Wednesday, August 8, 2012

They really knew how to make a guy feel welcome

Giostra del Saracino, Via Larga, Firenze

Recently, while researching another topic entirely, I found a description of a fifteenth-century Florentine party that absolutely boggled my mind, and I couldn't resist sharing it here.

I was doing some reading about late medieval wind bands, and I picked up a book by musicologist and music historian Timothy McGee, called The Ceremonial Musicians of Late Medieval Florence.  In the course of describing some of the elaborate ceremonies with which the Florentines marked special occasions - religious holidays, celebrations of military victories, knightings, investiture of officers, visits by foreign dignitaries, and so forth -  he gave us a detailed description of two overlapping visits in 1459 that illustrates the lengths to which fifteenth-century Florentines would go to do honor to their guests (and by so doing, bring honor to their city).

The first visitor:  the young Count Galeazzo Maria Sforza, fifteen-year-old son of Duke Francesco I of Milan, sent to Florence to meet Cosimo de' Medici and help cement the alliance between the two cities.  Young Galeazzo was also to have the opportunity to meet the second visitor, Pope Pius II (Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini), who was to stop at Florence on his way to Mantua for a church council. 

Here are Florence's two honored guests, that spring of 1459 (though the portrait of Galeazzo Maria was painted about twelve years later than the visit:

Portrait of Galeazzo Maria Sforza by Piero Pollaiolo, ca. 1471

Pope Pius II

And what do we know about these two distinguished gentlemen?

The Pope is described (elsewhere, not by McGee) as intellectually gifted and ambitious, a man of letters (with poetry, a comedy, and a slightly naughty novella entitled The tale of two lovers to his credit, as well as the surprisingly frank memoirs of his papacy), a womanizer, a skillful and pragmatic political strategist, and a talented town planner who turned the village of his birth (Corsignano) into the exquisitely-designed Renaissance city of Pienza.

And Galeazzo?  He does not fare so well, at least in his later years.  Wikipedia tells us that he was famous for being lustful, cruel and tyrannical, and he was eventually to be assassinated by a group of men with a surprisingly eclectic collection of grievances.  The year after this visit he took as his mistress the lovely Lucrezia Landriani, who was the wife of his close friend, and she bore him several children, including the redoubtable Catherina Sforza.  Besides a certain proclivity for viciousness, however, he did have a more positive side:  a lover of music, he was patron to some of the finest musicians of his day, including Alexander Agricola, Johannes Martini, Loyset Compere, and Gaspar van Weerbeke.

Lucrezia Landriani
This portrait can be found attributed variously to Domenico Veneziano and to Antonio del Pollaiuolo.  I tried to check online to see which was right, but kept turning up gems like "Lucrezia Landriani (572 years old) is a famous Duke..."  So I gave up.  Next time I get to the university art library, I'll check it out and edit this, if I remember.

Anyway, on the Florentine side, we have Cosimo de' Medici, 70 years old, holding the reins of government (albeit unofficially).  His grandson Lorenzo, later to be dubbed Il Magnifico, was at this time ten years of age and probably more precocious and cute than magnificent, but he was working on it. 

But on to The Party.  It all began when Galeazzo arrived at the gates of Florence on April 17, 1459.  He had brought a few people with him:  500 of them, in fact, including the Archbishop of Milan, the captain-general of the Milanese army, a bevy of barons, knights, counts, and other nobles, and all of the various people required to take care of, cosset, and entertain all of these important folks.

Galeazzo's party was met by a mounted delegation of over 300 distinguished Florentine citizens, as well as the Priors, the Podesta, the Capitano del Popolo, the herald, and all the civic musicians (which at this point amounted to three different groups:  the trombadori, which consisted of six large trumpets, a shawm, and nakers [small kettledrums], for fanfares and announcements; the trombetti, players of smaller trumpets which had more notes available to them and therefore more musical possibilities; and the pifferi, or shawm band, which consisted of three shawms and a slide trumpet at that time).

Wind band (this configuration is a little late for 1459)
If this suggests to you that a lot of music was to take place during this visit, that's absolutely correct.  Francesco Sforza, Galeazzo's father, had a band of 18 trumpeters, at least some of whom would have come with his son, and Cosimo de' Medici had his own household musicians and singers from the church choirs, to add to the mix.

In Florence that day the shops were closed, and people filled the streets to greet the visitor.  Among the greeting committee was a group of a hundred boys, dressed in silver with pearls.  Galeazzo's carriage was preceded by fifty mules wearing his heraldic colors, but it's not clear to me whether these mules were Florentine or Milanese.  After a lot of fanfaring and church bells ringing, the whole bunch processed to the Piazza della Signoria for the official welcoming ceremony.

The order of the procession through the streets is known to us:  first Florentine famiglia (staff - civil servants, actually), then Galeazzo's famiglia; next the trombetti; the Florentine boys and the Milanese foot soldiers; the pifferi with the civic herald; Galeazzo with the Florentine Priors; the knights from both parties; and then all the other Florentine citizens.  After much more fanfaring and some speechifying, the young Galeazzo was taken to the Medici palace, where he would stay during his visit and where, presumably, he would meet the even younger Lorenzo.

And here I will digress for a moment.  Benozzo Gozzoli, who painted the magnificent fresco of The Journey of the Magi in the Medici Palace, is said to have incorporated images of both of those young men in the panel depicting the journey of the youngest king.  Some art historians dispute these attributions, but let's have a look at the images anyway.  Here's the Young King, said to be a portrait of Lorenzo:

And here, on the white horse, is the young man said to be Galeazzo:

 Some art historians believe that the second picture actually depicts Lorenzo and his younger brother Giuliano.

