One of the most celebrated sword masters of Old Europe, Fabris was born in or around
Padua, Italy, in 1544. His superior skills in the art of the rapier earned him fame, fortune, knighthood
and ensured that his name would be forever associated with his weapon.
The illustrious names of Fabrisí pupils is convincing evidence of his superior reputation
as a master of the sword. In the 1590ís, Fabris was employed by Johan Frederik (Duke) of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp,
also Archbishop of Bremen. In 1601, he was hired by King Christian IV of Denmark as the royal swordsmanship
instructor. It was during the years at the Kingís services that he published the outstanding rapier treatise
Lo Schermo, overo Scienza díArme (1606). The King himself sponsored the project financially and
put his court painter, Jan Halbeeck, at Fabrisí disposal.
The book was so well received by Masters and students alike that it was re-published
continually until 1713 and translated into several languages - a truly unique occurrence for a fencing
treatise. Indeed, the Scienza is perhaps the most complete, thorough and methodical of all rapier
treatises, which gives us a sense of Fabrisí stature as an extraordinary teacher of the sword.
In Book I, Fabris explained in great detail the tactical, technical and mechanical foundation of his art;
in Book II, he gifted posterity with an astounding set of advanced techniques.
During employment at the Kingís court, Fabris was made Supreme Knight of the Order of
the Seven Hearts (in honor of which we named our school).
After a rewarding life as a great master of the sword, Fabris died in his native town
of Padua in 1618. Hailed by other masters as "a man of the greatest name in our profession," he was accorded
a princely funeral and a monument was erected in his honor. Even after death, the cult of this master
continued, especially in Northern Europe, until the age of the rapier came to a close in the course of
the eighteenth century.
Tom Leoniís critical translation of Fabrisí Scienza díArme
is available from Amazon.com.
A few facts and anecdotes on Maestro Fabris
In his book Fencing Through the Ages Classical Italian fencing Master
Luigi Barbasetti states that Fabris choreographed the sword assault (Act IV) for the premiere of
Shakespeareís Hamlet. If this is true, it would have happened around 1599, when the Shakespeare
version of Hamlet was premiering at the Globe Theater, and Fabris was at the service of Duke Johan Frederik,
cousin of his soon-to-be royal employer King Christian.
What we know is that King Christianís family did indeed have several ties to the English
throne and court. Christian was the brother of King James Iís wife, he often visited his sisters in England
and he employed noted English lutenist John Dowland. So, given these factors and Fabrisí enormous popularity
in Northern Europe, the anecdote may be true.
Italian rapier Master Nicoletto Giganti was accused of plagiarizing the whole of Fabrisí
Book II in 1622. This serious accusation is made by Johann Joachim Hynitzsch, translator and editor of
the 1677 Leipzig bilingual edition of Fabris (Italian-German). Apparently, the Venetian author of the
renown La Scherma overo il teatro (1606) decided later in life to profit from Fabrisí
fame and, in 1622, published a word-by-word knock-off of Book II of the Scienza díArme
in French and German parallel text. Hynitzsch is so incensed at this that he equates the incident to
the "kidnapping of a child," and demands the bookís immediate recall.
Mr. Herman, to whom the dying Fabris bequeathed his salle in 1618, was later murdered
by a jealous colleague. This fact is lamented by the aforementioned Hynitzsch, who names Heinrich,
another of the late Fabrisí pupils, as a possible suspect. Heinrich, who was actually related to
Fabris on his motherís side, was never caught, and according to Hynitzsch spent his life roaming
around the country teaching his Masterís system to scrap up a living.
Salvator Fabris' was undoubtedly a legendary figure among the Northern European nobility.
However, even his fame does not explain why Karl IX of Sweden alleged that his nephew Sigismund of Poland had
used someone by the name of "Salvator Fabriz" [sic] as a hired assassin against him in 1594. This tale is made
even more fantastic by the fact that this "Fabriz" is identified not as a fencing master, but as an accomplished
playwright and actor, who was supposed to jump right off the stage and kill Karl in the middle of a well-attended
play!!! No recorded evidence besides Karl's words exists of this fact, or of Salvator Fabris the fencing master
even being in Sweden. (The only other plausible explanation is coincidence: both Salvator and Fabris are popular
names in Italy, and we have evidence that Sigismund had a number of Italian thespians in his retinue.) In any case,
Karl later used this and other anecdotes as a public excuse to dethrone his nephew, so attributing his story to
ulterior motives may not be far fetched. A posthumous Swedish edition of Fabris' treatise was dedicated to Karl's
son (1619), further suggesting that the Scandinavian throne had no reason to resent the master. And as for Hynitzsch's
mentioning that Fabris was known in Poland, we have ample evidence that numerous Polish students traveled to Padua to
receive fencing instruction throughout the 17th Century.
Fencing historian Jacopo Gelli states that a monument of Fabris was erected in Padua
in 1677. This fact and date is confirmed by Hynitzsch, who writes that the monument was in preparation
Several Italian and foreign 17th-Century fencing Masters heap uncommon praise on Fabris
and his teachings:
- Francesco Alfieri (1640) calls him "Salvator the Grand Master" and "a man of the
greatest name in our profession."
- Marcelli (1686) makes a very similar statement as Alfieri.
- Pallavicini (1670) states that Fabris is the only Master who explains the guards in a satisfactory manner.
- The Flemish Master Thibault (1622), in spite of his dislike for the Italian arts, praises
Fabris as a man far ahead of his times, and dedicates several pages to instructing his readers on how
to face Fabris' style and formidable students.
- Hynitzsch (1677) calls Fabris a hero known as far as Denmark, France, Germany and
Poland. He states that his style was devotedly spread throughout Europe by such famous fencing masters
as Zum Velde, Wulff, Mulssheim and the Kreuselers, a fencing dynasty who taught at the university of Jena.
Fabris died of malignant fever on November 11, 1618 at the age of 74. The entry in the
archives of the City of Padua reads: Salvador Fabris, fencing master of circa 70 years of age, had been
ill with malignant fever for ten days. Visited by the Most Excellent Sirs Giulio Sala and Prevatio in the
priory of St. Martin.
Note: We express our kindest thanks to Mr. C. Amberger and Mr. H. Andersson for
their invaluable help and scholarly contribution.