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Ridolfo Capo Ferro da Cagli

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Ridolfo Capo Ferro da Cagli
Born 16th century
Died 17th century
Occupation Fencing master
Patron Federico Ubaldo della Roevere
Influences Camillo Aggrippa
Influenced Sebastian Heußler
Genres Fencing manual
Language Italian
Notable work(s) Gran Simulacro dell'Arte e dell'Uso della Scherma (1610)
Concordance by Michael Chidester

Ridolfo Capo Ferro da Cagli (Ridolfo Capoferro, Rodulphus Capoferrus) was a 17th century Italian fencing master. He seems to have been born in the town of Cagli in Urbino and was a resident of Siena, Tuscany. Little is known about the life of this master, though the dedication to Federico Ubaldo della Roevere, the young son of Duke Francesco Maria Feltrio della Roevere, may indicate that he was associated with the court at Urbino in some capacity. The statement at the beginning of Capo Ferro's treatise describing him as a "master of the great German nation"[1] likely signifies that he was faculty at the University of Siena, either holding a position analogous to dean of all German students, or perhaps merely the fencing master who taught the German students.

Capo Ferro authored a fencing manual on the rapier entitled Gran Simulacro dell'Arte e dell'Uso della Scherma ("Great Representation of the Art and Use of Fencing"); it was published in Siena in 1610, but refers to Federico by the ducal title. Though this treatise is highly praised by modern fencing historians, it is neither comprehensive nor particularly innovative and does not seem to have been particularly influential in its own time.


Additional Resources

  • Capo Ferro, Ridolfo. Italian Rapier Combat: Ridolfo Capo Ferro's 'Gran Simulacro'. Ed. Jared Kirby. London: Greenhill Books, 2004. ISBN 978-1853675805
  • Capo Ferro, Ridolfo. Rapier: The Art and Use of Fencing by Ridolfo Capo Ferro. Trans. Nick S. Thomas. SwordWorks, 2007. ISBN 978-1906512279
  • Leoni, Tom. Ridolfo Capoferro's The Art and Practice of Fencing: A Practical Translation for the Modern Swordsman. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-9825911-9-2
  • Garcia-Salmones, Eugenio. Ridolfo Capoferro, "Gran simulacro del arte y del uso de la esgrima", Traduccion al castellano. Editorial Sacauntos, 2009. ISBN 978-84-937207-0-4


