An abundantly illustrated manual of the art of fencing based on Johann Liechtenauer
34 Fencing treatiseIllustrated manuscript on paper. Southern Germany, Augsburg, c. 1490-1500.
218 x 158 mm. 223 leaves (3 inserted, 2 removed, 41 blank), pastedowns being part of the quires. I-III12, IV10,V14,VI-VII12,VIII12-1 (1 blank omitted), IX10+2 (fol. 95 and 100 inserted), X12-1 (lacks 1 after fol. 113), XI8, XII12, XIII12+1 (fol. 145 inserted), XIV14, XV12, XVI10, XVII6, XVIII2, XIX12, XX6, XXI12, partly with quire numbers. Several old incomplete numerations in the lower margin, modern foliation in pencil in the right upper margin. – 358 (of 360) full-page pen-and-ink drawings coloured with washes, occasionally accompanied by short texts or captions in German. – Most leaves with watermarks: Bull’s head with a cross on a rod with a winding snake, similar to Briquet 15399 (Augsburg 1500); three hills with a crown on a stick, similar to Piccard 2695 and 2696 (Ansbach, Eichstätt, Freising, Gundelfingen,Wassertrüdingen 1481-84); crown with a cross, similar to Briquet 4891 (Landsberg 1480); bull’s head with a cross (fol. 145 only), similar to Briquet 15185 (Rappoltsweiler); Bull’s head with a flower, similar to Briquet 14729 (Bergamo 1480) or 14732 (Udine 1485); goblet with a crown, cf. Briquet 4590 (Mainz 1489), yet of distinctively different shape. – Contemporary half-leather binding over wooden boards, on 3 thongs, blind-stamped with stag roll (Kyriß 1951, no. 150, pl. 301, c. 1492-1512), a piece of leather torn off at the upper end, and a new piece added at the lower end, with shelf mark. Metal clasps on leather straps missing, only mountings preserved, with the letters MAR… engraved. In modern leather fall-down-back box.
PROVENANCE: 1. Donaueschingen, Fürstliche Fürstenbergische Hofbibliothek, ms. 862 (cf. shelf mark on the spine and library stamp on fol. 1 and 223). Sold privately by the Fürstenberg family, apparently in the 1980s. 2. Private collection USA.
CONTENT: The present manuscript is a fencing treatise with 358 pen-and-ink drawings complemented by a few brief notes. It was compiled from several sources but is based mainly on the teaching of the fencing master Johann Liechtenauer. Hans-Peter Hils records 55 surviving manuscripts in the tradition of Liechtenauer (Hils 19851, pp. 21- 23). The earliest exposition of Liechtenauer’s canon, dated 1389, is handed down in the fencing manuscript of Hanko Döbringer, a supposed pupil of the great master (Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Hs. 3227a). Liechtenauer’s treatise on fencing with the longsword deals with fencing on foot and on horseback. Both parts are introduced by a prologue, the first verses of which became the signature of the teaching of fencing in subsequent centuries. Without exception, all fencing manuscripts quote his verses in their prologues, all codices follow his rules of fencing with the longsword and his order of teaching. Liechtenauer was an undisputed authority, and his name evolved into a trademark. His treatise was often supplemented by additional passages, but it was also abbreviated, and in some cases the original text was even reduced to just the initial verses of the prologue. In return, the attention devoted to illustration steadily increased, which could lead to an almost complete exclusion of the text, as in the codex at hand. Our manuscript is composed of three parts. The first section (fol. 1-148) contains a treatise on fencing with the longsword, with a knife and with a dagger and on fencing on horseback, which refers to the circle of Hans Talhofer and Paulus Kal (cf. Hils 19851, p. 48), authors of fencing books in the tradition of Liechtenauer. The second part (fol. 149-194) deals with combat fencing of men in armour, in particular with weapons such as rods or bars, and also illustrates the Franconian fighting right.The third part (fol. 195-212) was identified by Hils as an incomplete transcript from a manuscript in Krakow of the so-called Gladiatoria group (Jagellonian Library, formerly Berlin, Preußische Staatsbibliothek, ms. germ. Quart 16; Hils 19851, HK 28; cf. also:Wegner 1928, vol. 5, pp. 61-62).
ILLUMINATION: All 358 drawings are placed in the lower half of the pages, and it is conceivable that the upper half was meant to be filled with text.The drawings were laid out and coloured as bifolia, which explains the fact that facing pages often do not correspond to each other. The illustrations of men fencing, fighting and wrestling reveal the artists’ aim at a precise pictorial explanation of the various steps, techniques and postures rather than their striving for a correct rendering of human anatomy. Nevertheless, a sense of plasticity and volume is conveyed through the skilled use of light and shade. The hands of at least three draughtsmen can be distinguished. In the first part of the manuscript the 11th quire (fol. 118- 125v) stands out, as the figures are rendered on a larger scale and in a freer hand, and the colouring is different. Moreover, the illustrations are not numbered in Roman numerals. Stylistically the quire is related to the 19th and 20th quire (fol. 195-210), with which it moreover shares the watermarks.The Roman numerals also skip the singleton added as fol. 145. Here the horses are larger and are coloured differently. Moreover, the paper bears a watermark of a later date, suggesting that the leaf was illustrated by a different hand and inserted at a second stage. The illustrations of our manuscript show stylistic affinities with the codex of Peter Falkner in Vienna (Kunsthistorisches Museum, P 5012; Hils 19851, HK 47), which contains Liechtenauer’s fencing rules followed by a series of 130 illustrations with concise commentaries. The remark on fol. 47 of our codex "Hie hebendt peters stuck an: die swert nemen mit pruchen und ringen. Lasz ab malen nach deme zetel oder nach dem durchlauffen…(illegible) zettel” may refer to Peter Falkner. Both manuscripts seem to derive from the same model, which can be identified as the Paulus Kal codex in Munich (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, cgm 1507; Hils 19851, HK 32). In turn, the fighting monks (fol. 180), the half-naked men fighting with knives (fol. 194) and the fight between a man and a woman (fol. 194v) in our codex were copied by Jörg Wilhalm in 1522/23 in the Munich manuscript cgm 3711 (Hils 19851, HK 38).We can thus ascertain 1523 as terminus ante quem for the creation of our manuscript. More precisely, the dating of the paper to the end of the 15th century suggests a date between 1490 and 1500 for the illustrations.
LITERATURE: Barack 1865/Reprint 1974, p. 538; Wierschin 1965, no. 3; Hils 19851, HK 14, pp. 46-50. Wegener 1928, pp. 61-62; Hils 19852,Welle 1993.