The two chief forms of festal display were originally here, as elsewhere in the West, the Mystery, or the dramatization of sacred history and legend, and the Procession, the motive and character of which was also purely ecclesiastical.
The performances of the Mysteries in Italy were from the first more frequent and splendid than elsewhere, and were most favorably affected by the progress of poetry and of the other arts. In the course of time not only did the farce and the secular drama branch off from the Mystery, as in other countries of Europe, but the pantomime also, with its accompaniments of singing and dancing, the effect of which depended on the richness and beauty of the spectacle.
The Procession, in the broad, level, and well-paved streets of the Italian cities, was soon developed into the 'Trionfo,' or train of masked figures on foot and in chariots, the ecclesiastical character of which gradually gave way to the secular. The pro- cessions at the Carnival and at the feast of Corpus Christi were alike in the pomp and brilliancy with which they were conducted, and set the pattern afterwards followed by the royal or princely progresses. Other nations were willing to spend vast sums of money on these shows, but in Italy alone do we find an artistic method of treatment which arranged the processions as a harmonious and significative whole.
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or even the brilliant festival of Santa Rosalia at Palermo, shows clearly how far the higher culture of the country has withdrawn from such interests.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.
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.
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.
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.
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 themselves 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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.
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.'