12 March 2011

16th century artificial ventilation

The image above comes from Allegory of a Dream by Giorgio Vasari (1541-45).  When I found it at Miss Folly, I was startled by the realization that the faun in the drawing is using a furnace bellows to provide artificial ventilation to the man - in the sixteenth century!

Bellows were used in antiquity to try to ventilate people (sometimes insufflating smoke rather than fresh air), but this drawing was made a full century before Robert Hooke showed that it was possible to ventilate a dog with an open thorax.

Very interesting.  Perhaps someday I can take time to look up more information about the painter and what this dream was supposed to be about (?drowning).


  1. The symbols in the drawing above the man and the items looking like incense pots behind the satyr would seem to indicate the bellows were for narcotic smoke instead of ventilation.

    I haven't come across assisted breathing that early, but the subject of bellows and ventilation does remind be a bit of a treatise from early 16th century - here's some images from the book:

  2. Very nice, joeli. I'm not sure what is being shown in plate XXX, but the illustration reminds me of the ones in Agricola's De Re Metallica, which was also published in mid-16th century; that book is replete with many illustrations of bellows (mostly being used for mine ventilation).


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