The Pope was not to arrive until April 26, but there is little doubt that the Florentines kept Galeazzo well entertained in the meantime, with music, feasting, various performances, and courtly dances, such as the one pictured below (note the shawms accompanying the dancers).

When the Pope did arrive, he also brought a large contingent:  many nobles from different cities, ten cardinals, sixty bishops, and quite a few priests.  Officials of the Guelf Party met him  at a monastery outside the gates of the city and escorted him, under their banner, to the gates, where the civic leaders received him.  He was then seated on a throne covered with gold brocade and carried through the streets on a litter.  (He requested that the litter be carried by the Priors; Florence said no.  I would love to have been there for that discussion!  Instead, various princes and nobles in the Pope's party served as litterbearers, and Florence's civic dignity remained untarnished.)

The Pope's entry was treated as a religious procession, complete with relics, torches, and sacred music.  All of the important people from Galeazzo's entry were there, and Galeazzo himself followed behind the Pope's litter on horseback, and behind him came the cardinals and the other churchmen.  After the welcoming ceremony at the Piazza della Signoria and a stop for the Pope to pray in the Duomo, the procession took the Pope to Santa Maria Novella, where he was to reside in the papal apartments. 

The next day, April 26, another procession took place, from Santa Maria Novella to the Duomo, where he spoke to the people and received many valuable gifts.   And on an unspecified day soon afterwards, yet another procession occurred, this one including sacre rappresentazioni (dramatic presentations of sacred stories) and floats, an ephemeral art form in which Florence excelled, all carried on a total of 46 carts. 

By April 29, they were ready to liven things up a little.  After all, Calendimaggio, the May Day festival, was almost upon them.  So that day they held a joust in the Piazza Santa Croce, with platforms for the audience.  Tapestries hung from the windows of the surrounding buildings, and each contestant was greeted by a trumpet fanfare and preceded by pages carrying standards bearing their heraldic insignia.  All the horses (and the people) were lavishly decorated.  Antonio Boscoli and Braccio Guicciardini  took first and second place, respectively, and received decorated helmets.  All finally left the field to the music of the pifferi.

The next day, April 30, involved a massive ball, with an estimated 20,000 persons in attendance.  Held in the Mercato Nuovo, this splendid occasion included lavish costumes and decorations, an elaborate dais set up for Galeazzo and the Pope, rich carpets and cloths everywhere, another raised place for the pifferi to play the music for the dancing, All sorts of banners and twenty trumpeters who saluted the arrival of each and every lady with a fanfare.  (Galeazzo got a fanfare, too.)

On May 1, Galeazzo was invited to dine with the Priors, at a particularly lavish meal  with "every kind of splendid food and elegant wine." ( The next day the Pope was the guest of honor at the Prior's mensa, and again there would have been musical performances for their dining pleasure.)

That afternoon, the visitor was treated to a caccia, a sort of bear-baiting on steroids, in which a cordoned-off Piazza della Signora contained cows, bulls, horses, wolves, wild boar, wild dogs, a giraffe, and either twelve, sixteen, or twenty-six lions, depending upon whose account you believe.  As you can imagine, this was not a particularly pacific mix.  And in the midst of this mess was a man in a large round ball about two and a half meters high, able to propel the ball where he wanted it to go and to chase the lions and wound them through openings in the ball, while remaining safe inside.  This was described by an observer as "a beautiful, grand, and ingenious thing, never before done in Italy.  And this idea came from a Florentine who had seen it done in the countries of the Sultan and in Syria."  No comment.  (Also, unfortunately, no pictures.)

That evening, in case Galeazzo wasn't entertained enough by then, the Florentines held an armeggeria for his amusement.  (That's an equestrian exhibition, featuring stylized war games and contests.)  It was held on Via Larga, and was much like the picture at the beginning of this post.  The ten-year-old Lorenzo was the signore for the event, wearing a golden jacket and cape like the Youngest King in the Gozzoli fresco.  The armeggeria also involved a certain amount of processing, this time by torchlight, and a trionfo consisting of fifty costumed youths leading The Triumph of Love, a four-sided tower three meters tall, decorated in gold and silver, on a wagon.  It featured large gold balls with falcons, fire spewing from openings on both sides, and a youth dressed as Cupid perched atop it all.

Once everyone (except for a lot of the animals) had survived May Day, things began to wind down a little.  On May 2, Galeazzo received from Florentine officials gifts that included two silver basins decorated with the emblem of the city of Florence, two tankards, and twelve engraved cups, all of which weighed 125 pounds and was valued at 2,000 florins.  (Also two boxes of candy - he was, after all, fifteen.)

Finally, on May 3, Galeazzo headed for home.  Not that he managed to just slip quietly away, of course - his departure included ceremonies and extended processions through the city streets.  Two days later, the Pope also left to continue his journey to Mantua, and then, too, there was much pomp and circumstance.

Not too shabby, for the young count, especially.  Florence had done itself proud, and finally everyone could kick back and relax and let life get back to normal.  The stores could reopen, and people could get back to doing what they did best, even better than partying, which was making money.


Postlude:  Galeazzo did make another visit twelve years later, but it was during Lent and there was no Pope in evidence, so things were much quieter and calmer.  This time he brought his wife, and an entourage of over a thousand people, with 1,500 horses and mules.  Both the Duke (as he was by then) and the Duchess, Bona of Savoy, had their own extravagant households.  An eyewitness described their entry this:  "There was a livery for his greater Camerieri, all dressed in crimson, and each one well mounted on horseback, with a greyhound on a leash.  There were also sixty pages, all dressed in green velvet, on huge coursers, all with fittings of gold and silver, and saddles covered with brocade of various colors and crimson..."  There's more, but you get the gist. 

Images in this post are all in the public domain.

No comments: