Theatrum instrumentorum…

04.12.2017 DS

Theatrum instrumentorum et machinarum Iacobi Bessoni …
by Besson, Jacques, Dauphinois; Béroalde de Verville, b. 1556; Androuet du Cerceau, Jacques, fl. 1549-1584, engraver; Boyvin, René, ca. 1525-ca. 1598, engraver; Burndy Library, donor. DSI

Other Authors: Béroalde de Verville, b. 1556.
Androuet du Cerceau, Jacques, fl. 1549-1584, engraver.
Boyvin, René, engraver.
Burndy Library, donor.

Publication date 1578.


Google provides a different version see here. There page 15 is different:

google version


errata internet archive version


The Smithsonian Libr. seems to carry that 1578 version as well.



Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, École doctorale d’histoire (ED 113)
Centre d’histoire des techniques (CH2ST / EA 127 « Modernités et révolutions »)
Doctorat en histoire moderne, Benjamin Ravier, PDF.


encycl. britt.


dsp digitalis



In the research of “Benjamin Ravier, Voir et concevoir :
les théâtres de machines (XVIe-XVIIIe siècle)”,  “Annexe 1 : Liste des théâtres de machines,
we can read that  Besson, Jacques in 1570 was the first that published a “machine theater”.


Jacques Besson, Iacobi Bessoni,  (1540 – 1574?/ 6 ) was a French Protestant inventor, mathematician, and philosopher, remembered for his popular treatise on machines Theatrum Instrumentorum (1571–72), which saw many reprints in different languages.

When King Charles IX of France made a royal visit to Orléans in 1569, Besson presented to the King a draft of his new treatise, what was to become the Theatrum Instrumentorum. and returned with him to Paris as “master of the King’s Engines”.

Charles gave Besson exclusive rights to his designs in that same year. While employed by the court, Besson also created an ingenious screw-cutting lathe that was semi-automatic, in that the operator only needed to pull and release a cord.

The Theatrum Instrumentorum had proved so popular that a second edition appeared in 1578, with more detailed descriptions of the instruments and machines by François Béroalde de Verville. The copper plates from the original edition were reused, except for four which were replaced by new engravings produced by René Boyvin.

Best info on French wiki.

We learn that publication of “Ratione extrahendi Olea absoluta e aquas e medicamentis simplicibus , Zürich, was in 1554, 1559 in Latin and French.


Prop. ~ propositio (see page 16: machinarum…etc. propositio prima..)


page 11 of 60:

Prop. xi

species aequipondii novi quod agitatum manu
unius, et alterius instar campanae pulsatae,
tantum virium habet ad agendum binos, eosque
immanes foles in foldinis, ut aequare possint
eos, qui vel ui aquarum, vel equorum in
girum actorum, promoventur.

Explanation (done by MarcoP)

A kind of “equal weight system” that is moved with one
and the other hand, like for moving (large) bells.
It has as much strength in acting upon its
two large bags, that it can be compared with
those moved by the strength
of water or of the wind.

Bellows and furnace

** Interesting table of the 84 Distilled plants and their “Aktuelle Nomenklatur” here,
from the 1481 Johann Blaubirer  book. For example: Lillien, weiss-> Lilium candidum, and Lillien plaw->  Iris germanica.



Page 18 /60


recens vasis forma qua ita exportari queant
liquores, ut vel in summo aestu, perinde
calore affici nequeant, ac in vases



Declaratio 18.figurae

Forsam in his declarandis assequar sententiam auctoris. Primo offerunt sese oculis duo vasa unum orientale aliud occidentale illa duo sunt perfecta unumque & idem sunt, reliqua, sunt parcesillius.
Pars septentrionalis cum parte meridionali iungitur in perfectione vasis, namquae in medio videntur intus reponuntur, est enim faccus coriaceurs & fistula in gyrum coacta ferrea,

est autem materies illius ex laminis que dicuntur ferri albi, in quo dealbando opus est argento viuo cuius est refrigerare, in has in quam fistula imponuntur liquores qui sacco cooperti item vasi non possunt calore affici.

