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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 Agrippa
Influenced Sebastian Heußler
Genres Fencing manual
Language Italian
Notable work(s) Gran Simulacro dell'Arte e dell'Uso della
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 the Province of Pesaro e 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.

At the age of 52, Capo Ferro authored a treatise 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 influential in its own time.


This concordance uses the watercolor illustrations from the 1629 edition where they are available, except for a few in which the paint obscures the actual fencing actions. You can view all of the painted illustrations on the treatise page.

Additional Resources

The following is a list of publications containing scans, transcriptions, and translations relevant to this article, as well as published peer-reviewed research.


  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. Literally Alcide, which was a nickname of Hercules, from the Greek “Alkeides” meaning descendant 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. Note that in the plates that follow, figures continue to be labeled as A through F, generally representing the starting position of each figure. quinta and sesta are not otherwise explained as prima through quarta were, but as judged by these plates and the occurrences of these two guards in the sections on dagger and rotella, they apparently describe guards involving an auxiliary arm, where the sword is low, usually in terza or less often in quarta, while the left hand is held either low for quinta, or high for sesta.
  29. A through G indicate the positions of bodily members while in guard, as, for example, while seeking measure. H through M indicate the positions of bodily members upon the completion of the lunge.
  30. Note that the term “stringere” is used in this passage for both drawing close to the body of the enemy (“stringere la vita”), and in the sense of stringering of the sword (“stringere la spada”). This has made the translation somewhat awkward; I have translated “stringere” as “draw close” or “stringer”, and rendered “stringimenti” as “closings” in this passage, to reflect these different meanings, although the verb is identical in the original.
  31. Page is numbered 50 rather than 54, but seems to appear in the correct place in the book.
  32. “Pectoral” i.e. “poccia”— properly, a breast or nipple. I use “pectoral” to distinguish between “a breast” (one side of the chest) and “the breast” (the chest in general), on the assumption that Capo Ferro is not being so specific as to recommend aiming precisely for the nipple.
  33. This final maneuver is difficult to interpret; the subjects of the actions are not specified. It is possible that the meaning is that once D has parried, then C (being somewhat retired) may pass to the right with his left leg while holding his own sword in two hands, thereby turning his body somewhat and consequently freeing his sword out from under D’s, and then strike D in the chest.
  34. Scannatura”: literally, “butchering”.
  35. While it is not explicitly stated, C must disengage in some fashion in order to parry D’s attempted thrust to C’s face on the outside. It is likely that C disengages under to parry the high thrust with his own point high, then abandons the engagement by lowering his point in seconda to strike the flank. A less likely possibility given the order in which events are described is that he disengages over and parries outward and low by lowering his point in seconda, essentially as a transport.
  36. “In his approach” refers to D’s approach with a passata; C’s counter is to slip measure by withdrawing the leg, then execute the parry and scannatura described.
  37. This final counter by B appears simply to be the scannatura once more.
  38. For clarification of the footwork accompanying primo tempo vis-à-vis dui tempi parries, see “Explanation of some terms of fencing” #7, “Of the parries”.
  39. This passage presents some difficulty—C is not described as disengaging in the beginning of this plate, only as having parried in fourth (which would not require a disengage since D was described as having begun on the outside and then disengaged to attack). It is possible that the subsequent “counter-disengage” by D is D’s own return to outside stringimento following an initial disengage to the inside by way of a feint.
  40. “Sloping line” i.e. “linea pendiculare”—a downwardly angled, that is hanging or sloping line. Thus when the adversary’s sword is high, one must point one’s sword upwards, and similarly when the adversary’s sword is low, one must point one’s sword downwards in order to stringer it. In these cases it is apparently necessary to depart from the straight line in order to stringer.
  41. I.e. “schiodatura”, from “schiodare”, “to loosen or unnail”. A prying action may be implied by the name.
  42. In practice, actually disarming the enemy has proven difficult unless some forward motion (toward the opponent) with the flat of the dagger accompanies the parry to the outside.
  43. “Parrying his attack therewith” i.e. at the same time. Note that the picture shows the parry being accomplished with the dagger.
  44. In guardia di testa (“head guard”), the sword is held high with the point forward and somewhat to the left, hand usually in seconda. See Manciolino pg. 7 verso, or Marozzo Ch. 143, which includes illustration.
  45. Note that the plate clarifies that this is the adversary’s inside, i.e. your outside.
  46. Presumably the adversary’s outside, so most likely an attack in quarta with opposition using your true edge.
  47. I.e. a blow to the head.
  48. The agents are poorly delineated in this section. Figure A is the actor subscripted in the text as A; figure E is that subscripted as E.
  49. “…they were touching each other” i.e. “si toccavano”. Actual engagement and use of sentiment is uniquely specified in this plate. The agent applies pressure through the sword, provoking the patient to cut with a riverso, to which the agent responds with a thrust with the sword that serves to block said cut, and simultaneously thrusts with the dagger.
  50. Guardia stretta”—i.e. narrow guard, generally a guard in which the hilt is low and the point forward.
  51. Guardia larga”—i.e. wide guard, generally a guard in which the hilt is low and the point is not aimed at the enemy.
  52. “Falso”—a defense using a rising false edge cut under the enemy’s attack to displace it out and up.
  53. Targa”—a handheld rectangular buckler, usually corrugated; familiar to English readers of di Grassi as a “square target”.
  54. Brocchiero”—a small handheld round buckler.
  55. Again, the agents are poorly delineated; superscript E refers to figure E, while superscript F refers to figure F.
  56. Guardia di faccia”—i.e. face guard, a guard in which arm is extended at shoulder height and the point is forward with the hand in quarta. See Manciolino pg. 8 recto, or Marozzo Ch. 143, which includes illustration.
  57. This section resembles the advice given by dall’Agocchie on pg. 32 verso as the method to learn when one has only one month to prepare for a duel, as well as the heart of Viggiani’s entire schermo. I find it tempting to speculate that the alternation of an attack from prima with a parry of a riverso may have been a commonplace in the didactic repertoire of Italian maestri of the time, perhaps reserved for the paying customer who wanted quick results.