Medieval helicopter gets a surprising number of hits, and yet....
February 19, 2015 10:34 PM   Subscribe

About 20 years ago in some display in the Air and Space museum in the Smithsonian, there was a reproduction of a medieval woodcut or silverpoint drawing of a boy with a toy helicopter. The helicopter's propeller was a cork and some feathers, and it was powered by a bowed piece of wood and a bit of string. The style of the art and the boy's hat scream Albrecht Dürer (a la his 1484 self portrait) but I don't think it was him. Can anyone help me track this bit of historic trivia down?
posted by Kid Charlemagne to Society & Culture (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Your question got me curious -- I haven't found a great match for your description, but I did find something that might be a useful lead or reference (at least, for determining if the toy helicopter you're remembering looked similar): George Cayley's Flying Model from 1796. Definitely not medieval, but it had corks, feathers, whalebone bow, and string. Go to this "Flight and Flying" section of Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th edition, 1910-11), and if you do an in-page find for "cayley" you'll see the model in figure 36. The four paragraphs underneath the figure go into more detail about the model's construction.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 12:21 AM on February 20, 2015

Best answer: Bosch: Adoration of the Magi: Child with Pinwheel Detail Netherlandish art uses the child and pinwheel as a metaphor for human folly. This example is from Bosch, but you can find additional examples in Simon Schama's wonderful book: "Embarrassment of Riches".
posted by effluvia at 5:22 AM on February 20, 2015

posted by effluvia at 5:26 AM on February 20, 2015

Response by poster: Cayley's model looks very much like I remember, which makes me wonder if the art I remember wasn't modern.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:57 PM on February 21, 2015

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