Matteo Ricci (1552–1610)

March 17th, 2017 No comments

Matteo Ricci

Matteo Ricci was born into a noble Italian family in Macerata, Italy. He studied law in Rome but became more interested in the new science that was sweeping Western Europe. Entering the Society of Jesus in 1571, he continued his studies in philosophy, theology, mathematics, cosmology, and astronomy. Ricci was sent on a mission to Asia and in 1580 was sent by Alessandro Valignani, superior of Jesuit missions in the East Indies, to prepare to enter China.

In the Portuguese colony of Macau Ricci mastered the Chinese language and entered China in 1583 dressed first in the clothing of a Buddhist monk and then later as a Confucian mandarin. He brought with him Western clocks, musical instruments, mathematical and astronomical instruments, and cosmological, geographical, and architectural works with maps and diagrams. These, along with Ricci’s phenomenal memory and mathematical and astronomical skills, attracted an important audience among the Chinese elite. Read more…

Anguissola’s Novel Self Portrait

December 29th, 2010 No comments

“I bring to your attention the miracles of a Cremonese woman called Sofonisba, who has astonished every prince and wise man in all of Europe by means of her paintings, which are all portraits, so like life they seem to conform to nature itself. Many valiant professionals have judged her to have a brush taken from the hand of the divine Titian himself; and now she is deeply appreciated by Philip King of Spain and his wife who lavish the greatest honors on the artist.”

Gian Paolo Lomazzo (Libro de Sogni, 1564) describing the genius of Sofonisba Anguisola in the context of an imagined conversation between Leonardo da Vinci, representing modern painting, and Phidias, the artist from Antiquity.

Anguisola, Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola, c. 1550

The image we’ve chosen to represent the upcoming Magnificat program featuring music by four women from the 17th century was painted by the extraordinary Sofonisba Anguissola in 1550. An exceptional work that captures the place of women in late Renaissance, the painting is both a self portrait, a portrait of her master teacher, and a compelling allegory of women as defined by men of the period. It aptly symbolizes the barriers to artistic expression faced by women and the fruits of the individual struggle in the face of those barriers.

Anguissola was born in Cremona around 1532, the oldest of seven children, six of whom were daughters. Her father, Amilcare Anguissola, was a member of the Genoese minor nobility and her mother, Bianca Ponzone, was also of an affluent family of noble background. At fourteen, Anguissola started studying with Bernardino Campi, at the Lombard school and later on under Bernardino Gatti. It is clear that her privileged status as a noble woman were a contributing factor to the fact that she had been given an opportunity to become an artist. Read more at Suite101

Although Sofonisba enjoyed much more encouragement and support than the average woman of her day, her social class did not allow her to transcend the constraints of her sex. Without the possibility of studying anatomy or drawing from life (it was considered unacceptable for a lady to view nudes), she could not undertake the complex multi-figure compositions required for large-scale religious or history paintings. Instead, Anguissola created wry and witty portraits of family members and acquaintances.

“Sofonisba’s painting of her teacher, painting her portrait – a story within a story – demonstrates how she negotiated her male-dominated world. Anguissola’s gaze rivets the viewer of the painting, forcing consideration of what appears to be the inscribing of male authority on the body of the female. Campi’s gaze complicates matters, however, since as he paints he, too, looks out of the painting toward what the picture indicates must be his subject, Anguissola. Thus the viewer in front of the painting plays a double role: that of the subject of the painting within the painting, namely Anguissola herself, and of an engaged viewer – watched by both Campi and Anguissola – made complicit in Anguissola’s destabilizing of contemporary social norms.” (Read more at

Bologna’s Festa della Porchetta

May 17th, 2010 No comments

Paul at the excellent BibliOdyssey blog, has a post with a series of fascinating prints depicting Bologna’s annual Festa della Porchetta – the Festival of the Suckling Pig, celebrated by the Bolognese for five centuries until the arrival of Napolean’s army in 1796. The tradition has apparently been revived in the last decade – including a shared roasted pig – to help spread peace in the city. Click the detail image to link to the full image.

