19 unnumbered etched plates (complete). 33 x 23 cm.
FIRST AND SOLE PRINTING.
Stab-stitched in early wrappers. Preserved in a modern folding case. A fine, unsophisticated set. Upper wrapper with creasing and small tears. First leaves with light soiling (more heavily at lower, blank right corner) and light foxing to the margins; lighter soiling and occ. mild stains to margins of the other plates. Plates 5 and 14 very slightly trimmed at right edge.
An exceedingly rare suite of etchings, a visual record of a lavish naval pageant on the Arno, the theme of which was the Argonauts' expedition to find the Golden Fleece. The pageant took place on 3 November 1608 to celebrate the marriage between Cosimo II de’ Medici (1590-1621), Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Maria Maddalena of Austria (1589-1631).
Actors, singers, and musicians performed their parts on ships and floating “stage" sets, designed with extraordinary inventiveness by the Medici court architect Giulio Parigi, the mannerist artist Jacopo Ligozzi, and the architect and painter Lodovico Cigoli. One vessel was transformed into a peacock, another into a reef, others into dragon-like creatures. Imaginative elements included a smoking Mount Etna, characters from the Labors of Hercules, clouds, Harpies, tigers, and other fantastical forms. Each ship was overseen by a deity (Cupid, Apollo, Mercury, Bacchus, Vulcan, Leda, etc.) and captained by various Argonauts or other mythological heroes, among them Jason, Atalanta, Hercules, and Castor and Pollux, and Orpheus. One of the Argonauts, the shape-shifter Periclymenus, was represented by a giant floating lobster, a craft that merited its own plate in the series of etchings. Also depicted are the flagship of the fleet from Colchis and a ship full of musicians, captained by the mortal-turned-sea god Glaucus and led by tritons. The first plate shows the sets used during the intermezzo, including two floats representing the rivers Arno and Ombrone; Thetys and her nymphs playing instruments and riding a shell, a giant turtle, and an equally massive dolphin. (For a full description of the ships, their crews, the sets, and the action, see Nagler, Theater Festivals of the Medici (1964), p. 112 ff.)
The etchings by Remigio Cantagallina (Borgo S. Sepolcro 1582/83 - Florence 1656) are based on the designs of Parigi (plates 1, 4-8, 10-19), Ligozzi (plates 2,3), and Cigoli (plate 9). Each plate has a descriptive caption for the image, including the names of the aristocrats who financed the vessels and who also performed the roles of the heroes (Cosimo played the role of Jason.) The caption also includes the title of the series (as above), the name of the artist responsible for the design (“I[nvenit]”), and Cantagallina’s name as engraver (“F[ecit]”). On plates 1 and 2, Cantagallina’s name is absent from the caption but his monogram RC is etched into the image. Some figures on the first plate are identified with letters (A, B, C, and D) which do not correspond to anything in the caption.
Cantagallina, who is believed to have taught the young Callot and Della Bella, achieved international fame through his etchings and drawings. In addition to these 19 plates, he produced etchings of seven scenes from another performance celebrating the Medici wedding, the opera “Il Giudizio di Paride”, performed on 15 October 1608.
Later in the century, the French artist Nicolas Bocquet made greatly-reduced copies of the images, in reverse, of which two editions (both rare) appeared at Paris. However, the original full-size plates by Cantagallina were never reprinted.
“This event was easily the most important of the wedding festivities and employed massive numbers of craftsmen, costumers, technicians and artists. Giulio Parigi, Jacopo Ligozzi and Ludovico Cigoli were the designers for the theatrical performance, of which a series of etchings of the ships also survives. The bridge of Santa Trinità was transformed into the city of Colchis, complete with crenellated castles and towers. In front of the bridge, an island in the middle of the river provided the setting for a small temple that housed the Golden Fleece. The event took place at night and was lit by torches that burned at both sides of the river.
“The richly appointed captain’s ship of the Colchis armada appeared first from the Carraia side and took his sixteen galleys on a tour of the theatre, “to survey its territory.” Then Jason’s magnificently carved and painted galley appeared from the Santa Trinità side, full of exquisite and exotic details, and led the twenty-six galleys of the Argonauts, each uniquely decorated, for an even more pompous tour of the river-theatre. The battle then began and Jason fought for the victorious prize of the Golden Fleece.
“If Camillio Rinuccini’s account of the event is to be believed, then it was “the most superb event of all.” It might possibly have been such a grand affair that no later event on the Arno ever tried to surpass it. Certainly the river was still used for theatrical events, boat races, but never did another Medici try to outdo the festivities for Cosimo II.”(Kramer, The Festive Conquest : Military Urbanism and Medici Court Celebrations, 1515-1637)
“On the evening of November 3, 1608, the climactic event of the wedding of Cosimo II and Maria Maddalena was conducted on the Arno River. A naumachia representing the battle for the Golden Fleece between the mythic hero Jason, leader of the Argonauts, and the inhabitants of the island of Colchis was staged between two of the city’s primary bridges, the Ponte Santa Trinità and the Ponte alla Carraia… [T]he so-called Argonautica was arguably the most spectacular maritime-themed performance ever staged in Florence…
“The elite audience viewed the lavish production from a specially constructed loggia on the Lungarno Guicciardini midway between the two bridges, while the Florentine citizenry jammed the windows of neighboring buildings and crowded onto the Ponte Santa Trinità and the grandstands erected on the banks of the Arno.
