A Brief Examination of Fiore dei Liberi's Treatises
|Figure 1: Armorial bearings of Lanzilotto from Boecharia of Pavia (first arms from the left). The second arms are those of Antonius de bocheria. (Latin MS 28, University of Manchester, Ryland Collection Library)|
Other duels involving his students mentioned in the prologue include Sir Açço da Castell Barcho26 who fought with Çuanne di Ordelaffi27, and the valiant and good knight Sir Jacomo di Boson28, although no details on whom Jacomo faced in the duel. No other details describing the duels were included in the prologue of either version nor any external references describing these duels have been found to date.
In the Pisani-Dossi prologue, in the "alter prologus " section of the prologue, the phrase "...che io predito fior o uecudo mille chiamati magistri che non sono de tuti loro quatro boni scholari e de quilli quatro boni scholari non seria uno bon magistro. " is written in which Fiore almost "boasts" having seen thousands of self-styled masters of which only four were considered good Scholars by Fiore, and of the four good Scholars, only one would be considered a master in Fiore terms. This claim is not included in the Getty nor the Morgan prologue. However, in the Getty and Morgan prologues, it is mentioned that Fiore was challenged to five duels, using cut and thrust weapons, wearing only an arming doublet29 and leather gauntlets ("chamois") because he did not wish to fight nor practice the Masters who challenged him. These duels occuured in locations without any supportive relations and friends, but apparently, his honour was and remained secured.
Without a doubt, the most vexing part of Fiore's life were his later years, at the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century during the period of time of the composition of his treatise or treatises. The “alter prologus ” in the Pisani-Dossi version highlights Nicolo III d'Este and Marquis of Ferrare30 and mentions that the composition of the treatise including both the writing and the illustrations were at the request of Nicolo. This implies that Nicolo was Fiore's Patron and therefore commissioned Fiore to compose a book on combat to satisfy Nicolo's desire to add to his extensive bibliographic collection. There is nothing in the prologue which may indicate that Fiore was a member of the Marquis's court and given Fiore was a reputable and notable swordsman, Nicolo's library was enhanced with the addition of Fiore's treatise which he started writing on February 10, 1409 and completed the treatise some six months later.
Interestingly, there is no mention of the Marquis de Ferrera in the Morgan's prologue, in fact, there is no mention of anyone who may be interepreted as being Fiore's Patron. Fiore writes of his students and their feats of arms, with an obvious omission of Nicolo III from the list of his students. By the time Fiore began his composition of “Flos Duellatorum” (Pisani-Dossi version), Nicolo would'be been 21 years of age and therefore, would've had plenty of time to receive instruction and test his skills in the barriers.
However, we find Nicolo d'Este Marquis de Ferrera, etc. mentioned in the Getty's prologue. In fact, it appears that the Marquis has provided instructions to Fiore on how to structure the treatise in order to serve Nicolo's needs or desire. This raises the question about whether Nicolo was Fiore's Patron, or perhaps he was one of Fiore's students, and wielded enough power and resources to request a copy of the art for his own reference to armizare? Perhaps Nicolo had the desire to become or at least be perceived as a master, given that Fiore states in the prologue that no man has a great enough memory to remember the complete art without the aid of such a book. Yet, Fiore's prologue has no mention of Nicolo as one of his students demonstrating feats of arms of the knowledge and skills learned from Fiore.
Unfortunately, the prologues obviously do not include the year of Fiore's death, and to date, there are no records, archived or otherwise which reveal Fiore's activities after 1410. Presumably, he died sometime between 1410 and 1420.
