British Library Treasures in full: Renaissance festival books
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Print The production and performance of festival

Festival performance required large resources: performers, expertise, time for rehearsal and preparation, and money. Some festivals proved threadbare, because hastily set up for lack of warning, or because of poor financial backing, or the weather ruined them. Characteristically, however, they were spectacular, costly and – when held outdoors - had casts of thousands.

Indoors, princely festivals (for example, court masques in England, ballet de cour in France, Florentine intermedi) called on people with a wide variety of talents, including:

  • sophisticated musical skills (e.g. the singer Vittoria Archilei in Florence),
  • skills in writing libretti (e.g. Ben Jonson in England, Isaac de Benserade for the Ballet de cour in France)
  • composing of music (e.g. Claudio Monteverdi at Mantua, Alessandro Scarlatti in Naples)
  • movement skills and dance (e.g. the choreographer Jacques de Belleville in Paris)
  • skills in devising and preparing scenography (e.g. Inigo Jones for the Stuart court masque, Bernardo Buontalenti, architect, engineer and designer for the Medici)
  • directorial experience and abilities (e.g. the corago of Florentine festivals, the Master of the Revels in England).

Professional and amateur aristocratic performers took part in both indoor and outdoor events. Architects and designers of arches of triumph, that is to say temporary structures in imitation of triumphal arches in Rome and elsewhere, were needed for outdoor occasions, and painters to decorate them, as in the designs by Giuseppe Arcimboldo for Prague and Vienna, based on the writings of Sebastiano Serlio, which were known across Europe.

Hercules surrounded by the chariots
Horse ballet for the wedding in Florence of Cosimo III de' Medici and Marguerite Louise of Orleans. Alessandro Carducci et al. Florence, 1661. BL 564.e.21. Larger image

The performance and staging of courtly theatre