Having studied the drawings in the Getty manuscript for Il Fior di Battaglia with great intent, though not for many years, I note one outstanding feature that may be somewhat controversial with those of a historian’s point of view. Mainly that the artwork is not very good. It is acceptable and reasonable in many ways and I am not complaining, only that as an artist and designer I know I would not accept it. There are some illustrations that do not adequately describe the position described in the text and some that look to be created with haste, perhaps without the luxury of study. They are discussed at length as people practice the art and get closer to what is being described.

The one that gets all the attention is the 2nd Scholar of the 4th Master of the Dagger.

Combat with Dagger; Fiore Furlan dei Liberi da Premariacco (Italian, about 1340/1350 - before 1450); Venice  Italy Padua (or)  Italy; about 1410; Tempera colors, gold leaf, silver leaf, and ink on parchment; Leaf: 27.9 x 20.6 cm (11 x 8 1/8 in.); Ms. Ludwig XV 13, fol. 14v

Combat with Dagger; Fiore Furlan dei Liberi da Premariacco (Italian, about 1340/1350 – before 1450); Venice Italy Padua (or) Italy; about 1410; Tempera colors, gold leaf, silver leaf, and ink on parchment; Leaf: 27.9 x 20.6 cm (11 x 8 1/8 in.); Ms. Ludwig XV 13, fol. 14v

An image that immediately defies understanding, but becomes more comprehensible when you start to look at the other illustrations and the artists particular style and reference. At first it looks like a third arm and an alien hand but resolves itself clearly once you see anyone attempt the play in practice. In this way, the mystery of the historic document is slowly unraveled and the once lost art becomes a living art once again.

This is the kind of image that makes for a compelling case for the use of photography. With a photograph it is very clear that the actual play described has been performed but getting the exact moment captured is a very difficult thing to achieve. It needs to be dynamic enough to imply where the movement has originated from and where the movement will proceed to. It has to be well lit, without distraction, contrast high enough to distinguish the form from the background but not too high that every element of the body is lost. Not many publications have succeeded. Again, that is just my opinion.

I mention this mainly because of one particular part of the artwork that, to my eyes, stands out above all of the others as a superlative piece of work; not just passable or a good day for the artist but significantly better. It strikes me as odd that this single illustration seems so greatly removed from the others in terms of the skill employed. If the entire manuscript were to be illustrated today then this would still be the yardstick by which I would judge it.

8th Scholar of the 2nd Master of the Zogho Stretto.

Combat with Sword; Fiore Furlan dei Liberi da Premariacco (Italian, about 1340/1350 - before 1450); Padua (or)  Italy Venice  Italy; about 1410; Tempera colors, gold leaf, silver leaf, and ink on parchment; Leaf: 27.9 x 20.6 cm (11 x 8 1/8 in.); Ms. Ludwig XV 13, fol. 29

Combat with Sword; Fiore Furlan dei Liberi da Premariacco (Italian, about 1340/1350 – before 1450); Padua (or) Italy Venice Italy; about 1410; Tempera colors, gold leaf, silver leaf, and ink on parchment; Leaf: 27.9 x 20.6 cm (11 x 8 1/8 in.); Ms. Ludwig XV 13, fol. 29

This image makes me believe that the work would be better served by having the manuscript illustrated by a new artist. Photograph the play as a series of stills as reference but get a traditional illustrator to make the whole set afresh. Perhaps in the style of the later manuscripts, where the style of illustrator evolved a little more but to the point where some digitised process is going on and the photographic image is reproduced. The illustrator would be able to capture the essence and dynamic movement perfectly, whilst created solid lines and clear position.

In writing this out I realise that no one is stepping forwards to do this anytime soon. Perhaps a Kickstarter campaign would do it? Anyone?