Venetian Scales of Man

From: Amara Graps (
Date: Wed Feb 13 2002 - 09:24:42 MST

Dear Extropes,

Carnevale in Venice, Italy finished last Sunday. The most visible
aspect was ~70,000 people (one-third of normal years, tho) flocking
towards Piazza San Marco, while a few hundred locals and foreigners
preened and exhibited themselves for the tourists' cameras. Noone
knew who were these few hundred exhibiting creatures because the
elaborate costumes masked the humans inside. That was the original
intent of Carnevale after all: intrigue, mystery, and fun, while you
danced, gambled and lewdly frolic'd, anonymously.

These days the outward show of Carnevale remains, but much more
sedately, while the real Venice continues underneath the surface.
The real Venice is between the cracks, in the canals, on the
opposite faces of the palaces on the Grand Canal, in the gondolas,
hanging from a clothesline stretched between two buildings, colored
decaying pinks, greens, and browns. There, you hear a different
rhymthm, smell the frowst of the sea, and become lost in the
fog-shrouded labrynth of narrow alleys and walking bridges.

(Here I think shows the Real Venice)

Venice is built on a series of swampy islands at the edge of the
Adriatic Sea
with man's ingenuity driving its development. Townfolk fled to the
Lagoon in the fifth century for refuge from barbarian attackers, and
remained there when they discovered that their refuge could supply
fish and salt. The Venetian builders evolved construction techniques
unique and customized to the swampy terrain. Into the compacted clay
and sand of the swamp, timber pinewood piles were driven, which
didn't rot, because there was no free oxygen available for microbes
in the closely-packed piles. On top of that, was a layer of bricks,
then another layer of marble, to create a damp-proof foundation for
the houses and palaces. With that as the foundation, the city was not
built entirely from scratch, but was also constructed from remnants
of ruined cities. Roman bricks were taken from villas on the
mainland, and arches and statues were taken from churches and
palaces. Venice also raided Byzantium for material to adorn its

Venice's relation to its embedded water level have not remained
stable however. It has sunk by about 7.5cm a century for the past
1,000 years, and the rate is speeding up. It is both sinking, and
the water level is rising. The mean level of the land has lowered by
9 inches (23 centimeters) relative to sea level. At the same time,
the tidal level has increased by some 3 inches (8 centimeters) for
several reasons, including organic structure growth on the barrier
reef in the lagoon basin and changes in atmospheric pressure and
wind action on the Adriatic Sea.

Plans to hold back the tides.

Saving Venice

The rhythm of the real Venice can best be experienced from the
gondola, a boat unique to Venice.

The shape of Venice is reflected in the shape of the gondola, and
the boat's evolution reflected the growth of the city, as well.

The gondola is greater than 11 m long, it weighs about 400 kg, it is
built using (at least) nine different types of wood (beech, cherry,
elm, fir, larch, lime, mahogany, oak, walnut), and the degree of
curvature is based on the weight of the gondolier. It is shaped
asymmetrically, with a flat bottom that is tilted with respect to
the water:
The asymmetrical shape counteracts the force of the oar, otherwise
the oaring on the right side would make the boat go around in
circles! Originally they were colored black because of the tar to
make them watertight, but then people started decorating them and
they became more and more ornate. Then in 1562, such displays of
wealth were banned, and black remained the standard color again.

In addition to the flatbottom-tilt, the boat reflects more features
of Venice. The rostrum in the front of a gondola ('ferro de prua')
has the shape of Doge's hat, six fingers for the six districts of
Venice ('sestieri'), one finger in the opposite direction (the
'Giudecca' island). Another piece of the boat, the rowlock ('forcola'),
can hold the oar in (at least) five different positions. It's a piece
of art.

Man, scaled, is reflected in a macrocosmic state in Venice. The
Renaissance was triggered, in part, by a revival of Greek ideas. As
the Greeks often designed their buildings based on the proportions
of one part of the human body to another, so did the Italian
humanists. The Renaissance artists didn't want to just recreate
again, what the Greeks accomplished. Instead, the Renaissance people
wanted to build on those ancient ideas and then take those ideas
further into new directions. Leonardo da Vinci ('Leonardo from
Vinci') accomplished exactly that, with his Vitruvian Man.
Vitruvian Man, Study of proportions, from
Vitruvius's De Architectura 1492
Pen and ink, 34.3 x 24.5 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Leonardo was inspired by Vitruvius, De Architectura, and created a
drawing that provided a key link between ancient Greek architecture
and his time. This simple figure became a symbol for the Renaissance
and western civilization, so much so, that it is now on the backside
of the Italian 1Euro coin.

