict the 14th) ordered their publication with actual teams of artists and engravers performing specific tasks.
This second image pertains to the tail-end of the Zabaglia title-page—the moving of the 500,000-pound Egyptian (carved during the reign of Nebkaure Amenemhet II, 1992-1985 BCE, and originally standing in the Temple of the Sun at Heliopolis) obelisk in 1586 by Domenico Fontana, which was one of the greatest engineering feats of the Renaissance. Moving this enormous and relatively delicate object (from the Circus Nero, where it was placed by the emperor Caligula in 37 ACE, to St. Peter’s Piazza del Popolo, 50 years or so before it would be more enveloped by Bernini’s flying wings) took years of (very) careful planning and months of motion and movement, not to mention an extra month to get everything into place and slowly raise the obelisk into its final position. Fontana had to be cautious and correct, and he was, performing a not-so-minor miracle of pre-industrial magic to move the priceless 250-ton iconic relic and place it perfectly down in the center of Christianity. now that must have been one hot Roman summer, especially for Fontana.
This image comes from Domenico Fontana’s Della trasporatione dell’obelisco Vaticano…(published in Rome by Bassa in 1590), and shows some seven scale models for the armature of movement (in the foreground) of the great obelisk An even more famous and luscious image is the plan of the moving implements as seen here, below: