Coloring the Fencing Master in the Getty Fiore’s Segno della Spada

Or, How Coloring Can Teach You More About Medieval Clothing

This story begins because my husband, Gregory Mele, owns a martial arts studio called Forteza Fitness & Martial Arts in Chicago.

 

Greg doing what he loves best—working with swords.

Greg doing what he loves best—working with swords. Photo by Scott Bell.

 

It serves as the home of his first love, the Chicago Swordplay Guild, which he co-founded with like-minded others in 1999. As the Dean of the Guild, he built it into a formal school with traditions and deep pedagogical standards. The Guild focuses on Italian martial arts from the 14th to the 17th centuries. In particular, Greg teaches Fiore dei Liberi’s Armizare, a fighting system using multiple weapon forms and grappling. At any given time, there are over 100 active members in the Guild. It’s a large, eclectic, social family.

 

The Chicago Swordplay Guild marching in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in downtown Chicago, November 24, 2016.

The Chicago Swordplay Guild marching in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in downtown Chicago, November 24, 2016. Photo by Jesse Kulla.

 

As part of advancement in the Guild, students take on progressively larger projects and skills assessments. This begins with the Companion rank, moves on to the Scholar rank, Free Scholar,  Provost, and culminates in the rank of Master. One of Greg’s longtime armizare students, Erin Fitzgerald, prepared for her Free Scholar rank over the past year. She chose an ambitious art project as one of her qualifying works. She decided to reproduce the Segno della Spada (“sign of the sword”) which is a pedagogical diagram found in 3 of the 4 known copies of Il Fior di Battaglia (“The Flower of Battle”). This is the seminal manuscript describing Fiore dei Liberi’s martial system, which scholars believe first appeared in written form in 1409.

She combined elements from 2 versions of The Flower of Battle to create a much-enlarged version which would hang on the salle wall.

  1. The fencing master from the Getty Manuscript (“Il Fior di Battaglia”, MS Ludwig XV 13, c. 1409):

 

Il Fior di Battaglia ("The Flower of Battle") c. 1409: MS Ludwig XV 13, folio 27r , Getty Museum, Santa Monica, CA, USA.

Il Fior di Battaglia (“The Flower of Battle”) c. 1409: MS Ludwig XV 13, folio 27r , Getty Museum, Santa Monica, CA, USA.

 

  1. The animals from the Pisani-Dossi Manuscript (“Flos Duellatorum”, private family holding, c. 1409):

 

Flos Duellatorum ("Flower of Battle") c. 1409, Pisani-Dossi Ms, Private Family Collection, Italy.

Flos Duellatorum (“Flower of Battle”) c. 1409, Pisani-Dossi Ms, Private Family Collection, Italy. The tiger (on the left) looks far more noble than the one in the Getty manuscript, which Greg bluntly asserts “looks like a rat”. I have to agree.

 

Greg is publishing a new book—the first in a series—written with Tom Leoni, which goes into detail about the history and context of these manuscripts. The first book also includes a professional-grade translation of the Getty Manuscript’s text by Tom. There will be an Indiegogo campaign to fund the project with pre-orders in the next few weeks. Stay tuned to the Freelance Academy Press site for that announcement if this topic interests you.

 

Flowers of Battle, the first book in a 4-book series written by Tom Leoni and Gregory Mele. The book is finished and ready for publication. Subscriptions will be sought via Indiegogo soon.

Flowers of Battle, the first book in a 4-book series written by Tom Leoni and Gregory Mele. The book is finished and ready for publication. Subscriptions will be sought via Indiegogo soon.

 

The Getty segno was drawn in monotone ink strokes with some minimal cross-hatching for shading. The manuscript as a whole was never colored. Erin concluded its visual effect would be far more dramatic with full color. She contacted me for advice on interpreting the clothing worn by the central figure, who is identified as an exemplar of a fencing master. I was delighted to help with this unique and fun project.

 

My pencil-colored template along with clothing and accessory notes for Erin.

My pencil-colored guide along with clothing and accessory notes for Erin.

 

I worked up my interpretation, colored it in with colored pencils, and then wrote up my explanation for what the fencing master was wearing. I gave all this to Greg to give to Erin at sword class at Forteza last year, around August. Below is a more detailed explanation of the choices I made to help Erin bring the Getty segno‘s well-dressed fencing master to brilliant, colorful life.

 

 

The master's head and neck as originally drawn.

