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  • The Art of Fencing: The Forgotten Discourse of Camillo Palladini by Camillo Palladini
  • Iason-Eleftherios Tzouriadis
Palladini, Camillo. The Art of Fencing: The Forgotten Discourse of Camillo Palladini. Edited by Piermarco Terminiello and Joshua Pendragon. Leeds: Royal Armouries, 2019. Pp. 256. Color illustrations and glossary. £55, hb.

This luxurious edition of Camillo Palladini's Discorso sopra l'arte della scherma is an important cross-institutional collaboration between the Royal Armouries and the Wallace Collection, with the latter currently housing Palladini's manuscript. The publication starts with a foreword by Tobias Capwell, curator of arms and armor at the Wallace Collection, who introduces Palladini's work and allows a glimpse into the laborious process of the facsimile's production. An introduction by the editors provides information on Palladini's work in the context of early modern fight books, particularly concerning its content and presentation. Editorial notes on the translation and the transcription of the manuscript precede the main body of the text.

Camillo Palladini's Discorso sopra l'arte della scherma manuscript, the core of this publication, is divided into five books that are subsequently divided into numbered chapters in ascending order. Much like many of the works of the fight-book genre, content is organized in the form of combat between two individuals who, unless stated explicitly otherwise, are using symmetrical equipment. Each page contains a transcription and a translation, with the original text images usually placed on the page facing it. The layout is excellent for modern scholarship and is an improvement compared to many recent publications on European martial arts that omit transcriptions. A minor criticism on the layout of the book is that the editors have opted for gathering relevant information and notes at the end of the book, as opposed to consolidating them at the bottom of each page.

The first book, and by far the longest, is dedicated to the author's treatment of the single-handed sword. This includes basic concepts of attacking and defending, as well as the fundamentals of measure and distance. Palladini's criticism and adaptation of Camillo Agrippa's guards demonstrate how these fencing treatises did not exist in a vacuum; their authors were often aware, and in this case critical, of other works on the subject. The second book discusses the use of the single-handed sword accompanied by a dagger, and the third, the practicality and use of the cape as an accompanying weapon to the single-handed sword, popularized due to its availability as an everyday garment. The fourth book deals with a variety of weapon combinations: the book starts with the fighters engaging in combat using only daggers, followed by the use of a case of swords by each combatant and, finally, with the use of the pike, the halberd, and the two-handed sword. It is worth mentioning that the fourth book ends with the inclusion of a criticism by Palladini toward other fencing [End Page 84] schools for the particular interpretation of a technique, and his aversion to the extensive use of geometry. This is a vibrant example of fencing masters being aware of trends in the teaching process of fencing and the dissemination of its principles. The use of geometry in published works on fencing that became popular by Agrippa (1553) would later become the core of a whole fencing system, the Spanish Destreza. The fifth book is perhaps the most useful to the modern historian because of the admonitions that Palladini offers to those who carry swords. He tackles practical issues such as how certain pieces of clothing should be worn or habits that fencers should develop in urban spaces.

A brief glossary provides invaluable information on fencing terminology, necessary for understanding better not only The Art of Fencing but also most sixteenth- and seventeenthcentury Italian fight books. Key specialized terms are explained with clarity and contextual examples. Finally, the publication concludes with a bibliography. Whereas the contents are thorough, particularly in regard to the inclusion of relevant Italian fight books, its structure is rather confusing, with the works divided simply into manuscripts and published works. This leads to a perplexing mix of secondary literature on fencing, original editions of...


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pp. 84-85
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