“Who was Philippo Vadi?” is a surprisingly difficult question to answer for a number of reasons. Evidence is scant, disconnected and largely not available without physical access to a wide range of libraries and archives dotted around Northern Italy. Even if you find a plausible library or resource, odds are there may well be no mention at all of Vadi within it. As there is virtually no specific biographical information in his book, we have tended to take any information we can find at face value. For a number of years the dominant theory has been that prior to writing his book Vadi was the governor of Reggio under Marquis Leonello d’Este, and then later served Leonello’s successor and brother Duke Borso d’Este in some other capacity.
This account of Vadi’s life comes from an article on the History of the Vadi Family. It was originally published in Italian by Andrea Conti from Sale d’Arme Achille Marozzo, but is now available in English hosted on HROARR. The article was written with the help of a member of the Vadi family with a keen interest in his family’s history. I and others (including Greg Mele and Ken Mondschein) have long been sceptical of this theory, principally because the references provided by the article are odd and were not easily accessible.
A few weeks ago I was excited to learn that these references have become digitally available (one appears to have been available for a while, but I only recently found it). In this article, I will present the sources and describe their contents, with a view to assessing the two claims about Vadi in the article: that he served two of the d’Este lords, first Leonello as governor and later Borso in some other capacity. I will argue that it is highly unlikely, based on these sources alone, that Vadi was ever governor of Reggio, although there is decent evidence he worked for Borso.
Finally, at the end of the article, I will provide links to the sources in question, as well as (where copy right permits) the translations that my friend Lyz Brown has provided, as I believe it is important that these resources as accessible as widely as possible. Additionally, there are several sources referenced in these works that I have not been able to access but which might have some further information about Vadi. These are also listed at the end, with the request that if anyone has access to these resources (e.g. through a University Library) then I would greatly appreciate if they can track down the reference and share it with me.
Source of “Governor Vadi”
One of the challenges with tracking down who Vadi is is that, by and large, the sources that describe any details about him do not really care about Vadi, and largely mention him as an aside to their main research question. This is no exception here: both sources listed in the Vadi family article are about 15th Century Italian Poetry.
The first and most exciting is Alcune poesie inedite del Saviozzo e di altri autori tratte da un ms. del Sec. XV (Some Unedited Poems from Saviozzo and other others taken from a 15th century Manuscript) by Giuesppe Ferraro. As the name implies, this is a collection of poems and verses found in a 15th century manuscript from various authors, transcribed and published without changes. Amongst many other texts, it contains three poems by “Phillipus de Vadis di Pisis”, a latinised form of Philippo Vadi Pisano, with some footnotes that try to explain who Vadi is. The second is an article by Irene Verziagi, from a book on 15th century Italian poetry. The article is trying to identify the anonymous author (spoiler alert: it’s not Vadi) of a 15th century “songbook”, which was largely made of of love songs for a noble woman, which gives the article its title: Per Costanza Costabili, la Fenice.
Lets first look at the poems. As mentioned, there are three poems by Vadi in this book; both the original and translations are linked to at the bottom of this article. These poems are:
- A request for forgiveness, referencing Alexander the Great’s killing of Cleitus the Black (4 stanzas – 2 quatrains & 2 triplets)
- A non-specific request for aid, addressed to Duke Borso d’Este and singing his praises (4 stanzas – 2 quatrains & 2 triplets)
- A love poem, although littered with references to the “cruelty” of the lover, which reads as if the lover has broken it off with Vadi and he is part angry at her and part begging to be taken back (it is extremely emo) (13 stanzas, all quatrains)
I was quite amused to read that both Ferraro and Verziagi are quite scathing about the quality of Vadi’s poetry. Verziagi describes Vadi as a “mediocre poet”, and Ferraro notes that the manuscript contained a 4th poem that should have followed poem 3 but that “it is so full of puns and so stuffed with pedantries that it does not deserve to see daylight“. Many native Italians have made similar comments to me about the verse in De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi.
