Very little biographical detail of Francesco Ferdinando Alfieri has emerged so far. The title page of La Scherma states that he was “Maestro D’Arme” to the Accademia Delia in Padua in 1640, and it is to patrons there that he dedicates this work. He continues to state he is celebrating them “with the collection of my many years’ labours”. This is continued in the introduction to the reader when he states that he has “a long experience” and this experience is further suggested by the comment that he “finally presents” his fencing method. Other than these, and his mature countenance on the bookplate, little else is known.
The Accademia Delia was founded in Padua in 1608 under the patronage of Captain Piero Duodo to teach military exercises and mathematics to young noble gentleman training for a military career, and was famous for public displays of riding and swordplay. It was here that Galileo Galilei taught mathematics and developed his “geometric and military compass” during his time at the university in Padua. The Accademia flourished into the 18th century, eventually falling into decline and the buildings are now lost to us, though fittingly, No 1 Piazza Accademia Delia in Padua today houses a school of classical and modern dance.
“La Scherma” was published, in his native Padua, in 1640, and a second edition released in 1645. A second version of this work, with some small revisions was published as “L’arte di ben maneggiare la spada” in 1653, along with a new section on the Spadone (or great sword). In this time he also published “La Bandiera” (the Standard or Flag: 1638) and “La Picca” (The Pike: 1641), both technical manuals on the handling of the implement of the title composed and illustrated in the same fashion as “La Scherma”. A second edition of “L’arte di ben maneggiare la spada” was published as late as 1683.
“La Bandiera” was indeed a fitting first work for Alfieri as the his very name means flag bearer and this, along with several German treatises is often quoted as being the foundation of the tradition of flag throwing and flourishing among the Sbandieratori of Italy today.
It is also known that a relative of Francesco , one Antonio Alfieri, published a work on the equestrian arts in Padua in 1644, quite possibly in connection with the Accademia Delia where his more illustrious relation was Maestro D’Arme.