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THE CIVILIZATION OF THE RENAISSANCE IN ITALY

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Author Topic: THE CIVILIZATION OF THE RENAISSANCE IN ITALY  (Read 1687 times)
Bianca
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« Reply #210 on: October 12, 2008, 10:45:43 am »










What is left of these festivals is but a poor remnant of what once existed. Both religious and secular displays of this kind have abandoned the dramatic element--the costumes--partly from dread of ridicule, and partly because the cultivated classes, which formerly gave their whole energies to these things, have for several reasons lost their interest in them. Even at the Carnival, the great processions of masks are out of fashion. What still remains, such as the costumes adopted in imitation of certain religious confraternities, or even the brilliant festival of Santa Rosalia at Palermo, shows clearly how far the higher culture of the country has withdrawn from such interests.

The festivals did not reach their full development till after the decision victory of the modern spirit in the fifteenth century, unless perhaps Florence was here, as in other things, in advance of the rest of Italy. In Florence, the several quarters of the city were, in early times, organized with a view to such exhibitions, which demanded no small expenditure of artistic effort. Of this kind was the representation of Hell, with a scaffold and boats in the Arno, on the 1st of May, 1304, when the Ponte alla Carraia broke down under the weight of the spectators. That at a later time the Florentines used to travel through Italy as directors of festivals (festaiuoli), shows that the art was early perfected at home.

In setting forth the chief points of superiority in the Italian festivals over those of other countries, the first that we shall have to remark is the developed sense of individual character- istics, in other words, the capacity to invent a given mask, and to act the part with dramatic propriety. Painters and sculptors not merely did their part towards the decoration of the place where the festival was held, but helped in getting up the characters themselves, and prescribed the dress, the paints, and the other ornaments to be used. The second fact to be pointed out is the universal familiarity of the people with the poetical basis of the show. The Mysteries, indeed, were equally well understood all over Europe, since the biblical story and the legends of the saints were the common property of Christendom; but in all other respects the advantage was on the side of Italy. For the recitations, whether of religious or secular heroes, she possessed a lyrical poetry so rich and harmonious that none could resist its charm. The majority, too, of the spectators--at least in the cities--understood the meaning of mythological figures, and could guess without much difficulty at the allegorical and historical, which were drawn from sources familiar to the mass of Italians.

This point needs to be more fully discussed. The Middle Ages were essentially the ages of allegory. Theology and philosophy treated their categories as independent beings, and poetry and art had but little to add, in order to give them personality. Here all the countries of the West were on the same level.
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« Reply #211 on: October 12, 2008, 10:47:09 am »










Their world of ideas was rich enough in types and figures, but when these were put into concrete shape, the costume and attributes were likely to be unintelligible and unsuited to the popular taste. This, even in Italy, was often the case, and not only so during the whole period of the Renaissance, but down to a still later time. To produce the confusion, it was enough if a predicate of the allegorical figures was wrongly translated by an attribute. Even Dante is not wholly free from such errors, and, indeed, he prides himself on the obscurity of his allegories in general. Petrarch, in his 'Trionfi,' attempts to give clear, if short, descriptions of at all events the figures of Love, of Chastity, of Death, and of Fame. Others again load their allegories with inappropriate attributes. In the Satires of Vinciguerra, for example, Envy is depicted with rough, iron teeth, Gluttony as biting its own lips, and with a shock of tangled hair, the latter probably to show its indifference to all that is not meat and drink. We cannot here discuss the bad influence of these misunderstandings on the plastic arts. They, like poetry, might think themselves fortunate if allegory could be expressed by a mythological figure--by a figure which antiquity saved from absurdity--if Mars might stand for war, and Diana for the love of the chase.

Nevertheless art and poetry had better allegories than these to offer, and we may assume with regard to such figures of this kind as appeared in the Italian festivals, that the public required them to be clearly and vividly characteristic, since its previous training had fitted it to be a competent critic. Elsewhere, particularly at the Burgundian court, the most inexpressive figures, and even mere symbols, were allowed to pass, since to understand, or to seem to understand them, was a part of aristocratic breeding. On the occasion of the famous 'Oath of the Pheasant' in the year 1454, the beautiful young horsewoman, who appears as 'Queen of Pleasure,' is the only pleasing allegory. The huge epergnes, with automatic or even living figures within them, are either mere curiosities or are intended to convey some clumsy moral lesson. A naked female statue guarding a live lion was supposed to represent Constantinople and its future savior, the Duke of Burgundy. The rest, with the exception of a Pantomime-- Jason in Colchis--seems either too recondite to be understood or to have no sense at all. Oliver de la Marche, to whom we owe the description of the scene (Memoires, ch. 29), appeared costumed as 'The Church,' in a tower on the back of an elephant, and sang a long elegy on the victory of the unbelievers.
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« Reply #212 on: October 12, 2008, 10:48:16 am »









