Historical Visuals and Reconstruction of Motion: A Gestalt Perspective on Medieval Fencing Iconography

Maciej Talaga 1  and Harrison Ridgeway 2
  • 1 , Jaworowa 8, 05-807, Żółwin, Poland
  • 2 , 99a koornang road, Carnegie Victoria 3163, Australia

Summary

Several subdisciplines within historiography, most notably the arms and armour or martial arts studies, are interested in inferring physical qualities of historical material objects from historical sources. Scholars from these fields face serious deficiency of written accounts when it comes to various crucial information regarding their subject matter. Therefore, researchers’ attention is often drawn to iconographical sources, sometimes resulting in certain fascination with the material culture depicted in primary technical literature (Fachliteratur). This tendency seems particularly strong in studies on HEMA which rely heavily on pre-modern combat treatises known as ‘fight books’ (Fechtbücher) and are tempted either to treat the available iconography as a faithful representation of its corresponding material reality or to interpret apparent mismatch between icono-graphical representations and their material source domain as evidence for the inferior skills of the illustrator.

We would like to put forward that there is a fundamental oversight in such approach to Fachliteratur in general and fight books in particular, namely the lack of consideration for the artwork as a diagrammatic representation of the functional aspects of depicted embodied technique, where proportional ‘realism’ is of lesser priority. It may be fruitful to develop a more nuanced method of ‘reading’ such images. Our survey of select late-medieval fight books shows that equipment, and even body parts, are regularly distorted in their depictions in the fight books to better communicate the subject matter, especially where textual descriptions would be complicated. Interpreted in Gestalt terms, this phenomenon may serve as an example of historical pragmatic application of the cognitive principle of holism – that the whole is something different than the sum of its parts.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Andre Paurñfeyndt (n.d.). In Wiktenauer (C. Trosclair, Trans.). Retrieved from https://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Andre_Paur%C3%B1feyndt (Accessed January 4, 2020).

  • Anglo, S. (2000). The martial arts of renaissance Europe. London, UK: Yale University Press.

  • Basing, P. (1990). Trades and crafts in medieval manuscripts. New Amsterdam, UK: British Library.

  • Burkart, E. (2016). Limits of understanding in the study of lost martial arts. Acta Periodica Duellatorum, 4(2), 5–30.

  • Cinato, F. (2016). Development, diffusion and reception of the “Buckler Play”: A case study of a fighting art in the Making. In D. Jaquet, K. Verelst, T. Dawson (Eds.), Late medieval and early modern fight books. Transmission and tradition of martial arts in Europe (14th–17th centuries) (pp. 481–546). Leiden-Boston, Netherlands: Brill.

  • Farrell, K. (2017). The Kölner Fechtbuch: Context and comparison. Acta Periodica Duellatorum, 7(1), 203–235.

  • Fior di Battaglia (n.d.). In Wiktenauer (C. Hatcher, Trans.). Retrieved from https://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Fior_di_Battaglia_(MS_Ludwig_XV_13). (Accessed January 4, 2020)

  • Heider, F. (1959). Thing and medium. On perception and event structure, and the psychological environment. Psychological Issues, 1(Monograph 3), 1–34.

  • Hils, H.-P. (1985). Meister Johann Liechtenauer Kunst des Fechtens. Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany: Peter Lang.

  • Isaac, A. M. C. (2019). The allegory of isomorphism. AVANT – Trends in Interdisciplinary Studies, 10(2), doi: 10.26913/avant.2019.02.05

  • Jaquet, D. (2016). Experimenting historical European martial arts, a scientific method? In D. Jaquet, K. Verelst, T. Dawson (Eds.), Late medieval and early modern fight books. Transmission and tradition of martial arts in Europe (14th–17th centuries) (pp. 216–243). Leiden-Boston, Netherlands: Brill.

  • Kleinau, J. P. (2016). Visualised motion: Iconography of medieval and renaissance fencing books. In D. Jaquet, K. Verelst, T. Dawson (Eds.), Late medieval and early modern fight books. Transmission and tradition of martial arts in Europe (14th–17th centuries) (pp. 88–116). Leiden-Boston, Netherlands: Brill.

  • Köhler, W. (1938). The place of value in the world of facts. New York, NY: Liveright.

  • Ławrynowicz, O., & Nowakowski, P. A. (2009). Stove tiles as a source of knowledge about mediaeval and early modern arms and armour. Studies in Post-Medieval Archaeology, 3, 303–316.

  • Lehar, S. (1999). Gestalt isomorphism and the quantification of spatial perception. Gestalt Theory, 21, 122–139.

  • Löwgren, J., & Stolterman, E. (2004). Thoughtful interaction design: A design perspective on information technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Paulus Hector Mair (n.d.). In Wiktenauer (K. P. Myers & P. M. Haaland, Trans.). Retrieved from https://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Paulus_Hector_Mair. (Accessed January 4, 2020).

  • Paulus Kal (n.d.). In Wiktenauer (C. Winslow, Trans.). Retrieved from https://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Paulus_Kal. (Accessed January 4, 2020).

  • Spatz, B. (2015). What a body can do. Technique as knowledge, practice as research. London, UK: Routledge.

  • Spelke, E. S. (1990). Principles of object perception. Cognitive Science, 14(1), 29–56.

  • Steinman, R. M., Pizlo, Z., & Pizlo, F. J. (2000). Phi is not beta, and why Wertheimer’s discovery launched the Gestalt revolution. Vision Research, 40(17), 2257–2264.

  • Tilley, C. (2014). Material culture and text: the art of ambiguity. London, UK: Routledge.

  • Tobler, C. H. (2006). In service of the duke: The 15th century fighting treatise of Paulus Kal. Highland Village, TX: Chivalry Bookshelf.

  • Tobolka, M. (2016). Paulus Hector Mair (ca 1517–1579). Studia Historica Nitriensia, 20(2), 525–530.

  • Ventrone, P. (1991). On the use of figurative art as a source for the study of medieval pectacles. Comparative Drama, 25(1), 4–16.

  • Welle, R. (1993). “…und wisse das alle höbischeit kompt von deme ringen”. Der Ringkampf als adelige Kunst im 15. Und 16. Jahrhundert. Eine sozialhistorische und bewegungsbiographische Interpretation aufgrund der Handschriften und gedruckten Ringlehren des Spätmittelalters. Forum für Sozialgeschichte, 4, 243–253.

  • Żygulski, Z. (1984). Armour as a symbolic form. Waffen und Kostümkunde, 26, 77–96.

OPEN ACCESS

Journal + Issues

Search