Obituary: Professor Cesare Rossi, Naples

26 July 1955 - 10 March 2017 Naples, Italy

The world has lost a rare scholar and wonderful person. Cesare Rossi was a distinguished professor of engineering and also historian of engineering. He was a friend and an Associate of the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation, UK (FSTC UK). He passed away whilst preparing to join us in London at the  ”Symposium on Science and Engineering in Muslim Heritage” organised jointly by FSTCUK and Al-Furqan Heritage Foundation. His paper was going to be about The Influences on Da Vinci’s Engineering. His recent book entitled Ancient Engineers' Inventions, History of Mechanism and Machine Science, vol 33. Springer, Cham. (2017) will be a long-lasting reference for researchers.

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One of the last scholarly tasks he did was reviewing the sections related to engineering of the 4th Edition of the 1001 Inventions Book which is now published as an eBook.

Synopsis on His life

Cesare Rossi was born in Naples, Italy on 26 July 1955 and died on 10 March 2017.

In1979, he graduated with Mechanical Engineering Degree cum Laude at the University of Napoli - “Federico II”. He worked as a Technical Manager in the textile industry and in the  Aerospace industry. In 2000, he was full Professor of Mechanics for Machines and Mechanical Systems at the university of Naples. He taught Mechanics and Robotics and supervised numerous Master and Ph.D. theses. He developed strong interest in the History of Mechanism and Machine Science and has published more than 150 publications in international journals including books. He had assumed various managerial posts at the university and was consultant to a number of industries.

Cesare was married to Irma Pagliara, and they lived in Naples. He was proud of Naples and enthusiastic of its history. He was a keen scholar in history in general and in history of machines and mechanisms science in particular. Cesare was passionate about learning, but he was always modest with his expertise and extensive knowledge.

Cesare had a broad interpretation of the character of the engineer, as one certainly not related to the merely technical sphere, but able to grasp the most interesting and, in some ways, stranger aspects of life. This character of the engineer was the protagonist of a book that Cesare wrote, in which, he conveys his views using a series of small stories.

Among his many interests, he was keen on weapon sports. This lead him to compete in the Italian national championship in different categories achieving the title of Italian national champion with Moschetto of 18th century.

His family and friends remember him to be always available, cooperative, and keen to encourage, guide and assist younger people. He had no children of his own.


Da Vinci's design for a flying machine with wings based closely upon the structure of a bat's wings.(Source)

The Paper that was to be presented

It is prudent to publish the abstract of his intended paper for the London Symposium that his death prevented him from presenting.

Examples of the Sources of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Studies through his Designs

by Cesare Rossi
D.I.I. Università di Napoli “Federico II”
Via  Claudio, 21 – 80122 Naples, Italy

Leonardo Da Vinci is commonly considered as a “know-all” man who conceived inventions in quite all the fields of the science and the technique. This fame comes from the discovery of  his lots of drawings. These reveal the skillful hand of great painter of a wide number of devices. The latter, quite in almost field of the knowledge: from the human anatomy to the mechanics, from the hydraulics to the fortifications, from the submarine works to the flying.

In reality, Da Vinci had never presented himself as “inventor”. This is especially manifest in his letter to Lodovico il Moro (Duke of Milan) when he proposes himself mainly as a painter, then as military architect and finally he tells that he was capable of making some military machines. We should take notice that making doesn’t necessarily mean inventing. In addition, we also know that Leonardo clearly declared that the machines he invented were very few.

In the this presentation, I shall give  several examples of cases where designs of various mechanical devices and other studies by Da Vinci can be linked to other historical mechanisms and studies invented or made before him.  The main fields of the Da Vinci’s studies that will be considered are:

Human Anatomy: the foetus, the blood circulation, the Vitruvian Man and the spinal column.
Mechanics: Self-propelled carts, Gears, Weapons, Lifting machines, Hydraulic saws, Robots and Cranes.
Ships: Dredgers and Paddle boats.
Flight: Flying machines and Parachute.

From all the examples above, it comes that the consideration of Leonardo as inventor may get into different perspective to what it is commonly thought. But, in the same way, his image as scholar of practically any field of the knowledge becomes consolidated.  Through his drawings, in fact, Leonardo Da Vinci demonstrates he had deeply studied almost any discipline known in his times.

But perhaps even more interesting is that Da Vinci’s studies are mainly based on the Hellenistic knowledge and on the study of treatises by Muslim scientists. So, a road seams to appear in the knowledge that starts from the very wide cultural patrimony that was represented by the treatises by the scientists and engineers of the Hellenistic Age and goes on with the Arabic culture of the Middle Ages.

Selected Publications on History of Engineerng

Below is a list of some of his works related to history of engineering selected from his long list of publications:  

1. RUSSO F., ROSSI C., CECCARELLI M., RUSSO F – “Devices for Distance and Time Measurement at the time of the Roman Empire.” - International Symposium on History of Machines and Mechanisms: Proceedings of Hmm 2008, Tainan, Taiwan, November 10-14, 2008, pp. 101-114.

