By Heather Smith

Perhaps the single most elusive element of historical reconstruction is sound. The scholar attempting to “unearth” the urban soundscape of the Italian Renaissance is confronted with several methodological challenges, many of which are the product of how various disciplines have evolved over time.[1] Music, in particular, presents a unique set of disciplinary challenges. While musical terminology and notation have been vital to recovering music which might otherwise be lost to history, these tools of analysis have not always been broadly accessible to other disciplines. Indeed, even within the field of musicology, there is much debate as to how to best interpret the musical notation of Renaissance composers, as Renaissance music predates codified understandings of harmonic principles.[2]

In his book, The Politicized Muse: Music for Medici Festivals 1512-1537, musicologist Anthony M. Cummings remarks that to ignore the performance contexts of Florentine Renaissance music is “to risk an incomplete understanding of the musical culture of early modern Florence”.[3] I posit that this statement rings true not only of “musical culture”, but of “culture” more broadly; understanding the place of music in the public life of Renaissance Florence can open new pathways of historical analysis.[4] While musicologists have explored the music of Renaissance Florence largely within the context of the development of musical forms and musical culture, I seek here instead to situate music in the context of broader social, cultural, and political history, integrating this analysis with the foundational works of historians such as Gene Brucker, Thomas Cohen, and Lauro Martines.[5] I am particularly inspired here by Lauro Martines’s methodology of reading Renaissance tales through a historical rather than a literary lens which was introduced in An Italian Renaissance Sextet: Six Tales in Historical Context.[6]

Musicologist Susan McClary recently spoke at the Renaissance Society of America’s annual conference of the need to bring musical notation into the discipline of history.[7] This call for cross-disciplinary collaboration is an exciting and a necessary step. The present study was created in this same spirit, though with an inverse method. This project explores the role that the digital humanities can play in broadening the accessibility of musical analysis to other academic disciplines. By integrating recorded music directly into the digital format, I aim to demonstrate that some features of Renaissance music, such as contrafactum (the setting of different texts to the same melodies, or melodic “borrowing” across texts), can be analyzed aurally. Moreover, I propose that the act of listening to music in this format facilitates a sensory experience of the music which provides an aural context for the written essay. While this method of analysis is an effective tool for certain musical features, there are also limits in terms of the level of musical detail which can be described. Thus, a combined framework incorporating new methods of interpreting musical notation alongside aural analysis would be ideal, and this is an exciting prospect to ponder for the future.

Recent scholarship has made monumental strides in exploring the sensory and spatial landscape of the Italian Renaissance. Building upon the foundational work of Edward Muir and Richard Trexler, a group of historians put forth an issue of I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance, in the fall of 2013, which combined sensory, spatial, and symbolic approaches to visualizing the Renaissance street.[8] Many of these contributors have since expanded their work to include elements such as digital mapping. The DECIMA project, led by Nicholas Terpstra, is one such example. DECIMA features an open-access digitized map of sixteenth-century Florence which is overlaid with census data from 1561. This enables academics and non-academics alike to explore the sensory and spatial culture of Renaissance Florence.[9]

Art historian Niall Atkinson, a DECIMA collaborator, has explored the soundscape of Renaissance Florence, examining how sounds such as cathedral bells permeated and structured daily life. Atkinson contends that sound was symbolic and inextricably linked to urban architecture, with citizens of the Renaissance city continually negotiating their social identity in an active dialogue with sound and space.[10] This project integrates this paradigm, focusing on how it can be applied to music.[11] Through this model, I explore the role of the public musical performance in four phases of Florentine history, from the late fifteenth-century carnivals of Lorenzo de’Medici, to the reformed carnivals of Girolamo Savonarola, through to the “return” of the Medici to Florence in 1512, and lastly to the 1539 marriage of Eleonora di Toledo and Cosimo I de’Medici. This analysis explores how music might define, and in some cases, delimit identity in various ways, such as gender dynamics and women’s agency, the fluidity of “sacred” and “secular” ideologies, political rhetoric, and the shifting of social alliances. Due to the scope of the present study, it is not possible to explore every facet of the Renaissance Florentine festival. However, this approach is a proposed starting point in the hopes of generating discussion, and perhaps motivating more scholarly examination surrounding the place of music in the sensory and spatial world of the Italian Renaissance.

