Magic Glasses: The Making of the Fiore Artisan Translation
The story of how I came to make my Fiore Artisan Translation started in 2012 when I came upon a very creative document: Swanger & Wilson’s Capoferro translation presented by Roger Kay in the original layout style of the 1610 printing. As a graphics professional, my appreciation of that text rose dramatically, as I found myself drawn into the book in a new way. It felt strange, as if I was able to magically read Italian text!
The other creative piece that inspired me was Ken Mondschein’s The Knightly art of Battle. Written as a nice bit of publicity by the Getty Museum, it presented the context, exposition and high-resolution images of Fiore’s text in a way I had never seen before. This particular ancient text now sparked my imagination in a new way, and I wondered if it was possible to make an English version of the Flower of Battle that resembled the look and feel of the original, just like Roger Kay had done with Capoferro.
Figuring out the task, then setting to it
Shortly after attending the Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium in 2013 I began preliminary test work on discovering the method I finally came to use. Sunday afternoons became “Fiore time”, where I would go off to a small cafe on Robson street in Vancouver and work for an hour or two on the project. Then back home, returning to the project regularly, sometimes taking a week or two off, sometimes completing a few pages in a day. The dagger section seemed to take nearly forever!
I was familiar with medieval book layouts that used formulas to determine the top, outside, bottom and inside margins of a folio. In this way I created my grid and had a way to place the images and text so they matched the original scale as best I could.
Matching the handwriting
I settled upon 825 Karolus from GLC as a starting point. It was representative of something from before Fiore’s time, but had a playful and casual touch that harkened back to the visual feel and flow of the Flower’s unique handwriting. It was a solid foundation for many later edits.
Using a font editing program, I began to make tweaks to a few important letters. The lower case a had to be a better match (Carolingian script has a two-storey a; German styles of Fiore’s day used a single-storey a). The lower case h needed a little descending hook on the end. The lower case d needed a slanting stem. The lower case g and capitals like A and L were completely replaced with ones that I scanned and created from scratch to match the manuscript perfectly. And many single letters and letter pairs were edited and created for more contextual ligatures.
Recreating the Illustrations
Using the high-resolution scans from the Getty website (with open permission given for their usage) I first isolated a single manuscript illustration alone in Photoshop, then transferred that image to Illustrator. Using the vectorization tools in Illustrator, I reduced the palette to six colours. One or two of these colours would end up being interpreted by the program as the vellum background. I could select and delete those. That left me with four or five shades of ink that kept the vast majority of the image details intact. I placed the vectorized image into the InDesign document over top of the original scan to get the placement right, then deleted the original to leave only the vectorized sketch. The manuscript has nearly 300 of these illustrations!
The gold leaf objects were all done separately, one at a time. In order to capture a richer set of details, I used a 16-colour palette to vectorize them. The program would interpret two to four of these colours as background, which I could select and delete. The rest were shades of ink and gold leaf. I applied these over top of the other vector art to make a total composite. Simple pages had approximately eight total vector treatments on them, more complex pages had over a dozen.
Bringing it all together
After almost two years of Sundays, the project was completed and I printed my first copies. Each year for several years I would revisit the work and make type corrections, better illustrations and more custom font characters.
My true objective with this work? To instil a special magic back into the text. Someone could pick up my book, quickly browse through it, and NOT realize the text is in English. They should assume that it is a modern reproduction of the original, and nothing more. Then BAM! They look closer, begin to read the text and widen their eyes, feeling amazement and wonder.
Fiore Leather Edition
In 2017 I set to work creating the gold foil stamp that would deboss the title words into the oxblood leather cover for a very deluxe edition. I printed several sets of “guts” (the interior pages of the book in proper signatures) and handed them over to a very reputable bindery company in North Vancouver, fingers crossed for luck. They proceeded to hand-stitch the signatures together, and wrap everything in hardcover with leather wrap. It was just amazing to see that first batch. Kingly! These deluxe editions were just as beautiful as they were inspirational.
The journey of this project has taken me to amazing places and brought me into contact with amazing people. I hope you enjoy it and receive the thrill of intimately engaging with a text over 600 years old that speaks clearly about its art to us today.