Author: Roberto Valturio (Italian, 1405–1475)
[Verona:] Johannes Nicolai de Verona, 1472
Printed book with woodcut illustrations printed separately; captions and initials added by hand
13 x 9 7/16 x 1 7/8 in. (33 x 24 x 4.8 cm)
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1926 (26.71.4)
When this military treatise was completed around 1460, the patron, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, distributed a number of manuscript copies to rulers such as Louis XI, Francesco Sforza, and Lorenzo de' Medici. Twenty-two handwritten copies survive. In 1472, the book appeared in print in this Latin edition, which was followed in 1483 by an Italian version. The novelty of the publication lay less in the machines portrayed than in the fact that the images of the machines achieved such wide distribution. Leonardo da Vinci knew the Italian edition well and drew inspiration from it for some of his drawings of military technology.
As the second illustrated book to be printed in Italy, the De re militari has characteristics of a transitional work. The use of signature marks to aid in assembly of the book is still lacking, there is no pagination, and the woodcuts were printed separately from the text. As in many books from the first decades of printing, a role was still envisioned for the miniaturists and rubricators who had long been employed in the production of manuscriptsinitial letters and headings were not printed but were meant to be added by hand. On the pages shown here, we see some of the capital letters have been painted in red and blue; larger illuminated initials mark major divisions within the book.
The elegant woodcut illustrations derive from those in the manuscript copies (probably the work of the architect, medalist, and miniaturist Matteo de' Pasti), yet are more rigorous and correct in their depiction of perspective, space, and human anatomy. Where text and illustrations share the same page, they are combined with a fine sense of design. Here we see an illustration of a variety of crossbows and caltrops. Caltrops were a defensive device that could be thrown in front of approaching cavalryin whatever position the caltrops landed, a sharp point would protrude, injuring the hooves of the horses and interfering with their progress.