The project is presented as both a printed and a digital WordPress essay.[12] While the textual analysis of lyrics is incorporated in both versions, the digital format also integrates audio recordings of musical examples. Where applicable, I present potential methods of analyzing the music aurally. In other cases, excerpts of music are included as a means of guiding the reader to “hear” the sounds of the festival while visualizing the musical performance. All musical examples were recorded by myself and a group of fellow music students at Wilfrid Laurier University, with the exception of the last musical example, Ingredere, which features an instrumental version of the song, to better focus on non-textual elements. The recordings are intentionally left unpolished in an effort to more closely emulate the environment of street performance, with any errors and improvised sections left in the final recordings. While it is obviously impossible to “replicate” the songs as they would have been performed on the streets of Renaissance Florence, their “imperfection” more closely mirrors the spirit of public performance than would a curated studio recording.[13] As a means of visualizing festivals and their movement through the urban landscape, maps of processions were created using the DECIMA digital mapping tool wherever source accounts of specific routes are available. Imagery such as photographs, woodcuts, and paintings is also included where relevant.

Before delving into the music of Lorenzo de’Medici, it is necessary first to give a brief overview of the musical and textual features of the carnival song genre, and of the closely-related, lauda. Carnival songs (Canti carnaschialeschi) were most commonly written for three to four voices with texts which rhymed in various formats. Additionally, texts were written in vernacular Italian, as opposed to Latin. As Patrick Macey has noted, carnival songs appear to have been a significant part of oral culture and were most often learned by ear as opposed to by written score.[14] Thus, the melodies tended to be memorable, repetitive, and easy to sing, with a relatively narrow vocal range. This was the ‘pop’ music of the Italian Renaissance. In terms of classifying carnival songs, Musicologist William Prizer has proposed a helpful distinction between the two types: mascherate (masking songs), and trionfo (triumphs). Mascherate were performed on foot or on horseback, and most often had lyrics with sexual themes and innuendos, while trionfi were performed on floats in elaborately staged processions, which often depicted scenes from Ancient Greek mythology.[15]

The majority of carnival song melodies are known through laude (“lauda” singular, “laude” plural). Laude were non-liturgical sacred songs, which, like the carnival songs, were written in vernacular Italian. They were performed in a variety of settings, from everyday lay worship practices, to executional processions, and were most often sung by the boys and men of various confraternities in Florence who were so closely associated to the singing of laude that they became known as laudesi companies.[16] As musicologist Patrick Macey has observed, many of these songs might be lost to history were it not for their careful transcription by individuals such as Dominican Friar Fra Serafino Razzi, who published an extensive anthology in 1563.[17] However, it is important to note the limitations of the written music. Although the transcriptions preserve the basic melodies and harmonies of the songs, one of the fundamental characteristics of the carnival song and the lauda is that they allowed for improvisation, with singers given considerable leeway in determining the shape and dynamics of the songs.[18] Many laude texts were published without music. These most often included the written instruction “cantasi come” (to be sung like).[19] This marking indicated the name of a well-known song—often a carnival song—that the lyrics of the laude were meant to be sung to. This meant that two songs of widely diverging lyrical contexts could likely have the same melody. Such was often the case with the songs of the Lorenzo de’ Medici.

The carnival songs of Lorenzo de’Medici (il Magnifico) (1449-1492) shed light upon the role of music in constructions of identity. This section examines one carnival song of each type, as well as one laude, parsing the place of the songs in the soundscape of Renaissance Florence. The music and performance contexts of the songs reveal much about gender dynamics and female agency, political rhetoric, and the fluidity of “sacred” and “secular” ideologies.

As extensive historiography has established, Lorenzo (il Magnifico) de’ Medici was the unofficial “leader” of the Florentine Republic, closely controlling financial interests and broadly patronizing the arts.[20] One form of this patronage was his fashioning of the pre-Lenten carnivals, which took place on the Shrove Tuesday of each year.[21] As historians have frequently lamented, the study of Laurentian carnivals has at times been complicated by the lack of surviving imagery and physical artifacts associated with these events.[22] While chronicles and songs survive, many of the carnival apparati, which included costumes, drawings, and paintings of events, have been lost, as these were most often constructed for a specific event and afterward left to decay or repurposed.[23]

In exploring connections of music and identity in Renaissance Florence, one finds an ally in nineteenth-century Swiss historian, Jacob Burckhardt, who speaks of the connections between networks of patronage and music in relation to the Laurentian festival. While Burckhardt, as well as other nineteenth- and early twentieth-century historians, mistakenly took the popularity of “pagan” carnival songs as an indication of growing secularism,[24]  he also correctly identifies the Franco-Flemish musical school as a major influence upon the development of music in Florence during the time of Lorenzo.[25] Lorenzo frequently employed Franco-Flemish composer, Heinrich Isaac (1450-1517) to compose the music for his carnival song texts. The Canzona de’ Confortini (Song of the Confortini) is one song produced by this partnership.[26]

Figure 1

Lorenzo de’Medici’s mascherate song Canzona de’ Confortini, sheds light upon dynamics of gender and women’s agency, as well as political rhetoric of the Florentine republic. A rare woodcut of a performance of the song survives in Bernardo Gambullari’s 1515 edition Canzone per andare in maschera fatte da piu persone.[27] In the woodcut, Lorenzo is seen with a group of three men and two younger boys, who perform the song as women observe from the windows above (See Figure 1). This illustration appears to provide evidence that Lorenzo himself was intimately involved not only with the composition of texts, but with the public performance of carnival songs. Granted, his presence in the illustration could also be the product of artistic license. While the precise street corner depicted in the woodcut is unclear, the depiction demonstrates that –whether behind walls or not—women were active participants in the soundscape of street songs. In the image, the “private” sphere of the home is very much an artificial barrier to women’s participation in social culture.

The paradox of women’s active participation in public culture from behind the barriers of built space is further reinforced by chronicle accounts which describe the mascherate performance. Antonio Francesco Grazzini (1503-1584)’s chronicle is particularly informative in this case. Grazzini describes the mascherate as being performed either on foot or on horseback by groups of young and old men.[28] If one visualizes the mechanics of singing while walking, or while riding on horseback over rough cobblestone, it seems likely that the sound would be rough, the voice jolted by movement, and in sum, the performance would be very unlike carefully curated studio recordings of Renaissance music. A segment of this song was recorded to contextualize the sounds of the performance.

Canzona de’ Confortini

An important key to the social and political functions of the carnival songs in the era of Republican Florence lies in Grazzini’s richly detailed description of the mascherate performance:

“And thus they [the singers] spread out and try, between the day and night, [to go through] almost the entire city. They are seen and heard by  everyone,  they  can  be  sent  wherever  one  wants  and  they  can  be  made  a spectacle for everyone, including even the young maidens in their houses, who, making for  themselves  a  screen  or  a  curtain,  can  see  and  hear  it  all  without  being  seen  by anyone. And when the celebration, which all the populace has enjoyed, is over, the words are read by everyone and at night they are sung everywhere and both and at night they are sung everywhere and both [the words and the music] are sent not only all about Florence and to all the cities of Italy, but also to Germany, Spain and France to relatives and friends.”[29]

There are several layers within this account to unpack here. Firstly, the division of women and men into “public” and “private” spheres is openly acknowledged as an artificial separation. Thus, Grazzini’s description corroborates the image of the Canzona de’ confortini woodcut. Young women could guard their virtue safely from behind window screens or curtains, and this was not only known to men who chronicled such events, but seems to have been expected behaviour. Thus, in this paradigm, women have the agency both to hear the carnival songs, and to retain their public reputations.

