Scholars of the history of fencing, such as Jacopo Gelli, Edgerton Castle, and Arsène Vigeant, agree that Capoferro's Gran Simulacro dell'arte e dell'uso della scherma (Great Representation of the Art and Use of Fencing) is one of the most important fencing treatises published in the seventeenth century. While it continues a long-established Italian tradition of publications on the art of fencing, and specifically on the use of the rapier, Capoferro's book stands out for its comprehensive description of new techniques such as those related to the defense strategy (guardia).
The Special Collections Research Center is extremely fortunate to hold the first edition of this manual, purchased through the generosity of committed supporters of the library Joe & Lydie Hudson. The stellar feature of this treatise is the inclusion of 43 full-page copperplate engravings by Rafael Schiamirossi. The book itself opens with a title page showing a woodcut of the printer's device (Romulus & Remus with the She-Wolf).
On the verso of the title is a copperplate engraving of the coat of arms of the dedicatee Francesco Mario Feltrio della Rovere, the Sixth Duke of Urbino.
And following the "Tavola Generale dell'Arte della Scherma" is an engraved portrait of the author. Though on the title page Capoferro claims to be "maestro dell'eccelsa natione alemana" (master from the illustrious German nation), other instances in the text reveal Capoferro's Italian background and connections. He was from Cagli, the treatise is dedicated to the Sixth Duke of Urbino, and the manual itself was published in Siena by two Italian printers, Salvestro Marchetti and Camillo Turi. One might speculate whether Capoferro might have been the fencing tutor of a German prince. For instance, Salvator Fabris (1544-1618) was an Italian fencing master from Padua who taught his art in several European countries, including Denmank where, as the fencing instructor of King Christian IV, published his influential treatise De lo schermo overo scienza d'arme (On Fencing, or the Science of Arms) in 1606.
Capoferro's manual is divided into three main sections. The first part is exclusively theoretical, consisting of thirteen introductory chapters that cover topics ranging from the use of arms in general to specific concepts such as misura, defined as the distance between the point of the sword and the body of the adversary, tempo, which is the time spent in any single fencing action, and guardia, which refers to the defense posture with the arm and the rapier extended in a straight line towards the middle of the attackable areas of the adversary. Next is a section with practical recommendations that apply the theory of the previous part. Finally, the third part, and the most fascinating portion of the manual, consists of a step-by-step guide illustrating the position of the body and rapier to succeed in repelling or striking (ferire) the adversary.
Photos by Randal Stegmeyer
Castle, Egerton. Schools and Masters of Fence, from the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century; with a sketch of the development of the art of fencing with the rapier and the small sword, and a bibliography of the fencing art during that period. Illustrated with reproductions of old engravings and carbonplates of ancient swords. London: G. Bell & Sons, 1885.
Gelli, Jacopo. Bibliografia generale della scherma, con note critiche, biographiche e storiche. Second Edition. Milan: Hoepli, 1895.
Thimm, Carl A. A Complete Bibliography of Fencing and Duelling, as practised by all European nations from the middle ages to the present day. London: John Lane, 1896.
Vigeant, Arsène. La bibliographie de l'escrime ancienne et moderne. Paris: Motteroz, 1882.