Bolognese Swordsmanship Overview

Brief History of Bologna and the Dardi School


Established during Etruscan times ~650 BC.

Capital of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

University of Bologna was established 1088 AD, and is one of the 3 premier European universities of the Middle Ages.

Bologna has a long fencing tradition.

The Masters Of The Bolognese School

Lippo Bartolomeo Dardi

(Mistakenly called Bardi in Gaugler’s History of Fencing), who was referenced to the early-1400’s, is identified as the founder of the documented style. He was a Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at the University, and in 1413 obtained privileges from the Bolognese government for a school of fencing to be opened in via Pietralata. (Which judging by modern maps shows that the School was within an easy distance of the University – see this Google Map) Dardi wrote a now-lost treatise on the relationship between fencing and geometry and is said to have died in 1464.

Guido Antonio di Luca

A first or second-generation student of the Dardi tradition, di Luca was probably the greatest master of the tradition. He lived in the parish of Santa Maria delle Muratelle (see Google Map), and while he left no written treatises, the fame of his students has survived the centuries. Amongst the most famous were the condottieri Conte Guido Rangoni and the famed Giovanni de Medici (aka Giovanni dalle Bande Nere), and the fencing master Achille Marozzo, whom wrote, “from whose school came more warriors than from the belly of the Trojan Horse.” Di Luca is said to have died in the early 16th century.

Antonio Manciolino

First published his treatise Opera Nova in possibly the early 1520’s, which is now lost. The treatise was republished in 1531, and this edition is the one available to us today. Aside from being the author of the first extant Bolognese manual available to us today, nothing else is known of this Master. Manciolino’s treatise is an extremely useful resource due to the delineation of the guards, and the various offences and defences that can arise from them.

Achille Marozzo

Self-professed pupil of di Luca and widely but mistakenly proclaimed as the first Italian author on fencing, and is certainly the most well known of the Bolognese Masters. Marozzo was born in 1484 and died in 1553. He maintained a sala d’’arme near the Abbey of Saints Naborre and Felice in Bologna, (see Google Map) and wrote his own massive fencing treatise, also entitled Opera Nova, in 1536. The book was published multiple times in many cities – Modena (1536), Bologna (1546), Venice (1550). It was revised and republished by his son, Sebastiano in Venice under the title Arte dell Armi in 1568. Marozzo’s teachings remained so popular that an edition appeared in 1615, long after the rise of the rapier.

Anonimo Bolognese

The L’Arte della Spada (“Art of the Sword”) treatise by the Anonimo Bolognese (anonymous master of Bologna), Manuscripts Ravenna M-345 and M-346 is an early 16th century fencing manual of the Bolognese school. It is dated to the “very first years of the 1500s” by Rubboli and Cesari (2005), who would like to ascribe it to the master of Manciolino, while other estimates place it closer to 1550.

Angelo Viggiani

Born in 1517 and died c.1555. A Venetian innovator whose work actually preceded Camillo Agrippa’s by three years, he instructed his brother to wait at least fifteen years after his death before publishing work, entitled Lo Schermo (“Fencing”). It was printed in Venice in 1575 and in Bologna in 1588. In his treatise, Viggiani simplified the tradition, reducing the number of guards to seven and introducing a less metaphorical nomenclature. Viggiani presented a basic framework of the inter-relation of guards, blows and parries, explicitly defined through Aristotelian physics, and including one of the first detailed discussions of tempo. He boasted that in a half-hour lesson he could teach a student enough to survive a duel. This lesson consisted of the seven guards and their relationship to the blows, a universal parry, the rovescio ascendente, combined with a universal attack, the punta sopramano (an overhand lunge).

Giovanno Dall’ Aggochie

Born in 1547, his date of death is unknown. Dall’’Agocchie is the last documented master of the 16th Century Bolognese school, who published, Dell’’arte di Scrimia in 1572. His treatise maintained the old nomenclature and guards of the tradition, but in keeping with the increased focus on civilian combat limited its focus to the use of sword, with and without a buckler. Shields, pole arms and the spadone were ignored altogether, although the last section of the book did discuss using the lance from horseback. For modern students, dall’’Agocchie’s greatest virtue is a detailed explanation of the guards named, but not defined, by Marozzo, and his section on “how to win a duel in 30 days”, which, like Viggiani, presents a fencing primer, but moves beyond the universal parry and overhand thrust. Whilst the guards bear similarities to those of Marozzo, there are subtle differences when compared to imagery and in use instructions.

Cavalcabo Dynasty

Girolamo Cavalcabo wrote an untitled fencing book c. 1580, French translation edition of 1597, another of 1609, and German editions of these in 1611/12. Although his book was primarily concerned with sword & dagger, it also covered single sword and sword & cape. He was a tutor to the French court. His work was influential and French translations of his text were produced in 1597 and 1609, with German editions of these in 1611 and 1612. These were apparently followed by a dynasty of fencing masters who spread the knowledge from England to Germany, and well into the 17th century.

Alessandro Senese

wrote Il Vero Maneggio Di Spada in 1660.

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