From Paul’s post:

“Bologna’s Festa della Porchetta was an annual carnival held on 24 August for more than five centuries. It commemorated both the Feast of St Bartholomew and the victory of Bolognese forces over Frederick II during the Battle of Fossalta in 1249. Frederick’s son, King Enzo, was imprisoned for thirty years in the city centre in a tower that now bears his name, adjacent to where the Porchetta celebrations took place in Palazzo Maggiore.

It was customary for the city’s nobles to enjoy a banquet in a palace fronting onto Palazzo Maggiore, and a spit-roasted suckling pig, together with poultry, breads, cheeses and cakes, was thrown from the balcony for the regular townsfolk to fight over. The festivities evolved over the centuries into large-scale affairs with acrobats, games, singing and dancing, in theatrical productions of wars, historical events and allegorical performance plays. Giant purpose-specific floats, stages, theatre props and machinery were constructed each year to accommodate the unique requirements of the year’s entertainment theme.”

View the many images and read the entire post at BibliOdyssey

Galileo’s Music

March 1st, 2010 No comments

On his remarkable Galileo 1610 website, Mark Thompson writes about the role of music Gilileo’s scientific work:

“Thus the effect of the fifth is to produce a tickling of the eardrum such that its softness is modified with sprightliness, giving at the same moment the impression of gentle kiss and of a bite.”

Music played not only a unique, but an essential role in leading Galileo to his new physics. Because it is an art demanding precise measurement and exact divisions, music reflected the spirit of Galileo’s science.

One of Galileo’s most important discoveries, the law of falling bodies, can actually be traced to his early musical experiments with his father, Vincenzo Galilei, a musicologist and lute virtuoso. Together, they discovered the motions of pendulums while measuring with weights, the tensions of lute strings.

Galileo was an outstanding lutenist himself, whose “charm of style and delicacy of touch” surpassed even that of his father. Playing the lute was a source of great pleasure and a special comfort to him in his final years, when blindness was added to the many other trials of his life.

”Everything Galileo ever did has been challenged,” said the late Stillman Drake, Canadian historian of science and preeminent biographer of Galileo. ”But ultimately it stands up.”

Bagels, Tea, Thermostats – Culinary Notes from 1610

February 25th, 2010 No comments

According to author Leo Rosten in his The Joys of Yiddish, the first printed mention of the word bagel is in the 1610 Community Regulations for the city of Krakow, Poland. The regulations state that “bagels would be given as a gift to any woman in childbirth.” The ring shape may have been seen as a symbol of life.

It was also in 1610 that Europe got its first taste of tea, a beverage that had been popular for centuries in China and Japan, as Amsterdam received its first shipment of the intoxicating leaves. The Dutch East India Company initially marketed tea as an exotic medicinal drink, but it was so expensive that only the very wealthy could afford it and it only became available to the general public later in the century.

In 1610, Cornelius Drebbel, best known perhaps for his invention of the submarine,  applied the principles he had used in his “perpetual mobile” to thermostatic regulators that controlled ovens, furnaces, and incubators – the first thermostat. As the temperature rose, air expanded, forcing quicksilver to close a damper. When it cooled, the damper opened. The incubator he made hatched both duck and chicken eggs.

Did Caravaggio Die of Lead Poisoning?

February 24th, 2010 1 comment


Caravagio ca. 1600

The mannerist painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio died on July 18 1610 at the age of 39 and the circumstances of his death have been controversial ever since. It has been suggested that he contracted syphilis or even that he was assassinated but anthropologists from the universities of Pisa, Ravenna and Bologna are studying other theories – that he contracted malaria while traveling in Italy or that he suffered from lead poisoning. The anthropologists hope to prove their theory by carrying out DNA tests on bones which they believe are the remains of the Renaissance artist.

