"Da Vinci's World" was that of Renaissance Italy, beginning about 1100 AD, when things were beginning to jump after the endless slump of curiosity and knowledge of the Dark Ages. Renaissance itself means "rebirth." Meanwhile, in England, they had Robin Hood.
The host, Peter Weller, while still soldiering on as an actor (see IMDb.com), is earning his PhD in Renaissance art from UCLA, having previously gotten a Master's in the subject from Syracuse University, where he is adjunct professor and gives occasional courses. He's completely serious about his academic career.
Gee, I like that -- a double threat. It's like having a fine pitcher who can also whack it out of the park. In the end, Weller will probably be remembered by history as an actor because his dramatic work is recorded on film, whereas his lectures will have been damped out somewhere in the ether of outer space. Goethe thought of himself as a Natural Philosopher but what do we remember him for? Faust.
Anyway, as usual, we get here a brief sketch of the history of Italy at the dawn of the Renaissance -- from Siena, to Florence, to Rome -- and a brief treatment of a handful of engineering achievements. The emphasis is on the infrastructure and on architecture -- never on the fine arts per se nor the physics in back of the engineering.
Much time is spent on Lorenzo Brunelleschi building the dome over the church of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. It doesn't seem like much if you just glance at it. I mean, it's a church with a big dome on top. So what. But it really was a magnificent achievement in its time and Brunelleschi was a mental giant -- mathematician, artist, sculptor, architect, physicist -- a regular Renaissance man. We learn, just to take one impossible example, how the monstrous stones and bricks were lifted to the top of the dome. Well, that's a problem. You can't have just one guy, probably working for minimum wage, running up and down the stairs carrying a stone one way and coming down empty handed. Brunelleschi yoked up two oxen on the floor beneath the center of the dome and had them walk in endless circles turning gears that transformed the energy from level to vertical. Well, that's saying something, right there. And then, to top it off, he made a change of gears possible so that the lift could be brought back to floor level without having to re-hitch the oxen and have them walk the other way. It saved hours a day.
Once in a while, watching this series, and listening to the narrator, Michael Carroll, and the host, Peter Weller, emphasize the problems that needed to be solved -- for instance, once the stone is all the way up to the top, how do you move it sideways so that it gets to the place in the dome that it's needed -- it occurs to me that there had to be a bunch of men all the way up there, manhandling the construction materials, their noses stuck out in the breeze, hundreds of feet above the cobblestone streets of Florence. One slip and you're road kill. Whatever these artisans were being paid, it wasn't enough.
It's understandable that it was about this time that we begin to learn the names of architects and masons.
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