But although the allegorical element in the poetry, the art, and the festivals of Italy is superior both in good taste and in unity of conception to what we find in other countries, yet it is not in these qualities that it is most characteristic and unique. The decisive point of superiority lay rather in the fact that, besides the personifications of abstract qualities, historical rep- resentatives of them were introduced in great number--that both poetry and plastic art were accustomed to represent famous men and women. The 'Divine Comedy,' the 'Trionfi' of Petrarch, the 'Amorosa Visione' of Boccaccio--all of them works constructed on this principle--and the great diffusion of culture which took place under the influence of antiquity, had made the nation familiar with this historical element. These figures now appeared at festivals, either individualized, as definite masks, or in groups, as characteristic attendants on some leading allegorical figure. The art of grouping and composition was thus learnt in Italy at a time when the most splendid exhibitions in other countries were made up of unintelligible symbolism or unmeaning puerilities.

Let us begin with that kind of festival which is perhaps the oldest of all--the Mysteries. They resembled in their main features those performed in the rest of Europe. In the public squares, in the churches and in the cloisters, extensive scaffolds were constructed, the upper story of which served as a Paradise to open and shut at will, and the ground-floor often as 8 Hell, while between the two lay the stage properly so called, representing the scene of all the earthly events of the drama In Italy, as elsewhere, the biblical or legendary play often began with an introductory dialogue between Apostles, Prophets, Sibyls, Virtues, and Fathers of the Church, and sometimes ended with a dance. As a matter of course the half-comic 'Intermezzi' of secondary characters were not wanting in Italy, yet this feature was hardly so broadly marked as in northern countries. The artificial means by which figures were made to rise and float in the air--one of the chief delights of these representations--were probably much better understood in Italy than elsewhere; and at Florence in the fourteenth century the hitches in these performances were a stock subject of ridicule. Soon afterwards Brunellesco invented for the Feast of the Annunciation in the Piazza San Felice a marvelous ap- paratus consisting of a heavenly globe surrounded by two circles of angels, out of which Gabriel flew down in a machine shaped like an almond. Cecca, too, devised mechanisms for such displays. The spiritual corporations or the quarters of the city which undertook the charge and in part the performance of these plays spared, at all events in the larger towns, no trouble and expense to render them as perfect and artistic as possible. The same was no doubt the case at the great court festivals, when Mysteries were acted as well as pantomimes and secular dramas. The court of Pietro Riario and that of Ferrara were assuredly not wanting in all that human invention could produce. When we picture to ourselves the theatrical talent and the splendid costumes of the actors, the scenes constructed in the style of the architecture of the period, and hung with garlands and tapestry, and in the background the noble buildings of an Italian piazza, or the slender columns of some great courtyard or cloister, the effect is one of great brilliance. But just as the secular drama suffered from this passion for display, so the higher poetical development of the Mystery was arrested by the same cause. In the texts which are left we find for the most part the poorest dramatic groundwork, relieved now and then by a fine lyrical or rhetorical passage, but no trace of the grand symbolic enthusiasm which distinguishes the 'Autos Sacramentales' of Calderon.
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« Reply #213 on: October 12, 2008, 10:49:17 am »










In the smaller towns, where the scenic display was less, the effect of these spiritual plays on the character of the spectators may have been greater. We read that one of the great preachers of repentance of whom more will be said later on, Roberto da Lecce, closed his Lenten sermons during the plague of 1448, at Perugia, with a representation of the Passion. The piece followed the New Testament closely. The actors were few, but the whole people wept aloud. It is true that on such occasions emotional stimulants were resorted to which were borrowed from the crudest realism. We are reminded of the pictures of Matteo da Siena, or of the groups of clay-figures by Guido Mazzoni, when we read that the actor who took the part of Christ appeared covered with welts and apparently sweating blood, and even bleeding from a wound in the side.

The special occasions on which these mysteries were performed, apart from the great festivals of the Church, from princely weddings, and the like, were of various kinds. When, for example, St. Bernardino of Siena was canonized by the Pope (1450), a sort of dramatic imitation of the ceremony (rappresentazione) took place, probably on the great square of his native city, and for two days there was feasting with meat and drink for all comers. We are told that a learned monk celebrated his promotion to the degree of Doctor of Theology by giving a representation of the legend about the patron saint of the city. Charles VIII had scarcely entered Italy before he was welcomed at Turin by the widowed Duchess Bianca of Savoy with a sort of half-religious pantomime, in which a pastoral scene first symbolized the Law of Nature, and then a procession of patriarchs the Law of Grace. Afterwards followed the story of Lancelot of the lake, and that 'of Athens.' And no sooner had the King reached Chieri than he was received with another pantomime, in which a woman in childbed was shown surrounded by distinguished visitors.

