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Restoring 16th-Century European Martial Arts Manuals

A digitally restored Achille Marozzo 16th-century fencing image (all photos courtesy Draupnir Press)
A digitally restored Achille Marozzo 16th-century fencing image (all images courtesy Draupnir Press)

For researchers or practitioners interested in the history of European martial arts, many of the resources are in private hands, and online images from key texts on fencing or other sword fighting are of middling quality. Adelheid Zimmerman of the Madison, Wisconsin-based Draupnir Press is a printmaker involved in Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA), and she is combining these interests in the pursuit of high-quality reproductions of 16th-century illustrations.

“Unlike Asian martial arts, there was a time when all of the masters who had learned their skills from a living master died out, and much of their knowledge was lost with them,” Zimmerman told Hyperallergic. “The HEMA community is now using books and manuscripts of dead masters to reconstruct that lost knowledge.”

A colored version of a print from the previous Joachim Meÿer project
A colored version of a print from the previous Joachim Meÿer project

Her project to restore Marozzo’s Side Sword Illustrations, successfully funded through Kickstarter with a few days to spare, follows her previous restoration campaign for images from Joachim Meÿer’s 16th-century manual A Foundational Description of the Art of Fencing. The current project focuses on Achille Marozzo’s Opera Novaan influential 1536 manual from the Bolognese school of swordsmanship. In the context of her work, “restoration” refers to reviving the quality of the initial printing with a new copper engraving created by a die manufacturer from detailed Photoshop work on a photograph or scan of the original woodblock print.

Cutting diagram from the Meyer project
Cutting diagram from the Meyer project
Print being pulled from a Vandercook press
Print being pulled from a Vandercook press

“The restoration that I do is digital, making it a bit different from traditional restoration,” Zimmerman explained. “Printed works need to be preserved and generally are not physically restored. By taking high-resolution digital images and then restoring those, I can create both digital images and physical reproductions that look like the original without altering the source material.”

Essential to the printmaking project is also making these restorations accessible to the public, and she offers licenses for their use in other projects. Affordable prints from her ongoing martial arts work are also available through Draupnir Press (letterpress prints in the current Kickstarter start at $20).

“The books that I am working from are rare and often privately held,” she stated. “While there are photos or scans of these illustrations on the internet, they are of very poor quality. I use my technical skill and understanding of the printing process and the artist’s style to restore these digital images to what the original illustration would have looked like.”

A digitally restored Marozzo image
A digitally restored Marozzo image

Restoration of Marozzo’s Side Sword Illustrations is funding through July 17 on Kickstarter. 

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