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The Medici Wedding of 1589.

The 1589 wedding of Grand Duke Ferdinando I of Tuscany with the French princess Christine of Lorraine is the hallmark of High Renaissance wedding festivals in Italy. It is not surprising, therefore, that a number of scholars have mined the event for their own research on the development of festive theater, art, and even music. No one, however, has examined the entire, complex, year-long preparations that went into the month-long festive unit - no one, that is, until now.

James Saslow's ground-breaking contribution to scholarship on Italian Renaissance spectacle has been to examine the 1589 wedding celebrations not as a single spectacular event, but as a year-long drama of preparations, politics, and performance. He has also rightly identified the wedding celebrations as a theatrum mundi in which actors and spectators share the stage equally, each group playing its part in the theatre of triumphalism that characterizes the "propagandistic displays by the emerging Renaissance nations" (2).

In approaching his subject the author has followed three different, but well integrated approaches. He has sought, first of all, to provide the reader with a comprehensive chronological narrative of the event. This attempt "to privilege reconstruction over deconstruction" (7) is to be highly commended, for it gives the educated reader, unfamiliar with the specifics, a critical leg to stand on. The author has then sought to provide a synchronic view of the events leading to the celebrations. In this manner a fascinating counterpoint ensues over the course of several chapters between the description of the slow, stately progress of Christine of Lorraine on her journey from Paris to Florence and the frenzied, even feverish activities of the thousands of people busying themselves in Tuscany in anticipation of her arrival. Lastly, the author has approached his analysis from the vantage point of interdisciplinarity. This has allowed him to provide a subtle, multi-layered interpretation of the event, revealing the nuances of, and points of contact between, artistic, social, and political factors playing out their pans on the many stages of this performance.

Saslow's three-pronged attack successfully encircles and captures the entire city, citizens, culture, and economics of Florence. This study is not simply an examination of a theatrical and visual display of pomp and power, or of the symbolism and subtleties of learned Renaissance referents, but a sociology of artistic production and political posturing in late sixteenth-century Florence. Saslow rightly points out the enormous financial expense incurred in mounting these celebrations and the impact such an event would have had on the economy of the city. Over the course of an entire year, preparing for the wedding festivities was one of the most important economic enterprises in Florence. We soon come to appreciate that the Grand Duke was not only staging a public display to impress his new bride and the nobility of Europe, but was also giving a shot in the arm to the economy of his realm. Forever the scion of the Medici bankers, Ferdinando was boosting business while boasting about himself.

To underline the extent to which the May 1589 celebrations involved the city over the course of an entire year, Saslow has astutely divided his analysis into seven chapters that chronologically beat out the months leading to the wedding festivities. Thus, chapter one, "September and October 1588," opens with the assembling of the teams that were to plan, coordinate, and mount the various events, from Christine's entry into the city to the performances at the Uffizi, from the iconography of the visual displays to the technological requirements of the plays and the intermedi. Subsequent chapters continue with discussions of casting, costumes, and rehearsals (chapter two, "November and December 1588"), the Uffizi theater, its scenery, and artists (chapter three, "January and February 1589"), until they arrive at "June 1589 and Beyond" (chapter seven), where the aftermath and later influence of the celebrations on European court festivities are succinctly but efficiently presented.

Saslow's examination of the 1589 Medici wedding festivities is the most extensive and thorough analysis ever conducted of this spectacular festival. Its contribution to the sociology and economics of late Renaissance artistic and theatrical production will constitute a benchmark for future scholarship for years to come.

KONRAD EISENBICHLER Victoria College, University of Toronto
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Author:Eisenbichler, Konrad
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
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