If any church festival was held by universal consent to call for exceptional efforts, it was the feast of Corpus Christi, which in Spain gave rise to a special class of poetry. We possess a splendid description of the manner in which that feast was celebrated at Viterbo by Pius II in 1462. The procession itself, which advanced from a vast and gorgeous tent in front of San Francesco along the main street to the Cathedral, was the least part of the ceremony. The cardinals and wealthy prelates had divided the whole distance into parts, over which they severally presided, and which they decorated with curtains, tapestry, and garlands. Each of them had also erected a stage of his own, on which, as the procession passed by, short historical and allegorical scenes were represented. It is not clear from the account whether all the characters were living beings or some merely draped figures; the expense was certainly very great. There was a suffering Christ amid singing cherubs, the Last Supper with a figure of St. Thomas Aquinas, the combat between the Archangel Michael and the devils, fountains of wine and orchestras of angels, the grave of Christ with all the scene of the Resurrection, and finally, on the square before the Cathedral, the tomb of the Virgin. It opened after High Ma s and Benediction, and the Mother of God ascended singing to Paradise, where she was crowned by her Son, and led into the presence of the Eternal Father.
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« Reply #214 on: October 12, 2008, 10:51:07 am »









Among these representations in the public street, that given by the Cardinal Vice-Chancellor Roderigo Borgia, afterwards Pope Alexander VI, was remarkable for its splendor and obscure symbolism. It offers an early instance of the fondness for salvos of artillery which was characteristic of the house of Borgia.

The account is briefer which Pius II gives us of the procession held the same year in Rome on the arrival of the skull of St. Andrew from Greece. There, too, Roderigo Borgia distinguished himself by his magnificence; but this festival has a more secular character than the other, as, besides the customary choirs of angels, other masks were exhibited, as well as 'strong men,' who seem to have performed various feats of muscular prowess.

Such representations as were wholly or chiefly secular in their character were arranged, especially
at the more important princely courts, mainly with a view to splendid and striking scenic effects.
The subjects were mythological or allegorical, and the interpretation commonly lay on the surface. Extravagances, indeed, were not wanting--gigantic animals from which a crowd of masked figures suddenly emerged, as at Siena in the year 1465, when at a public reception a ballet of twelve
persons came out of a golden wolf; living table ornaments, not always, however, showing the
tasteless exaggeration of the Burgundian Court and the like. Most of them showed some artistic
or poetical feeling. The mixture of pantomime and drama at the Court of Ferrara has been already referred to in the treating of poetry. The entertainments given in 1473 by the Cardinal Pietro Riario
at Rome when Leonora of Aragon, the destined bride of Prince Hercules of Ferrara, was passing
through the city, were famous far beyond the limits of Italy. The plays acted were mysteries on
some ecclesiastical subject, the pantomimes, on the contrary, were mythological. There were represented Orpheus with the beasts, Perseus and Andromeda, Ceres drawn by dragons, Bacchus
and Ariadne by panthers, and finally the education of Achilles. Then followed a ballet of the famous lovers of ancient times, with a troop of nymphs, which was interrupted by an attack of predatory centaurs, who in their turn were vanquished and put to flight by Hercules. The fact, in itself a trifle, may be mentioned as characteristic of the taste of the time, that the human beings who at all
festivals appeared as statues in niches or on pillars and triumphal arches, and then showed them-
selves to be alive by singing or speaking, wore their natural complexion and a natural costume, and
thus the sense of incongruity was removed; while in the house of Riario there was exhibited a living child, gilt from head to foot, who showered water round him from a spring.
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« Reply #215 on: October 12, 2008, 10:52:18 am »