Renowned for his hot temper, heavy drinking and violent temperament Caravaggio was forced to go on the run in 1606 after killing a man in a tavern brawl, a crime for which he was condemned to death by Pope Paul V.

“Lead poisoning accentuates traits like aggressive and nervous behaviour, which Caravaggio displayed during his life,” said Silvano Vinceti, the team leader. “Painters in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries used these paints all the time and often suffered serious health problems as a result.” Francisco de Goya and Vincent van Gogh are both thought to have suffered from lead poisoning.

The Galilean Moons

February 23rd, 2010 No comments

The Galilean Moons

In January 1610 Galileo Galilei first observed the four moons of Jupiter now known, appropriately, as “The Galilean Moons”. The largest of the many moons of Jupiter, Galileo initially named his discovery the Cosmica Sidera (“Cosimo’s stars”) but they are now known by the names given by Simon Marius in his 1614 Mundus Jovialis: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto – the lovers of Zeus.

Galileo first noticed Saturn’s peculiar shape later in 1610, well after the publication of his landmark book Sidereus Nuncius.  The story of how he initially revealed the new discovery to his fellow astronomers by means of an anagram is told in a 1974 article by Albert van Helden of Rice University.

Galileo's first sketches of his observation of four of Jupiter's moons

Galileo’s discovery of celestial bodies orbiting something other than the Earth dealt a serious blow to the Ptolemaic, or the geocentric, cosmology in which the universe orbits around the Earth. The possibility of viewing Saturn’s moons was made possible by improvements Galileo made to his telescope in 1609. Images of the moons as seen through Galileo’s telescope can be viewed here. Matk Thompson’s website Galileo 1610 has a wealth of information about Galileo as does Rice University’s Galileo Project website.

Anno del Ghiaccio – Venice in Winter

January 23rd, 2010 No comments

Chilly Gondolas

Like most I suspect, when I think of Venice I imagine a sun-baked Piazza of San Marco, but of course winter visits Venice each year and it seems that before the advent of modern heating, the experience was particularly brutal. In his engaging journals recounting his three years in Venice during the 1860s, W.D. Powell describes the attitude of the locals to winter:

“The Venetians pretend that many of the late winters have been much severer than those of former years, but I think this pretense has less support in fact than in the custom of mankind everywhere to claim that such weather as the present, whatever it happens to be, was never seen before.”

In common with other places (like California) where the weather is generally agreeable, houses are built with a view to coolness in summer and one can only imagine that the experience of a Christmas or Epiphany feast in the spacious interior of San Marco was often a chilly one. In fact in Howell’s judgment it is those who must spend their time indoors that suffer the most.

“When one goes out into the sun, one often finds an overcoat too heavy, but it never gives warmth enough in the house, where the Venetian sometimes wears it. Ineed the sun is recognized by Venetians as the only legitimate source of heat, and they sell his favor at fabulous prices to such foreigners as take the lodgings into which he shines.”

Read more…

The Timelessness of Beauty

January 19th, 2010 No comments
Van Eyck Annunciation


Last Sunday, I attended Artek’s performance of Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine at the National Gallery in Washington DC. It was lovely to hear a fine performance of this masterpiece (a piece I’m thinking about alot these days) in one of my favorite buildings in the world. We arrived through the East entrance and were directed by the guards up to the second floor, which meant that we got to have a glimpse of a Cranach alterpiece, Gentileschi’s lute player (which is not a portrait of Francesca Caccini by the way), and several Vermeers and Rembrandts before hearing Monteverdi’s magnificent music.

Almost as if it had been planned I turned one corner and there was the magnificent Annunciation by Van Eyck. I first saw this extraordinary painting shortly after it was restored. A whole room had been dedicated to its display. Now it occupies a more modest space but it is just as stunning.

