Saturday, 11 February 2017

Raffaello Schiaminossi’s etchings for Ridolfo Capo Ferro’s treatise on fencing

Raffaello Schiaminossi (aka Raffaello Schiaminossi) (1572–1622)
 “Frontpiece”, “Plate 13”, “Plate 14” and “Plate 18”, 1610, from the series of 43 plates illustrating Ridolfo Capo Ferro’s book on fencing (Italian rapier combat), 'Gran simulacro dell'arte e dell'uso della scherma' (published in Siena in 1610)

Etching in brown ink on fine laid paper with margins and text printed verso as published.
Size of the sheets based on Plate 18: 20.4 x 27.3 cm; (plate) 13.4 x 23.6 cm
Signed with the artist’s monogram, plate number and annotated with letters referencing the text.

Condition: apart from the front piece which is in very poor condition and laid onto a support sheet, the impressions are strong with full margins and text as published (verso). There are minor blemishes/stains and remnants of mounting.

This set of prints has been sold

Although these are illustrations from the 43 plates in Ridolfo Capo Ferro’s book on fencing (Italian rapier combat), 'Gran simulacro dell'arte e dell'uso della scherma' (published in Siena in 1610), I propose that they are not entirely designed as lessons in tough love when learning to fence. From what I have read about Schiaminossi, he had a sense of humour—albeit a rather macabre one. This understanding about his mindset is from an obituary written one of his best friends, Teofilo Torri: “homo molto spirituale et spiritoso tanto nel dipingere come nel intaglio d'acquaforte si come si vede de sue molte carte...” which my Google translation tells me that he was a spiritually witty chap. (See the British Museum’s biography for Schiaminossi:

Interestingly, this fencing manual was very influential in its time and must still be influential as it has been republished by Greenhill Books/Stackpole Books in 2004. This recent reprint of the original plates and text (fortunately translated into English) is described with the following excellent account (of which this is an extract):

“The manual, illustrated with 43 striking illustrations, gives a very real flavour of the panache of this expert in swordsmanship and mastery of that most lethal of weapons—the rapier. Ferro examines different kinds of swords, their component parts and their suitability, before going on to discuss their actual use. There he expounds his theory as to the timing and direction of thrusts, the essential distances and the need for complete control. He also looks at defensive measures, guards, parries, the need for quick footwork. Capo Ferro's text is a practical guide to fighting and one which builds on the theory to show exactly how a superior form of swordsmanship could be learned by Europe's elite. His illustrations clearly show the best methods and also show how a rapier could be lethally effective when used with a dagger or with a cloak.” (see

One thing that I have discovered from looking at these prints is the importance of learning to fence while being completely naked … but the reason eludes me.

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