The Treatises – A Brief Comparative Analysis
There are presently four known versions of of Fiore's treatises on armizare. The following are some specifics which will aid in the ensuing discussion. The exact citations are:
The provenance for the Morgan version is:31
The currently understood and generally accepted provenance for the Getty version is:32
The Pisani-Dossi version, the most popular and widely accessible version on the Internet for more than ten years, has a prologue composed of two portions, the first in Latin, and the second more comprehensive portion “alter prologus ” in Venetian dialect of Italian. Its prologue is quite unlike the other two versions, in that it completely devoid of any description of the feats of arms of Fiore's students, and mentions Fiore's career as 50 years as opposed to 40 years in the other two versions. However, only in the Pisani-Dossi version, is a date explicitly stated. Fiore wrote that he started his composition on February 10, 1409 (1410 using the modern calendar) and alludes to taking approximately six months to complete. Was the difference in the years of Fiore's career an error in the other two versions? It can be argued that such a personal detail would hardly succumb to such an obvious error, and therefore, one can postulate that the Pisani-Dossi version was composed approximately 5 to 10 years after the completion of the Getty's and Morgan's versions, meaning the Getty's and the Morgan's versions were written sometime after the turn of the 14th century. This debate continues with vigour in the historical community and further discussion or research on this particular subject is outside the scope of this paper.
|Figure 2: Pisani-Dossi – extracted from the 4th plate after the prologue, depicting the first Remedy Master's first play who is deploying the “boar's tooth” in response to the neck grab by his “zugadore”. This is followed by five more illustrations depicting other defensive techniques, each illustration accompanied with rhyming couplets.|
|Figure 3: Getty – The Getty's counterpart to the Pisani-Dossi image in the previous page is extracted from the 2nd plate after the prologue, depicting the Remedy Master's first play reacting to a shoulder/neck grab, followed by three more illustrations depicting scholars with further defensive measures, each illustration accompanied with extensive descriptive text. Copyright © 2008 The J. Paul Getty Trust. All rights reserved.|
The most extraordinary difference between the Pisani-Dossi and the other versions is in the structure of the text accompanying the illustrations. The text in the Pisani-Dossi is comprised of rhyming couplets (see illustration 2), which gives the impression that the purpose was to inject combative concepts into the fewest and more memorable prose to aid in recalling and remembering the great expanse of armizare. It is the opinion of this author, which is shared by other researchers and practitioners of historical fencing, that the design of this manuscript may have served a similar purpose as mnemonics used to remember details of certain information or facts or concepts, e.g. "Mary's violet eyes make Johnny stay up nights. Period" which was used to remember the names and order of the nine planets (now eight!) in our solar system. The Pisani-Dossi version may have been designed employing memorial techniques consistent with other period writings as memorial cues and aids which may be compared to a conglomeration of mnemonic phrases and the popular “Coles Notes”33 used by students for many years as a study guide and learning aid. Interestingly, approximately 68% of the prologue in the Pisani-Dossi is focused on describing the structure and order of the treatise, as compared to approximately 47% in the Getty's version and only 26% of the prologue describing the structure in the Morgan's version. Such detail in its structure adds credence to the notion that perhaps the Pisani-Dossi version was indeed oriented towards a student's learning and training guide.
Of the three versions, the Getty's offers the most detailed paragraphs accompanying the illustrations (see illustration 3), followed by the Morgan's with a slightly abbreviated text. To add, the illustrations found in the Getty's and Morgan's are less “animated” like than the illustrations found in the Pisani-Dossi. To add, the contents of the Morgan, despite being more similar to the Getty's version, does not cover the entire art as is within the Getty's, with significant portions not included such as the “abrazare ” (grappling) and “daga ” (dagger) sections found in both the Pisani-Dossi and Getty's.