Magnificat’s will perform the Vespers within the context of Second Vespers for the Feast of Annunciation and there was something very satisfying about having Van Eyck’s colors in my head as I heard the fanfare of the opening response of Monteverdi’s 1610 collection. The dislocation of the 15th century painting, the 17th century music and the 21st century setting emphasized the unspeakable timelessness of beauty.

Considering Athanasius Kircher at AMS Philadelphia

November 8th, 2009 No comments

Representing Magnificat, I will be attending the annual conference of the American Musicological Society in Philadelphia this later this week. It has been several years since I’ve had the opportunity to attend the AMS conference and I am looking forward to meeting old colleagues, making new friends and listening to the wide range of presentations on current work being done in musicology. The conference program is available for download (PDF) and the abstracts for papers can be downloaded here (PDF). Over the week I will be highlighting some of the sessions relevant to the music and culture of the 17th Century and posting abstracts from the scheduled papers.

Kircher - guido's Hand

Guido's Hand from Kircher, Musurgia universalis (1650)

A particularly interesting short session on the fascinating figure Athanasius Kircher scheduled for the opening afternoon of the conference. I encountered Kircher while preparing the first program on the very first Magnificat series concert in 1992, which included Carissimi’s magnificent oratorio Jephte. In his monumental Musurgia universalis (1650) Kircher mentions Jephte and also reproduced the music for the final chorus, Plorate filii Israel, citing it as an example of excellent rhetorical style and providing musicologists with a convenient terminus ante quem for the dating of Carissimi’s masterpiece. Since then, details of Kircher’s fantastic and curious engravings have occasionally  made their way into Magnificat’s programs, websites, and brochures, including his representation of Guido’s hand.

Recent scholarly interest in Kircher has resulted in a wealth of resources on the web. Stanford University hosts a website project devoted to Kircher, with a wealth of information and selection of images from works by and related to Athanasius Kircher present in the collections of Stanford University Libraries. Fr. Edward W. Schmidt, SJ has published an excellent book Athansius Kircher: The Last Renaissance Man, the website for which includes many of Kircher’s engravings. The useful website Kircherianum Virtuale provides links to a many sites devoted to the Kircher. Read more…

What is Francesca Caccini's La Liberazione di Ruggiero About?

September 20th, 2009 No comments

(This is the second of a three part essay on Francesca Caccini and La Liberzione di Ruggiero, which Magnificat will perform October 16-18. The first part, a biographical sketch of Francesca, “About Francesca“, was posted here earlier.)

Villa Poggio Imperiale in the 17th Century

Villa Poggio Imperiale in the 17th Century

On February 3, 1625, sometime in daylight, 160 gentildonne and their husbands, and an unknown number of foreign guests rode in carriages out the southeastern gate of Florence, and half a mile up a tree-lined avenue to a villa atop the nearest hill that had very recently been renovated as the personal palace of Tuscany’s regent, Archduchess Maria Maddalena d’Austria. Leaving their carriages in a grassy courtyard guarded by two squadrons of armed cavalry, the Archduchess’ guests were welcomed into the palace by a military commander, and led to bench seats in a temporary theatre built in the villa’s loggia, to hear a new commedia in musica based on a well-known plot (two sorceresses struggling over the sexual and military future of a hapless young man). The commedia was to be followed, seamlessly, by two balletti danced by members of the court, by a ballet for horses and riders in the paved courtyard, and by a reception at which the gentildonne were served by the men who rode in the final horse ballet (while their husbands watched from above). It was the first performance of Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero.

So what could La Liberazione possibly have seemed to be about in 1625? First, a bit about the plot, since the story on which it’s based is not nearly as well known now as it was then.