Explanation (done by MarcoP)

A new type of container by which it is possible
to transport liquids, even with a great heat, without
them being affected by heat, as in common

First you see two vases, one Eastern (at the left?) the other Western (at the right). These two are complete and are the same thing. The other [things] are the parts they are made of.
The North (top) part connects perfectly with the lower part to complete the vase. In the middle you see what is inside. It is a hard “bag” and an iron pipe, turning around; it is made of a layer of what is called “white iron”, to make it white one uses mercury, which is used for cooling.
In this, I say [in hac inquam non “in has in quam”] you put liquids which, covered by the “bag” of the vase, cannot be affected by heat.


The Smithsonian dropdown menu reveals that we are seeing a  18 “spring operated pump”


page 51/60

Prop. Li

fons aeolicus perennis cum musico concentu
et motu caelesti ambobus quoque perennibus qualescunque applicare libuerit.


Wind Fountain with music concert, with heavenly motion that freely moves, if it may please you

(page 29)

Intelligendum est aquam sponte altiori loco subleuari non posse quam unde oriatur.
In hoc fonte que sunt ad meridiem vulgaria sunt reliqua autem minime, horum placet aliquam dicere rationem.

Superius ad Septentrionem picta sunt ventorum capita quae flatu aquam emittant, quod ut fiat ab altiori loco adducenda est aqua, & sunt in ore istorum capitum multa facienda foramina ut motu instrumenti ad id accomodati eiiciatur aqua, deinde ad motus horarum si ex canalibus aqua effusa rotulas mouerit multiplicatione motus fient quelibet, plura iam describere non possum sed alias deo fauente scribam.

Explanation (done by MarcoP)

a perennial source of winds, with musical concert and celestial movement, these two also perennial, which can be applied to anything you want.

You must understand water cannot rise by itself to a higher place than where it came from.

In the source below there are a few things which are common and not important, I will say something about them.

Above to the North the heads of the winds are represented, they emit water with their breath.

In order for this to happen, water must be taken form a higher place & one must make in the mouths of these heads many holes, so that the movement of the machine, connected to it, may sprout water. Then, for the movement of the hours, if the water conducted by channels moves some small wheels, its movement can be multiplied as needed. I cannot yet describe this in more detail, but I will write more, if God wants.


Wikipedia has this listed under unidentified machines, ” cross-section of a mechanical (wind-driven) musical device and fountain; for J. Besson”.


The Smithsonian dropdown menu reveals that we are seeing a 51. “Wind powered fountain”.


Cosmolabe by Jacques Besson.

Date between 1567 and 1569
Source Cosmolabe ou, instrument universel

The cosmolabe was an ancient astronomical instrument resembling the astrolabe, formerly used for measuring the angles between heavenly bodies. It is also called pantacosm.

Jacques Besson also uses this name, or universal instrument, for his invention described in Le cosmolabe (1567), which could be used for astrometry, cartography, navigation, and surveying.

French text:

Figure de la Base du cosmolabe
avec ses quatre viz, posees en leurs
escrovies (?), la Cheuille eccentrique plantee au
centre de ladite Base en quarré, ses cercles
degrez, signes des mois, et autres choses
cy dessus plus amplement specifiées.

Ensuite la Fabrique & composition
du corps & parties, de la seconde division
du Cosmolabe, que nous applerons
ColoNne du Cosmolabe.


Figure of the base of a Cosmolabe
with his four possible sights, posed in their
escrovies (?), the eccentric “leaf” planted at
the center of said square base, its circles
with degrees, signs of the months, and other things,
not specified.

Then made & composed body & parts,
of the second “floor” of the Cosmolabe,
which we will call:
“Column of the Cosmolabe”


The so called column seems to be a kind of telescope thing, which one can probably aim on a zodiac or a specific star.  How it exactly works is not explained here.

It is interesting to see how the artist tried to show a three dimensional drawing where the upper corners show the knobs of the legs of the table (base).


From the Ravier pdf we found also:

filatoio d’aqua ~ water spinning machine

Novo teatro di machine et edificii de Vittorio Zonca (1607).  By a large water wheel the silk (of which the Italian were famous) is spinned by an automated complicated apparatus.

Desseins artificieulx de Jacob Strada (1617).

The counterweight helps raise water in a pond before it is redistributed to fountains of a village in the background. The engraver always represents more than strictly necessary information: he inserts them into a known universe, or sometimes exotic in some boards that
shows Turkish buildings (some buildings are topped with crescents). Right here,
the background represents not only a fountain but fields and a large
building (barn church?).  text source: Ravier pdf.