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The art of fighting under glass: Review of museum exhibitions displaying fight books, 1968-2017

Abstract

A growing body of research on fight books and historical European martial arts has appeared in academic circles over the last fifteen years. It has also broken through the doors of patrimonial institutions. From curiosities in exhibitions about knighthood, to dedicated temporary exhibitions about historical European martial arts, the fight books have received more and more attention from museum professionals. This article attempts to present an exhaustive list of fight books displayed in museum exhibitions over the last fifty years. It then proposes a critical view about how and why they were displayed from the perspective of the curators, based on a review of the exhibition catalogues.

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Combat Training for Horse and Rider in the Early Middle Ages

Abstract

The cavalry horse, tactics and training in Western Europe – the Euro-pean provinces of the Roman Empire of the West and the Frankish Empire – du-ring the Early Middle Ages (c. 500-1000) are still subject to many myths in both popular media and academic literature. Source material is admittedly thin, yet it is specific enough to allow us to correct many of these misconceptions and outright errors.

The article initially summarises the current state of knowledge on the war horse of the period, by reference to the archaeological record. It then reviews the cavalry’s battlefield tactics, derives the skill level required to execute the manoeuvres described in the sources, and analyses where and how this training could have been provided.

The information gleaned provides an insight into the skills and expertise neces-sary to achieve the requisite sophisticated level of horsemanship. We shall argue that these imply a considerable investment in organisational infrastructure, per-sonnel and institutional memory, which has so far not received much academic attention, and has wider implications for our view of the era.

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On the Art of Fighting: A Humanist Translation of Fiore dei Liberi’s Flower of Battle Owned by Leonello D’Este

Abstract

The author presents a study of Bibliothèque National de France MS Latin 11269, a manuscript that he argues was associated with the court of Leonello d’Este and which represents an attempt to “fix” or “canonize” a vernacular work on a practical subject in erudite Latin poetry. The author reviews the life of Fiore dei Liberi and Leonello d’Este and discusses the author’s intentions in writing, how the manuscript shows clear signs of Estense associations, and examines the manuscript both in light of its codicological context and in light of humanist activity at the Estense court. He also presents the evidence for the book having been in the Estense library. Finally, he examines the place of the manuscript in the context of the later Italian tradition of fencing books. A complete concordance is presented in the appendix.

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Visualizing the Fight Book Tradition: Collected Martial Knowledge in the Thun-Hohenstein Album

Abstract

The Thun-Hohenstein album, long-known as the Thun’sche Skizzenbuch, is a bound collection of 112 drawings that visualize armoured figures at rest and in combat, as well as empty armours arrayed in pieces. The collection gathers drawings that span the period from the 1470s to around 1590. While most of the images were executed in Augsburg during the 1540s, the album’s three oldest drawings date to the late-fifteenth century. Two of these works, which form a codicological interlude between the first and second quires, find parallels in the illustrations of contemporaneous martial treatises. This article traces the pictorial lineages of these atextual images through comparative analyses of fight books produced in the German-speaking lands, and considers how the representational strategies deployed in martial treatises inflected the ways that book painters and their audiences visualized the armoured body. This exploration situates a manuscript from which one of the drawings derives, Peter Falkner’s Art of Knightly Defense, now in Vienna, within the Augsburg book painters’ workshops that would later give rise to the Thun album. Finally, this study considers how the transmission and representation of martial knowledge in late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Augsburg contributed to the later depictions of armoured bodies that populate the album.

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