Posted by: Melany | October 12, 2009

The Da Vinci Code

I have taken a bit of poetic licence for that title but, I found this interesting article from the Guardian UK called And That’s Renaissance Magic written by Lucy McDonald in 2007. It reveals the following information:
After lying almost untouched in the vaults of an Italian university for 500 years, a book on the magic arts written by Leonardo da Vinci’s best friend and teacher has been translated into English for the first time.

Leonardo Da Vinci Self Portrait

Leonardo Da Vinci Self Portrait

The world’s oldest magic text, De viribus quantitatis (On The Powers Of Numbers) was penned by Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan monk who shared lodgings with Da Vinci and is believed to have helped the artist with The Last Supper.

It was written in Italian by Pacioli between 1496 and 1508 and contains the first ever reference to card tricks as well as guidance on how to juggle, eat fire and make coins dance. It is also the first work to note that Da Vinci was left-handed.

Although the book has been described as the “foundation of modern magic and numerical puzzles”, it was never published and has languished in the archives of the University of Bologna, seen only by a small number of scholars since the Middle Ages.
“Sources of magic methods go back at least to the first century, but this book teaches not only the methods but also gives a glimpse into how one might perform them with an eye to entertaining an audience.”

The book was rediscovered after David Singmaster, a mathematician, came across a reference to it in a 19th-century manuscript.

“It’s the foundation not only of modern magic but of numerical puzzles too,” he said. “We don’t know why, but this huge thing has been hidden away in the University of Bologna we presume since the time of Pacioli.”

This is fascinating! I am so pleased that I found this article. Of course, I will double check all information before including it in my article, but I think that this relationship to history will add an interesting element to my article. I like the idea of offering information that the reader would unlikely be familiar with. I am also planning to include one of the tricks written about in this book. These are some of the tricks, as written in the Guardian article.

Tricks of the trade

For washing your hands in melted lead

Take cool well water and soak your hands for a while; then shake them, you can put them in a pan full of melted lead over a flame, and it will not cook you. It is even better if you put some ground rock alum in the water … to the uneducated … it will appear to be a miracle.

Make a coin go up and down in a glass

Take some magnetic powder and rub it on a quattrino [copper coin] before putting the coin in some vinegar. Then take a little bit of the magnetic powder between your thumb [and index finger] and tap the glass of water, where the coin is, and it will come up and go down … with your hand.

Card tricks

You will be able to teach the said boy, since he is closed [in a room] or at a distance, to guess which card some people have touched without seeing it, by way of the numbers you have agreed on with him: that is, by placing a number on the figures and cards according to the trick, and according to the agreement made between you … since it always appears to those who do not know the way … that all [these] things are done by the magic art of divination. And thus with spots on dice, and the ring, so you will always be able to do stupendous things with him … but you must do it cautiously, so that you might not be embarrassed, since the more secret things are, the more beautiful they are.

How to make an egg walk

[Take] an egg that has been emptied through a hole made with a pin, and then filled in with white wax, so the hole cannot be seen. And get a hair from a braid, the longest you can, and attach it to the shell with … solid wax. Fasten another bit of wax to the other end … placing the egg on the table, with the nail of your middle finger, pick up the said wax, and by moving it here and there … it will follow. This must be [done] in a place not too brightly lit, with onlookers at a distance.


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