Fechtschule; Germany, 1750

Plenty of action

Talk about a three-ring circus!

The heraldic symbols of the Marxbrüder and Federfechter: Lion and Griffin

This copperplate, by Georg Balthasar Probst, c. 1750, depicts a late Fechtschule of the Marxbrüder and Federfechter. It is one of the latest documents of a contest between the members of these urban Central European fighting guilds… before they were replaced by the Schützenfeste marksmanship competitions of the shooting guilds.

Here, the Lion of St. Mark and the Griffin of the Federfechter still preside over the event at the rear of the hall…

Watched by Masters, spectators, and ostensibly well-off patrons, pairs of fencers compete in single rapier (here more properly foils, with thickly padded points), Dussack, staff, and two-handed swords:

Each pairing is supervised by a competent fencing master holding a staff — and ready to interfere when things took a violent turn: While adhering to strict rules that were intended to limit the number of regularly occurring injuries — and even fatalities! — the fencers intended to end each bout by inflicting a bleeding head wound on their opponent. This was poetically called a “rote Plume” (red flower). In our print, an injured contestant is nursing his head while others around him take liquid refreshments.

The “red flower” has ended the contest for this fencer

The copperplate was hand colored in watercolors by an 18th-century artist, with additional lines added in contemporary India ink. The original is privately owned.

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