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Thibault – Author’s Note

Since I last wrote, and started searching around, I have found a record of one sale through Christies of a copy that changed hands for around €19,500 in 2009. There’s some interesting details there around that physical copy, including the size, listed as 550 mm x 410 mm, which is roughly the size of an A2 page. As I said last time, this is a big book.

If you are looking to be able to leaf through the images, the National Library of Netherlands has most of the images up on line, and you may care to have a look at the Wiktenauer page for the book for some background.

Before the meat of the book, there are a series of frontspieces constituting the title page, a dedication to Louis XIII, some information about the printer and a series of achievements of arms which are quite interesting that I need to dig into further.

As a completely random aside, it is worth remembering that Thibault is contemporary with and in the same milieu as the fictional Three Musketeers, and it is tempting to imagine d’Artagnan and his co-freres practicing this method.

The full title of the piece is interesting, and pretty well the only place where Thibault ascribes any mystery to the circle – while this has been latched onto by people over the centuries, my personal opinion is that like most of these types of florid titles, it’s little more than advertising copy:

Academie de L’Espee de Girard Thibault d’Anvers ou se demonstrent par Reigles mathematiques sur le fondement d’un Cercle mysterieux la Theorie et Pratique des vrais et iusqu’a present incognus secrets du maniement des armes a pied et a cheval.

A combination of Google Translate and my poor French renders this roughly as:

Academy of the sword of Girard Thibault of Antwerp, or the demonstration by mathematical rules, on the basis of a mysterious circle, the theory and practice of the true and (correct?) secrets of weapons handling on foot and horseback.

There is also a very interesting Author’s Note, wherein Thibault explains to the reader how to “read” the images in the plate. This is quite a crucial insight into the type of literacy for which Thibault was writing, and is an indicator that his plates were carefully designed for a particular didactic purpose.

The development of visual literacy when it comes to abstracted images is not something which comes naturally to humans – we are not generally conscious that we learn to interpret images (particularly diagrams which imply more than two physical or temporaral dimensions). Thibault was aware that his diagrams require an understanding of the representation of perspective, and aware that he has added complexity to simple perspective by stacking multiple variant representations onto the page, often framed within a trompe l’oeil inside the frame – a very complex diagram for the modern reader used to reading complex diagrams, and potentially very challenging and apparently esoteric for a 17th century reader.

The most important point for the modern reader to glean from this Author’s Note is that he explicitly says that the principal figres are those in the foreground of each plate, and that the lines of the swords in play are represented by shadows against the lines of the circle on which the two swordsmen are standing.

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