Brilliant pantomimes of the same kind were given at Bologna, at the marriage of Annibale Bentivoglio
with Lucrezia of Este. Instead of the orchestra, choral songs were sung, while the fairest of Diana's nymphs flew over to the Juno Pronuba, and while Venus walked with a lion--which in this case was a disguised man--among a troop of savages. The decorations were a faithful representation of a forest. At Venice, in 1491, the princesses of the house of Este were met and welcomed by the Bucentaur, and entertained by boat-races and a splendid pantomime, called 'Meleager,' in the court of the ducal palace. At Milan Leonardo da Vinci directed the festivals of the Duke and of some leading citizens. One of his machines, which must have rivalled that of Brunellesco, represented the heavenly bodies with all their movements on a colossal scale. Whenever a planet approached Isabella, the bride of the young Duke, the divinity whose name it bore stepped forth from the globe, and sang some verses written by the court-poet Bellincioni (1490). At another festival (1493) the model of the equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza appeared with other objects under a triumphal arch on the square before the castle. We read in Vasari of the ingenious automata which Leonardo invented to welcome the French kings as masters of Milan. Even in the smaller cities great efforts were sometimes made on these occasions. When Duke Borso came in 1453 to Reggio, to receive the homage of the city, he was met at the gate by a great machine, on which St. Prospero, the patron saint of the town, appeared to float, shaded by a baldachin held by angels, while below him was a revolving disc with eight singing cherubs, two of whom received from the saint the scepter and keys of the city, which they then delivered to the Duke, while saints and angels held forth in his praise. A chariot drawn by concealed horses now advanced, bearing an empty throne, behind which stood a figure of Justice attended by a genius. At the corners of the chariot sat four grey-headed lawgivers, encircled by angels with banners; by its side rode standard-bearers in complete armor. It need hardly be added that the goddess and the genius did not suffer the Duke to pass by without an address. A second car, drawn by a unicorn, bore a Caritas with a burning torch; between the two came the classical spectacle of a car in the form of a ship, moved by men concealed within it. The whole procession now advanced before the Duke. In front of the church of St. Pietro, a halt was again made. The saint, attended by two angels, descended in an aureole from the facade, placed a wreath of laurel on the head of the Duke, and then floated back to his former position. The clergy provided another allegory of a purely religious kind. Idolatry and Faith stood on two lofty pillars, and after Faith, represented by a beautiful girl, had uttered her welcome, the other column fell to pieces with the lay figure upon it. Further on, Borso was met by a Caesar with seven beautiful women, who were presented to him as the Virtues which he was exhorted to pursue. At last the Cathedral was reached, but after the service the Duke again took his seat on a lofty golden throne, and a second time received the homage of some of the masks already mentioned. To conclude all, three angels flew down from an adjacent building, and, amid songs of joy, delivered to him palm branches, as symbols of peace.
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« Reply #216 on: October 12, 2008, 10:53:33 am »









Let us now give a glance at those festivals the chief feature of which was the procession itself.

There is no doubt that from an early period of the Middle Ages the religious processions gave rise to the use of masks. Little angels accompanied the sacrament or the sacred pictures and relics on their way through the streets; or characters in the Passion--such as Christ with the cross, the thieves and the soldiers, or the faithful women--were represented for public edification. But the great feasts of the Church were from an early time accompanied by a civic procession, and the naivete of the Middle Ages found nothing unfitting in the many secular elements which it contained. We may mention especially the naval car (carrus navalis), which had been inherited from pagan times, and which, as an instance already quoted shows, was admissible at festivals of very various kinds, and is associated with one of them in particular-- the Carnival. Such ships, decorated with all possible splendor, delighted the eyes of spectators long after the original meaning of them was forgotten. When Isabella of England met her bridegroom, the Emperor Frederick II, at Cologne, she was met by a number of such chariots, drawn by invisible horses, and filled with a crowd of priests who welcomed her with music and singing.

But the religious processions were not only mingled with secular accessories of all kinds, but were often replaced by processions of clerical masks. Their origin is perhaps to be found in the parties of actors who wound their way through the streets of the city to the place where they were about to act the mystery; but it is possible that at an early per;od the clerical procession may have constituted itself as a distinct species. Dante described the 'Trionfo' of Beatrice, with the twenty-four Elders of the Apocalypse, with the four mystical Beasts, with the three Christian and four Cardinal Virtues, and with Saint Luke, Saint Paul, and other Apostles, in a way which almost forces us to conclude that such processions actually occurred before his time. We are chiefly led to this conclusion by the chariot in which Beatrice drives, and which in the miraculous forest of the vision would have been unnecessary or rather out of place. It is possible, on the other hand, that Dante looked on the chariot as a symbol of victory and triumph, and that his poem rather served to give rise to these processions, the form of which was borrowed from the triumph of the Roman Emperors. However this may be, poetry and theology continued to make free use of the symbol. Savonarola in his 'Triumph of the Cross' represents Christ on a Chariot of Victory, above his head the shining sphere of the Trinity, in his left hand the Cross, in his right the Old and New Testaments; below him the Virgin Mary; on both sides the Martyrs and Doctors of the Church with open books; behind him all the multitude of the saved; and in the distance the countless host of his enemies--emperors, princes, philosophers, heretics--all vanquished, their idols broken, and their books burned. A great picture of Titian, which is known only as a woodcut, has a good deal in common with this description. The ninth and tenth of Sabellico's thirteen Elegies on the Mother of God contain a minute account of her triumph, richly adorned with allegories, and especially interesting from that matter-of-fact air which also characterizes the realistic painting of the fifteenth century.
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« Reply #217 on: October 12, 2008, 10:54:51 am »










Nevertheless, the secular 'Trionfi' were far more frequent than the religious. They were modelled on the procession of the Roman Imperator, as it was known from the old reliefs and the writings of ancient authors. The historical conceptions then prevalent in Italy, with which these shows were closely connected, have already been discussed.