“For the Arno naumachia, the Argo, a lone ship in the mythic narrative, was transformed into a fleet of sixteen boats, commanded by mythological heroes such as Hercules, Agamemnon, and the Dioscuri, who in turn were guided by Olympian gods. Giulio Parigi, recently promoted to court architect after the death of Bernardo Buontalenti in June 1608, designed and executed the majority of the richly ornamented and fantastical ships and also appears to have assisted in the creation of the elaborate costumes worn by the participants. The construction of the ships was financed by a number of Tuscan aristocrats, and these same men also participated in the spectacle aboard various vessels. Nineteen etchings by Remigio Cantagallina (c. 1585–1656) completed following these designs survive, as do many preparatory drawings. The etchings document each of the sixteen ships comprising the Argonautic fleet as well as the lead ship of the army of Colchis…
“The ship of Hercules was the first of the Argonautic vessels to sail into view from the east, passing under the Ponte Santa Trinità. Commanded by Guidobaldo Brancadoro (d. 1625), a knight of the Order of Santo Stefano, the boat set the stage for the grand spectacle to come with a bow comprised of a multi-headed hydra that emitted flames and a carved image of a snarling Cerberus, the three-headed dog and guardian of the underworld, as its rudder. Hercules was an appropriate choice to lead off the fleet. This particular Argonaut not only possessed great civic importance for Renaissance Florentines who regarded the pagan hero as the legendary founder of their city, he also had been co-opted by the Medici as a prominent symbol of their power beginning in the fifteenth century.
“Cosimo II, splendidly dressed in gilded armor and a gold cloak, captained the lead ship, Jason’s Argo. Silvio Piccolomini (d. 1634), the Gran Contestabile of the Order of Santo Stefano, the highest “land” rank after Ferdinando, the grand master, served as his lieutenant. The vessel, constructed to resemble the bucintoro, the state galley of the Doges of Venice, must have been an awe inspiring sight with its lavish gilding and painted reliefs. A statue of Pallas Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, adorned the stern, her moveable hands and arms giving the appearance that she guided the ship. The goddess’ place of privilege was owed no doubt to her assistance in building the original Argo and clearly suggested her divine protection of the Medici prince and his fleet. Once the armadas were in position but prior to the start of the action, a few of the Argonauts on Jason’s ship sang selected verses from the poem written by Francesco Cini on which the Argonautica performance was based, copies of which had been distributed to the guests of honor.
“In his quest for the Golden Fleece, guarded on an artificial island in the middle of the Arno, Cosimo/Jason negotiated waters populated by nymphs and nereids on seashells, floating reefs laden with river gods, a giant turtle, a whale, and even an enormous lobster. As it approached the grand-ducal loggia, the lobster transformed into a barge on which sat the knight Periclymenus, who had been rewarded with the power to shape-shift by his grandfather Neptune. Throughout the performance, these sea deities serenaded the grand-ducal party and presented the bride with various gifts, including six golden apples from the Garden of Hesperides symbolizing the Medici’s distinctive coat of arms, the palle.
“Once on land Cosimo/Jason faced two fire-breathing bulls, a hissing dragon, and a band of warriors. While he pursued the fleece, the Argonauts and Colchian army engaged in a joust before returning to their respective ships. As it grew dark, torches were ignited on the ships and on the banks of the Arno. Since the vessels were constructed for show rather than combat, the majority of the action took place on the floating island and on the Ponte alla Carraia, which had been transformed into the city of Colchis for the spectacle. At the battle’s climax, the Argonauts rushed onto the bridge to attack the Colchian stronghold. Following the destruction of the enemy fortress, Cosimo delivered the fleece to his bride, Maria Maddalena.”(Poole, Christian Crusade as Spectacle: the Cavalieri di Santo Stefano and the Audiences for the Medici Weddings of 1589 and 1608).
Bartsch XX, p. 20-38, p. 62-63. Vinet 607. Ruggieri 760. Elvira Garbero Zorzi, Il luogo teatrale a Firenze, exhibition, 31 May -31 October 1975. Pietro Gori, Feste in Arno, l’Argonautica, Firenze 1902, p. 119. Bertelà-Tofani, Feste e apparati medicei da Cosimo I a Cosimo II, mostra di disegni e incisioni, Firenze 1969, pp. 102-107. Angelo Solerti, Musica, ballo, drammaturgia alla corte medicea dal 1600 al 1637, pp. 39-57. La scena del principe, mostra Firenze 1980, pp. 367, 399, 400. Benezit II, p. 296. I have located 4 North American copies: Getty, Redwood Library and Athenaeum, McNay Art Museum, Metropolitan Museum (unclear if this is a complete set.) Yale has a defective set (5 plates only), The Getty has second but defective set (9 plates only).