Sometimes history is almost literally on parade. Events can be an occasion for festivities, and even stronger, an event can be organized as a feast. The signing of peace treaties is celebrated, as are the ascension to the thrones of monarchs and popes, their entries to cities, marriages and funerals. Historians search for eyewitness accounts to find out what actually happened, but there is attention, too, for the image rulers and other authorities wanted to convey, in particular views of law and order, justice and policies. The generic term for books published for such occasions is festival books. Their often lavish illustrations make them into a most interesting resource in the field of legal iconography. The very term festival books has somewhat misled me to view them only as a source for the history of art and culture. In this post I will look at some resources to approach festival books, and of course some of them are discussed in some detail. A number of festival books are no longer than a pamphlet, a genre which significance for legal history comes increasingly into view on my blog.
Representations of power
Earlier this year I could take over a copy of a study by Ria van Bragt, De Blijde Inkomst van de hertogen van Brabant Johanna en Wenceslas (3 januari 1356) [The Joyeuse Entrée of Joanna and Wenceslas as dukes of Brabant] (Louvain 1956; Standen en Landen/Anciens Pays et Assemblées d’États, 13). This study deals with a charter granted to the States of the duchy of Brabant on the occasion of the Joyeuse Entrée, a document containing promises about the way the duke and duchess would rule. The charter became an example for later similar charters elsewhere, for example the 1375 Landbrief consented by Arnold van Horne, bishop of Utrecht. Such documents are primary sources for the political and institutional history of the medieval Low Countries, but the actual surroundings of both occasions remain largely hidden. In this contribution I will look at printed sources, but I am sure archival records exist for medieval entries and accompanying festivities, too.
For years the main online resource for Early Modern festival books was the digital collection Renaissance Festival Books of the British Library, created in cooperation with the University of Warwick. The British Library digitized 253 books from their holdings with more than two thousand festival books. The concise introduction to the collection focuses on the mixture of art history and political history offered by festival books. Its reference section points to a number of major studies and to two bibliographies. On the opening page of the collection you will find a list of subjects which can be associated with this genre. In the links section nine other collections are mentioned, and we will see a number of them in this post. You can also read a number of articles written by experts in the field of festival books.
The Early Modern Festival Books Database has been created in 2011 at Oxford as an updated and expanded version of Festivals and Ceremonies. A Bibliography of Works Relating to Court, Civic and Religious Festivals in Europe 1500-1800, edited by Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly and Anne Simon (London 2000). The database rekindled my interest in festival books. The original bibliography described books in the collections of the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal – administrated by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) – and the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel. In the database a fifth collection has been added with books held by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich. The menu of the database provides five ways to search for these festival books, 3000 items in twelve languages. You can search directly for particular works, proceed from the artists or places involved, the kind of event or the kind of festival elements, and for participants. Thus it is possible to search for events with everything from cannonades, horse ballets and orations to jousts, tableaux or water processions. The participants are seen as persons involved as key figures with particular festivities. When digital versions of books exist their URL is indicated.
For me it is a fairly obvious matter to establish whether you can easily find all relevant digitized copies of a particular collection. However, the advanced search mode of the online bibliography with fourteen search fields does not contain a field for collection. The Victoria and Albert Museum has no longer information on its Piot Collection, neither does the website of the National Art Library housed in the V & A. The BnF offers a good introduction to the Collection Auiguste Rondel of the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal. The Herzog August Bibliothek has a subdomain for Festkultur Online with 314 digitized books which illustrations can be searched thematically with Iconclass. At the website of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek I could not find a page about its festival books.
It is only natural to pursue this path for the other relevant collections mentioned at Renaissance Festival Books, a list repeated at the website of the Society for European Festivals Research of the University of Warwick. The Getty Institute in Malibu, CA, has a good introduction on this subject, and this institution has created a subset in its digital collections for 1,300 digitized festival books. The New York Public Library has a very brief page about the Spencer Collection without any indication of the festival books. The Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden offer no information for our subject, but you can search for festival books in their digital collection. The 102 digitized festival books in the library of The Warburg Institute in London are at the current version of the website only hinted at under the header cultural history. However, they can be found as a preset selection in the digital collections of the Senate House Libraries of the University of London; entering “Warburg Institute digital copy Festivals” in the keyword field will do the trick.
The crowning of emporer Charles V in Bologna, 1530
By chance The Getty Institute shows at its page about festival books an image of the procession in Bologna in 1530 around the coronation of Charles V as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire from a printed scroll by Nicolaus Hogenberg, published between around 1535-1539. Print 27 of this lavishly illustrated scroll shows the pope and the emperor, both wearing their crowns and riding on horseback under a beautiful canopy. If you think I indulge here in art history I would like to remind you of the study on the thought of medieval Italian lawyers about the crowning of emperors by Marco Cavina, Imperator triplici corona coronatur. Studi sull’incoronazione imperiale nella scienza giuridica italiana fra Tre e Cinquecento (Milan 1991). The emperor’s coronation in Bologna in 1530 was the last of its kind, and it was certainly not in all aspects similar to other coronations, if only already for its very location. Surely visual display was an important element of Charles’ coronation. The pope and the emperor had stayed for months in Bologna, but only after prolonged consultations it was finally decided to celebrate the coronation in this city.
