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ancient automata
15th–17th Century
18th Century
19th Century


History of automata


15th-17th century automata



Although there had a been a steady trickle of automata being produced from ancient times until the 15th century it is not until about the 1400s that we see some truly remarkable and substantial automata being produced. This section takes a brief look at a few of the most notable ones.

Johannes Muller (1436-76) was reputed to have made an artificial eagle. It flew to greet the Emperor Maximillian on his entry into Nuremberg in 1470, then returned to perch on top of a city gate and, by stretching its wings and bowing, saluted the emperor on his arrival.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) made a lion in honor of king Louis XII. It advanced towards him, stopped, opened its chest with a claw and pointed to the fleur-de-lis coat of arms of France. I's possible that Leonardo may have made other automata but records are very sketchy.

Gianello della Tour (1500-85) of Cremona made several automata to alleviate the boredom of emperor Charles the V. The most notable one was a lute player that walked either in a straight line or a circle, while plucking the lute strings and turning her head from side to side. He also made mechanical figures of flying birds, and articulated soldiers who blew trumpets, beat drums and fought on the table top.

Salomon de Caus (1576-1626) studied the automata of ancient times. He used water as a means of power to help produce bird movements and sounds. A notable piece of work was an automaton that had a singing bird...when a mechanical owl was placed on a rock the singing stopped.

Christiaan Huygens (1629-95) made many automata for the royal court and the king of France. In 1680 he was ordered to make a machine showing a whole army fighting. He also produced figures of artisans imitating characteristic movements of their trade.

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