An Overview Of Manciolino’s Opera Nova

Antonio Manciolino published his treatise Opera Nova in 1531, and this edition is the one available to us today. The title page informs us that this edition is newly corrected and printed, which indicates there may have been an earlier now lost version. Manciolino dedicated his manual to Don Luis de Cordola, Duke of Sessa, Orator of the Most Serene Emperor to Adrian VI. Correspondence records show that Charles V appointed Don Luis as his ambassador to the Pope around September of 1522 and Pope Adrian VI was pope from 9 January 1522 to 14 September 1523. Thus we can date the original manual to sometime between September 1522 and September 1523.

Aside from being the author of the first extant Bolognese / Dardi School manual available to us today, nothing else is known of this Master. Manciolino’s treatise is an extremely useful resource for the early Dardi fencing school of Bologna due to the delineation of the guards, and the various offences and defences that can arise from them. The system as described in his text is a remarkably concise and complete description of how to use the weapons combinations that he elaborates for his fencing system.

Sword and buckler is the core foundation weapons system for the early Dardi School. The primary teaching instruction for both Manciolino and Marozzo, the two earliest Dardi School authors, is done through the sword and small buckler assaulti, with the more martial instruction being identified as the plays with a sharp sword, which includes the material concerning the large buckler and the targa.

Manciolino’s manual begins with Libro 1 (Book 1), an introductory section that outlines the general principles and terminology of the system he teaches. The introduction also elucidates the 10 guardie he favours, followed by the typical offences and defences from these guardie. This material is the cornerstone for understanding the material to follow.

Libro 2 is a series of progressions called assaulti that teach the correct form, whilst also elaborating on and reinforcing the earlier material. The beauty of the assaulti is the description of correct form that they provide, allowing us to understand the correct line for attacks, and how it marries with the foot movements.

Libro 3 follows with the “half-sword” techniques. These are techniques made from a crossed sword position, i.e. intermediary techniques for once the fight has begun. It details the techniques to be used from a close distance, unlike the previous books where the techniques all start at a wide distance.

Libro 4 begins with the plays to be used for sword and targa / brocchiero larga, followed by two swords and single sword. The plays here show a subtle difference in style, and indicate the use of the weapons when the blades are sharp. They are a distillation of the earlier techniques, reduced to the critical elements for survival with a sharp weapon. It is interesting to note that the single sword section is the only one to specifically state that the techniques are intended for use with a sharp sword.

Libro 5 continues the material for use with a sharp sword, this time outlining the plays used for sword and cape, sword and dagger, and sword and rotella. It is also the final book dealing with material for the use of a sword.

Libro 6 details the use of pole arms, specifically partisan with rotella, partisan, spetum, Italian bill and spear / lance.


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