Skip to main content Skip to navigation

How It All Began

The Conference on Italian Renaissance Festivals, April 1990

The Centre for the Study of the Renaissance at the University of Warwick is a multi-disciplinary research centre which, in addition to its teaching functions, has for many years hosted conferences and symposia on topics of interest to Renaissance historians, historians of art and scholars of literature and theatre. A conference held in April 1990 under the title "Italian Renaissance Festivals and their European Influence" seemed to the organisers to have touched on a field of research ripe for further and collaborative development. Papers delivered at the conference were re-written and, under the editorship of Ronnie Mulryne and Margaret Shewring, were published in 1992 by the Edwin Mellen Press, with further invited papers, as an edited collection. The five sections of the collection took in "Festivals: Theory and Practice" , "Festivals in Italy", "Festivals in German-Speaking Lands", "Festivals in France" and "Festivals in Denmark and England".

Contributors to the collection included Günter Berghaus, Roger Savage, Alessandro Marcigliano, Lina Urban, Christopher Cairns, Jessica Gordon, M.A. Katritzky, Ronnie Mulryne, Helen Watanabe-O' Kelly, H. Gaston Hall, Marie-Claude Canova-Green, Josèphe Jacquiot, John Peacock, Olav Lausund and H. Neville Davies. A number of these, as a result of geographical convenience as much as scholarly interest, kept in touch with each other through correspondence, small-scale meetings at Warwick, and conversations at scholarly conferences and in libraries, cafés, pubs and other academic venues. It became clear that a set of common interests, and a sense that there was much to do in the way of collaborative research, suggested the formation of an inter-disciplinary and inter-university working group. The Committee of the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance offered its support, and the University of Warwick granted pump-priming funds. We were therefore able to make a start on drawing together a group of colleagues who could meet regularly and plan the development of a research programme aimed at furthering the study of renaissance festivals.

The moment was propitious for carrying forward this research. Renewed interest in festivals as cultural as well as political events had been evident in the work of scholars who followed in the footsteps of Jean Jacquot and his collaborators in France, and in the major scholarship associated with the Herzog August Bibliothek at Wolfenbüttel in Germany. A group of Italian scholars had been at work recovering the rich heritage of Italian festival, in Florence especially, supported by American researchers including Arthur R. Blumenthal and Bonner Mitchell. In Britain, Sir Roy Strong's books had stirred interest in festival, and work was going forward on civic as well as court events. The Journal Court Studies had come into existence, with Robert Oresko as editor. Margaret McGowan's editorship of, and contributions to, her series of festival texts was making these texts available in scholarly editions, and Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly was completing work on Spectaculum Europaeum, her comprehensive survey of European theatre and festival, edited with Pierre Béhar, and on her major bibliography of European festival books. To our huge delight, Margaret and Helen agreed to join our working group, bringing with them their outstanding resources of scholarship. The Warburg Institute, from its inception a centre of festival study, became associated with us through its former director, J.B. Trapp, again to our great delight. Everything seemed to be coming together to provide the conditions for a successful research project.


The Workshop Conference, April 1997

A forum was needed to plan the development of the project and secure the active participation of relevant scholars. This took place in the form of a Workshop Conference, which was held at Warwick in April 1997, funded by the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance and Warwick's Humanities Research Centre, with support from the British Academy. Over forty invited scholars and two publishers attended.

Three days of papers and discussion, reported in a one-hundred-page summary of proceedings, resulted in agreement on the way forward. The first major outcome was to be a two-volume, one-thousand-page collection of festival texts, fully edited and illustrated, with introductions and translations into English. This would be followed by further publications and by conferences and other forms of networking. Festivals, it was decided, would be understood as artistic events as well as texts.

Editorial principles and practices were laid down, and the management of the project was agreed. The Workshop comprised scholars from six continental European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Sweden and Poland) as well as Britain and the United States, and from an array of disciplines, including history, history of art, literature, modern languages and theatre studies. The project was to be, it was agreed, both international and interdisciplinary.


The Steering Group and the Two-Volume Collection of Festival Texts

About two years before the Workshop, and as a result of a one-day symposium at Warwick, a Steering Group of UK-based scholars was formed, and had met on a number of occasions in Warwick, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford and London. At these meetings, basic principles for the project were agreed and the outlines of the first proposed publication were drawn up. Making festival texts available was seen as a first priority, though it was recognised that without rigorous editing, and without scholarly contextualisation and introduction, mere availability would not be sufficient. It was also recognised that the overwhelming number of extant festival books - about three thousand survive in four major collections - made anything other than the publication of a representative selection a practical impossibility.

