Florence, 1589. On the occasion of the reigning Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici’s marriage…
Florence, the capital of the Grand Duchy, anticipated this synthesis of art and power. This period must be considered, due to the inventions and the technological advancements, and its resonance in all the European courts, as the acme of this experimentation.
Among the great novelties was the development of a system that saw the very idea of theatre resurrected after centuries: all previous experiments had taken place in temporary locations. Another great novelty: in the Palazzo degli Uffizi, a new space was added to the Grand Ducal Theatre. This was destined for an increasingly popular phenomenon: the Commedia dell'Arte.
The show, in a specially built indoor space, is the culmination of very complex festivities and is perhaps the most important period in the entire history of the Court Theatre.
This new type of show, developed in the Uffizi theatre, went on to be so successful that it would become a true model for the great Baroque theatre.
Fixing the over three centuries old hierarchy of spectators and replicating the ‘Great theatre of the world’: that of society.
On the first floor of the building a large hall was built, destined to host the great shows of the dynasty. The guests had access, through the entrance under the portico, to the staircase leading into the hall.
The theatre was of considerable size, measuring about 54m long, 20m wide and 14m high.
About two thirds into this room, the Prince’s stage is placed axially to the scene.
It was the Prince’s position that would determine the focus of the perspective scene -position, further highlighting his role as sovereign.
The Uffizi theatre could comfortably accommodate all of the Grand Duke’s guests. It was to become, therefore, the model on which all of the theatres of the European courts were inspired. It remained in use until the 40s of the following century, before being replaced by newer theatres.
As historical sources testify the comedy represented was La Pellegrina by the Sienese academic Girolamo Bargagli. This part of the show was of no interest, as it corresponded to an old-fashioned genre of performance, if compared to the maturation of the audience. The spectators were indeed more and more experienced and demanding. The entire episode is described in detail by the official reporter Bastiano de’ Rossi and by Giuseppe Pavoni.
The disinterest for the comedy La Pellegrina is already evident from the small effort made for the comedy, compared to the expensive and all-encompassing so-called "Intermedi". Compared to the five acts of the Comedy the intermedi contained six, opening and closing the entire show. All the forces of the Grand Duchy were to be utilised by the intermedi.
Emilio de’ Cavalieri was in charge of the coordination, Giovanni de’ Bardi was the creator of the themes (almost a modern dramatist) while the responsibility for the arrangement was entrusted to the court architect Bernardo Buontalenti. A large number of artists and craftsmen were employed by all three men.
Buontalenti had just set up the Dogana district right behind the Uffizi Palace, equipping it with a for profit theatre, called the Teatro della Dogana (or also Teatro di Baldracca), where the actors of Comici dell’Arte used to perform.
And it was precisely these comedians who replaced the acts of the Comedy when it was eliminated from the revivals of the intermedi, which were a resounding success. It was to be Isabella Andreini and Vittoria Piissimi, the two great ‘divas’ of the professional theatre, who would be ‘taken’ from the adjoining Teatro della Dogana to charm the spectators with their talents from one Intermedio to another.
Professional actors had a relative autonomy with respect to the courts which, however, given the growing interest in the phenomenon, hurried to build or adapt stanzoni to the public performance, i.e. open to anyone who could pay the price of the ticket. In Florence the del soldo theatre had been active since the second half of the sixteenth century in the premises of the river customs, an old warehouse at the back of the Uffizi, adapted for that use by Bernardo Buontalenti on the occasion of the restoration of the entire area of the port on the river Arno. The most important art companies played on its stage, including that of the Gelosi who also performed in the grand-theatre of the Uffizi on the occasion of the replica of the intermedi of La pellegrina in 1589. The seats were clearly divided into two sections: the benches and seats were occupied by the audience of paying spectators who entered through a special entrance on the customs square.
On the other hand, the prince, the special guests and the nobility stood in special boxes hidden by gratings, with direct access from the rooms of the main building. The actors stood on the raised stage in front of the stalls and were often housed in the upper rooms where they could stay during the performances, thus saving on board and lodging, as there were many expenses: in addition to the actors’ pay, the budget included travel expenses, costumes and props (the so-called robbe). The earnings were sometimes burdened by the cost of renting the hall and taxed by a compulsory contribution to the San Giovanni di Dio Hospital, introduced under the name of jus represaentandi, by Philip II of Spain. This obligation, was a sort of ‘penance’ for any accusations of obscenity that accompanied the comedians and their profession. The small theatre, active for about a century, was closed in the second half of the seventeenth century.
To get further details …
… on the actors of Commedia dell’Arte and the expansion of the phenomenon in Europe, see Siro Ferrone, Attori, mercanti, corsari. La Commedia dell’Arte in Europa tra Cinque e Seicento, Torino, Einaudi, 1993.
Isabella Andreini Canali (Padua ca. 1562 - Lyon 1604), wife of the actor Francesco Andreini (who played the role of captain) and mother of the actor and playwright Giovan Battista “innamorato” – also known as Lelio, was the first actress of the Gelosi company, together with Vittoria Piissimi (Ferrara, ? – place unknown, after 1595), in the role of “innamorata”. At this chronological height they were both famous and, even if the following fame will surround Isabella with the aura of an absolute diva, they had the same importance, in fact Vittoria was perhaps more in demand, since she almost passed as a soloist in various companies. During the celebrations for the Grand Duke's wedding, the Gelosi troupe performed in the theatre for a fee at the customs:
the success of the two actresses is such that they were called directly by the Grand Duke to cheer up the chosen audience of the Uffizi theatre on the occasion of the rehearsals of the play La Pellegrina. The staging of the play was unsuccessful, completely obscured by the triumph of the Intermedi and Ferdinando I wanted, in replicating them, to eliminate the acts of the play and give space to the triumphants of professional theatre, promoting them from the Teatro della Dogana to the stage of the Uffizi, where they played their battle horses separately. The chronicles of time also accurately report the event.