These dynamics of gender are particularly intriguing in light of the sexual themes of the songs. In considering the image of the women at their windows in the woodcut, the double entendre of the lyrics is particularly poignant. The song is narrated from the perspective of the men who specialize in making the doughnut-like pastries (confortini and berricuocoli) which are held up in the woodcut.[30] The men sing: “Berricuocoli, donne, e confortini! Se ne volete, I nostri son de’ fini.” (Berricuocoli, ladies, and confortini! If you want some, ours are among the finest).”[31] Thus, the surface layer of the lyrics mirrors the song’s performative contexts with the male narrators directly advertising the desserts to the women at their windows. However, as Michel Plaisance has noted, upon closer examination, the imagery in the song appears to have a double-meaning, with berricuocoli as a metaphor for phallus, and confortino as conforto, representing sodomitical activity.[32] This then introduces a whole new layer of interpretation. Are the women aware of this covert metaphorical language, or is the song a kind of “inside joke” or social code for the male performers and observers? These questions of intentionality can perhaps not be definitively answered. However, what is immediately clear are the semiotic layers of the song’s lyrics and performance context. The song encodes meaning at multiple levels lyrically. This multi-layered meaning is then expanded to the surrounding contexts of where the song was performed, who would have seen the performance, and what the song may or may not have meant to the listener.

Such explorations of music can reveal social dynamics which both enhance as well as reinforce historical knowledge of Renaissance Florence. This knowledge can then be integrated with other avenues of historical study. As Natalie Tomas observes in “Did Women Have a Space?” women at windows were considered “out in public.” Tomas traces this observation in several sources, from literature to real-world examples, with figures like Girolamo Savonarola expressing deep concern over women at their windows in Florence.[33] Thus, one can easily envision this paradigm of demurring female sexuality within the literary world of The Two Lovers where the omission of female speech spoke volumes, or within the real world of Giovanni and Lusanna where female eye-contact was—at least in theory—a brazen act. This can even be seen more broadly in the dropping of a handkerchief as the equivalent of giving the “green light” for gestures of courting in Renaissance Rome.[34] It is at these intersections of literature and history that the contexts of the public musical performance can further inform and reinforce understandings of gender roles in a world where a young maiden could be known by men to eavesdrop on the vulgar lyrics of the carnival song—and even to memorize and sing such songs—but she must not be seen to be doing so. Integrating this analysis as a means of informing and reinforcing social and cultural knowledge could do much to nuance understandings of women’s roles in public life.

In addition to gender dynamics and female agency, the performance contexts of the mascherate can further enhance understandings of the political rhetoric of the Florentine Republic. Grazzini’s description that the singers attempted to go “virtually everywhere” in Florence is an indicator of the political implications of the carnival song. The ambiguity of the words “Quasi tutta quanta la città” (nearly everywhere in the city) is revelatory.[35] This indicates that, in contrast to curated trionfi performances along processional routes, the performance of this type of song did not have a pre-planned route. Thus, much like the permanent everyday fixtures of the Renaissance Florentine soundscape, such as the ubiquitous cathedral bells, and the bells of the Signoria, the mascherate were, at least in theory, for everyone.

As Niall Atkinson has observed, the Florentine government enacted a “rhetoric of inclusivity” through the coordination of the soundscape.[36] Thus, this “inclusivity” can be viewed as somewhat paradoxical in that it was ultimately controlled through the hierarchy of government. The mascherate performance presents a similar paradox, which is perhaps even more subtle, in that the act of performing “nearly everywhere” in the city delivers a unified message by virtue of its randomness. In effect, the message is that every citizen has virtually inclusive access to the music of the carnival. Yet, paradoxically, this randomness is a proscribed and pre-organized feature of the performance. Thus, as with the bells, sound, in theory, signifies social inclusivity. However, in practice all are subject to one codified message which is orchestrated through carefully curated governance. More to the point, in the case of the Canzona de’ Confortini, the very composer of the text is the unofficial “leader” of Florence.

