Book Shorts

This facsimile of a late 16th-century Italian manuscript on how to fence is a masterpiece of draughtsmanship

Camillo Palladini was a master swordsman whose work has been lost for centuries until this publication

“These two figures demonstrate that when thrusting in terza…[to] take care not to attack him if you cannot put your dagger over his sword, since by leaving his sword free you risk being struck” Credit: The Wallace Collection

This book is (or was) a DIY guide to duelling with swords, and a facsimile of a manuscript, with transcriptions of the Italian text and an English translation, along with scholarly essays. The Discorso sopra l’arte della scherma was written and illustrated in around the last decade of the 16th and the first decade of the 17th century.

Little is known of author and illustrator, Camillo Palladini, apart from this work. Palladini was apparently a fencing master from Bologna who worked in Rome and achieved a degree of success in his lifetime. His manuscript was never published (although it was plagiarised in a French work of 1610) and it was eventually acquired by England's Eighth Baron Howard de Walden (1880-1946) whose library of 300 rare books and manuscripts is now housed in London’s Wallace Collection.

This book will be of great interest to historians of arms and armour and early modern combat, and the exquisite red chalk drawings of pairs of nude men have a beauty of their own—despite (or perhaps because of?) the violence of the engagements (shown above, “thrusting in terza”).

Palladini was no doubt concerned to illustrate the musculature needed to perfect a man’s swordsmanship. An appendix supplies a glossary of the arcane Italian terminology of fencing (at which Italians of the era were considered the experts sine qua non). Palladini’s cursive script is remarkably clear, as is his monitory motto at the beginning of the manuscript: “Watch what you do, to whom, where, when and how / A fool’s tongue is his ruin”.

  • Piermarco Terminiello and Joshua Pendragon, The Art of Fencing: the Forgotten Discourse of Camillo Palladini, Royal Armouries Museum, 224pp £55 (hb)