Let us now come to an illustrative reconstruction of the six intermedi of the comedy La Pellegrina. Its themes are very sophisticated, but we must remember both the circumstances of the event and the formation of the public, all rigorously selected and involved in the ‘high’ culture of the time.
L’armonia delle sfere // The harmony of the spheres
The first intermedio is based on the neo-platonic theories about the birth of the Harmony of the Universe and its descent to earth to be part of the newlyweds and the audience.
Giovanni del Franciosino
La contesa tra le Muse e le Pieridi //
The dispute between the Muses and the Pierid
After the first act of La Pellegrina, the set of the comedy is covered from sight, by that of the intermedio.
Here once again are the main characters of the second intermedio, written by Ottavio Rinuccini and composed by Luca Marenzio.
Combattimento pitico di Apollo // Apollo Pythios’ fight
The intermedio recalls the games of Delphi in honour of Apollo, slayer of the dragon that infested the island. The fight will be represented with a pantomime (dramatic dancing action).
Here once again are the protagonists of the third intermedio, also written by Ottavio Rinuccini and composed by Luca Marenzio.
La regione dei demoni – Inferno //
The supposed Land of the demons – Hell
The fourth intermedio is based on the contrast between the disharmony of the world and the auspicious omen of the harmonious reunion under the wise government of the bride and groom, Ferdinando and Christine.
The costume sketches are lost, but were probably lent in their entirety at the request of some foreign court. The similarity of many of the costumes designed for the masques by Inigo Jones may suggest that they were taken the English court’s way. Moreover, it should be pointed out that all the European courts were oriented towards the Medici shows of 1589: the Florentine one becoming a model that saw a large distribution across Europe.
Author of the text
Giovanni Battista Strozzi
The year 1589 is certainly one of the most important in the history of court entertainment in Europe. The complexity of the intermedi and the competence reached by the entire productive apparatus became a model for the courts of Europe. The Grand Duchy skillfully exploited this supremacy to make ever closer ties with the reigning families of the continent. Diplomatic relations were strongly influenced by the desire to emulate the great powers and Florence found itself at the centre of a dense network of exchanges. This period perhaps marked the culmination of experimentalism and also made way for the distribution of the skills of Tuscan engineering. The architects and grand-ducal workers became the most sought-after on the international circuit. At this turn of the century and then in the first half of the seventeenth century Europe would have the mark of Florentine spectacularism.
In France Henry IV enlisted Tommaso Francini to give Paris the appearance of a true capital. In Spain Cosimo Lotti and Baccio del Bianco would be the authors of the palace of delights of the Buen Retiro. The England of the Stuarts would find in Costantino de’ Servi his mentor, while Inigo Jones, after practicing in the Florentine atelier of Giulio and Alfonso Parigi, gave the English court the splendor of the Masques. The empire saw in Alessandro Pieroni and again in Baccio the creators of its updated theatrical life, followed in the mid-seventeenth century by Giovanni and Lodovico Ottavio Burnacini, who kept on developing the Buontalenti technology in Venice and then exported it to Vienna. Florence was to be a mandatory leg on the training tour, as evidenced by Joseph Furttenbach’s trip, which transferred the magnificence of the Medici’s stagecraft to the Hapsburg area.
Anfitrite e la nave di Arione // Amphitrite and Arion’s vessel
The fifth intermedio reproduces a maritime scene, according to the already consolidated alternation of the stagecraft attractions that included the representation of the four elements: air, water, earth, fire. The chosen theme is that of the saving value of the music represented by the myth of Arion, the zither player saved by dolphins.
Tonino del Franciosino
Piero castrato detto Acquatrice
Gli dei inviano ai mortali l’Armonia e il Ritmo //
The gods send the mortals Harmony and Rhythm
The sixth and final intermedio takes up the theme of the first: a neo-platonic allegory on the consolatory meaning of music in the order of the Cosmos. Touched by the anxieties of men, the gods and Jupiter in particular, send Harmony and Rhythm to earth
Giovanni del Minugiaio
Don Giovanni basso
Giovanni del Franciosino
Giovan Battista del Franciosino
Paolino del Franciosino
Antonfrancesco del Bottigliere
Orazio del Franciosino
Tonino di maestro Lena
Il Biondino del Franciosino
Alessandro del Franciosino
Cetera di Siena
"When this ended, much earlier, than the listeners would have wished, Heaven closed up. Those who were on earth, dancing, and singing, went away, by several routes, and left that very shining scene, and with their departure, they brought an end to the noble representation".
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Ricciardo Artusi; Marusca Bacciotti; Luca Bellingeri; Cinzia Cardinali; Enrico Carlesi; Silvia Castelli; Alberto Dellepiane; Roberto Gabucci; Giovanni Martellucci; Stefano Mazzoni; Laura Monticini; Giovanna Pecorilla; Susanna Pelle; Muriel Prandato.
Title: Gli Intermedi de La Pellegrina (1589)
Authors: Siro Ferrone (Università di Firenze), Sara Mamone (Università di Firenze), Anna Maria Testaverde (Università di Bergamo)
Storyboard editing: Rudi Risatti
Voice: Alexander McCargar
English Translation / Proof Reading: Elena Mazzoleni / Erin Coghill
Web Design: Kunsthistorisches Museum – Visual Media, Vienna