Friday, December 27, 2019

English Construction Tools, 1669

John Leeke translated Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola's Regola delli cinque ordini from Italian into English in 1669.

While Leeke himself is worth attention; he was a mathematician, a professor, and land surveyor and well as fluent in Italian. He also helped rebuild London after its disastrous fire in 1666.  Here I want to focus on the frontispiece for his translation.

Leeke calls the translation
He adds Vignola's title.

Then he writes
For the USE and BENEFIT of
Free Masons, Carpenters, Joyners, Carvers, Painters,    Bricklayers Plaisterers:
In General
For all Ingenious Persons that are concerned in the Famous Art of BUILDING 

This cartouche fills half the frontispiece. It celebrates the tools used by all those craftsmen.
Sitting on a column base are:
A compass
A carpenter square
A horizontal level
A vertical level
A measure with a curved side and regular marks
Draped around the cartouche is a Line, its spool on one end, its plumb bob on the other.

These are the tools for people who built.

130 years earlier most of the same tools are on Serlio's frontispiece which he engraved about 1540, for his book, On Architecture.
The original is black and white. This cartouche is on the cover of the 1998 translation by Hart and Hicks.
I use the color image because it makes the tools easier to see:

A compass in front of a ring - a perfect circle.
The compass pierces the scroll of the cartouche and is held in place by the ring.
A large carpenter square spearing a tetrahedron
A straight edge spearing a cube incised with diagonals, graduated circles and squares. The size of each is determined by those on either side.
A round rule pierces both the tetrahedron and the cube.
A Line with a handle is in the lower left corner, entangled in the scrolling, ending with a knot and a tassel beside the handle.
Serlio does not include any levels.

 Walther Hermann Ryff, of Nuremberg, c. 1500- 1548, considered Serlio his mentor. He did not train under him.
Ryff was probably a pharmacist and published many works on medicine.

He also published Vitruvius first in Latin and then in German 1548.
This book, with a title of over 30 words, is referred to as Architecture. Part of the title says it is "The hardest, most necessary, belonging to the whole architecture of mathematical and mechanical art, regular report, and vastly clear, understandable information..."
This engraving is the frontispiece for his book. Many tools!
4 compasses are easily seen. 
Here's a close up of one, with an impressive arm that would have guaranteed accuracy - along with a knife, a plane, and calipers. 

Edward Shaw published his pattern book, The Modern Architect, in 1854, in Boston. It also had a frontispiece displaying tools,.
His engraving is in black and white: The color rendering is for clarity.

He includes:
A small compass in hand
A rule in hand
A large compass in the foreground
A hammer.
A large carpenter square
A cylinder which might be a chalk line
A saw in hand
A drawing and a portfolio of drawings
against the tool box:
A straight edge or rule
A vertical level
A brace is in the tool box.

A part of the original engraving showing most of the tools.

 The 12 presentations and workshops I gave this past year began with the portraits of master builders holding their compasses, and these engravings of their tools.
When my audience understood what tools were available before the Industrial Revolution they enjoyed seeing how a compass and a straight edge could layout a  rectangle, and then a building. Next they drew them themselves. They saw for themselves how the compass creates the first dimension and determines the next dimensions.
Practical Geometry was the tool  which translated a design from an idea to construction.  It was the Practical, not Theoretical, use of Geometry.


Note: our contemporary John Leeke is the 8th great-grandson of the man mentioned above. Yes, I asked and he told me so.


Jay C. White Cloud said...

Hello Jane,

It has been a while since I have commented and this post caught my attention as I tried to catch up on a backlog of reading. Most excellent!!!

I just finished helping raise a new, but mostly traditional barn that rests on stone plinth of a more Eastern Europe-Asian foundation system type. This Dutch Barn just North of Bethel, Vermont found myself on several occasions thinking of you. The topic of teaching classes this coming year (2020) on layout and building of small timber frames came up. Of course, the tradtional modalities like compass that have fallen out of favor with most of my ilk, was part of that conversation. I would love you to shoot me an email, should you find the time, to discuss perhaps something you may wish to attend and/or co-facilitate?



johnleeke said...


Thanks for the mention.

by hammer and hand, great works do stand
by mind and thought, best words are wrought
by compass and rule, ...