While poems 1 and 3 don’t really give us any specific information about Vadi, poem 2 creates a direct link to Duke Borso, although we can’t be sure of the nature of it. None of the poems mention anything about Reggio. The claim that Vadi might have been the governor of Reggio comes instead from a footnote by Ferraro:
Borso, first Duke of Modena and Reggio, thereafter of Ferrara, Count of Rovigo, had one of his first advisors, Filippo Da Pisa, son of Filippo, resident of Ferrara in the village of Santa Maria in Vado, hence it may be for this reason that he was called De Vadis. The father was a brave warrior; the son was governor of Reggio during Leonello’s rule. He asks in this Sonnet for Borso to reconfirm him in his ancestral dignity. – Guarini reports an epitaph given to this Filippo da Pisa (which now no longer exists) in the Chiesa di San Domenico (Church of San Domenico), in which it is said: Philippus de Tibertellis, killed in the year one thousand four hundred and eight, but maybe it should have said: five hundred and eight. Under the name of Tibertelli, this family De Pisis still currently exists.from Alcune poesie…, translation by Lyz Brown
While there is a lot in here, Ferraro does not provide any source or reference to back up most of his claims making it hard to check up on them. Further, it is somewhat ambiguous in the text (and apparently is equally unclear in the original language) whether Ferraro is claiming that “Filippo da Pisa, son of Filippo” who was governor of Reggio is also Philippo Vadi. We will come back to this claim in the following section.
We’ll look now at the 2nd source, Per Costanza Costabili, la Fenice by Irene Verziagi. The main purpose of this article is to describe the Canzionere Costabili, or “Costabili Songbook” (British Library MS Additional 103190), which is an imposing collection of nearly 500 songs and poems totalling 10,000 lines, written by an unknown author. The vast majority of the songs are love songs dedicated to a Ferraran noble woman, Costanza Costabili (who is often references as “the Phoenix” in the text). However, the songbook contains numerous references to people and events, which have been used to date it to between 1453-1468. Without going into the details, Verziagi concludes that the author must have been part of the lesser aristocracy, which often took on a mixed role of diplomat, courtier and soldier in the service of the more powerful families. In his case, Verziagi argues that it is most likely that he was in the service of Ercole d’Este before he was made Duke (Ercole was Leonello and Borso’s half brother, and would succede Borso as Duke).
Among the many references, the relevant one for our interests is “Toschan Phylippo” (Tuscan Philippo), who is mentioned as a friend and fellow poet, and is the main subject of sonnets 362-364 in the songbook. Verziagi believes that the most likely candidate for this is none other than the Philippo Vadi di Pisa (Pisa being in Tuscany) from the poems highlighted above. She repeats the biographical claims from Ferraro with no further references, although explicitly stating that the poet was also the governor. Additionally, she references two other Italian literary theorists (Marco Santagata and A.E Quaglio) who argue that Vadi’s poetry is a prime example of culture in the Ferraran court of that time.
Assessing the Claims
Clearly, the poems from this collection are the ultimate source of some of the claims about Vadi, so the the first question we need to answer is whether the author of the poems and the author of the fencing text are one and the same. As noted, various people have made similarly disparaging remarks about the quality of the poetry in both texts. Putting this aside, it’s also interesting that the three poems share stylistic features with the verse in De Arte. They are a mixture of either rhyming triplets or quatrains, with either of the two rhyming patterns below:
The verse in Arte Gladiatoria largely follows either of these same patterns. While there are some other poems in the same book that follow this pattern, it is by no means ubiquitous. Likewise, the other poetry from the same period quoted in Verziagi’s article does not tend to follow this pattern either. In short while hardly unique to Vadi, it is at least characteristic of his style.
Verziagi dates these poems as coming from two manuscripts dated as 1463 and the 1480s, which is based on the manuscript entries in the Antonelli Index of L’Archivio Storico Comunale di Ferrara. The relevant entries are 393 and 591, and Vadi has poems in both of these manuscripts, but it is not clear which ones come from which manuscript. These dates are firmly within the period that we can be confident that Vadi was active: De Arte Gladiatoria is dated 1482-87, and we also have a medallion cast in 1457 that almost certainly was commissioned by him (as it contains an identical image to Vadi’s segno on one side).
Of lesser importance is the fact that both fencing text and poetry contain numerous classical references. While the similarity is apparent, is is also not terribly surprising given that they were written in the Early renaissance and the d’Este court was decidedly humanist in their outlook; classical references would have been quite common place. In conclusion, the time period, style of verse and the fact of course that the name matches mean that I think we can be extremely confident that these poems were written by our Phillipo Vadi. With this link established as firmly as we can, it’s time to look at the claims that these poems inspired.
There were two claims made in the original article that we wanted to assess: that Vadi was governor of Reggio under Marquis Leonello d’Este (who ruled 1441-1450) and served in some other capacity to Duke Borso d’Este (ruled 1450-1471).
The second of these claims has the firmest support. In the second poem, Vadi is directly addressing Borso d’Este, imploring him to bestow a favour on Vadi. While we don’t know exactly what he is asking for, the first poem might give us a clue. This poem references Alexander the Great killing one of his advisor’s in a fit of rage (Cleitus the Black), and then regretting it after the fact. The poem implores it’s target “So look at yourself, my dear sir / since against all reason you have killed me / do not regret your mistake too late”. If these poems are linked, then it strongly implies that Vadi did indeed work for Borso d’Este, and lost this role sometime before 1460 or 1480, and wants to be reinstated.
