Celebrating Italian Festivals

September 24, 2007 through January 7, 2008

This exhibition of books produced between the 16th and 19th centuries documents religious, civic, and public festivals in the towns and provinces of Italy. Such festivals are as old as Italy itself, but the tradition of publishing lavishly illustrated books to record them began in the 16th century and was connected in most towns with aristocratic families and courts. Births and funerals, betrothals and weddings, elections and coronations, the visits of popes, princes, and princesses were the occasions for elaborate public events that included parades, dancing, singing, athletic competitions, mock battles, theater, opera, and banquets. Rulers of church and state competed to produce the most memorable events, and to this end they employed the best artists, architects, and engineers to design stage settings and floats; the finest actors and musicians for the performances; the best dancers for the ballets and riders for the equestrian demonstrations. Seeing these festivals as a reflection of their own prestige and a guarantor of their positions as rulers, they sought to document for posterity, and for personal propagandistic reasons, the splendor of their celebrations by having the leading artists and engravers produce the illustrations that embellish the festival books included in this exhibition. [ca. 65 items]