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Part 5

From the images so far seen, you will have noted how these festival records might appeal to the historian, and to scholars of the theatre and of art. They have, additionally, a wider interest to anyone concerned with the cultural heritage of the Renaissance. This was a time when humanism had brought enhanced knowledge of classical forms and ways of thinking. Poets and artists, in particular, seized on this new information which was conveniently accessible in Renaissance dictionaries of myths and symbols, and in books of emblems and devices. With this material, they adorned their inventions covering them with images and symbols so that triumphal arches, for example, had interpretative and pedagogic functions, and often left commentators with a happy abundance of different ways to explain the symbolism. When the Jesuits got hold of them, they let their imaginations run riot. Handbooks of myths and symbols were not followed slavishly but they provided new ways of presenting ideas. In time, festival books themselves became sources for manipulation by later inventors. Vincenzo Borghini, for instance, who conceived the whole plan of the festival devised to celebrate the marriage of Francesco de’Medici with Joanna of Austria in 1565, consulted systematically descriptions of festivals and triumphal entries from all over Europe as well as studying classical imagery at first hand so that he might incorporate authentic images into the many medallions he used for his decorative programme.

His approach, shared by many other poets and artists, inevitably raises questions about how far spectators and readers were able to fathom the meaning of the symbols that confronted them. In some ways, Festival books themselves provide answers. They explained the images, discussed their import and their application to present affairs. In addition, great artists were often involved and the boldness and clarity of their designs aided understanding. Leonardo da Vinci invented the floats that processed through Florince in 1515 at the coming of the Pope; 1,726 artists were employed to stage the entry for prince Philip into Antwerp in 1549; Bronzino and Giorgio Vasari invented the machines to celebrate the wedding of the Duke at Florence in 1565; while Archimboldo masterminded the festivities for the wedding in Vienna in 1572. Finally, Peter Paul Rubens designed all the fabulous arches in Antwerp in 1635 for the Archduke’s entry.