Let us move on to the other claim – that he was also a governor for Leonello d’Este, which I believe is suspect. As noted above, this comes from Ferraro’s footnote that states:
“Borso… had one of his first advisors, Filippo Da Pisa, son of Filippo, resident of Ferrara in the village of Santa Maria in Vado, hence it may be for this reason that he was called De Vadis. The father was a brave warrior; the son was governor of Reggio during Leonello’s rule.“
Ferraro gives no references, so it is difficult to establish whether there was indeed a “Filippo Da Pisa, son of Filippo” who was governor of Reggio under Leonello. Whether true or not, it is certainly plausible. In Land and Power in Medieval Ferrara, Trevor Dean notes that since the days of Niccollo d’Este (father of all three d’Este Lords mentioned so far, and the dedicatee of 2 of Fiore dei Liberi’s manuscripts), it was common practice for the d’Este to assign Ferraran nobility as governors of Reggio and other cities, so that the governor could not be accused of favouritism amongst the local lords.
With the records I have available, it is impossible to establish whether there was ever a Filippo da Pisa who governed Reggio, but let us give Ferraro the benefit of the doubt and assume he is correct about there being a Filippo da Pisa who governed Reggio under Leonello, and who was the son of another Fillipo da Pisa. Even if we assume this, I believe there are two problems to consider that make it staggeringly unlikely that this governor was also the author of De Arte Gladiatoria.
While we have fairly little information available about the son, we have ample information about the eldest Fillipo da Pisa, the famous warrior. This Filippo was a famous condotierre and mercenary, who fought in the service of many different lords. In Land and Power, Dean notes that he was gifted two houses in Ferrara as part of payment for his military service in 1405, but prior to being given a fief by Niccolo d’Este in 1407 had served many different nobles. He also notes that Filippo da Pisa was knighted in 1413 in Jerusalem, along with Nicolo and several others. Dean’s text is extensively researched and references to the original sources are all provided, with one source of note in particular being the Cronaca Carrarese, (Chronicle of the Carraresi family), which has a transcribed digital version. There are numerous references in this text to battles and events involving Filippo da Pisa; the earliest I can find dates to 1391. The same source claims that da Pisa was made governor of Modena in 1408. Finally, like Ferraro’s footnote, this text also references da Pisa’s gravestone in the Chiesa di San Domenico, but gives the date of the inscription as 1414 (Ferraro reports an epitaph in the same church, but dates it as 1408, believing it might be intended to be 1508. However, he is reporting it second hand from a source by someone named “Guarini” which we don’t know anything else about, and in principle he could be claiming this as the grave of the son).
We now have established at least two Filippo da Pisas who are obvioulsy not the same man: the condotierre, who died in 1414, and a Phillipo Vadi who wrote a fencing treatise (dated 1482-87), some poems (betwen 1460-1480) and had a medal cast (1457). Ferraro’s claim is that the son of Filippo da Pisa (condotierre), another Filippo da Pisa, was a governor of Reggio. Assuming this is correct, and knowing what we do about the condotierre, I believe that it is staggeringly unlikely that the governor and the author are the same person. For ease (as they all have the same name) I will refer to these different Filippos as the Warrior, the Author and the Governor for the rest of this article.
First, the time periods make it highly dubious. Ferrraro’s claim is that Filippo the Governor is the son of Filippo the Warrior. However, we know that Filippo the Warrior died at the latest in 1414, approximately 70 years before Filippo the Author would dedicate his book to Guidobaldo de Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino. If the author is indeed the warrior’s son, then even if we assume that the he was born in the last years of the his father’s life, he would have been in his early 70s at the time of his book entered the library at Urbino. Guy Windsor has argued – and I firmly agree – that this book reads like a court application, which feels odd for a man so late in life. Further, albeit fairly weak, support to this is that images of Vadi in the book very much look like a younger man, although of course these aren’t photographs and may well have been embellished.
Even if this wasn’t an issue, the other fact that makes it dubious that the governor and author are one and the same is of course the family name. All sources, including Ferraro, agree that the family name of Fillipo the Warrior is Tibertelli, not Vadi. Ferraro believes that the name “di Vadi” comes from living in the village of Santa Maria di Vado. I find this claim highly dubious for two reasons. First, the Tibertelli family name has lasted well into the modern period (as an aside: it is quite difficult to google for Filippo Tibertelli because one of his descendants, a 20th century painter of some note, took his name in homage to the famous ancestor). It feels unlikely to me that Vadi – in trying to impress his credentials as a fencing master – would seek to disassociate from the family name of his father, a famous condotierre.
