The Fior di Battaglia (Flower of Battle, Ms. Ludwig XV 13) is one of the most popular manuscripts in the Getty’s collections. The earliest Italian martial arts manual, the text was written by 14th-century knight Fiore dei Liberi, a celebrated fencing master in his own time. The four known illuminated manuscripts of his text (the other three are located at the Morgan Library, New York; the Bibliothèque nationale, Paris; and a private collection, Italy) are so well known in modern martial arts communities focused on historical techniques that they merit their own article on Wikipedia.
The images were conceived as an integral accompaniment to the text, helping the reader envision the specifics of the combat techniques Fiore was teaching. The illuminations are done in a lively drawing style that infuses them with an unusual sense of movement and energy. Each position is painstakingly depicted, with particular attention paid to the placement of hands, feet, and weaponry. Modern viewers are fascinated by the sheer volume of information about medieval fighting skills conveyed by the illuminations—so much, in fact, that battle connoisseurs routinely use the manuscript as a primary source for the reenactment of medieval combat.
The Manuscripts Department at the Getty Museum handles numerous requests every year for disks with reproductions of every page of the Fior manuscript. These images are so highly prized, in fact, that we have been told that there is even a black market for sharing the high-res files of the Getty manuscript. But now, as part of the Getty’s newly announced Open Content Program, we are delighted that a full set of high-resolution images of this manuscript is available for free download.
Now enthusiasts across the world can follow in exquisite detail the thrust of sword, the thud of the pollaxe as it hits its mark, and the pounding of the horses’ hooves.
Begin on the webpage for the book and simply click on the icon at the upper right marked “Page through the book” to flip through the individual folios, and download any you wish (step-by-step instructions here). Want a digital version of every folio in the manuscript? All you need is enough disk space.
Manuscripts are among the most difficult art forms to obtain in high-quality reproductions: many have never been photographed, and of the hundreds of illuminations in a single manuscript, the selection chosen for a website may happen to exclude the particular image a researcher or fan desires. With the new Open Content Program at the Getty, we are excited to make our collection more available to the public and scholars than ever before. In the coming months, we will be adding more and more images to the website for free download. Our ultimate goal, which is within reach, is to share each one of our amazing manuscript illuminations with the world.