Vitruvius, De Architectural:
{begin quote}
1. The planning of temples depends upon asymmetry: and the method
of this architects must diligently apprehend. It arises from
proportion (which in Greek is called analogia). [...] For without
symmetry and proportion no temple can have a regular plan;
that is, it must have an exact proportion worked out after
the fashion of the members of a finely-shaped human body.
2. For Nature has so planned the human body that the face from the
chin to the top of the forehead and the roots of the hair is a
tenth part; also the palm of the hand from the wrist to the top
of the middle finger is as much; the head from the chin to the
crown, an eighth part; from the top of the breast with the bottom
 of the neck to the roots of the hair, a sixth part; from the
middle of the breast to the crown, a fourth part; a third part of
the height of the face is from the bottom of the chin to the
bottom of the nostrils; the nose from the bottom of the nostrils
to the line between the brows, as much; from that line to the
roots of the hair, the forehead is given as the third part. The
foot is a sixth of the height of the body; the cubit a quarter
, the breast also a quarter. [...] 3. In like fashion the
members of temples ought to have dimensions of their several
parts answering suitably to the general sum of their whole
magnitude. Now the navel is naturally the exact centre of the body.
For if a man lies on his back with hands and feet outspread, and the
centre of a circle is placed on his navel, his figure and toes
will be touched by the circumference. Also a square will
be found described within the figure, in the same way as a round
figure is produced. For if we measure from the sole of the foot
to the top of the head, and apply the measure to the
outstretched hands, the breadth will be found equal to the
height, just like sites which are squared by rule.
Book 3, c. I(1)
{end quote}

Anders' version :-)

{begin quote}
Leonardo, as he is almost always called, was trained to be a
painter. But his interests and achievements spread into an
astonishing variety of fields that are now considered scientific
specialties. Leonardo studied anatomy, astronomy, botany, geology,
geometry, and optics, and he designed machines and drew plans for
hundreds of inventions. Because Leonardo excelled in such an amazing
number of areas of human knowledge, he is often called a universal
genius. However, he had little interest in literature, history, or
religion. He formulated a few scientific laws, but he never
developed his ideas systematically. Leonardo was most of all an
excellent observer. He concerned himself with what the eye could
see, rather than with purely abstract concepts.
{end quote}

Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci

Milan National Museum of Science and Technology
(the site above also gives historical notes on his drawings)


Leonardo's Robot and Adding Machine

Wierdo Leonardo (this is an unusual site)

Now, a little story for you from the above site 'Wierdo Leonardo'.

_Leonardo and Michelangelo_

There was said to be some animosity between these two artists.
Michelangelo is reported to have said of Leonardo that "He cannot
create, only imagine."

This anecdote was told by the writer known as Anonimo
Magliabecchiano about an incident in 1503: "One day, Leonardo,
strolling in the company of Giovanni di Gavina de Santa Trinita,
walked past the benches of the Spini Palace, where a group of
gentlemen where discussing a passage from Dante. They called to
da Vinci and begged him to explain it to them. At that moment,
Michelangelo also happened to pass, and Leonardo told them:
'Michelangelo will explain it to you.' Michelangelo answered
angrily, thinking that Leonardo was making fun of him: 'Explain it
yourself, you who made a design for a horse to be cast in bronze
and, unable to cast it, abandoned it, to your shame.' Leonardo
remained silent and blushed. To embarass him more, Michelangelo
called after him: 'And those Milanese idiots believed you!'"

This Venetian Macrocosm brought to you by your servant,
Amara (with some gondolieric and Italian pointers by Serafino)

Ciao! (a Venetian word, means 'your servant' (servo vostro))

Amara Graps, PhD email:
Computational Physics vita:
Multiplex Answers URL:
"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." --Anais Nin

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