Models of bridges in the Regia Scuola di applicazione per gli ingegneri in Padova
The models in the museum of educational models at the University of Padua’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering (ICEA) originally served as practical teaching aids in the study of metal bridge construction at the “Cabinet of Bridges” at the “Royal School of Application for Engineers”, which was annexed to the University of Padua. They supplemented, and formed part of, a teaching and research programme developed by Pio Chicchi over the course of the two decades leading up to his appointment as director of the School in 1890 (he would hold the post until 1899), a programme that culminated in the publication – in 1881 and 1886 respectively – of two editions of his theoretical and practical course on the construction of metal bridges:
- 1st edition, 1881: text + 500 in-line figures + 2 full-page plates; volume of 52 folio plates.
- 2nd edition, 1886, reorganised with numerous additions: text; volume of 603 figures in 45 double-page plates; volume of 60 folio plates.
The oldest models were beautifully crafted in galvanised iron sheeting by the mechanic Carlo Nardin. They painstakingly reproduce the details of the riveted joints in miniaturised scale – for the most part 1:10. Luigi Vittorio Rossi, who was head of the Department of Wooden and Iron Bridges from 1898, had additional teaching models built to illustrate whole or parts of constructions built with wood. A list of 46 single models or model groups was published in 1906, each entry accompanied by a black and white photograph: Modelli per l’insegnamento pratico della costruzione dei ponti metallici, esistenti nel Gabinetto di Ponti della R. Scuola di applicazione in Padova, [s.n.t.] (lit. “Models for practical teaching of metal bridge construction, present in the Cabinet of Bridges of the Royal School of Application in Padua” – without publication details, available at the Central Library of the School of Engineering at the University of Padua).
Sadly, over the years a number of the models have disappeared or been damaged. The 97 models currently in the inventory are housed in their original 5 wooden cabinets in Palazzo Cavalli. This is the site at Porte Contarine where the School of Application moved in 1895 (having been founded in 1876), leaving Palazzo del Bo, though it remained part of the university. One, particularly large model is stored on a board and protected by a transparent case. A number of wooden models and cabinets recently underwent a restoration and conservation process to help ensure their long-term preservation. They have been placed in the “Aula Polivalente” on the mezzanine level of the Donghi building on via Marzolo, which became the School’s new home in 1929.
For a critical introduction to the collection in the context of the history of great European bridges of the second half of the nineteenth century, see: Bertolini, C. (1991). I grandi ponti europei della fine dell'ottocento rappresentati nei modelli didattici, in Berti, M. e Majorana, C. (a cura di), Le Costruzioni Metalliche a Padova nell'Ottocento (Proceedings from the conference held in Padua on 26 January 1991). Edizioni Libreria Progetto, Padua..