The show opens with a prologue sung by Neptune (a figure for Medici power) and a Polish river, The Vistola, meant to praise the guest of honor in 1625, Maria Maddalena’s visiting nephew, Wladyslaw, the crown prince of Poland. Immediately afterward, the “good witch” Melissa sails up on a dolphin’s back to explain that she has come to rescue Ruggiero from the “bad witch” Alcina’s sexual spells, restoring him both to his military duty on behalf of Christian armies and to his dynastic sexual duty as the fiancée of the woman warrior Bradamante. At Melissa’s exit, Ruggiero arrives with Alcina and her retinue of singing and dancing minions. The lovers exchange perilously mis-communicated vows, and then Alcina leaves to manage government affairs while her retinue lulls Ruggiero to sleep. Dressed as his aged African teacher Atlante, Melissa returns, awakening Ruggiero with an exhortation to return to the battle for Libya. Previous victims of Alcina’s power, turned into plants by her mind-numbing spells, beg the pair to liberate them, too. After promising to return for them, Melissa leads Ruggiero away.

When Alcina and her retinue return to find him gone, a female messenger explains that Melissa has broken Alcina’s spell. Alcina confronts Ruggiero in a long scene mixed of lamentation and ire, to no avail. Enraged at her loss of power, she calls on monsters for aid. The stage is engulfed in fire, as the now monstrous Alcina rides offstage on a dragon’s back, after which creatures who had been trapped in the bodies of the island’s plants emerge to dance. One such creature pleads with Melissa to liberate the men who are plants as well as the women. They dance, and then everyone–the players and the audience–adjourn to the courtyard to watch the horse ballet, over which the triumphant Melissa presides from a centaur-drawn chariot.

My sense is that like the other comedies on which Francesca had worked La liberazione was meant to be both entertaining and serious–to give the audience the impression they were glimpsing into the ‘real’ entertainment life of the women’s court, and at the same time to engage a particular set of anxieties about that court’s relationship to public power during the regency of the 1620s.

Archduchess Maria Maddalena

Arch Duchess Maria Maddalena

When Grand Duke Cosimo II died in late February, 1621, the intermittent de facto regency of his mother Christine de Lorraine was replaced by a de jure regency she was to share with his widow, Archduchess Maria Maddalena d’Austria. Christine had quietly ruled Tuscany since late in 1606, first during her husband Grand Duke Ferdinando I’s final illness and then during her son’s long, losing struggle with what seems to have been several forms of tuberculosis. According to all diplomatic accounts, Christine had been Tuscany’s absolute ruler in this period, yet the same accounts report that she had shared decision-making with her son when he was up to it, and that she had systematically arranged for her daughter-in-law to be trained for what seemed like the inevitable regency of the 1620s. (One possible interpretation of La liberazione’s plot about the struggle of two women over a man, then, would be to imagine Ruggiero as the ailing Cosimo, his wife and his mother as the sorceress antagonists: but all diplomatic accounts also agree that the three worked well together.) Read more…

Du chocolat! Dieu nous en garde!

September 29th, 2008 No comments

In Charpentier’s delightful divertissement Les plaisirs de Versailles, Comus, the “God of Feasting” seeks to calm a dispute between the haughty diva Music and the loquacious Conversation by offering the delights of marzipan, fine wine, and above all, Chocolate. Music is aghast, but Conversation is quite eager to sample the delicacy.

Comus: Let your disputes not cause commotion here! Let us play. To both of you beauties I shall give chocolates.

La Musique: Chocolate! God forbid that he give any to this chatterbox. As for me, I tell you, I do not wish to taste any. She would never cease her hot-air chatter.

La Conversation: Chocolate is good, dear Comus. By your influence I long to taste a little.

La Musique: No, Comus!

La Conversation: Comus, to listen to her is to waste good time. Chocolate!

Music’s concern about the effect of chocolate on the “babbling divitnity” Conversation, is understandable to anyone who has spent Halloweeen in the company of a 5-year-old.

Columbus brought cacao to Europe when he returned in 1502, but it was not until the 1615 wedding of Louis XIII to Anne of Austria (the daughter of Phillip II of Spain) that the French court discovered the strange brew known for its revitalizing and aphrodisiacal properties and declared chocolate as the drink of the French court. In France, as elsewhere in Europe, chocolate was met with skepticism and was considered a “barbarous product and noxious drug”. As with coffee, not everyone was eager to accept the mysterious new drink.

Initially, Chocolate was seen as having largely medicinal properties. In the first official statement about chocolate is made by Bonavontura Di Aragon, brother of Cardinal Richelieu, described the use of chocolate as stimulating the healthy functioning of the spleen and other digestive functions. 1659
Louis XIV gives the chocolate monopolies of the Paris chocolate drink trade and the French Royal Court to David Chaillou, a baker who made costly biscuits and cakes with chocolate—France’s first “chocolatier.”

St. Gertrude’s Chapel, Hamburg

October 19th, 2007 No comments

by Frederick K. Gable

St. Gertrude’s Chapel (shown in a 1830 engraving at right) was built in the late fourteenth century by the Bruderschaft of St. Gertrude, listed in 1356 as one of eighteen charitable fraternities associated with the Jakobikirche in Hamburg. Like similar orders throughout Europe, the fraternity promoted good works through financial support of the church and participation in its religious activities. Members could thereby improve their reputation in the city and increase their chances of gaining salvation. St. Gertrude’s Fraternity was chiefly devoted to caring for the poor and the sick, especially persons afflicted with leprosy. The chapel land was originally known as “der wüste Kirchof” (the desolate churchyard) and “platea leprosorum” (place of the lepers).

In 1391 the fraternity began construction of the chapel, probably assisted by a guild of masons known as the “Mauerleute.” Its first stage was an octagonal Gothic-domed structure, twenty-five feet on a side, completed in 1399. This octagonal shape resembled other burial buildings and pilgrimage chapels fashionable in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, in Northern Europe often named for St. George or St. Gertrude of Nivelles, a seventh century abbess. Since the chapel stood within the parish of the Jacobikirche, regular masses in addition to funerals were conducted there by the priests of that church until the Reformation. Read more…

Un Pasticcio di Madrigaletti

September 25th, 2005 No comments

“A pastiche of little madrigals” is how Gaspare Murtola described Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido in 1626, and while his comment was intended as derogatory, he succeeding in pointing both to the strength and weakness of the play. The overblown and self-consciously poetic language of Guarini’s tragicomedy succeeded in making the play a relative failure on the stage, tremendous success as a work of literature, and a goldmine for composers seeking affective, emotional texts through which to display the new compositional techniques of the early baroque.

Guarini’s play, whether by design or not, turned out to be just as Murtola had described it: a series of little madrigals, from which composers drew texts for decades. Many of the “little madrigals” took on a life of their own, with composers seemingly competing with each other with their different settings. Often when the names of specific characters from the play occurred in the text, composers would alter the text or substitute generic pastoral names (Tirsi, Clori, etc.) to make their madrigal more general.

Though the play in many ways springs from the same humanist orientation that was leading the avant-garde composers of the late sixteenth century to develop the new monodic style of recitative, the majority of settings that were published at the time were in the form of polyphonic madrigals. Our program emphasizes the settings from the seventeenth century and features both monodic and polyphonic settings. While the program is ordered according to the narrative of the play, it is of course not a complete nor balanced rendering of the play, since certain sections received considerable attention from composers and other relatively little. Read more…

Il Pastor Fido, Aminta and the Pastoral Tradition in 16th century Italy

August 18th, 2005 No comments

Guarini’s pastoral drama Il Pastor Fido was very consciously modeled on Aminta, written by his slightly younger colleague at the Este court in Ferrara Torquato Tasso. Both Aminta and the Pastor fido belong to the tradition of pastoral literature that was very much in vogue in Renaissance Italy. The fundamental characteristic of the pastoral drama was its idealized setting in ‘nature’, most often peopled by shepherds and nymphs who contradict the bucolic setting of their lives by expressing very urban sentiments in sophisticated language. Pastoral literature in general tended to idealize the innocent and serene lives of its rustic characters in contrast to complex and corrupt city life. The archetypal paradigm of the pastoral life was the Golden Age: a mythical, utopian time when human beings were content with their simple, peaceful lives, and when the uncultivated earth offered them everything they needed. The myth of the Golden Age, already present in the Greek poet Hesiod, was later treated by, among others, the Roman poet Virgil.[1]

