7 Zheng He and the Italian Renaissance

Zheng He and the Italian Renaissance

I am indebted to Mr. Tai Peng Wang whose recent talk at U.B.C’s Centre for Chinese Studies on “Zheng He’s delegation to the Papal Court of Florence” attracted much interest. Mr. Tai Peng Wang has kindly provided us with his source material notably Paolo Toscanelli’s letters to Canon Martins and Christopher Columbus in which Toscanelli describes meeting the Chinese delegation and acknowledges receipt of maps they provided to him – maps that were later provided to Christopher Columbus which enabled him to reach America.

Following Tai Peng Wang’s lead, the 1421 Team has carried out further investigations, notably a successful search for “ The Madrid Codices” in Spain between 29th September and 8th October.

Photocopies of 6 of Taccola’s inventions compared with earlier Chinese and later da Vinci inventions will follow.

The results follow. We would welcome comments.


I The Madrid Codex 1 and 2
II Mariano Taccola – “De Ingeneis 1433”
III Chinese delegation to Council of Florence
IV Chinese Inventions prior to 1432
V A Coincidence?

Annex 1 to Memo of 8th October 2005

The Madrid Codex 1 and 2.

(Leonardo da Vinci – Codex 1: 1493 – 1497, Codex 2: 1503 –-1505)

These contain over 300 pages of Leonardo da Vinci’s working notes giving the background to his inventions. Philip II acquired the codices during Spain’s golden age. Unfortunately during the transfer to the Imperial Capital from Toledo to the Escorial, the Codices were lost. In early 1965 the codices were found again by Professor Piccus researching under a Fulbright scholarship in the National Library of Spain.

Festo Pneumatic S.A. have recently produced a digital edition of these two codices of which we have acquired copies (MSS 8937 and 8936). We will send copies to anyone who requests them (after receiving Festos’ approval.)

Codex 1 is essentially Leonardo’s treatise on practical mechanics with 95 drawings of various civil engineering machines, each drawing with detailed explanation of the machine’s design. From codex 1 it is immediately apparent that Leonardo based part of his work on a fellow Florentine, Mariano Taccola (1381-1458). Taccola published his book “Dei Ingeneis” in 1433. It contains 107 mechanical drawings of which many appear in Leonardo’s sketches. Some, such as the lifebelt are direct copies, others are worked up. Leonardo’s enormous contribution was to draw many of his machines in 3D making them much easier to understand.

Annex II to Memo of 8th October 2005

Mariano Taccola – “Dei Ingeneis” – 1433.

Taccola was born in Siena in 1381, married Madonna Nanna in 1408 and died in 1458. His work has been published in English under the title “Mariano Taccola and his book Dei Ingeneis”. The author of this book is F.D. Prager, an historian and G. Scaglia, an art expert. I am indebted to them both. Their book was written between 1966 and 1967 before Madrid Codex 1 and 2 had been discovered and published.

Taccola was employed as a clerk of works. Before 1431 he had not produced a single drawing. Suddenly (using his own dates), at the end of 1431 he starts writing “ Dei Ingeneis” which he finishes on 13th January 1433. His book is crammed with hundreds of ingenious inventions accompanied by descriptions. A list of 107 of them are attached in an appendix. By comparing these with Leonardo’s( i.e. Prager and Scaglia’s reproductions with the Madrid Codices and the Collection of Leonardo’s drawings at Windsor Castle), one can see from where Leonardo obtained many ideas on civil engineering and military machines.

Taccola was in Florence in 1432. There is no record that he met the Chinese delegation although he accepts (Vol. III 30R) that his design for the chain pump came from China.

Each of Taccola’s inventions had been invented by the Chinese prior to 1432. A detailed list will follow with the hand copy.

De Ingeneis – 1433

Taccola’s drawings.

A) Civil Engineering.

1. Harbour structure I, 13 R
2. Bucket well I, 15 R
3. Mounted gunner I, 21 R
4. Stratagem 1, 21 V
5. Double bellows I, 30 V
6. Diver I, 31 R
7. Double bellows for pump I, 31 V
8. Chimney I, 31 V
9. Man I, 36 V
10. Fulling mill I, 40 R
11. Siphon I, 68 R
12. Mountain Siphon I, 73a
13. Dragon II, 76 R
14. Cistern II, 82 R
15. Piston pump II, 82 V
16. Rider and flotation bags II, 90 V
17. Life jacket II, 91 R
18. Budge siphon II, 94 V
19. Ox working a gin II, 96 V
23. Fountain III, 28 R
25. Piston pump III, 29 R
27. Chain pump (in the manner of the Tartans) III, 30 R
28. Bucket well III, 31 R
31. Siphon on a bridge III, 32 R
32. Siphon III, 32 R
33. Aqueduct III, 32 V
34. Waterpower system for mill III, 32 V, 34 R
35. Reversible hoist III, 36 R
39. Reversible hoist III, 37 R
40. Reversible hoist III, 38R
43. Bucket chain III, 39 R
45. Winch for a wagon III, 39 V – 40 R
46. Quarrying and handling large columns III, 40 V – 41 R
47. Quarrying III, 41 V
48. Coffer dams III, 42 V
50. Caisson III, 43 R
52. Hoising weights off seabed III, 44 R
53. Water supply for mills III, 44 V-45 R
55. Builder’s crane III, 46 R
64. Crane III, 51 R
66. Extendible ladder III, 52 R
69. Cart powered by sails III, 52 V
70. Amphibious vehicle III, 53 V – 54
87. Windmill IV, 64 R
91. Navigation island IV, 66 R
93. Trebuchet IV, 66 V, 67 R
99. Amphibian IV, 70 R
102. Paddle wheeled boat IV, 71 V-73 R
104. Roof joints IV, 74 R
107. Camera obscura IV 75 V