While searching for more collections of festival books and if possible also digital versions I found an online bibliography created at the McGill University, Montreal, Theatrical space as a model for architecture. Here the focus is on temporary buildings and their relation with theatre. A focus on a single town and one singular princely court can be found at the website Mantova Capitale Europea dello Spettacolo with an Italian and English interface. The database of the Archivio Herla contains some 12,000 documents documenting theatrical spectacles during the long reign of the Gonzaga family (1480-1630), to be seen in connection with three other database at the portal Banche dati Gonzaga. It is seducing to pursue a quest for more websites and resources, but let’s least not forget the German project Welt und Wissen auf der Bühne. Theatrum-Literature der Frühen Neuzeit, the subject of an earlier post here. In the Early Modern world there was definitely an awareness of the theatrical side of life and printed publications about many subjects. For any research in the field of Early Modern printed books the Heritage of the Printed Book Database of the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL) can help you very much. It will help you for example in checking for the presence and absence of relevant works in the Oxford festival books database. Apart from the digital collections with festival books mentioned at the project websites under discussion I can at least add one specific digital collection created at the Beinecke Library of Yale University, Celebrating Italian Festivals, with 231 works.
Which texts and prints around the coronation of emperor Charles V in 1530 figure in Early Modern Festival Books? The database mentions some twenty works, a number of them not dated. The Hogenberg scroll figures as no. 696, dated in 1532 with The Hague as printing location. The records points to a digital version of it in the British Library (signature 603.I.16), one of four copies in this library. This copy has not been colored, and like the copy at The Getty Institute it has no title page. For me it is interesting to notice also verses by the famous Neolatin poet Janus Secundus (1511-1536), a son of Nicolaus Everardi (around 1462-1532), president of the Hof van Holland (1516-1528) and the Grote Raad van Mechelen (Great Council of Malines) (1528-1532). I checked for this work also in the digital collection Renaissance Festival Books of the British Library, and a second copy in this library has been digitized, too (sign. 144.g.3 (1.)). The BL’s digital collection has 1529 as date of the coronation. Exceptionally the poem has been used as the identifying title, starting with the words Gratae et laboribus aequae posteritati. I was intrigued by the different versions of this remarkable print, and therefore it was only natural to check the catalogues of the other four libraries of the Oxford project. The Herzog August Bibliothek has a damaged copy (sign. 31.3.1 Geom. 2°). It is the only copy with this title in the HPB database. The Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC) has two entries for the same edition. The first entry mentions the copies of the BL, the second entry has been created for a copy in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce Prints b.31, both dated in 1532. The COPAC entry rightly shows a question mark behind this date. Henricus Hondius can only be associated with later editions.To cut a long story short, this print can also be found in the holdings of museums such as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Its catalogue contains references to the catalogues of historiated prints which document the various states and later use of the original plates. There are versions with and without blazons above the pageant. The lack of a title and the possibility to approach this work both as a book and as a print show nicely the difficulties you encounter when studying festival books. Book historians and art historians study them with their own approach and methods, and the way such prints are catalogued differs, too. Apart from the different versions you will have to be alert for individual copies and their aspects. In this case it should be no surprise that the Karlsruher Virtuelle Katalog can add only a few copies: Berlin, Staatliche Museen, Kupferstichkabinett and Pesaro, Biblioteca Oliveriana. When you check the library catalog for Pesaro and Urbino you will see it is an edition from 1582.
The Early Modern Festival Books bibliography and online database should be seen as one tool among others. I think I showed here one of the most remarkable but perhaps not totally representative examples which also show some of the problems you might encounter when dealing with festival books. The database helps you to compare many aspects of books concerning major events and festive occasions, but it is asking too much to view it as a catalogue of existing copies of a particular work, sometimes even for the participating libraries. As legal historians we might prefer to stick to sources concerning the legal side of events such as the double coronation of Charles V. Marco Cavina’s study is by all means most helpful to look at doctrinal matters concerning imperial coronations from the thirteenth century onwards. Exploring visual resources can remind us how very much alive people and surroundings of such events were. Such events made indeed a graphic impact.
In March 2020 the blog Franco-Fil published the post ‘Die Livres de fête aus der Sammlung Jacques Doucet in der Bibliothek des INHA (Mittwochstipp 123)’ on books held at the library of the Institut national d’histoire de l’art (INHA). Fanny Lambert and Julie Ramos created between 2009 and 2013 a catalogue of this festival books collection. In 2010 the library of the INHA organized an exhibition about festival books, the accompanying catalogue is available for downloading. This collection, searchable at the INHA’s Agora platform, does contain a copy of the work about the imperial entry in Bologna [INHA, Collections Jacques Doucet, Fol Est 364 (cote BINHA), II E 22 (numéro d’inventaire], cautiously dated only as a work from the sixteenth century.