A more detailed examination of the presentation of the First Remedy Master of the first play of abrazare follows. The text accompanying the figure illustrated in Figure #2 above, from the Pisani-Dossi version reads as:
Cum questa presa in terra andare ti farò
Ouero el braço senistro ti deslogaro34
which translated becomes:
I will make you go to the ground with this hold
Or else I will dislocate your left arm
Although, the couplet is not as much a mnenomic as it is a simplified verse to convey a particular principle with respect to the classic shoulder grab and the counter to such an attack. The couplet can easily be translated into physical reality by a student of the art. Continuing on with the Getty's text accompanying the same figures in its version, it reads as:
Questo sie lo primo zogho de abrazare et ogni guardia
d'abrazare si po 'riuare in questo zogho e in questa presa
zoe pigli cum la man stancha lo suo brazo dritto in la
piegadura del suo brazo dritto e la sua dritta mano
metta chosi dritta apresso lo suo cubito e poy subito faza
la presa del segondo zogho zoe piglilu in quello modo
e daga la uolta ala persona E per quello modo o ello an-
dara in terra ouero lo brazo gli serà dislogado.
which translated becomes:
This is the first play of abrazare and every guard
of abrazare can arrive in this play and in this hold35
namely take hold with the left hand his right arm in the
fold/bend of his right arm and your right hand
is put like this right behind his elbow and then suddenly I will make
the hold “presa” of the second play namely I catch him in this way
and give a turn to his body and in this way I have him
go to the ground or I shall dislocate the arm of his.
Interestingly, the text in the Pisani-Dossi version essentially describes the same action as the Getty's version, with much less text in the form of a rhyming couplet providing a memory aid and relying on the illustrations to ensure the point gets across. Whereas the Getty's text offers more detailed description and examination of the subtleties of the actions involved accompanying the illustration which were rendered with greater sophistication as compared to the former treatise. Yet both versions conveys a very similar concept and achieves the same instructional objective for this particular play. This is consistent across the entire Pisani-Dossi and Getty's treatises.
The examination of the Morgan's version, as compared to the Getty's will reveal that the Morgan's text is near word-for-word similar to the Gettys', however, the organization of the Morgan's is completely different from the Getty's in that it begins with a section on combats on horseback with lances, whereas, the Getty's begins with abrazare or grappling. The Morgan's is also the shortest of the three treatises, whereby, the abrazare and daga sections are completely absent, however, there are plates which depict wrestling on horseback and some plates depicting dagger against sword.
The general thinking as to why the Morgan's is so much shorter than the other two, was that it was probable that the manuscript was not completed due to lack of funds or events which precluded its completion. Perhaps other projects took precedence and the Morgan's version was left as an incomplete manuscript. To add, there is neither dedication in the prologue to a Patron nor any mention of Nicolo III. From the Morgan's version referring to the "3 players" illustrated in Figure 4:
Noy semo tri zugadori che volemo ferir questo
magistro. Uno glie de' trare de punta l'altro de taglio
l'altro vole lanzare la sua spada contra lo ditto
magistro. Sì che bene serà grande fatto ch'ello non sia
morto questo magistro che dio lo faza ben tristo.
Voi sete cativi e di questa arte save pocho, fate gli
fatti che parole non ha logo, vegna a uno a uno chi sa
fare e pò che se vui foste cento tuti ve guastarò per
questa guardia ch'è così bona e forte. Io acresco lo pe'
ch'è denanci uno pocho fora de strada, e cum lo
stancho io passo alla traversa. E cum quelo passar io
me covro rebatendo le spade ve trovo discoverti e de
ferire ve farò certi. E si lanza o spada che me ven
lanzada, tute le rebatto come i' ò ditto passando fora
de strada. segondo che vui vederite gli mie zoghi de
dredo. De guardagli ch'io ven prego, e pure cum
spada a una man farò mia arte.
which translated becomes:
We are three Players that want to hurt this Master.
One he will thrust the point, the other cuts, the
other will throw his sword against the said Master.
As well it is a very great fact that this Master is not
dead that God made him very wily.
You have wicked desires and of this art know little,
you especially do things that have no place in
words, come one by one who knows how to do it
and even if you were one hundred I will ruin you all
because of this guard that is therefore good and
strong. I accrease the foot that is forward a little
out of the way, and with the left I pass to the side.