The master’s head and neck as originally drawn.

 

The Master's head and neck as painted by Erin.

The Master’s head and neck as painted by Erin.

 

Our man is wearing a chaperon, which began its fashion life as a hood turned sideways. The mantle of the hood dangles over his right shoulder, while the hefty liripipe (or tippet) dangles down the front of his body on the left. The fabric around the face opening—which is now serving as the insertion point for the top of the head—is rolled back to display a minever lining. Minever is a term for the white winter belly pelts of the Eurasian red squirrel, cut to include part of the bluish-gray  back-coat. For information about furs used in clothing during this time period, see my article, A fur primer for 14th and 15th century European clothing. Such linings on hoods were common in this time period and had been for the century beforehand as well.

The mantle of the hood has a thick decorative band around its hem. This is where the straight-forward stops and the interpretation begins. I believe the most common material used for such a plain band would also be fur. In this case, however, since we cannot see the pattern formed by the pelts when sewn together, I’ve taken the liberty of assuming it should be a solid white fur, to match with the white of the minever lining. The fur was either pured minever (white squirrel bellies cut to exclude all other color) or lettice, which is the larger pelt of a solid-white weasel). Based on art from the time period, it’s difficult to know the type of fur we’re seeing.

What color would the fabric of the hood itself be?  I opted for a dark, serious color—black—imagining that this fencing master had gravitas and authority. He may have been expensively dressed, but that didn’t make him a peacock. I think the fabric would have been a rich wool—teasled and trimmed to buttery, soft perfection.

 

The Master's head and shoulders as originally drawn.

The Master’s head and shoulders as originally drawn.

 

The Master's head and shoulders as painted by Erin.

The Master’s head and shoulders as painted by Erin.

 

The short, fur-covered mantle on his shoulders is a little more problematic to interpret. It is part of a garnache, or guarnacca in Italian, which is a flowing cloak with either  one slit on the right or two slits for both arms, covered in an attached shoulder mantle, usually furred. It’s easy to spot the fur pattern (bellies surrounded by back-coat fur), but you can also see they’re much bigger than the squirrel-sized bellies lining the chaperon. Rather than torture myself with possible types of fur this could represent, I opted for simple. I suggested to Erin she interpret this also as white bellies surrounded by gray back-coat fur. Whether the artist intended these to be minever (a pattern particular to squirrel pelts) or a larger animal’s fur, I can’t entirely know.

One thing worth noting: there is a textual source from 1351 France that describes an order for a garnache and chaperon for the king, made with matching fur (ermine) and fabric (veluau vermeil, or golden velvet). The text specifies a split on one side, to free the right arm. This shows a precedent for purchasing the two together as a matching pair.

 

The garnache was a cloak made with an integral, fur-adorned shoulder mantle.

The garnache was a cloak made with an integral, fur-adorned shoulder mantle. Here, a list of materials needed to make a golden velvet garnache with an ermine shoulder mantle along with a matching chaperon. Glossaire archéologique du Moyen Age et de la Renaissance, Part 1, (A—G) compiled by Victor Gay.

 

The slit with buttons visible at the center-front of the shoulder mantle allows the garnache/guarnacca to be pulled over the head and then snugly closed up to the base of the neck. We are used to thinking that shoulder mantles on hoods are either entirely pull-over or completely buttoned from the chin/neck to the bottom, but this is an example where that was not always so. Lest you assume the buttoned slit could be fanciful, consider that in this 1381 funereal effigy for Alda d’Este, Niccolo d’Este III’s aunt, the same buttoned flap appears.

 

Alda d'Este's elaborately decorated hood is only partially buttoned to achieve a close fit around the neck. The garment still remains a pull-over. Her effigy dates to 1381 and is in Padova (Padua), Italy.

Alda d’Este’s elaborately decorated hood is only partially buttoned to achieve a close fit around the neck. The garment still remains a pull-over. Her effigy dates to 1381 and is in Padova (Padua), Italy.

 

The Master's mid-section as originally drawn.

The Master’s mid-section as originally drawn.

 

The Master's mid-section as painted by Erin.

The Master’s mid-section as painted by Erin.

 

In keeping with the somber color scheme of his chaperon and the concept that they were a matching pair, I imagine the garnache/guarnacca was made of a high-quality black wool, which would certainly have popped against the contrast of white belly furs.