We now and then read of the actual triumphal entrance of a victorious general, which was organized as far as possible on the ancient pattern, even against the will of the hero himself. Francesco Sforza had the courage (1450) to refuse the triumphal chariot which had been prepared for his return to Milan, on the ground that such things were monarchial superstitions. Alfonso the Great, on his entrance into Naples (1443), declined the wreath of laurel, which Napoleon did not disdain to wear at his coronation in Notre-Dame. For the rest, Alfonso's procession, which passed by a breach in the wall through the city to the cathedral, was a strange mixture of antique, allegorical, and purely comic elements. The car, drawn by four white horses, on which he sat enthroned, was lofty and covered with gilding; twenty patricians carried the poles of the canopy of cloth of gold which shaded his head. The part of the procession which the Florentines then present in Naples had undertaken was composed of elegant young cavaliers, skillfully brandishing their lances, of a chariot with the figure of Fortune, and of seven Virtues on horseback. The goddess herself, in accordance with the inexorable logic of allegory to which even the painters at that time conformed, wore hair only on the front part of her head, while the back part was bald, and the genius who sat on the lower steps of the car, and who symbolized the fugitive character of fortune, had his feet immersed in a basin of water Then followed, equipped by the same Florentines, a troop of horsemen in the costumes of various nations, dressed as foreign princes and nobles, and then, crowned with laurel and standing above a revolving globe, a Julius Caesar, who explained to the king in Italian verse the meaning of the allegories, and then took his place in the procession. Sixty Florentines, all in purple and scarlet, closed this splendid display of what their home could achieve. Then a band of Catalans advanced on foot, with lay figures of horses fastened on to them before and behind, and engaged in a mock combat with a body of Turks, as though in derision of the Florentine sentimentalism. Last of all came a gigantic tower, the door guarded by an angel with a drawn sword; on it stood four Virtues, who each addressed the king with a song. The rest of the show had nothing specially characteristic about it.

At the entrance of Louis XII into Milan in the year 1507 we find, besides the inevitable chariot with Virtues, a living group representing Jupiter, Mars, and a figure of Italy caught in a net. After which came a car laden with trophies, and so forth.
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« Reply #218 on: October 12, 2008, 10:56:16 am »









And when there were in reality no triumphs to celebrate, the poets found a compensation for themselves and their patrons. Petrarch and Boccaccio had described the representation of every sort of fame as attendants each of an allegorical figure; the celebrities of past ages were now made attendants of the prince. The poetess Cleofe Gabrielli of Gubbio paid this honour to Borso of Ferrara. She gave him seven queens--the seven liberal arts--as his handmaids, with whom he mounted a chariot; further, a crowd of heroes, distinguished by names written on their foreheads; then followed all the famous poets; and after them the gods driving in their chariots. There is, in fact, at this time simply no end to the mythological and allegorical charioteering, and the most important work of art of Borso's time--the frescoes in the Palazzo Schifanoia--shows us a whole frieze filled with these motives. Raphael, when he had to paint the Camera della Segnatura, found this mode of artistic thought completely vulgarized and worn out. The new and final consecration which he gave to it will remain a wonder to all ages.

The triumphal processions, strictly speaking, of victorious generals, formed the exception. But all the festive processions, whether they celebrated any special event or were mainly held for their own sakes, assumed more or less the character and nearly always the name of a 'Trionfo.' It is a wonder that funerals were not also treated in the same way.

It was the practice, both at the Carnival and on other occasions, to represent the triumphs of ancient Roman commanders, such as that of Paulus Aemilius under Lorenzo the Magnificent at Florence, and that of Camillus on the visit of Leo X. Both were conducted by the painter Francesco Granacci. In Rome, the first complete exhibition of this kind was the triumph of Augustus after the victory over Cleopatra, under Paul II, where, besides the comic and mythological masks, which, as a matter of fact, were not wanting in the ancient triumphs, all the other requisites were to be found--kings in chains, tablets with decrees of the senate and people, a senate clothed in the ancient costume, praetors, aediles, and quaestors, four chariots filled with singing masks, and, doubtless, cars laden with trophies. Other processions rather aimed at setting forth, in a general way, the universal empire of ancient Rome; and in answer to the very real danger which threatened Europe from the side of the Turks, a cavalcade of camels bearing masks representing Ottoman prisoners, appeared before the people. Later, at the Carnival of the year 1500, Cesare Borgia, with a bold allusion to himself, celebrated the triumph of Julius Caesar, with a procession of eleven magnificent chariots, doubtless to the scandal of the pilgrims who had come fm the Jubilee. Two 'Trionfi,' famous for their taste and beauty, were given by rival companies in Florence, on the election of Leo X to the Papacy. One of them represented the three Ages of Man, the other the Ages of the World, ingeniously set forth in five scenes of Roman history, and in two allegories of the golden age of Saturn and of its final return. The imagination displayed in the adornment of the chariots, when the great Florentine artists undertook the work, made the scene so impressive that such representations became in time a permanent element in the popular life. Hitherto the subject cities had been satisfied merely to present their symbolical gifts--costly stuffs and wax-candles-- on the day when they annually did homage. The guild of merchants now built ten chariots, to which others were afterwards to be added, not so much to carry as to symbolize the tribute, and Andrea del Sarto, who painted some of them, no doubt did his work to perfection. These cars, whether used to hold tribute or trophies, now formed part of all such celebrations, even when there was not much money to be laid out. The Sienese announced, in 1477, the alliance between Ferrante and Sixtus IV, with which they themselves were associated, by driving a chariot round the city, with 'one clad as the goddess of peace standing on a hauberk and other arms.'
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« Reply #219 on: October 12, 2008, 10:57:30 am »









