Giovanni Fontana (engineer)

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Giovanni Fontana (ca. 1395 – ca. 1455) was a fifteenth-century Venetian physician and engineer who portrayed himself as a magus. He was born in Venice in the 1390s and attended the University of Padua, where he received his degree in arts in 1418 and his degree in medicine in 1421.[1] University records list him as "Master John, son of Michael de la Fontana".[2] His most famous promoter at the University was the scholastic Paul of Venice. He tells us that the Doge of Venice sent him to Brescia to deliver a message to the condottiere Francesco Carmagnola. He was also employed as the municipal physician by the city of Udine.


Fontana composed treatises on a diverse array of topics. We have early works of his on water-clocks, sand-clocks and measurement. Fontana composed one of the earliest Renaissance technological treatises, Bellicorum instrumentorum liber. His machine book contains siege engines and fantastic inventions such as a magic lantern and a rocket-propelled bird, fish, and rabbit.[3] Fontana also built a 4-wheeled "bike" with rope connected by gears. It is not technically a bike, but 400 years after 1418, Baron Von Drais built a two wheeled bike that has a cord connected to the back wheel, so when you pull it you come to a halt.


  1. ^ Clagett, Marshall. "The Life and Works of Giovanni Fontana." Annali dell'Istituto e museo di storia della scienza di Firenze 1 (1976): 5-28.
  2. ^ Zonta, Gaspare. Acta Graduum Academicorum Gymnasii Patavini: I. ab anno 1406 ad annum 1450. 2nd ed. Fonti per la Storia dell'Università di Padova. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. 5 vols. Padova: Antenore, 1969.
  3. ^ Battisti, Eugenio, and Giuseppa Saccaro Battisti. Le Macchine Cifrate Di Giovanni Fontana: Con La Riproduzione Del Cod. Icon. 242 Della Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Di Monaco Di Baviera E La Decrittazione Di Esso E Del Cod. Lat. Nouv. Acq. 635 Della Bibliothèque Nationale Di Parigi. Milano: Arcadia, 1984.

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