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Description

This detailed ink and gouache drawing shows a fencer with sword and dagger maneuvering his body as if escaping an attack. It is modeled on an engraving from Camillo Agrippa's Trattato di Scientia d'Arme (Treatise on the Science of Arms), first printed in Rome in 1553. Although it closely follows its source the artist of this drawing embellishes the musculature of the body and uses shading and coloring to create a wonderfully refined image. The man is shown in a loincloth (unlike the engraving) and, above, the artist has added an eye and a cuffed hand at the top edge of the sheet. The eye and hand are labeled in Latin inscribed with liquid gold, "Virtute oculi. [...] et Manus" ("By the virtues of eye and hand"), referring to Agrippa's explanation of how the eyes "cannot look in more than one place at a time" (trans. Mondschein 2009, p. 33). Below is a landscape with grasses and plants - quite different from the empty, geometric ground in which Agrippa's engraved figures appear - revealing the artist's inventiveness and concern for naturalism.

This leaf is most likely from a Stammbuch ("friend book" or album amicorum). Such notebooks with drawings, mementos, and poems were popular in Germany and the Netherlands beginning in the late 16th century. The present leaf can be compared to the drawings in the Stammbuch of Andreas von Schwerin, dated 1606, in Stuttgart (Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Cod. hist. oct. 221-4). The drawing is modeled on the copperplate engraving of "Action G" from book one, chapter eleven, of Agrippa's treatise, showing the defensive motion of the body escaping a strike, with rays from the eye to show the linear movement of a sword. The diagram of the eye illustrates the extramission theory of vision, much debated in Renaissance Italy by Leon Battista Alberti and others, in which the eyes were thought to emit thread-like rays to gather up an optical image. Dedicated to Duke Cosimo de Medici, Agrippa's treatise and its diagrams appealed to the emerging sciences and humanistic studies of Renaissance Italy. Instantly popular, it ushered in a sea change in the way fencing was practiced across Europe.

The drawing on parchment is backed with watermarked laid paper, with a folio number(?) "88" written in ink. The sheet and drawing are in excellent condition.

Literature:

Unpublished; for Agrippa's treatise and its illustrations, see K. Mondschein, ed., Fencing: A Renaissance Treatise by Camillo Agrippa, New York, 2009, and K. Mondschein, "The Italian Schools of Fencing: Art, Science, and Pedagogy," in D. Jaquet, K. Verelst, and T. Dawson, ed., Late Medieval and Early Modern Fight Books: Transmission and Tradition of Martial Arts in Europe (14th-17th Centuries), Leiden and Boston, 2016, pp. 280-323.

Online Resoures:

Camillo Agrippa, Trattato di Scientia d'Arme, Rome, 1553
https://archive.org/details/trattatodiscient00agri/page/n3

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