  1. Capo Ferro da Cagli, Ridolfo. Gran Simulacro dell'Arte e dell'Uso della Scherma. Siena, 1610. p 1.
  2. Capo Ferro dedicated his text to Federigo della Rovere (properly Federico Ubaldo della Rovere), the son of Francesco Maria Feltrio della Rovere (i.e. Francesco Maria II), sixth Duke of Urbino. Don Federico was born May 16, 1605, and was thus not yet five years old when Capo Ferro signed his dedication on April 8, 1610. Don Federico does not appear to have lived up to the hopes of the author, nor of Duke Francesco Maria—he is said to have slid into debauchery, and withdrew from Urbino to Pesaro. Shortly after having himself proclaimed Duke, he was found dead in bed on June 28, 1623, barely 18 years of age. It has never been resolved whether his demise was a result of drunkenness or treachery. At any rate, contemporary accounts indicate that when the Bishop of Pesaro related the news to Federico’s father, Duke Francesco Maria expressed neither surprise nor regret.
  3. Hercules, from the Greek “Alkeides”, descendent of Alceo.
  4. There is a play on words occurring in this passage. In Italian, “fencing” is ”scherma”, and “to fence” is “schermire” while “protection” is ”schermo”. “Defense”, however, while etymologically related in English, is not in Italian (the word is “difesa”).
  5. I.e. reason, nature, art, and practice are causes, whose effect is the discipline of fencing. It is the causes that make the physical manifestation of fencing what it is.
  6. John Florio in A Worlde of Wordes (1598) states that lanterns were once made from gourds—thus a gourd is metaphorically a lantern that cannot illuminate. The expression translated as “switching rapidly from one subject to another” is idiomatic in the original text, and a literal translation would have been unclear.
  7. This seems somewhat peculiar, but “terza” is stated here again; perhaps “quarta” was intended.
  8. The braccio is literally the arm, but is also a unit of measure, the length of the arm.
  9. “…the first narrow one” i.e. “la prima stretta”. This passage is problematic—“wide measure” may thus be taken as “the first narrow measure”, vis-à-vis the second narrow measure, the “fixed foot narrow measure” that is defined immediately following—see also line #112 which indicates two narrow measures, one of the fixed foot, and one of the increased pace, and also various references to the need to come to narrow measure before entering the tempo of striking. However, this conflicts with the definition of measure given in the “Definition of some terms”, #4, which identifies narrow measure as that of the fixed foot. Capo Ferro may use “misura stretta” in two senses, both the general sense of “in measure” and the more specific sense of “fixed foot measure”. Alternately, “la prima stretta” may be taken as “the first closure” in the sense of a grasping. Regardless, this conveys that wide measure is the first distance achieved which is “in measure”.
  10. This appears to describe an arrest with reassemblement.
  11. “…half a tempo” i.e. “mezzo tempo”.
  12. This is the only place wherein definitions are given of the straight line and the oblique line, critical technical terms employed frequently throughout the text.
  13. “Of the body” (“della vita”) refers here to the trunk.
  14. The “skew” of the body is its profile.
  15. I.e. the weight of the body and right leg are carried on the left leg while in guard.
  16. In the lunge, the weight is on the right leg.
  17. I.e. to pretend, to perform a pretense or feint
  18. A unit of measure variously from a palm’s width up to 10 inches.
  19. The phrase “straddling it without touching” is, in the original, “cavalcandola senza toccare”. To select a single English equivalent may obscure Capo Ferro’s meaning. The verb “cavalcare” means to ride (a horse), to straddle, or to span (e.g. as a bridge spans a stream). This phrase may thus be understood to imply that, in stringering, my sword extends past the point of "intersection" with my enemy’s (i.e. spans, or straddles it) while staying close to and exerting (or more properly, enabling) control over it (i.e. riding it), but without touching (toccare) it until the moment of attack.
  20. The distinction between the art and the use is explained here. The art is, in a sense, the ideal of fencing, derived solely from its guiding precepts, and was discussed up until this point. The use, however, which follows, includes a variety of effects (body evasions, passatas, feints, the use of the dagger, and so on) that may deviate from the pure art of the straight line. Thus apparent contradictions between advice given by Capo Ferro up to this point regarding tactics to be eschewed, and the same tactics that he subsequently demonstrates, are better understood as being not contradictory per se, but rather to pertain to the use but not the art.
  21. These recommendations appear to be taken from Antonio Manciolino’s Opera Nova, p. 3 recto.
  22. The term "completed blow" ("colpo finito" in the original") refers to a full cut, as opposed to a half cut, e.g. a full mandritto as opposed to a mezzo mandritto.
    The term "colpo finito" is clearly used in this fashion by dall'Agocchie in his Opera Necessaria, pg. 28 recto: "You know that the mandritto sgualimbro begins at the left shoulder, and finishes at the right knee of the enemy, and for this was named ‘colpo finito’. The mezzo mandritto is of the same nature; nonetheless through not being a ‘colpo finito’, and also through being of less tempo, it comes to be called 'mezzo mandritto'." The term is used by Manciolino as well, on pg. 4 verso: "If one finds himself close to the enemy, he must never throw a ‘colpo finito’, because the sword must not distance itself from the presence for the safety of him who holds it, and this throwing of an imperfect blow is called ‘mezzo tempo’”. The term is thus equivalent to Angelo Viggiani’s “colpo intiero” (“full blow”), as he describes it in similar terms to Manciolino’s (i.e. a perfect blow of a full tempo, vis-à-vis the imperfect half blow that requires a half tempo; see Viggiani's Lo Schermo, pg. 64 recto: “Thus a full tempo is a full perfect blow, because that would be a perfect motion and tempo; and a mezo tempo would then be (as you said) a mezo rovescio, a mezo mandritto.”
    A completed blow is thrown so as to cut the full length of the opponent's body, while a half blow is thrown so as to stop short of this. The completed blow therefore takes longer (a full tempo), and leaves one more open, both at the beginning (because of the windup to generate power) and at the end (because the sword finishes in a location that is outside a good guard). These reasons are probably why Capo Ferro advises against disengaging to throw a completed blow when the enemy has gained your sword—to willing give up both tempo and defensive positioning when one has already lost the sword is foolhardy in the extreme.
  23. Capo Ferro appears to be defining “guard” here in the restricted sense of the rotational orientation of the sword, that is, the degree to which the wrist of the sword hand is turned.
    These definitions are almost certainly taken directly from Camillo Agrippa’s Trattato di Scientia d’Arme, Part I, Ch. I, pp. 1 verso to 2 recto. Clearly the positions of the hand with respect to the body (e.g. "even with the shoulder") are not to be taken literally, at least not in all cases, in Capo Ferro's system. Note moreover that the plates often show, and biomechanics dictate, that his terza at times partakes of second in third, and similarly his quarta at times partakes of third in fourth; there is a certain amount of play in the hand positions actually employed.
  24. I.e. terza.
  25. I.e. quarta.
  26. Only when in measure are all the movements and reposes to be regarded as tempos, since the entirety of coming to measure is a single tempo, regardless of length.
  27. These five tempos in which to strike are almost identical to those listed by Giovanni dall'Agocchie, pg. 29 recto.
  28. Piede.
  29. Page is numbered 50 rather than 54, but seems to appear in the correct place in the book.
  30. This play appears after the subsequent one, but appears to be introducing it, so the two have been swapped.
  31. Unfastening.
  32. The true edge.