Annex III to Memo of 8th October 2005

The Chinese delegation to the Council of Florence
(Research of Tai Peng Wang)

Paolo Toscanelli (1397-1482) Letter of June 24th 1474 to Canon Martins (Confessor to King Alfonso V of Portugal).

“Paul the Physician to Fernan Martins, Canon at Lisbon greeting.”

(Then follows a description of how to reach China – to be described later).

“For there, (China) the number of merchandise is so great that in all the rest of the world there are not as many as in one most noble part called Zaiton. For they affirm that a hundred ships with pepper discharge their cargoes in that port in a single year, besides other ships bringing other spices. That country (China) is very populous and very rich with a multitude of provinces and with cities without number, under one Prince who is called ‘Great Khan’………”

“ This country is worth seeking by the Latins not only because great wealth may be obtained from it, gold and silver, all sorts of gems and spices, which never reach us; but also on account of its learned men, philosophers and expert astrologers…..”

Toscanelli then describes the Polo mission sent by Kubilai Khan to the Pope in 1274 and continues: “Also in the time of Eugenius (Pope Eugenius 1431-1447) one of them came to Eugenius…. and I had a long conversation with him on many subjects.”

In his letter to Christopher Columbus, Toscanelli explains that the earth is a sphere and it is possible to sail westwards to reach China and adds, “But you cannot know this perfectly save through experience and practice. As I have had in the form of most copious and good and true information from distinguished men of great learning who have come here in the Court of Rome from the said parts (Viz from China and the East)…

Annex IV to Memo of 8th October 2005

Chinese Inventions Prior to 1432.

Every machine or invention drawn by first Taccola and then by Leonardo da Vinci had been drawn or invented by the Chinese prior to 1432. A table listing out Taccola’s inventions compared with the Chinese dynasty in which the invention was in use will follow with hard copy. As may be seen everything – from gliders to frogmen – was drawn or in use in China hundreds of years before Taccola or da Vinci invented them.

Toscanelli’s “long conversation” and “good and true information from distinguished men of great learning” could have covered all the machines drawn that year by Taccola.

Annex V to Memo of October 8th 2005

A coincidence?

Taccola could of course have been an intuitive genius who published his amazing array of inventions in 1432, (the year Toscanelli met the Chinese delegation), without meeting the Chinese. However:

i) Taccola accepts the drawing of the water pump came from China. How? Neither
Marco Polo nor Rubruck brought drawings.

ii) After meeting the Chinese, Toscanelli makes some astounding discoveries.

a) Toscanelli inserts a camera obscura ( Taccola 107 ) in the roof of Florence cathedral ( my memo of 17th August 2004) and uses the shadows cast by the sun’s rays to measure declination of the sun and thus how to calculate latitude. The camera obscura was a Chinese invention, unknown in the West before 1432.

b) Toscanelli predicts Halley’s Comet pass of 1456 – by then the Chinese had been recording Halley’s Comet passes for 2,000 years. Toscanelli was the first European to predict Halley’s Comet.

c) Toscanelli’s friends, Regiomontanus and Nicolas of Cusa (Incunabula of 1476) both own an equatorial torquetum which is identical to the Chinese equitoreal torqutum built by Guo Shou Jing in the Yuan dynasty. Rick Saunders and Bert Cooper have used these torqueta to determine longitude within a quarter of a degree.

d) Both Taccola and Brunellschi use the camera obscura to create perspective after 1432 – European architecture is revolutionized.

e) David Hockney in “Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost techniques of old masters” argues that Jan Van Eyck in 1432 painted his great masterpiece “ the Ghent Altarpiece” using optical devices ( a camera obscura) and that this painting revolutionized European art by use of perspective. Van Eyck visited Florence between 1430 and 1433 (precise dates being established).

To imagine Taccola’s string of over 100 inventions, Toscanelli’s prediction of comets and eclipses, Regiomontanus and Nicholas of Cusas torqueta, Taccola,Van Eyck and Brunellschi’s camera obscura were all invented after 1432 but independently of the Chinese visit is in my submission a series of coincidences which only Professional Historians would dare to argue.

Gavin Menzies
8th October, 2005

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