Tag Archives: Italy

Cesare Negri

Cesare Negri

cesare negriDance master
(1535 – 1604)

Cesare Negri –  The Graces of Love (1602) was the most complete and detailed of all the great Renaissance works on dance theory and practice, and it provides a great deal of information about the dance life of the Italian upper classes in the late Renaissance. In this work Negri also informs us about his own life, allowing us to reconstruct the career of one of the Renaissance’s most important dance masters.

Born in Milan around 1535, he served the city’s Spanish governors as dance master until 1599. Between 1555 and 1600 he also directed a number of spectacles for major Italian ducal families. His list of distinguished clients included the Visconti, the Medici, the Gonzaga, and D’Este. One ofhis most impressive productions was a spectacle celebrating the naval victory of the Italian admiral Andrea Doria against the Turks in 1560. Another was his direction of the festivities marking the visit of Queen Margarethe of Spain to Milan in 1598. In his capacity as dance master, Negri also traveled extensively with Milan’s noble rulers, performing dances for them on journeys to Malta, Genoa, Naples, Florence, Mantua, and Saragossa. Negri’s Graces of Love is also a rich source of information about the major dancing masters of the later Renaissance. He includes the names of over forty dance masters who practiced at the time and gives details about their training and where they traveled to practice their art. His work thus points to the development in Italy of a group of professional male dancers, many of whom opened dancing schools in Europe’s cities or who taught dance to their noble patrons.

Negri’s dance manual includes some of the typical information on ballroom etiquette that is to be found in many similar books from the period. He also discusses dance’s role in aristocratic processions and intermedi, two of the most common occasions for theatrical dance in Renaissance Italy. By far, though, the largest portion of The Graces of Love is given over to a technical discussion of dance steps. The dances that he treats in the work are extremely complex, among the most difficult to survive from the Renaissance. In particular, he treats extensively the upper class forms of the galliard and outlines a number of variations on the dance’s footwork. He also shows that dances, just like the music of the time, were often improvised and that dancers loved to practice variations on the basic steps, joining different steps and footwork together to create ever more difficult choreographies. He includes 43 choreographies for dances, a number of which are figure dances similar to those that are still performed in American square dances. Like other dance manuals of the period, Negri’s also included music to accompany these forms.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli

Philosopher, theorist, playwright
(1469 – 1527)

machiavelliAs a Florentine statesman, political philosopher, theorist, and playwright of the Italian Renaissance, Machiavelli addressed a wide range of political and historical topics while embracing strictly literary forms in his various publications.He came to be identified almost exclusively with the realist political theory that he described in The Prince (1513), which is basically a pragmatic guidebook for obtaining, and preserving, political power. Critics have long pointed out the incongruities between the republican philosophy that Machiavelli professed in Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius (1513–1517) that nations should be republics guided by the principles of liberty, rule of law, and civic virtue and the philosophy he described in The Prince, which has been variously hailed, denounced, and distorted as advocating an ends-justify the means approach to politics. His perspective in The Prince, inparticular, quickly gave rise to the term Machiavellian: deceiving and manipulating others for personal gain.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469, in Florence, Italy, to an established middle class family whose members had traditionally filled responsible positions in local government. While little of the author’s early life has been documented, it is known that as a boy he learned Latin and quickly became a dedicated reader of the ancient classics. Machiavelli lived during the height of the Italian Renaissance, a ‘‘rebirth’’ of the arts and sciences that rivaled the accomplishments of the ancient Romans andGreeks. During this time, an interest in classical subjectsand techniques became popular, as shown in the art of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. This interest in classical ideas is also reflected in the work of Machiavelli, who wrote much in support of the idea of republican government first developed by Plato.

Machiavelli’s first recorded involvement in the complicated political scene in Florence occurred in 1498, when he helped the political faction that replaced the dominant religious and political figures in Florence at the time. That same year, Machiavelli began acting as secretary to a sensitive government agency that dealt chiefly with warfare and foreign affairs. Machiavelli participated both in Italian politics and in diplomatic missions to foreign governments. He quickly gained political prominence and influence, so that by 1502 he had become a well-respected assistant to the republican head of state. His posts afforded him many opportunities over the next fourteen years to closely examine the inner workings of government and to meet prominent individuals, including Cesare Borgia, who became Machiavelli’s major model for leadership in The Prince. Read the rest of this entry

Pietro Aretino

Pietro Aretino

Pietro AretinoPietro Aretino the Italian author was born the son of a cobbler in Arezzo, a small town in Tuscany that was subject to the city of Florence. His mother grew estranged from Aretino’s father and moved in with a local nobleman, taking her children with her. At eighteen the young Aretino left Arezzo and moved to Perugia to become a servant in the home of the humanist Francesco Bontempi. Here he met the city’s circle of humanists, painters, and authors, and he acquired his taste for writing and painting. In Perugia he published a book of his poetry, in which he described himself as a painter, and he also became acquainted with Agostino Chigi, a prominent Sienese banker who kept a villa in Rome.