At the Venetian festivals the processions, not on land but on water, were marvelous in their fantastic splendor. The sailing of the Bucentaur to meet the Princesses of Ferrara in the year 1491 seems to have been something belonging to fairyland. Countless vessels with garlands and hangings, filled with the richly dressed youth of the city, moved in front; genii with attributes symbolizing the various gods, floated on machines hung in the air; below stood others grouped as tritons and nymphs; the air was filled with music, sweet odors, and the fluttering of embroidered banners. The Bucentaur was followed by such a crowd of boats of every sort that for a mile all round (octo stadia) the water could not be seen. With regard to the rest of the festivities, besides the pantomime mentioned above, we may notice as something new a boat-race of fifty powerful girls. In the sixteenth century the nobility were divided into corporations with a view to these festivals, whose most noteworthy feature was some extraordinary machine placed on a ship. So, for instance, in the year 1541, at the festival of the 'Sempiterni,' a round 'universe' floated along the Grand Canal, and a splendid ball was given inside it. The Carnival, too, in this city was famous for its dances, processions, and exhibitions of every kind. The Square of St. Mark was found to give space enough not only for tournaments, but for 'Trionfi,' similar to those common on the mainland. At a festival held on the conclusion of peace, the pious brotherhoods ('scuole') took each its part in the procession. There, among golden chandeliers with red candles, among crowds of musicians and winged boys with golden bowls and horns of plenty, was seen a car on which Noah and David sat together enthroned; then came Abigail, leading a camel laden with treasures, and a second car with a group of political figures- -Italy sitting be tween Venice and Liguria--and on a raised step three female symbolical figures with the arms of the allied princes. This was followed by a great globe with the constellations, as it seems, round it. The princes themselves, or rather their bodily representatives, appeared on other chariots with their servants and their coats of arms, if we have rightly interpreted our author.

The Carnival, properly so called, apart from these great triumphal marches, had nowhere, perhaps, in the fifteenth century so varied a character as in Rome. There were races of every kind--of horses, asses, buffaloes, old men, young men, Jews, and so on. Paul II entertained the people in crowds before the Palazzo di Venezia, in which he lived. The games in the Piazza Navona, which had probably never altogether ceased since the classical times, were remarkable for their warlike splendor. We read of a sham fight of cavalry, and a review of all the citizens in arms. The greatest freedom existed with regard to the use of masks, which were sometimes allowed for several months together. Sixtus IV ventured, in the most populous part of the city--at the Campofiore and near the Banchi --to make his way through crowds of masks, though he declined to receive them as visitors in the Vatican. Under Innocent VIII, a discreditable usage, which had already appeared among the Cardinals, attained its height. In the Carnival of 1491, they sent one another chariots full of splendid masks, of singers, and of buffoons, chanting scandalous verses. They were accompanied by men on horseback. Apart from the Carnival, the Romans seem to have been the first to discover the effect of a great procession by torchlight. When Pius II came back from the Congress of Mantua in 1459, the people waited on him with a squadron of horsemen bearing torches, who rode in shining circles before his palace. Sixtus IV, however, thought it better to decline a nocturnal visit of the people, who proposed to wait on him with torches and olive-branches.
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« Reply #220 on: October 12, 2008, 10:58:45 am »









But the Florentine Carnival surpassed the Roman in a certain class of processions, which have left their mark even in literature. Among a crowd of masks on foot and on horseback appeared some huge, fantastic chariots, and upon each an allegorical figure or group of figures with the proper accompaniments, such as Jealousy with four spectacled faces on one head; the four temperaments with the planets belonging to them; the three Fates; Prudence enthroned above Hope and Fear, which lay bound before her; the four Elements, Ages, Winds, Seasons, and so on; as well as the famous chariot of Death with the coffins, which presently opened. Sometimes we meet with a splendid scene from classical mythology--Bacchus and Ariadne, Paris and Helen, and others. Or else a chorus of figures forming some single class or category, as the beggars, the hunters and nymphs, the lost souls who in their lifetime were hardhearted women, the hermits, the astrologers, the vagabonds, the devils, the sellers of various kinds of wares, and even on one occasion 'il popolo,' the people as such, who all reviled one another in their songs. The songs, which still remain and have been collected, give the explanation of the masquerade sometimes pathetic, sometimes in a humorous, and sometimes in an excessively indecent tone. Some of the worst in this respect are attributed to Lorenzo the Magnificent, probably because the real author did not venture to declare himself. However this may be, we must certainly ascribe to him the beautiful song which accompanied the masque of Bacchus and Ariadne, whose refrain still echoes to us from the fifteenth century, like a regretful presentiment of the brief splendor of the Renaissance itself:




'Quanto e bella giovinezza,

Che si fugge tuttavia!