The pastoral eclogue had been a relatively minor literary form in the classical times but was very popular among Renaissance humanists writing in first in Latin and then in the vernacular, and developed a rich complex of native, Christian, and classical themes in novels, lyric poetry, and drama. [2] While Boccaccio’s Ameto, can be considered a pastoral work, it is really Sanazaro’s Arcadia (1504) that has been considered the embodiment and culmination of the Renaissance pastoral tradition and it is from this Arcadian ideal that the new genre of pastoral drama arose. The genre had found expression as early as Poliziano’s Orfeo (1471), which was most likely the first of the Renaissance pastoral plays presented on stage to accompany courtly celebrations. The pastoral poem with its relatively free structure of dialogue developed into a stricter five-act format, typically in hendecasyllabic blank verse punctuated by more lyrical passages through the sixteenth century. Their were various attempts to codify this structure by Cinzio, Tansillo, Lollio, Argenti, and Beccari, all associated with the court in Ferrara, but it was only with Aminta and Il Pastor Fido that the pastoral drama acquired a place in the poetic canon between the dialogic eclogue and the developing melodrama.[3]

The fact that Il Pastor Fido shares so many themes and even plot lines with the earlier Aminta is certainly not a sign of simple plagiarism. Rather, it is more a sort of one-upsmanship, since Guarini intended to emphasize his rivalry with Tasso by writing several parallel scenes and in any case both plays used elements common to the tradition of pastoral drama. For example, Tasso presents the opposition between chastity and love, a common theme of Classical eclogues, in his opening dialogue between Silvia, the chaste shepherdess, and her companion Daphne, while Guarini places a similar dialogue in the first scene of Il Pastor fido with the dialogue between Silvio, the chaste hunter and his confidant Linco. An excerpt from Linco’s response became one of the most frequently set madrigal texts of the period, Quel augellin. Other similarities, like the presence of lustful satyrs in both plays are stock characters in pastoral dramas. The result in terms of reception history has often been to view Guarini’s work as derivative rather than complementary.

1. Jernigan, Charles and Jones, Irene M. Aminta, a Pastoral Play by Torquato Tasso. New York, 2000.
2. Staton, Walter and Simeone, William. A Critical Edition of Sir Richard Fanshawe’s 1647 translation of Giovanni Battista Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido. Oxford, 1964. p. x.
3. Jernigan. op. cit., pp. x-xi.

Singing Guarini's Il Pastor Fido

August 7th, 2005 No comments

In 1605 Cardinal Robert Bellarmine wrote that Guarini’s play Il Pastor fido (The Faithful Shepherd) was more harmful to Catholic morals than the Protestant Reformation itself. While such hyperbole is typical of polemical tracts of the period and is characteristic of conservative reaction to any challenge to the established order, the Cardinal’s comments nevertheless highlight the impact of Guarini’s pastoral drama on the artistic and cultural climate of the time. The arguments echo those leveled against Monteverdi by Giovanni Maria Artusi beginning in 1600: the unacceptable violation of established classical principles. In fact the madrigals that Artusi quoted in his attacks were settings of texts drawn by Monteverdi from Guarini’s play, though Artusi left out the texts and commented only on Monteverdi’s harmonic improprieties.