Chigi became Aretino’s patron, inviting him to move to the papal capital, where he broadened his circle of friends and acquaintances. At the time Rome was emerging as the capital of the High Renaissance. Long a dusty and dirty city when compared to Florence and the other Northern Italian centers of the time, Rome was in transformation, becoming the center of artistic and intellectual life at the time. In this brilliant atmosphere Aretino became constantly embroiled in scandals.

Political Involvements

In Rome, Aretino soon became known for his skills as a satirist when Giulio de’Medici hired him to write propaganda for him supporting his case for election to the papacy in 1521. Besides writing pamphlets praising the Medici candidate, Aretino also wrote a series of scathing satires that mocked Medici’s rivals, and when one of these candidates won election instead of Giulio, Aretino fled the city. Two years later, though, Giulio de’ Medici finally secured his election as pope and Aretino returned to Rome. However, he irritated his powerful friend when he wrote a seriesof pornographic sonnets that attacked Bishop Giberti, one of Giulio’s close advisers.

These sixteen Lascivious Sonnets recounted Giberti’s bizarre sexual tastes, and resulted in Aretino’s second banishment from the city. He made his way to the French court and tried to secure the patronage of Francis I, although his reconciliation with the pope soon allowed him to return to Rome. His taste for scandal, though, prompted him to write A Comedy about Court Life, a biting satire of thedebauched sexual lives of those in the papal court.Aretino fell out of favor again, and when he tried to seducethe wife of a powerful Roman citizen, an assassination attempt nearly ended his life. Although unsuccessful, the attack damaged Aretino’s hand and henever painted again. He traveled to Mantua in northern Italy where he continued to write satires and plays that attacked the papal court, but a second assassination attempt in 1527 forced him to flee yet again. He traveled to Venice, a more congenial place for his scathing wit, and he remained there for the rest of his life. Read the rest of this entry

Andrea Palladio

Andrea Palladio

PalladioPalladio, the greatest architect of sixteenth century Northern Italy, was probably born in Padua in1508. At birth his name was Andrea di Pietro; he didnot take the classical name Palladio until he was middleaged. Around the age of 13 he worked as an apprenticeto a local stone mason, but he apparently did not stay in this workshop long. By 1524, records show that he hadenrolled in the stonemasons’ guild in nearby Vicenza, where he joined a local workshop. Eventually, his talents came to the attention of the local aristocrat, Gian Giorgio Trissino.

Trissino was a humanist scholar and he soon became the young stonemason’s patron. Under Trissino’s influence, the future architect acquired some knowledge of Latin and studied Vitruvius’ ancient treatiseon architecture. At Trissino’s urging, Andrea di Pietro changed his name to the Latin, Palladio, and with the elder aristocrat’s support the designer made several study trips to Rome during the 1540s. On one of these journeys he met Michelangelo, and during all his stays in Rome he spent a great deal of time in the ancient center of the city, studying and drawing the monuments of the ancient Roman Empire.

Around 1540, Palladio had already begun to design buildings in and around Vicenza. His earliest commissions were for domestic palaces in the city and country villas. These works do not yet show a secure understanding of ancient Roman architecture. During the course of the 1540s, though, his mastery of classicism grew more assured. The most important commission Palladio received at this early stage in his career as an architect was for the reconstruction of Vicenza’s Basilica. This complex, a series of local government offices,had been joined together in the later Middle Ages with a series of Gothic arcades.


In 1496, one of the sestructures had collapsed, and during the following decades the government at Vicenza searched for an architect who might rebuild the structures on a more secure footing. Palladio won the commission, and there sulting building he created established his reputationas an architect of merit. Palladio continued in the 1550sto design domestic palaces, government buildings, and country villas in and around Vicenza. In his country villas especially, Palladio’s works display his certain mastery over classical building styles and his ability to adapt those elements to contemporary situations. His structures were notable as well for the great harmony they achieved between interior spaces and the surrounding exterior gardens.

Before his death in 1580, the architect had populated the region around Vicenza and the Veneto (Venice’s mainland possessions) with a number of graceful and harmonious structures. Palladio’s classicism wasres trained and, in contrast to the great Venetian architect Sansovino, he used relatively little ornament. Porticos that made use of the region’s gentle climate were one common feature, as was the so-called Palladian window,a structure in which side columns supported a hemispherical shaped arch. In later years Palladio used his relativelysevere but graceful style in two churches he designedin the city of Venice. Read the rest of this entry