For his bag-sleeved gown, I thought a deep, rich green would complement well—not too ostentatious, nor too drab or grim. As a bonus, the Chicago Swordplay Guild’s colors are also black and green. I imagine his gown consisted of a fine wool or a sturdy, yet nicely-draping silk twill. Note that his collar, peeking above his shoulder mantle, is also green, as gowns in this time period frequently had collars. There is probably a button or some other closure on the collar, but the artist did not draw it. I also see a band around the middle finger of his right hand, and so I encouraged Erin to paint at least one gold ring. Rings were a popular form of jewelry in this time period and would have been appropriate on a well-accoutered man’s hands.

 

The Master's full garnache and gown as originally drawn.

The Master’s full garnache/guarnacca and gown as originally drawn.

 

The Master's full garnache and gown as painted by Erin.

The Master’s full garnache/guarnacca and gown as painted by Erin.

 

We can see the bottom of the gown, which has a deep hem, likely composed of fur. There’s a good chance the gown itself is lined in fur. As mentioned above, it’s impossible to guess whether this would have been pured minever (squirrel bellies), lettice (white weasel pelts), or some other variety of short, white fur. Regardless, the white fur band around the hem nicely balances the white fur seen on his head and shoulders.

The hardest part of this whole interpretive challenge was figuring out where the garnache ended and the gown began. Due to the bunting-shaped drape of the bottom of the garnache over the front of his body, it was easy to see that this particular garnache was made with only one arm slit, on the right. His left arm has pulled the hem up with it, as it rests in crossed-arm repose. In the image below, which is a century older than the one under current study, you can see the same draping pattern for a right-opening garnache. It’s clear our man is wearing the same garment.

 

A garnache worn the same way as the fencing master wears his. From "Traité de fauconnerie", MS Français 12400, Bibliothèque nationale de France.

A garnache worn the same way as the fencing master wears his. From “Traité de fauconnerie”, MS Français 12400, Bibliothèque nationale de France.

 

I fudged my understanding the most with the drape of fabric on his right side. At this point, having figured out he’s wearing a gown and a garnache/guarnacca with an opening on the right side, I wasn’t concerned that I might altogether misinterpret or leave out a garment. It was just a matter of making the drapes look realistic. The white spots are the presumed fur lining of the garnache/guarnacca, which would also likely be made of solid white fur.

 

The Master's calves and feet as originally drawn.

The Master’s calves and feet as originally drawn.

 

The Master's ankles and feet as painted by Erin.

The Master’s ankles and feet as painted by Erin.

 

Perhaps I had the most ease deciding on rich, brick red for his legs and feet. In this time period, footed hosen were common. These were sturdy leggings that extended over the foot and were re-enforced with a thick, leather sole. Another possibility, of course, is tall, leather boots. Either way, a rich red was entirely appropriate and in fact, common, color-wise. Those crazy, curved points were a done thing too.

And now, the full painting, along with Erin Fitzgerald, the artist and newly-made Free Scholar:

 

Erin Fitzgerald, Free Scholar of the Chicago Swordplay Guild, with her full-color Segno della Spada. It hangs in the center of the longest wall in the training salle.

Erin Fitzgerald, Free Scholar of the Chicago Swordplay Guild, with her full-color Segno della Spada. It hangs in the center of the longest wall in the training salle.

 

Erin, encouraging a dagger fight with Christian Cameron, one of the visiting challengers at her Free Scholar Prize Play.

Erin (nickname: “Trouble”), encouraging a dagger fight with Christian Cameron, one of the visiting challengers at her Free Scholar Prize Play.

 

This impressive work was unveiled at Forteza Fitness on March 11, 2017, when Erin successfully played her prize and earned the rank of Free Scholar of the Chicago Swordplay Guild, making her only the 5th person to do so in the Guild’s eighteen-year history. It is 8′ x 6′, painted in oils over gessoed canvas, with applied gold leaf. It will remain on the wall, beautifying the space and reminding longsword students of the historical pedagogy behind their lessons.

 

 

A fur primer for 14th and 15th century European clothing

I wrote an article on recognizing fur in period figural imagery that kind of ate my brain. I’ve been working on this topic for months. The more I read and reviewed imagery, the more rabbit holes I found myself going down, zero pun intended. But now finally it’s in a state where I feel comfortable sharing it with the world. I would call this a beginner’s introduction to the topic.