Chi vuol esser lieto, sia:

Di doman non c'e certezza.'
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« Reply #221 on: October 12, 2008, 11:00:22 am »









Part Six





                                                      MORALITY AND RELIGION






Morality and Judgement



The relation of the various peoples of the earth to the supreme interests of life, to God, virtue, and immortality, may be investigated up to a certain point, but can never be compared to one another with absolute strictness and certainty. The more plainly in these matters our evidence seems to speak, the more carefully must we refrain from unqualified assumptions and rash generalizations.
This remark is especially true with regard to our judgement on questions of morality. It may be possible to indicate many contrasts and shades of difference among different nations, but to strike the balance of the whole is not given to human insight. The ultimate truth with respect to the character, the conscience, and the guilt of a people remains for ever a secret; if only for the reason that its defects have another side, where they reappear as peculiarities or even as virtues. We must leave those who find pleasure in passing sweeping censures on whole nations, to do so as they like. The people of Europe can maltreat, but happily not judge one another. A great nation, interwoven by its civilization, its achievements, and its fortunes with the whole life of the modern world, can afford to ignore both its advocates and its accusers. It lives on with or without the approval of theorists.

Accordingly, what here follows is no judgement, but rather a string of marginal notes, suggested by a study of the Italian Renaissance extending over some years. The value to be attached to them is all the more qualified as they mostly touch on the life of the upper classes, with respect to which we are far better informed in Italy than in any other country in Europe at that period. But though both fame and infamy sound louder here than elsewhere, we are not helped thereby in forming an adequate moral estimate of the people.

What eye can pierce the depths in which the character and fate of nations are determined?--in which that which is inborn and that which has been experienced combine to form a new whole and a fresh nature?--in which even those intellectual capacities which at first sight we should take to be most original are in fact evolved late and slowly? Who can tell if the Italian before the thirteenth century possessed that flexible activity and certainty in his whole being--that play of power in shaping whatever subject he dealt with in word or in form, which was peculiar to him later? And if no answer can be found to these questions, how can we possibly judge of the infinite and infinitely intricate channels through which character and intellect are incessantly pouring their influence one upon the other. A tribunal there is for each one of us, whose voice is our conscience; but let us have done with these generalities about nations. For the people that seems to be most sick the cure may be at hand; and one that appears to be healthy may bear within it the ripening germs of death, which the hour of danger will bring forth from their hiding-place.
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« Reply #222 on: October 12, 2008, 11:02:34 am »









Morality and Immorality



At the beginning of the sixteenth century, when the civilization of the Renaissance had reached its highest pitch, and at the same time the political ruin of the nation seemed inevitable, there were not wanting serious thinkers who saw a connexion between this ruin and the prevalent immorality. It was not one .of those methodistical moralists who in every age think themselves called to declaim against the wickedness of the time, but it was Machiavelli, who, in one of his best-considered works, said openly: 'We Italians are irreligious and corrupt above others.' Another man would perhaps have said, 'We are individually highly developed; we have outgrown the limits of morality and religion which were natural to us in our undeveloped state, and we despise outward law, because our rulers are illegitimate, and their judges and officers wicked men.' Machiavelli adds, 'because the Church and her representatives set us the worst example.'

Shall we add also, 'because the influence exercised by antiquity was in this respect unfavorable'? The statement can only be received with many qualifications. It may possibly be true of the humanists, especially as regards the profligacy of their lives. Of the rest it may perhaps be said with some approach to accuracy that, after they became familiar with antiquity, they substituted for holiness--the Christian ideal of life--the cult of historical greatness. We can understand, therefore, how easily they would be tempted to consider those faults and vices to be matters of indifference, in spite of which their heroes were great. They were probably scarcely conscious of this themselves, for if we are summoned to quote any statement of doctrine on this subject, we are again forced to appeal to humanists like Paolo Giovio, who excuses the perjury of Giangaleazzo Visconti, through which he was enabled to found an empire, by the example of Julius Caesar. The great Florentine historians and statesmen never stoop to these slavish quotations, and what seems antique in their deeds and their judge- ments is so because the nature of their political life necessarily fostered in them a mode of thought which has some analogy with that of antiquity.

Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that Italy at the beginning of the sixteenth century found itself in the midst of a grave moral crisis, out of which the best men saw hardly any escape.
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« Reply #223 on: October 12, 2008, 11:03:40 am »









Let us begin by saying a few words about that moral force which was then the strongest bulwark against evil. The highly gifted man of that day thought to find it in the sentiment of honour. This is that enigmatic mixture of conscience and egotism which often survives in the modern man after he has lost, whether by his own fault or not, faith, love, and hope. This sense of honour is compatible with much selfishness and great vices, and may be the victim of astonishing illusions; yet, nevertheless, all the noble elements that are left in the wreck of a character may gather around it, and from this fountain may draw new strength. It has become, in a far wider sense than is commonly believed, a decisive test of conduct in the minds of the cultivated Europeans of our own day, and many of those who yet hold faithfully by religion and morality are unconsciously guided by this feeling in the gravest decisions of their lives.

It lies without the limits of our task to show how the men of antiquity also experienced this feeling in a peculiar form, and how, afterwards, in the Middle Ages, a special sense of honour became the mark of a particular class. Nor can we here dispute with those who hold that conscience, rather than honour, is the motive power. It would indeed be better and nobler if it were so; but since it must be granted that even our worthier resolutions result from 'a conscience more or less dimmed by selfishness,' it is better to call the mixture by its right name. It is certainly not always easy, in treating of the Italian of this period, to distinguish this sense of honour from the passion for fame, into which, indeed, it easily passes. Yet the two sentiments are essentially different.

There is no lack of witnesses on this subject. One who speaks plainly may here be quoted as a representative of the rest. We read in the recently published 'Aphorisms' of Guicciardini: 'who esteems honour highly succeeds in all that he undertakes, since he fears neither trouble, danger, nor expense; I have found it so in my own case, and may say it and write it; vain and dead are the deeds of men which have not this as their motive.' It is necessary to add that, from what is known of the life of the writer, he can here be only speaking of honour and not of fame. Rabelais has put the matter more clearly than perhaps any Italian. We quote him, indeed, unwillingly in these pages. What the great, baroque Frenchman gives us is a picture of what the Renaissance would be without form and without beauty. But his description of an ideal state of things in the Thelemite monastery is decisive as historical evidence. In speaking of his gentlemen and ladies of the Order of Free Will, he tells us as follows:


'En leur reigle n'estoit que ceste clause: Fay ce que vouldras. Parce que gens liberes, bien nayz, bien instruictz, conversans en compaignies honnestes, ont par nature ung instinct et aguillon qui tousjours les poulse a faictz tueux, et retire de vice: lequel ils nommoyent honneur.'
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« Reply #224 on: October 12, 2008, 11:04:52 am »









This is that same faith in the goodness of human nature which inspired the men of the second half of the eighteenth century, and helped to prepare the way for the French Revolution. Among the Italians, too, each man appeals to this noble instinct within him, and though with regard to the people as a whole--chiefly in consequence of the national disasters-- judgements of a more pessimistic sort became prevalent, the importance of this sense of honour must still be rated highly. If the boundless development of individuality, stronger than the will of the individual, be the work of a historical providence, not less so is the opposing force which then manifested itself in Italy. How often, and against what passionate attacks of selfishness it won the day, we cannot tell, and therefore no human judgement can estimate with certainty the absolute moral value of the nation.

A force which we must constantly take into account in judging of the morality of the more highly developed Italian of this period, is that of the imagination. It gives to his virtues and vices a peculiar color, and under its influence his unbridled egotism shows itself in its most terrible shape.

The force of his imagination explains, for example, the fact that he was the first gambler on a large scale in modern times. Pictures of future wealth and enjoyment rose in such lifelike colors before his eyes, that he was ready to hazard everything to reach them. The Mohammedan nations would doubtless have anticipated him in this respect, had not the Koran, from the beginning, set up the prohibition against gambling as a chief safeguard of public morals, and directed the imagination of its followers to the search after buried treasures. In Italy, the passion for play reached an intensity which often threatened or altogether broke up the existence of the gambler. Florence had already, at the end of the fourteenth century, its Casanova --a certain Buonaccorso Pitti, who, in the course of his incessant journeys as merchant, political agent, diplomatist and professional gambler, won and lost sums so enormous that none but princes like the Dukes of Brabant, Bavaria, and Savoy, were able to compete with him. That great lottery-bank, which was called the Court of Rome, accustomed people to a need of excitement, which found its satisfaction in games of hazard during the intervals between one intrigue and another. We read, for example, how Franceschetto Cibo, in two games with the Cardinal Raffaello Riario, lost no less than 14,000 ducats, and afterwards complained to the Pope that his opponent has cheated him. Italy has since that time been the home of the lottery.
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