Renaissance Šibenik produced many learned minds, most famously Faust Vrančić (Faustus Verantius), the author of Machinae Novae (1615) – a book of machines and contraptions whose inventiveness rivalled the mechanical fantasies of Leonardo da Vinci. The album of 49 copper engravings included suspension bridges, wind-powered mills with rotating roofs and, most famously, Homo volans – a picture of a man jumping from a tower with a primitive parachute. Equipped with a square of sail-canvas, Vrančić opined in the accompanying text, “a man can easily descend securely and without any kind of danger from a tower or any other high place”. According to seventeenth-century British scientist Bishop John Wilkins, Vrančić successfully tested his parachute by jumping out of a window in Venice, although Wilkins’ account was written thirty years after the event and remains tantalizingly unconfirmed by other sources.
Vrančić compiled Machinae Novae towards the end of a busy intellectual life. As the nephew of imperial diplomat and Archbishop of Hungary, Antun Vrančić, the young Faust served as secretary to the court of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague – a renowned meeting place for humanists from all over Europe. He subsequently retired to become a monk in Rome, where he probably became acquainted with Leonardo’s drawings, and was moved to compile his Machinae. Vrančić’s other major work was his Dictionarium quinque nobilissimarum Europae linguarum (“Dictionary of the Five Most Noble Languages of Europe”; 1595), a lexicon including Latin, Italian, German, Hungarian and “Dalmatian” (Croatian). It was the first real dictionary in either Croatian or Hungarian, and had a profound influence on the subsequent development of both languages.