The bottom line is that if you are a serious student of clothing in the 14th and 15th centuries in Europe, you cannot skip over understanding fur and its role in sartorial culture. It was integral and ubiquitous. I encourage anyone interested in this topic to find a copy of Elspeth Veale’s The English Fur Trade in the Later Middle Ages and actually read it.

With no further ado, the link to the article: A fur primer for 14th and 15th century European clothing.

Bag Sleeve Tailoring Methods – Beating the Wattle

The turn of the 15th century in Europe brought a spate of extravagant fashions into popularity. Among them, the deep bag sleeve has proven to be one of the more ornery patterns to recreate.1

When we see it in the art, it’s magnificent — men and women swanning about in their finery, looking impressive with their superfluous sleeve fabric. Let’s peruse a few, shall we?

Fig. 1. King Arthur's Round Table

Fig. 1. King Arthur’s Round Table, Boccaccio, Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes, Paris, BA, MS 5193, fol 96v, c. 1411

 

Note the fellow in the black hat — his coat is tailored with a grande assiette sleeve, as signaled by the sleeve gores on his back. More about that later.

 

Fig. 2. Boccaccio

Fig. 2. Boccaccio, Livre des cleres et nobles femmes, BnF, MS Français 12420, fol93r, c. 1401

 

I love those dags on the sleeve – it makes “ostentatious” sound like an understatement. More on those dags later, too.

 

Fig. 3. The Author Presents His Book to the King

Fig. 3. “The Author Presents His Book to the King”, Pierre Salmon, Dialogues; Paris, BnF, MS Français 23279, Paris, 1410

 

The bag-sleeved coat on the right has pleats at the shoulder. And yet more on that later as well!

Sometimes when bag sleeves translate to our modern recreations, they can appear… well… like a rooster wattle; a deflated sort of dangling that does not fall from the arm in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

Fig. 4. Rooster photo by shivani

Fig. 4. Hey, wassup?
Photo by shivani.

 

Here I am, with my sleeve wattles, in January of 2004. (Credit to Charlotte Wurtzel Johnson for ‘shopping out my red dress at the neckline; I was looking like a hussy according to le Menagiér de Paris!)2

Fig. 4. The author in an example of what not to do

Fig. 4. The author in January 2004, wearing a bag-sleeved gown and serving as an exemplar of what not to do

 

But we don’t see the wattle effect in the figural art of the turn of the 15th century. Aside from the idea that artists weren’t usually tasked with portraying clothing working badly on well-dressed people, there are other reasons why we don’t see it. The most obvious is that many of these gowns in their time were lined with fur, sleeves and all. This thick lining would create a fullness and weight to the sleeve which prevented the wattle from occurring. We modern folks don’t tend to make these garments with a lining capable of filling out and stiffening the bags in the sleeves.

A reason less obvious to most modern-day recreators of this style is the tailoring choice of an under-arm seam as opposed to a back-of-arm seam on the sleeve pattern. In case any readers are unfamiliar with these terms, I’ll review quickly: an underarm seam is one where the sleeve cap looks like a half circle, more or less. See this rather simplified diagram for a visual:

 

Fig. 5. Sleeve cap for an underarm seam

Fig. 5. Sleeve cap for an underarm seam

 

A back-of-arm seam runs down the back of the arm, along the line where the elbow juts out. The sleeve cap usually resembles a sine wave, or has a somewhat pointed dip about 3/4 of the way across it. See this diagram for a visual:

 

Fig. 6. Sleeve caps for back-of-arm seam

Fig. 6. Sleeve caps for back-of-arm seam

 

When we use the underarm seam on a sleeve with a baggy shape, we get a simpler pattern shape and an easier method of insertion into the armhole, certainly, but it’s prone to producing the wattle look. Here’s how such a pattern might appear drawn out as a diagram:

 

Fig. 7. Symmetrical underarm seam sleeve pattern

Fig. 7. Symmetrical underarm seam sleeve pattern

 

This produces the wattle look because we don’t typically bend our elbows in the same plane as the underarm seam. This seam faces straight down to the surface we stand on. Our arms and elbows, however, move more often in a plane which extends at a 45 to 90 degree angle from the ground. The falling shape of the curved bag should extend from the plane most used by the arm, but in this case it doesn’t.

