Podcast 61: The Knightly Art of Fiore

Prof. Ken Mondschein joins Scott Farrell to talk about his new book The Knightly Art Of Battle, which explores both the military skills, and the detailed artwork found in the late medieval fighting manuscript Flos Duellatorum, written by the fencing master Fiore dei Liberi, which is in the collection at the J. Paul Getty Art Museum in Los Angeles, California. They discuss the fighting arts of the 14th and 15th centuries, and how the illustrations and verse of this book provide a glimpse into the ideals of its author, and the code of honor that prevailed in the world of medieval Italian knights of the time.

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The fighting manuals of the late Middle Ages are intriguing windows into the skills that knights and men-at-arms trained in in preparation for battles, duels and tournaments. But these books – highly illustrated and many written in verse – are also works of art and literature. The drawings in them show us the fashions of the times, and the text, whether enigmatic poetry or detailed technical description, gives us the author’s voice and their outlook on the world around them. If you doubt that a book on sword-fighting can honestly be considered art … well then, you might be surprised to learn that a copy of the fighting manual called The Flower of Battle, written by Italian fencing master Fiore dei Libre, is held in the art collection at the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California.

So, does examining a manuscript, like Fiore’s fighting manual, from an artist’s perspective give us new insight into the life and training of a medieval knight? As we explore themes in the text or styles in the form and execution of the illustrations, does a more refined understanding of the knightly sense of honor and chivalry emerge – or do we simply see violence and cruelty cloaked behind flowery language and pretty pictures?

Scott is joined by Prof. Ken Mondschein, research fellow and historical fencing instructor at the Higgins Armory Museum in Worster, Mass., visiting fellow at the Center for Renaissance Studies at the Univ. of Mass., Amherst, and author of several books on medieval and Renaissance fighting techniques, including Fencing: A Renaissance Treatise, which is a translation of the 1553 fencing manual of Camillo Agrippa, and The Art Of The Two-Handed Sword, a translation of Francesco Alfieri’s Lo Spadone with a Guide to Modern Practice. His most recent book is The Knightly Art Of Battle, published in 2011 by Getty Publications, to talk about Fiore’s work and its artistic depiction of the skills of chivalry.