Accordingly, it was decided to include in a two-volume collection eight "clusters" of texts, with each cluster comprising a series of texts related to an individual (Henry III was chosen after Charles V was rejected as too much studied), a city (Genoa, as an Italian city whose rich heritage of festival texts had not been widely investigated), a country (the Netherlands, Poland-Lithuania and Scandinavia), or an historical situation or event (the Protestant Union and La Rochelle and the defeat of Protestantism). It was also decided to include a cluster of texts from the New World. These eight groupings would ensure a wide geographical and chronological diversity of texts, would include a range of festival types from coronation and civic entry to wedding, political celebration and christening, and would demonstrate the cross-influence of texts on each other. All would be presented in the original and in an English translation, and all would be studied for their artistic achievements as well as their political significance. Fifty thousand words (about half the length of a monograph) were made available to each cluster, to include text, translation, introductions and footnotes. General introductions, it was decided, will preface the volumes as a whole, on such topics as the Festival Book, the Politics of Festival, Festival and Society and the Music, Scenography and Visual Arts of Festival.

The membership of the Steering Group has grown over the last few years to thirteen names. All, with the exception of Ines Aliverti, who works in Pisa, and Mara Wade who works in Illinois, have continued to meet four or five times a year, usually (for reasons of travel) in London. Members are drawn from seven British universities (Aberdeen, Birmingham, Cambridge, London, Oxford, Sussex and Warwick) and from six academic disciplines (English, French, German, History, Music and Theatre Studies). At the meetings of the Steering Group, decisions are taken about the management of the project, especially about its future development, about editorial practice, down to such details as capitalisation or the treatment of inscriptions, and, more recently, about the organisation of the conference on Court Festivals. Questions are raised about such matters as publishing and publication subsidy. We are very happy to have received the support of the MHRA and Ashgate Publishing Ltd. (Scolar Press), who will bring out the two-volume edition.


Recent Developments

The most momentous happenings for the project in recent months have been our successful applications for funding to the Arts and Humanities Research Board for England and Wales. Towards the end of 1998, Ronnie Mulryne and Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly prepared the very detailed application required by the AHRB, covering the scholarly justification for the project, academic resources and financial needs. This resulted, after national competition and to our great delight, in the award of a one-year grant, subsequently extended to three years. The £144,000 we were given enabled us, in April and May 1999, to advertise for, interview and appoint a three-year, full-time Research Fellow, Elizabeth Goldring (Ph.D. Yale), and a one-year, half-time Research Fellow, Kate Currey (Ph.D. Sussex). The AHRB grant has also enabled us to launch a new publication, Renaissance Journal, which is devoted to the dissemination of research related to the study of festivals. The first edition was published in January 2000 and the journal, edited by Ronnie Mulryne and Elizabeth Goldring, appears twice yearly (in January and June).

In 2000, a second AHRB bid - submitted by Ronnie Mulryne and colleagues at the University of Warwick - was successful, this one totalling £1.3m (over five years). This additional funding, which has enabled us to establish the AHRB Centre for the Study of Renaissance Elites and Court Cultures within the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance, also will enable Elizabeth Goldring to continue in post as Europa Triumphans Research Fellow beyond the three years initially envisioned. This second grant also permits us to expand the scope of the Renaissance Journal beyond the activities of the Europa Triumphans project to include the activities of the other research projects affiliated with the AHRB Centre for the Study of Renaissance Elites and Court Cultures, namely, the Italian Elites project and the John Nichols project.

In 2001, we were awarded a third AHRB grant (this one for approximately £240,000), which will permit us to proceed with the project of digitising approximately three hundred festival books in the collections of the British Library. Two new Research Fellows will be appointed, each for one year, to take charge of this aspect of the Europa Triumphans project. The new Fellows will be based primarily at the British Library.

In the summer of 1999, we received the gratifying news that our bid to the European Science Foundation for support for an international conference on "Court Festivals of the European Renaissance: Politics and Performance" had been successful. The prestigious series of European Research Conferences, funded by grants from the EU and administered by a secretariat in Strasbourg, scarcely ever includes the Humanities. Medicine, science and social science are the order of the day. We were therefore surprised, and greatly encouraged, to be awarded 35,000 euros in support of the proposed conference, which took place 16-21 September, 2000, at Il Ciocco international conference centre near Lucca in Tuscany.

More than seventy scholars from England, Continental Europe, the United States, and Canada travelled to Il Ciocco for a most stimulating conference, the programme for which consisted of thirty-one papers delivered by academics (both senior and junior) drawn from the fields of literature, history, history of art, music, and dance.

It is hoped that the E.S.F. will be able to fund a follow-up conference in the spring of 2003 (to be chaired by Dr Gillian Bepler of the Herzog August Bibliothek, the Vice-Chairman of the 2000 conference).

In the meantime, to capitalise on the excitement generated by the September 2000 conference, Ronnie Mulryne (the conference chair) and Elizabeth Goldring (the conference secretariat) are jointly editing a volume of essays consisting of expanded versions of some of the papers delivered at the conference. This volume, entitled Court Festivals of the European Renaissance: Art, Politics, and Performance, will be published by Ashgate Press in 2002.