 

Fig. 8. Wattle effect illustrated

Fig. 8. Wattle effect illustrated

 

I propose two ways to fix or mitigate the wattle effect in bag sleeves, aside from lining them with fur or a fur substitute. The first is the easiest, in my opinion, and similar to the same design suggested by Adrien Harmand in his influential work, Jeanne d’Arc, Ses costumes, son armure, published in 1929. His example portrays a version of the  s-curve sleeve cap, which causes the curve of the bag to fall from the back of the arm, rather than underneath it. The exaggeration of the s-curve in the example below, however, is not strictly necessary. I recommend a more balanced and shallow version as shown in Figure 6 above.3

 

Fig. 9. Adrien Harmand's pattern for a bag sleeve

Fig. 9. Adrien Harmand’s pattern for a bag sleeve. Note – no seam allowance included.

Fig. 10. Back-of-arm seam illustrated

Fig. 10. Back-of-arm seam illustrated

 

This method is certainly documentable for sleeves with a much shallower bag shape during this time period — my examination of the coat armour at Chartres’ Musée des beaux arts revealed a back-of-arm seam on that garment’s sleeves. This is common sense, as the location of the seam places the deepest pocket of the bag directly in line with the plane on which the elbow bends, where the room is needed most.

The second method may seem conceptually easier if the drafting of an s-curve seam intimidates you (it can drive people crazy; it is known!). It starts out as the symmetrical pattern that uses the underarm seam sleeve cap. The bag portion of the pattern is then elongated on one side, and shortened on the other by the same amount.

 

Fig. 11. Alternative sleeve pattern for off-set hang solution

Fig. 11. Alternative sleeve pattern for off-set hang solution

 

The end result is similar to the s-curve back-of-arm solution above, the only difference being that the seam originates under the arm before moving to the back:

 

Fig. 12. Off-set hang solution illustrated

Fig. 12. Off-set hang solution illustrated

 

There you have it; two ways to minimize the wattle effect in your bag sleeves. If only I’d used the back-of-arm seam when making the green dress in the photo above. I recall the idea occurring to me, but I opted for the easiest method because I was pregnant and tired.

If your fabric is really limp and drapey, you may also want to consider interlining it with a stiffer or thicker fabric that will give the sleeve fullness and weight. The fur option is always there too, if you want to invest in the costly pelts, learn how to take a fur coat apart and resew it in the shape needed, or work with fake fur.

So now let’s talk a bit about the figural sources shown above and some of the knowledge they impart on the topic of bag sleeves. In Figure 1, we see a two-toned coat with bag sleeves where the miniaturist took pains to paint the seam lines of sleeve gores on the back of the garment. This is unequivocal evidence for grande assiette tailoring, which works best with a back-of-arm seam. So, even without the painting of the seam line on the bag sleeve, we know where the seam goes.

In Figure 2, the dags provide another deductive example for the back-of-arm seam. This style is created by sewing the dags into the seam itself, and in this case, we see the dags heading straight to the outside of the wearer’s wrist, which is a strong vote for the back-of arm seam. Additionally, the pink fabric appears to the left of the dags at the bottom of the bag, which suggests that the seam line is offset to the outside, another vote for the back-of-arm seam.

Finally, in Figure 3, the sleeve cap shows pleating into the armhole on the black coat. This was likely done on the portion of the sleeve cap that traverses the top of the shoulder, so in order to translate that to a pattern piece, elongate the curve that sits at the top of the shoulder by a factor of three — a simple knife pleat takes three times the fabric. It’s worth nothing that this image richly demonstrates the lushness of fur-lined garments.

Notes:

1. Thanks to Ian LaSpina for making me think about bag sleeve tailoring again.

2. Le Menagiér de Paris states, “And before you leave your chamber or house, see you first that the collar of your shift, and your blanchet, your robe, or your surcoat, straggle not forth one upon the other, as befalleth with certain drunken, foolish, or ignorant women, who have no regards for their honour, nor for the honesty of their estate or of their husbands, and go with roving eyes and head horribly reared up like unto a lion, their hair straying out of their wimples and the collars of their shifts and robes one upon the other, and walk mannishly and bear themselves uncouthly before folk without shame.” – translation by Eileen Power from The Goodman of Paris, A Treatise on Moral and Domestic Economy by a Citizen of Paris, c. 1393, Boydell Press, 2006.

3. Harmand’s version of the s-curve is probably a reflection of the tailoring of his time period, rather than medieval tailoring. I haven’t seen evidence yet for that type of curve in extant clothes, but that’s not proof of non-existence, necessary, given our small extant sampling. I recommend the shallower version because it’s easier to draft and documentable to the time period based on extant clothing examples.