And with this pass I cover beating the sword and I
find you uncovered and of striking you I will be cer-
tain. And of a spear or sword that is thrown at me,
I will beat them all as I have said passing out of the
way. As you will see in my plays that follow here
after. Look at them I pray to you, and therefore
with the sword of one hand I will make my art.
|Figure 4: Morgan - extracted from plate 17R, depicting what is commonly called "three players", often misinterpreted as the master on the right facing three opponents at the same time on the left.|
|Figure 5: Getty - extracted from folio 20 depicts the same scenario and technique as found in the Morgan's version. Copyright © 2008 The J. Paul Getty Trust. All rights reserved.|
From the Getty's version referring to the "3 players" in Figure 5:
Noy semo tre zugadori che volemo alcider questo
magistro. Uno gli dè trare di punta, l’altro di taglio
l’altro vole fatt lanzare la sua spada contra lo ditto
magistro. Sì che ben sarà grande fatto ch’ello non sia
morto che dio lo faza ben tristo
Voy seti cativi e di quest’arte savete pocho. Fate gli
che parole non ano loco. Vegna a uno a uno chi sa fare
e po’ che se voi fossi cento tutti vi guasterò per questa
guardia ch’è chossì bona e forte. Io acresco lo pe' ch’è
denanci un pocho fora de strada e cum lo stancho io
passo ala traversa. E in quello passare incroso
rebattendo le spade ve trovo discoverti e de ferire vi
farò certi. E si lanza o spada me ven alanzada,
tutte le rebatto chome t’ò ditto passando fuora di
strada, segondo che vedreti li miei zochi qui dreto,
de guardagli che v'in prego. E pur cum spada a una
mano farò mia arte como n’è dereto in queste carte.
which translated becomes:
We are three Players that intend to kill this Master.
One will throw the point (thrust), the other with a cut,
the other wants to throw his sword against the said
Master. So that it will be a very great fact he is not
dead that God makes him very sorrowful.
You have bad desires and of this art you know little.
You do things that have no place in words. Come
one by one who knows how to do it and even if you
were one hundred I will put you all out of order
because of this guard that is so good and strong.
I accrease the foot that is forward a little out of the
way and with the left I pass to the side (traverse).
And in that pass I cross beating the sword to you I
find you revealed and of wounding you I will make
certain. And if a spear or sword is thrown at me,
I will beat them all like I have said passing out of the
way. As you will see in my plays that follow here
after, I pray that you look at them. And even with a
one handed sword I will do my art as it is after in
The differences between the two versions as depicted above is minimal. The language has some differences, and may be attributed to differences in the "dialect", hence the slight differences in the language. This particular play has often been misinterpreted as the master, possessing the skills of the art is able to face three fighters at the same time. The illustration and text actually reveal that the particular "posta " or guard which the master has assumed is able to defend and offend an attack from any one of the originating offensive stances.
Although Fiore dei Liberi was merely a footnote in the annals of history, definitely not in the same league as some of the great men of the period, however, his influence in the 21st century can be vividly seen and experienced across many historical fighting and fencing schools and academies throughout the world. The challenge of rebuilding the man who bore the name Fiore will require exhaustive research into archives, personal collections and libraries which remain untouched or inaccessible today with respect to research on the man Fiore. By cultivating a more complete and detailed biography of Fiore, will most definitely aid in our understanding, development and evolution of armizare, perhaps ensuring that the resurrected form of armizare is closer to the “truth” as expected by Fiore himself.
Lastly, the reconstruction and practice of armizare cannot be complete without referencing and studying all three treatises. Each has certain unique qualities and attributes which contribute to fleshing out the art. It is hoped that as we learn more about Fiore, through closer examination of the treatises and through research of secondary sources such as archived records and documents, armizare will once again re-acquire its original status as a complete and viable offensive and defensive fighting art system – a viable alternative to today's popular Eastern systems.
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