Fencing and Wrestling Practice; Germany, c. 1750






These woodcuts might have had didactic value when they were published…

Johann Amos Comenius first published the Orbis Pictus in 1658. Originally published in Latin and German, its intent was to teach the student Latin based on short sentences in the child’s native language. The book enjoyed innumerable reprints, editions, and updates well into the 19th century.

The illustrations used for were frequently updated. (We’ll encounter one such example regarding the Fechtmeister later.) Often, that merely meant adding costume detail to existing plates. When new woodcuts had to be produced, identical motifs were recycled with minor adaptations. Accordingly, these images have no documentary value in determining what weapons and techniques may still have been in actual use at the time of publication. Here is an example for how the above image appeared in other editions.

The above woodcut is such an example: Clearly inspired by the architectural backgrounds of Joachim Meyer’s Fechtbuch, the depicted combatants engage in contests that at the time of publication had fallen into disuse. Wrestling as shown in fig. 7, for example, no longer had a place in the formal education of a Central European gentleman. Two-handed swords (left) recall Meyer’s mid-16th century illustrations. Only the foil fencers to the right can probably be considered contemporary.

The poor quality of the print and the hand-coloration make the exact nature of the fourth fighter pair (see Detail) a bit of a mystery. The brown lower arms could be supposed to signify the Roman caestus… 

The weapons on the ground, halberd, Lange Stange (quarterstaff), Dussack, rapier and dagger are carryovers of publishing  tradition. 




 Since there are no directors with staves anywhere to be seen, the term “Fechtschul” here no longer signifies “public contest” but “fencing school.”

The Latin-German text on the reverse does not relate to the image. Tellingly, it covers jugglers and other disreputable characters… a suitable proximity for fencing.

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