Baldissera Drachio was active at the
Arsenale from at least 1545, when he was a student of the
'proto' Leonardo Bressan, working as a
'gastaldo' ('steward') in carpentry .
He was sacked from the Arsenale following
accusations levelled against him by several masters, an indication of the
deep-rooted resentments within this group of technicians. He returned to his
profession, however, in 1595. Towards the end of his life he wrote three
unpublished manuscripts which provide us with an astonishingly vivid portrait
of the author, the pulsing life of the Arsenale, and the passions and interests
of the men who worked there. His 'Pensieri' ('Thoughts') were dedicated to
Giacomo Foscarini, to whom he confides that 'my intention was... not to write
anything more about the Arsenale'1 because of the past hostility of
his colleagues. He begs him to keep the manuscript secret 'out of fear and
misgivings that I must have regarding my health because of past misfortunes and
Another work was even more telling. Entitled 'La visione di Drachio'
('Drachio's Vision'), it contains a scene in which the 'proto' Bressan appears
in a dream, revealing to him the 'constructive principles of a perfect
Alluding to Archimedes and the history and traditions of the 'ancient
learned Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans'4, he sets these cultures against that
of the moderns. It is no coincidence that Galileo Galilei and Giacomo Contarini
were conducting a correspondence regarding the movement of oars at just this
1 'l'animo mio non era... di scriver più cosa alcuna in materia
2 'per il timore ed il sospetto ch'io debbo havere della mia salute per causa
delli passati infortuni e persecutioni'
3 'ragioni fabbricatorie di una perfetta galera'
4 'antichi sapientissimi Greci, Cartaginesi et Romani'