First depicted in Achille Marozzo’s seminal work ‘Opera Nova dell’Arte delle arme’ (1536), the correct measurements of Marozzo’s ‘Segno del Passegiare’ (a footwork diagram designed to help students develop their movements in a series of drills) is one of those questions in HEMA that everyone answers differently. In this article we shall look at one interpretation and the basis thereof.
Marozzo never gave measurements for the segno, possibly due to the oaths of secrecy still required of students by the teachers of the Bolognese school of fencing (if Marozzo is anything to go by); but in 1601, a Florentine fencing master called Marco Docciolini published his own diagram based upon the size of the swordsman (one Florentine braccio = 1/3 of the mans height; roughly one unburdened pace long).
Docciolini gives measurements of one braccio for the diameter of the central circle and a further braccio for the outer diameter of the circle. This results in fighters standing 2 braccio apart, remaining safely out of measure unless one person steps to the center of the circle to attack, thereby giving his opponent a tempo (a single opportunity to react in the same space of time as the initial action). This central line is known as the dirittura. To either side, further lines are drawn to form a triangle. Spaced apart one braccio from the dirittura, these form the traverso – the lines along which the attacker steps away offline having performed their assault. Since we do not have common measurements to play with when drawing these diagrams, we shall fall back on plane geometry.
We can take further measurements from Palladini’s diagram. The last if the great Bolognese masters known to us, Palladini did not publish but rather left behind a handwritten manuscript on the art of fencing. His work was penned at roughly the same time as Docciolini and included a diagram that is also drawn without measurements and is as mysterious as the Segno itself – but for one clue.
The image shows two wedges remarkably closely resembling Docciolini’s diagram, reinforced by the central line on each matching Docciolini’s dirittura. Although an unreliable gauge (the artists who made the prints were not fencers, and therefore images in fencing manuals should be taken as a guide to, and not a definition of, what they depict) the wedge in the image looks to be the length of a mans lunge according to both masters. Palladini as well as Docciolini favour a shorter lunge that is easy to recover from, and Paladini’s diagram seems to bear out this measure. A shorter space divides the two wedges in the shape of the central circle.
Palladini’s diagram also neatly fits into Marozzo’s segno, although the scale seems to differ. The image in Marozzo’s Opera Nova is generally considered not to be using accurate measurements however; The fighters are in a high narrow stance and the diagram would only let them remain at close measure.
If we look at Palladini’s diagram and continue adding the wedges using measurements extrapolated from Palladini and Docciolini, we end up with an eight-fold star resembling the segno (the central circle turns out to be one braccio across):