Leonardo Da Vinci’s “mechanical lion” was the star attraction at a pageant in honor of the newly crowned King of France, Francois I.
According to G. P. Lomazzo, the Lion was presented to the King by Giuliano de’ Medici in Lyon, on July 12th, 1515. Made with a “wonderful artifice,” the Lion was set in motion:
“...it moved from its place in the hall and when it came to a halt its breast opened, and was full of lilies and flowers.”
This incredible exhibition symbolized the close relationship between the Medici, and the new King. The Lion is the symbol of Florence, and lilies are the fleurs-de-lis of France. The bond between the two was also linked through marriage as Giuliano’s wife, Philiberte of Savoy, was an aunt to the new King.
The “Lion” wasn’t Da Vinci’s first attempt at automata. His biographer, Charles Nicholl notes that Leonardo had previously produced drawings for various other automata, including a “mechanical Knight,” which:
...was capable of bending its legs, moving its arms and hands, and turning its head. Its mouth opened, and an automatic drum-roll within its mechanism enabled it to ‘talk’.
These mechanical drawings were exhibited in Milan, around 1495. NASA scientist, Mark Rosheim, constructed a working model of the “mechanical Knight” and claimed that Da Vinci’s “programmed carriage for automata” were:
“...the first known example in the story of civilization of the programmable computer.”
Da Vinci’s original “mechanical lion” has been long lost, but in 2009, it was reconstructed at the Château du Clos Lucé and Parc, in France. The Château was where Da Vinci spent his last three years of life, dying there in 1519.
With thanks to Maria Salavessa Hormigo Guimil