In November of this year, the English language Italian news website The Local reported that during the excavation of the aristocratic Giunigi family plot in Lucca, Italy, the oldest known set of dentures was unearthed:
This apparatus is believed to have been fashioned for some lucky mouth sometime between 1400-1700, when it was common practice to extract ever-useful teeth from three sources: dead humans, often criminals, deal animals and…wait for it — living humans who allowed their teeth to be pulled for money. (So that’s where the Tooth Fairy scam came from.)
As you might be able to see, these solid gold-framed dentures were attached by painfully suturing them to the new/next owner’s gums.
Today, the trend has been somewhat reversed, as can be seen in this “gold grille”:
The pure gold support used in the first pair is a prime example of the wealth enjoyed by families like the Giunigi and De Medici, whose patronage fueled such crafts and artistic creations during the Italian Renaissance (1400-1700), when these dentures are thought to have been made.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was one such artist whose explorations in the fields of anatomy, cartography, biology and architecture were rewarded by Medici commissions and coin, and today, Leonardo is widely considered to be the Father of the Renaissance for the countless models, conceptions, inventions and secrets he cultivated during his lifetime.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when some of his lesser known drawings, such as this one, are uncovered and immediately recognised:
It seems a clear example of how Leonardo anticipated that bored future generations would find great need to entertain themselves, and strive to provide easy access to such entertainment by others. Various doodles of a wizened face, a grostesque, a mini Vitruvian Man and a hand fingering a mandolin play into the scene from the edges, and the centrally-located cartooned protagonists of this sketch crowd goonishly in awe together around reverberations issuing from a magical-looking conch.
By utilising the built-in sound retaining property of seashells of differing sizes, and orchestrating a funneling system to “stream” the sound into various shells, the shells containing the music could then be sold on the corner to passersby who could then wear their shell around their neck and enjoy the music at will, as actually illustrated in the upper right section of the drawing. Thus, the first ever portable music system, the DC (Da Vinci Compact). And you thought sewn-in false teeth were cutting-edge for the time.
James L. Weaver, M.F.A., B.F.A.