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Art & artists

Getting hitched Renaissance style

— March 2015

Article read level: Art lover

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The Camel, its Attendant and Rider (folio 106v) © 2013 MS Urb. Lat. 899 Illustrations Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana

If you thought Performance art began in the 1960s, take a look at the Renaissance version – the wedding pageant

A Renaissance Wedding edited by Jane Bridgeman

It may have been 1475 but the questions are the same. Who were the bride and groom? Where did they marry? How many guests were there? Where did they have the reception and what was on the menu? Was there entertainment and if so what was it like? Of course this wasn't just an ordinary couple. Constanzo Sforza was Lord of Pesaro and Camilla Marzano d'Aragona belonged to one of the most important baronial families of Naples as well as to the royal house of Aragon.

The wedding celebrations of the illustrious pair were described by an anonymous eye-witness whose account survives in an early printed edition and in two manuscripts. The printed copy of 1475 is written in Italian rather than Latin and is the earliest complete account of a princely marriage and its celebrations. Accounts of other nuptials were made for diplomatic, bureaucratic or private perusal but the author here clearly states that the text is intended to entertain the reader and entertain it certainly does.

Who was this entertaining eye-witness? The breadth of detail and engaging and informal language suggest that the author was very familiar with the Pesaro court and was perhaps a courtier rather than an official or a bureaucrat. It may be that Constanzo Sforza himself requested the account to be written as a record of the event, the printed version becoming available just six months after the wedding. It was clearly read or listened to by a large number of people for it was still referred to in the 16th century as ‘printed and distributed throughout Italy and...a most delightful thing to read or hear read’.

This eye-witness account describes the five days of celebrations in Pesaro for the marriage of Constanzo and Camilla, beginning with the arrival of Camilla and her party on Friday 26 May and ending with the account of the joust held on Tuesday 30 May. Camilla stayed overnight about four kilometres from Pesaro and made her formal entry into the city early on Saturday morning. The wedding took place early on the morning of Sunday 28 May in the great hall of the palace and was followed by a wedding mass in the cathedral. The 12-course wedding banquet began around 9a.m., again in the great hall of the palace, and lasted for over seven hours. The overall scheme of decoration is noted in detail by the author, reflecting as it did the theme of heavenly and astrological blessings.

The first six courses of the meal were introduced by someone representing the 'Sun' whilst the 'Moon' introduced the remaining six courses. Each course was presented as a gift from a specific Roman god or goddess who sent in a 'messenger' with a gift for the bride and groom. Each 'messenger' explained in verse who had sent them and the significance of the gift they were bringing.

Monday morning was free but in the afternoon the couple received formally presented gifts and then returned the favour by presenting their guests with sugar sculptures and confectionery. These presentations were interspersed with ballets, pageants and dancing. In the early evening an extravagant firework display took place in the main square followed by a silver float representing the triumph of love. On the afternoon of Tuesday 30 May the festivities were brought to an end with a jousting display.

The historical background to this event and biographical details are provided in a fascinating introduction and the book itself provides not only the text with explanatory notes but also all the delightful original illustrations in full colour. We get to see the large and splendid ship of welcome for Camilla, provided by the merchants and burghers of Pesaro.  What did the 'Sun' look like as he introduced the courses at the banquet? See image number 4. What did Perseus wear and what did the Medusa's head look like? See Image number 8. How was Orpheus represented and what did the instrument he carried look like? See image number 10. A full list of the wedding guests and where they were seated is provided in Appendix I and the complete wedding banquet menu can be found in Appendix II. Anyone for  'lion'? (actually a calf cooked with its skin) or perhaps a crane cooked and dressed in its feathers standing on a golden plate?

This is a most charming, absorbing and fascinating book. As Bartolomeo Gamba noted in 1836, this account ‘cannot fail to delight and inform, offering a faithful pictures of the manners and customs, the splendour and even the banquets of the illustrious powers who once ruled over the cities of Italy’.

A Renaissance Wedding: The Celebrations at Pesaro for the Marriage of Costanzo Sforza & Camilla Marzano D'Aragona (26–30 May 1475),  edited by Jane Bridgeman, is published by Harvey Miller Publishers 2013. 198pp. 56 colour illus. ISBN 978-1-905375-93-6


Susan Grange
Independent art historian

Background info

A wealthy Italian bride would take her trousseau to her marriage home in an elaborately carved and painted wooden chest - a cassone. See 'The cassone: the Renaissance bottom drawer' in Cassone, June 2011

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