2. C. ROSSI, F. RUSSO, F. RUSSO (2009) – Ancient Engineers’ Inventions, Precursors of the present. Springer ISBN: 978-90-481-2252-3 (Print).

3. C. ROSSI, F. RUSSO (2010) – A Reconstruction of the Greek-Roman Repeating Catapult. Mechanism and Machine Theory. Vol. 45, Issue 1, January 2010, Pages 36–45  ISSN:0094-114X

4. C. Rossi, M. Ceccarelli, M. Cigola (2011). The Groma, the Surveyor's Cross and the Chorobates. In-Depth Notes on the Design of Old Instruments and Their Use.. DISEGNARE IDEE IMMAGINI (ISSN:1123-9247) pp.22- 33 Vol.42,

5. C. Rossi, S. Pagano (2011). A Study on Possible Motors for Siege Towers. JOURNAL OF MECHANICAL DESIGN (ISSN:1050-0472) pp.1- 8 Vol. Volume 133,

6. Cesare Rossi (2012). Ancient Throwing Machines: a Method to Compute Their Performances. MECHANISM AND MACHINE THEORY, pp.1- 13 Vol. 51, ISSN:0094-114X

7. Cesare Rossi (2012) “Some Ancient Automatic Devices: the Precursors of Automation” Proc. RAAD 2012 21th International Workshop on Robotics in Alpe-Adria-Danube Region, September 10-13, 2012, Napoli, Italy, pp 21-34

8. C. Rossi, A. Unich (2013) A Study on Possible Archimede’s Cannon. Rivista Storica dell’Antichità. Vol. XLIII. ISSN 0300-340X

9. C. Rossi, M. Ceccarelli (2014) From Legends to Early Designs of Flying machines: From Ancient Egypt to Renaissance, IFToMM Workshop on History of MMS, CD Proceedings, Tianjin 2014, July 6-10, 2014, paper WHMMS-1.

10. Cesare Rossi (2014) “Some Examples of the Hellenistic Surprising Knowledge: its Possible Origin from the East and its Influence on Later Arab and European Engineers” Rivista Storica dell’Antichità, XLIV, 2014, pp. 61-84. ISSN 0300-340X.

11. C. Rossi, A. Messina, S. Savino, G. Reina (2015) “Performance of Greek-Roman Artillery”. Arms and Armour, Journal of the Royal Armouries.  Volume 12 Number 1, pp. 66-88, ISSN: 1741-6124, Online ISSN: 1749-6268

12. C. Rossi, T. G. Chondros, K. Milidonis, S. Savino, F. Russo (2015) Ancient Road Transport Devices: Developments from the Bronze Age to the Roman Empire. Frontiers of Mechanical Engineering DOI 10.1007/s11465-000-0000-0

13. Rossi, C., The precursors of Leonardo da Vinci's studies, (2015) 2015 IFToMM World Congress Proceedings, IFToMM 2015, DOI: 10.6567/IFToMM.14TH.WC.OS7.005.

14. Rossi, C., Savino, S., Messina, A., Reina, G.,Performance of Greek–Roman artillery,(2015) Arms and Armour, 12 (1), pp. 67-89, DOI: 10.1179/1741612415Z.00000000050.

15. Rossi, C., Russo, F.Dew ponds and air wells: An ancient source of drinking water at no cost [Gli stagni di rugiada ed I pozzi d'aria: UNA antica fonte di acqua potabile a costo nullo], (2016) Rivista Storica dell'Antichita, 46, pp. 253-260.

16. Rossi, C., Ceccarelli, M., Science, technology and industry in Southern Italy before the unification, (2016) History of Mechanism and Machine Science, 31, pp. 159-179, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-22680-4_10.

17. Rossi, C. The beginning of the automation a brief review on the automatic devices in the Hellenistic age, (2016) Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, 371, pp. 59-67, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-21290-6_6

18. Rossi, C., Some inventions by engineers of the hellenistic age, (2016) History of Mechanism and Machine Science, 32, pp. 151-164, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-31184-5_14.

19. Rossi, C., Chondros, T.G., Milidonis, K.F., Savino, S., Russo, F., Ancient road transport devices: Developments from the Bronze Age to the Roman Empire, (2016) Frontiers of Mechanical Engineering, 11 (1), pp. 12-25, DOI: 10.1007/s11465-015-0358-6.

20. Rossi, C., Precursors of the automation in the Hellenistic Age, (2016) International Journal of Mechanics and Control, 17 (1), pp. 31-36.

21. Rossi C., Russo F., (2017) Ancient Engineers' Inventions, History of Mechanism and Machine Science, vol 33. Springer, Cham.

22. Rossi, C., Russo, F., Savino, S., Windmills: Ancestors of the wind power generation, (2017) Frontiers of Mechanical Engineering, 12 (3), pp. 389-396, DOI: 10.1007/s11465-017-0414-5.

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