Vannoccio Biringuccio

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Vannoccio Vincenzio Austino Luca Biringuccio (also Biringucci ; * before October 20, 1480 in Siena ; † August 1537 in Rome ) was an engineer, architect, gunsmith and applied chemist, with his work De la Pirotechnia he founded metallurgy .

Illustration of the French edition of Pirotechnia


Vannoccio Biringuccio was baptized on October 20, 1480, as a result of which he was probably born on the same day or the day before, his father Paolo di Vannoccio (was married to Lucrezia di Bartolomeo) worked in the municipal building trade. Little is known about the training, but he was promoted by Pandolfo Petrucci and later his son Borghese (born around 1492 ) - the Petruccis were a tyrannical aristocratic family in Siena.

Activities in Siena

After training in iron mines, Biringuccio took over the management of the silver mines on Avanzaberg, which enabled him to make two study trips to Germany, which in turn had a great influence on Pirotechnia . He visited Innsbruck , Hall , Schwaz and also Italian mines. After 1508 Milan, Venice and Ferrara followed, until he returned to Siena and took over the supervision of the mines. In 1513 he became the city foreman in Siena, and the following year he took over the management of the city's mint. In 1515 he had to flee due to the overthrow of the dictator and was charged with forging coins in his absence. An unsteady wandering life followed in Rome and Naples and in 1517 in Sicily before he returned to Siena with Fabio Petrucci , where he got his fortune back and was again master craftsman. In January 1524 he was granted the privilege of producing saltpetre for the entire Republic of Siena. However, a popular uprising drove the Petruccis out again, whereupon one tried in vain to recapture Siena with the artillery under the direction of Biringuccio. Biringuccio's whereabouts between 1526 and 1529 is unknown, but it may have been in Germany, then he improved the artillery of the Republic of Florence. In the same year he returned to Siena, after he was able to persuade the rival political parties to peace, and was a member of the magistrate there.

Activities in Rome

In 1534 Pope Paul III appointed Vannoccio Biringuccio as artillery captain and caster, in 1535 as successor to Baldassare Peruzzi as architect and builder of St. Peter's Basilica. In 1536 Biringuccio moved entirely to Rome and from then on also managed the foundry. However, he died in August 1537.


Biringuccio probably wrote his ten-volume work " De la Pirotechnia " in 1534/35 , the first edition of which appeared posthumously in Venice in 1540. Italian, French and Latin editions followed, and the German translation was given the title “The ten books on the art of fireworks”. This was the first book since antiquity that was not primarily concerned with war technology.

As a practitioner, Biringuccio vividly presented all technical processes and used his mother tongue in order not only to address scholars. It was the first ever book on metallurgy and remained the unmatched standard work for over two centuries. It also provided the first detailed report on flame ovens and the hardening of antimony; the first mention of the weight gain when calcining lead in flame furnaces; the first description of the color change during hardening of steel, which Robert Boyle specified; the first mention of manganese under these modern names.

Contents of the Pirotechnia

The first book deals with the different metals, the search for and investigation of ores, the creation of ore pits, tunnel and shaft construction and tools of the miner. It also extols the usefulness of mining and mentions many personal observations of Biringuccio's travels. The representation of metals, ores and minerals, starting with gold , silver , copper and lead ore, is based on the literature known at the time.

The second book contains descriptions of the semi-minerals and one of the oldest descriptions of the extraction of mercury. It represents sulfur in all aspects, i.e. its properties, sulfur ore and its extraction; whereby it is based on the statements of ancient and medieval scholars, including Pliny the Elder and Albertus Magnus . Mention is made of metal pebbles, alum extraction , arsenic , auripigment , the extraction of common salts from pits and water, blue and green glaze stones, rock crystal, the well-known gemstones diamond , emerald and sapphire . The general information about salts can already be found in Georgius Agricola , the description of glass production could only be surpassed two centuries later by Johannes Kunckel with his work Ars Vitraria Experimentalis .

The third volume deals with the preparation of ores for smelting in 10 chapters, the fourth volume discusses the separation of silver from gold and the conversion into fine gold. The fifth book deals with metal alloys: gold alloys, alloys of silver with copper, alloys of copper, tin and lead.

The sixth book is dedicated to the art of casting: It describes how the clay for bronze casting must be made, how bronze figures and guns are created, makes general statements about bronze casting molds, gives dimensions for bells and their clappers. Finally, it is also ideal for welding cracked bells.

The seventh book contains metal melting processes, detailed descriptions of the construction and operation of flame furnaces and a first-time description of the casting of large and small bullets. The eighth volume is about how sands are made for the small casting of bronze and brine for molding sand, about the molding with sand in boxes or wooden frames, the molding of sculptures, about substances that make the metals easily melt and thin.

The ninth book mentions various fire works: distilling; Water and oil extraction; Sublimate; Operation of a coin; Gold, copper, iron and tin forging; Drawing gold, silver, copper and brass wire; Gold preparation for spinning; De-golding of silver and other metals that have been coated with gold leaf. It also describes how to make the best crucibles for melting all metals. Finally, the tenth book is about artificial incendiary substances for fireworks, which are intended for war purposes or for amusement at festivities.


  • Cyril Stanley Smith, Martha Teach Gnudi (translator): The Pirotechnia of Vannoccio Biringuccio. The Classic Sixteenth-Century Treatise on Metals and Metallurgy. Dover Publications, New York 1990, ISBN 0-486-26134-4


  • The mineral biringuccite , first described in 1961 , was named after him.


  • Ugo Tucci:  Biringucci (Bernigucio), Vannoccio. In: Alberto M. Ghisalberti (Ed.): Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (DBI). Volume 10:  Biagio-Boccaccio. Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, Rome 1968.
  • [Pirotechnia] Biringuccios Pirotechnia: a textbook of chemical-metallurgical technology and artillery from the 16th century . Vieweg, Braunschweig 1925 (translated and edited by Otto Johannsen).
  • Siegfried Wollgast: Vannoccio Biringuccio . In: Gerhard Banse , Siegfried Wollgast (Ed.): Biographies of important technicians . Volk und Wissen, Berlin 1983, pp. 48–54.

Web links

Commons : Vannoccio Biringuccio  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Marco E. Ciriotti, Lorenza Fascio, Marco Pasero: Italian Type Minerals . 1st edition. Edizioni Plus - Università di Pisa, Pisa 2009, ISBN 978-88-8492-592-3 , p. 51 .