Fiore dei Liberi Talked Like Cennino Cennini
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Categories: Medieval

Fiore dei Liberi Talked Like Cennino Cennini

In the before times, I explained how Fiore talked about fencing the way shopkeepers talked about their wares and armed men talked about armour. But this is just one example of how his language comes out of a world of shops and skilled workers who judged each other by their skills and business practices. Here is another example from a painter’s manual (medieval books on painting are very similar to medieval books on fencing).

When Cennino Cennini described how to paint faces in fresco, he considered several different methods, each with strengths and weaknesses. One was simply applying an underpainting, covering it with a medium flesh tone, and adding some darks and highlights.

questo e un modo di quelli che sanno pocho dell arte “This is a method for those who know little of the art.”

Cennino Cennini, Il Libro dell’Arte, ch. 67 (ed. Broecke p. 99 line 11)

At about the same time Fiore dei Liberi has one of his masters explain what to do when three men with swords agree to attack him one at a time while he is waiting in guard with a sword in his hand.

Voi sete cativi e di questa arte save pocho “You are rascals and know little of this art.”

Fior di Battaglia, Getty MS, First Master of the Sword in One Hand

Apparently sapere pocho dell’arte “to know little of the art” was a phrase which Italians used to disrespect people in the same trade. Can any of my gentle readers think of anything similar in other medieval languages? Cattive (cognate of English caitiff “despicable person”) is one of Datini’s favourite descriptions of bad work.

There is a divide which I don’t know how to cross between those of us who love these arts as products of the glorious and gruesome world of trecento Italy or sixteenth-century central Europe, and those who just want an excuse to hit people, travel, and share tournament results on social media. Sometime in the next few years I plan to prepare a paper on these similarities between painters’ books and fencers’ books so people who get excited about art technology know that they could get excited about fencing too! As for the rest, a fictional swordsman said it best: “And if you do not listen, then the hell with you!”

Edit 2024-01-26: The Ordonnances des rois de France, vol. 9, p. 24 has eslargir ou estrecier “let out or take in (a garment so it fits better).” Compare Fiore’s contrast between giocco largo and giocco stretto.

(scheduled 15 September 2023)

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