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Genesis ReduxEssays in the History and Philosophy of Artificial Life$
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Jessica Riskin

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780226720807

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226720838.001.0001

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The Devil as Automaton: Giovanni Fontana and the Meanings of a Fifteenth-Century Machine

The Devil as Automaton: Giovanni Fontana and the Meanings of a Fifteenth-Century Machine

Chapter:
(p.46) 3 The Devil as Automaton: Giovanni Fontana and the Meanings of a Fifteenth-Century Machine
Source:
Genesis Redux
Author(s):

Anthony Grafton

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226720838.003.0003

This chapter addresses the harmonious coexistence of mechanism and mechanisms with ideas about soul and spirit. Giovanni Fontana was largely disdainful of traditional magic and used his automaton devils to deflate stories told by magicians and theologians. No engineer of the fifteenth century thought harder about automata or devised more ingenious specimens of the genus than him. Fontana made clear that he could produce a figure that moved and spat fire—a figure exactly like the devils that beat and spat fire at Santa Francesca Romana in the fifteenth-century frescoes of her miracles that line the upper chamber of the Tor de' Specchi convent in Rome. The devilish appearance of his automata is as revealing as their mechanical interiors, and he took a serious interest in magical as well as mechanical contrivances. Fontana treated magical traditions with scathing disdain, and lavished ingenuity on his devils and fire-farting birds.

Keywords:   soul, spirit, Giovanni Fontana, automaton, devils, magical traditions, fire-farting birds

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