However, the article on the Vadi family that spawned this whole discussion makes Ferraro’s claim that Filippo the Author takes his name “de Vadi” from Santa Maria in Vado even more dubious. Firstly, there are many references to the Vadi family contained within it that predate Filippo the Warrior by centuries (the earliest entry is 1059). Clearly these people did not get their name from the village that any of the Fillipo da Pisa’s we have identified settled in. Further, the existence of Benedetto Vadi di Fossombrone further complicates this claim. Benedetto was a lawyer who worked for the Duke of Urbino between 1480 and 1516. The name implies he was from Fossombrone, which is a town near Urbino. While we can’t be sure, it has long been speculated that Benedetto likely introduced Philippo to the court at Urbino. Regardless, we have another confirmed Vadi in the same time period as ours that is most likely not from Santa Maria in Vado.
In conclusion, I believe it is highly unlikely that Filippo da Pisa, Governor of Reggio, is one and the same as Philippo Vadi Pisano, author of De Arte Gladiatoria, as the father is claimed to be Filippo Tibertelli, who died long before Vadi was likely to have been born. While it is conceivable that he is related in some way to the the two Filippo Tibertellis, we have no evidence to make this claim beyond the similarity in name (Filippo da Pisa). If they are related, I think as Greg Mele pointed out many years ago, it is most likely that Governor Filippo Tibertelli would be Philippo Vadi’s uncle, likely through his mother’s side. However, and I cannot stress this enough, even this link is highly speculative.
Fortunately from a HEMA perspective, it is irrelevant. We can be fairly certain of the Vadi being linked to Duke Borso d’Este in some way, thanks to the poem directly addressing him. The link to the d’Este family is important, because there are some parts of Vadi’s book that look like they have been copied with some modification from Fiore’s earlier text. This could explain how Vadi would have been able to access the d’Este library, and the teachings of Fiore. On the nature of that link, we can only speculate.
Note there are other theories about Vadi’s origin that have not been explored here, as I do not yet have access to the relevant documents as of yet. These will hopefully be a subject of a later post.
List of Sources
- Historical Overview of the Vadi Family by Andre Conti on HROARR
- Per Costanza Costabili, la Fenice by Irene Verziagi, in Gli Amorum libri e la lirica del Quattrocento : con altri studi boiardeschi (2003), eds. Antonia Benvenuti and Sebastiano Corradi*
- Alcune poesie inedite del Saviozzo e di altri autori tratte da un ms. del
- Translation of the Vadi Poems from Alcune Poesie… Collected by Jamie Maciver, translated by Lyz Brown
- Cronaca Carrarese (1344-1407) by Galeazzo Gatari (ed. Antonio Medin, published 1939)
- Land and Power in Medieval Ferrara, Trevor Dean, 2002
* This article is only available for a fee of €4.40. While I have purchased a copy, the copyright on the document prevents me from sharing it.
Other Sources (& Description)
Below is a list of sources that might contain some reference to Vadi, referred to in the articles I’ve discussed, but which I don’t have access to.
A 15th century songbook from the Ferrara region by an anonymous author. Verziagi believes that a character, “Tuscan Philippo” may be Phillipo Vadi. Sonnets 362 to 364 are dedicated to this character. A printed transcription exists (Worldcat entry) as well as the original manuscript in the British Library as MS Additional 10319.
La lirica di corte nell’Italia del Quattrocento by Marco Santagata
Verziagi reports that Santagata talks about Vadi’s work as characteristic of of the mid 15th century court of Ferrara, on pg. 69 footnote 84 of “Fra Rimini e Urbino“, which appears to be a chapter in this larger work (Worldcat entry).
Leonardo Giustinian in una silloge ferrarese di rime quattrocentesche by AE Quaglio
Verziagi reports that this article also mentions Vadi in the contecxt of other 15th century poets, but provides no further details. Note that the text is cited as being an article in “Rivista di letteratura italiana” n. 2(1983), but does not appear to be present in the JSTOR journal. (Worldcat entry)
MS Antonelli 393 & 521
The original manuscripts that hold the Vadi poems quoted above, as well as a 4th poem that is apparently so bad it should never see the light of day (I’d still like to see it). They are held in the Ferrara state archives. It would also be useful to know which manuscript held which poems, so we could try and date when Vadi might have worked for Borso d’Este.