Of course ecclesiastical criticism of Guarini’s heretic mingling of the Aritotelian dramatic genres in creating his pastoral tragicomedy and the licentious behavior of its bucolic characters had little effect on the play’s continuing popularity. This popularity can hardly be overstated. In the five years that it circulated in manuscript copies before its first publication 1590, the Pastor fido had already attracted a large and enthusiastic following and by the time of Bellarmine’s complaints it had already seen more than twenty editions. The play’s fame was not limited to Italy, as it spread in numerous translations across Europe. In all, well over one hundred editions of the play were published including six different French translations, five in English in over thirteen editions, with translations also into Spanish, German, Greek, Swedish, Dutch, Polish, several Italian dialects and even Latin. It was arguably the most widely read work of secular literature in Europe throughout the seventeenth century and its vogue was only slightly less for much of the eighteenth. Read more…

The Estensi

August 6th, 2005 No comments

Magnificat’s first program this season features settings of texts drawn from Guarini’s pastoral drama Il Pastor Fido. Like so many poets, artists, and musicians of the Italian Renaissance, Guarini benefited from the patronage of the Este family of Ferrara. Both Guarini and his friend and rival Tasso had stormy relationships with the court that employed them and the intrigues within and battles outside the court doubtless caused misery for many, but from our vantage point several centuries hence we are indebted to them for the great works they supported.

The Estensi, a branch of the 10th-century dynasty of the Obertenghi, took their name from the township and castle of Este, near Padua. The founder of the family was the Margrave Alberto Azzo II (died 1097), through whose son Folco I (died 1136?) descended the House of Este. The family first gained prominence as leaders of the Guelphs in the wars between the Guelphs and Ghibellines. The Estensi influence in Ferrara dates from the 13th century and by the middle of the 14th century their court there had become one of the most magnificent in all of Europe.

Alberto d’Este (1347-1393) began the transformation of the city, establishing the university there in the last year of his life. His son Niccolò (1383-1441), a great patron of music and the arts in general, built the castle that still dominates the city. During Niccolò’s reign, Guillaume Dufay began his long association with the d’Este family.
Leonello (1407-1450), who succeeded Niccolò, was cultivated classical writings, philosophy, and history while Borso (1413-1471) was more interested in law and medicine and provided great support for the university. Isabella, the daughter of Ercole I (1431-1505) born in 1471, inherited her father’s passion for the arts and, after her marriage to the Marquis of Mantua, became one of his chief competitors in collecting art. Read more…

The Image on Magnificat's Website and Season Brochure

August 5th, 2005 2 comments

The image used on the Magnificat Website and on the season brochure is taken from the frontispiece to the collected works of Jakob Böhme, published in Amsterdam in 1682. The orginal image is reproduced above. For the website the orginal type has been photo-shopped out and for the brochure only details were used.The brochure can be downloaded by clicking this link.

Jakob Böhme was born in 1575 in Altseidenberg, near Görlitz in eastern Germany. Following apprenticeship, he set up his own shop as a shoemaker in Görlitz, where he resided (except for a period of exile in Dresden) until his death on November 17, 1624. After a profound mystical experience at the age of twenty five (1600), while remaining active as a shoemaker and later a merchant, he embarked on a remarkable career of independent scholarship and writing. Though censured for heresy and silenced for seven years by his town council, he eventually produced some twenty nine books and tracts on philosophical theology, and gained a growing following among the nobility and professional classes of the day. (Source, where you can also find a discussion of his writings and philosophy.) A more extensive biography of Böhme can be found here. This is an excellent bibliography with lots of links, and a fabulous collection of engravings from his theosophical works can be found here.

In the publication the image is described as follows:

“Light & Darkness

At the intersection of light and the world of darkness, the human and the divine eye meet and merge in a visionary “looking-through,” which emerges “as a flash in the centre.”

The trumpet and the lily, the two ends of the pointer, herald the coming of the end of the world and the beginning of the age of the Holy Ghost. The seven circles are the qualities of nature, the days of the Creation and the spirits of God. The inner alphabet signifies “the revealed natural language,” which names all things sensually,” i.e., directly, according to their innermost quality. It was lost through Adam’s Fall from number 1, the divine unity.”

J. Böhme, Theosophische Wercke, Amsterdam, 1682