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Valturio, Roberto


(b. Rimini, Italy, February 1405; d. Rimini, August 1475)

military technology, diffusion of knowledge.

Little is known about Valturio’s life. The son of Cicco di Jacopo de’ Valturi, he received a good education at Rimini and quickly mastered Greek adn Latin. For a long time he served as apostolic secreatary to Pope Eugene IV, a post once held by his father. In 1446 or 1447 Valturio entered the service of the ruler of Rimini, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta. As a private secretary with some influence at court, he was an intermediary between Sigismondo and the artists and scholars attracted to his court. Valturio was not, as has sometimes been supposed, military engineer or an architect. Nor did he participate in planning the citadel of Rimini, Rocca Malatestiana.

Nevertheless, at Sigismondo’s request, Valturio wrote a treatise on the art of war, Elenchus et index rerum militarium. Most likely completed between 1455 and 1460, it is known by the briefer title De re militari. Valturio undertook the task more as a man of letters and as a humanist scholar than as an expert in the subject. The work consists of twelve books that treat the art of war both generally and from a historical point of view. The most fully illustrated book is the tenth, on offensive and defensive weapons. The work appeared during the transition from the old military technology to the new one based on gunpowder. Valturio treats mainly Roman and medieval military techniques, more recent ones receiving only cursory coverage in the text, although they are somewhat more adequately presented in the illustrations. Book X contains accounts of siege towers, war chariots, screws for breaking iron gratings, catapults, and battering rams; and book XI covers ships, pontoons, and life belts. Firearms are discussed but are relegated to a subordinate role.

Valturio also presents unusual objects of the kind often found in fourteenth-and early fifteenth-century manuscripts on the art of war: an elbow-shaped weapon in which the bolt and chamber are arranged perpendicular to each other; a storming wagon moved by windwheels; a monstrous war machine with a dragon’s head, similar to one depicted several decades later in a relief done at Urbino by Francesco di Giorgio Martini: and a completely sealed submarine propelled by paddle wheels, which certainly was never built. Valturio’s sources were primarily ancient authors, but he also drew on a few contemporary and–for the fantastic devices–late medieval writers.

The first printed edition of Valturio’s work (1472) was a masterpiece of typography and woodcut. The woodcuts (or at least the drawings) were formerly attributed to Matteo de’ Pasti; but they may have been done, as E. Rodakiewicz has proposed, by Fra Giovanni Giocondo Veronese. Military leaders of the period held the book in high esteem, and Leonardo da Vinci copied passages of the text and commented on them. Some of the manuscripts, such as those at Dresden and Munich, which contain very fine drawings, may have been produced after the first printed edition and in fact were based upon it.

After Sigismondo’s death in 1468, Valturio remained at the court of Rimini under his son and successor, Roberto. According to the investigation made by A. F. Massèra, Valturio died at Rimini in August 1475. In 1484, during the reign of Roberto’s successor, Pandolfo IV Malatesta, Valturio’s remains were placed in the Church of San Francesco, which in 1446 had been renovated by Leone Battista Alberti into the Tempio Malatestiano.


1. Original Works. De re militari exists in 22 MSS held at Cesena (Bibl. Malatestiana). Dresden (Landes-Bibl.), Florence (Bibl. Riccardiana and Bibl. Laurenziana), Milan (Bibl. Ambrosiana), Modena (Bibl. Estense), Munich (Bayerische Staatsbibl.), London (British Museum), and seven other libraries (see Rodakiewicz). It has appeared in various eds. and was first printed as Elenchus et index rerum militarium (De re militari) (Verona, 1472), with 82 woodcuts (Hain-Copinger 15847 = Klebs 1014/1). The 2nd ed. (Verona, 1483) contains 96 woodcuts, copied from those in the 1472 ed. (Hain-Copinger 15848 + Klebs 1014/2). The work also appeared in an Italian trans. (Verona, 1483; Hain-Copinger 15849 = Klebs 1015/1); further Latin eds. (Paris, 1532, 1533, 1534, 1535, 1555); and a French trans by Loys Meigret, Les douze livres de Robert Valturin touchant la discipline militaire (Paris, 1555).

II. Secondary Literature. See the following, listed chronologically: C. Yriarte, Un condottire au XVe siècle (Paris, 1882), 128–132, 263–267; M. Jähns, Geschichte der Kriegswissenschaften, pt. 1 (Munich, 1889), 358–362; L. Olschki, Geschichte der neusprachlichen wissenschaftlichen Literatur, I (Leipzig, 1919), 131–132; A. F. Massèra, “Quando morì Roberto Valturio?” in Giornale storico della letteratura italiana, 75 (1920), 118–119: H. T. Horwitz, “Mariano und Valturio,” in Geschichtsblätter für Technik und Industrie,9 (1922), 38–40; L. Hain, Repertorium bibliographicum, II, pt. 2 (Berlin, 1925), no. 15847 and supp. edited by W. A. Copinger, pt. 1 (Berlin, 1926); A. F. Massèra, Roberto Valturio (Persaro, 1927); A. C. Klebs, “Incunabula scientifica et medica,” in Osiris, 4 (1938), no 1014/1 the entry for Valturio in Enciclopedia biogafica e bibliografica italiana ser 50 (Miltan 1939) 314–315; E. Rodakiewicz, “The editio princeps of Valturio’s De re militari in Relation to the Dresden and Munich mss.,” in Maso Finiguerra, 5 (1940), 14–82; F. Babinger, Mehmed der Eroberer und seine Zeit (Munich, 1953), 210, 214–215, 552; and B. Gille, Les ingénieurs de la Renaissance (Paris, 1964), 78–80, 235–236.

Friedrich Klemm

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