This manuscript, along with another at the J. Paul Getty Museum (MS Ludwig XV 13), and a third formerly in the Pisani-Dossi collection (private collection), comprise the earliest illuminated copies of Fiore dei Liberi’s treatise on fencing and martial arts entitled Fior di battaglia (The Flower of Battle).
Little is known about Fiore apart from what he mentions in the prologues to his texts, but he was likely born around 1350 in the region of Friuli in northeastern Italy. He was a renowned fencing master, and served as a tutor for noble youth, many of whom he proudly lists in his text. Fiore dedicated the Getty and Pisano-Dossi copies of his treatise to Niccolo III d’Este (1383-1441), ruler of Ferrara. The prologue of the Morgan copy mentions no such dedication, but it, too, was likely intended as a gift. (In its current state of nineteen folios, the Morgan copy is a fraction of what must have been a significantly larger text. Along with the loss of a major portion of the text, it has been suggested that the current foliation of the manuscript is not entirely correct: originally, folio 17 would have been placed before folio 16.) The portions that remain provide instruction in the art of mounted combat, as well as various iterations of combat with sword and dagger.
It is clear that Fiore intended to have his treatise illustrated from its inception—indeed, the drawings play an important role in conveying to the reader the complicated techniques described in the text. That being said, a handful of the 124 pen drawings were left unfinished, which suggests that work on the Morgan manuscript may have been interrupted. About half of the pen drawings in the codex have been attributed to Altichiero da Zevio, who is mentioned at Verona in 1369 and at Padua in 1379 and 1384. However, the Morgan drawings are closely related to those in the Getty and Pisani-Dossi copies, the former written in or shortly after 1409 and the latter dated to 1410. Altichiero, on the other hand, is thought to have died around 1390 or 1395. Therefore, it is likely that the Morgan drawings are the work of two artists who were closely influenced by the style of the earlier master.