The trionfi songs of Lorenzo de’Medici reveal yet another dimension of identity negotiation. As the imagery depicted in trionfi lyrics most often revolved around humanistic ideas of Antiquity, the contrafactum (melodic borrowing) of the songs with Christian-themed laude reveals the comfortable co-existence of diverging ideologies across urban sound and space. Unlike the predominantly sexual themes of the mascherate, the trionfi were a more grandiose affair, with lyrics which often praised ancient Greek deities, and were rife with allegory.[37] Performers dressed in elaborate costumes and acted out these roles as “deities” while they rode in chariots along processional routes throughout the city. Thus, the allegorical representation of Antiquity occurred on several levels and was enacted through the texts of the trionfi, as well as the performance context of the triumphal procession. This constituted a metaphorical performance of Antiquity which reflects performative nature of fifteenth-century humanism.[38]

As art historian Cristelle Baskins has noted, the Italian Renaissance literary tradition of the trionfi dates back to Petrarch’s fourteenth-century poem of the same name which lauds the triumphs of love, chastity, death, fame, time, and eternity.[39] These themes are represented in iconographical depictions throughout the Italian Renaissance, as well as in later festival books.[40] The triumphal tradition continued in festivals throughout the seventeenth century, with allegorical representations of Antiquity depicted through re-enactments, costumes, and triumphal processions. The image in Figure 2 depicts the iconography of the triumph of love.

Figure 2 – Images via  Wikimedia Commons

Based on the descriptions of triumphal processions in sources such as Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, and the similarities of these descriptions to the iconographic tradition of the trionfi, it seems reasonable to posit that trionfi iconography could potentially provide insight into how the triumphal cars of the Florentine festival might have appeared.[41] This might help to fill in gaps of visual culture which are lacking due to the temporary nature of festival apparati.

Lorenzo de’Medici’s participation in the trionfi tradition included the production of allegorical carnival songs. Among these, his most well-known song is Quant’e bella giovanezza (How Beautiful Youth Can Be), also known as Bacchus and Ariadne. Lorenzo also wrote a lauda with the same melody entitled Quant’e grande la ballezza (How Great Your Beauty is, Virgin).[42] The contrast between “pagan” and “Christian” themes is pronounced between the two songs. Where Bacchus and Ariadne praises the god of wine and encourages drinking and debauchery during the carnival, the lauda praises the Virgin Mary for her chastity and exaggerated modesty. It is as if the carnival song is intended for Shrove Tuesday, and the lauda for the day after. The first verses of each song are included in Figures 3 and 4. Listen to each song and note how the music is identical. Also note how by slowing down the lauda and singing the song more softly, the mood of the song changes to reflect the more meditative lyrics. Similarly, singing the carnival song in a faster and more boisterous manner connotes the energetic atmosphere of the carnival.

Figures 3 and 4

In addition to melodic contrafactum (musical borrowing), the first stanzas of each song demonstrate the syntactic and syllabic connection between texts, which is constructed through the use of words which rhyme between versions.[43] Were the melodic borrowing merely a utilitarian device designed to more efficiently turn out greater numbers of songs, the phonetic and syntactic similarities between trionfi and laude would not be necessary, and the lauda could conceivably be set to any set of lyrics.

Quant’e bella giovanezza  (Carnival Song Excerpt)

Quant’e grande la ballezza  (Lauda Excerpt)

Instead, there appears to be a deliberate phonetic emulation between texts, with the words giovanezza (youth) and certezza (certain) adapted to bellezza (beauty) and dolcezza (sweetness), in the lauda. Additionally, the lyrics appear in the same syntactic position in corresponding phrases of each song (Note the bolded lyrics in Figures 3 and 4).[44] Thus in both songs, these phonetic connections occur at the same point in the music. While it is precarious to infer finite symbolic meanings from the lyrical borrowings, even if this were a device of practicality designed to make the songs memorable by drawing upon the familiarity of the carnival song, this nevertheless reinforces the connection between the songs and that the contrafactum was intentional. Thus, Christian and humanistic ideologies often resided in fluid connection through musical borrowing. Far from an atypical example, syntactic and syllabic rhyming between carnival songs and laude were a normative part of the cantasi come tradition.[45] While learning the songs for the recording above, many singers had difficulty not mixing the two sets of lyrics. It is conceivable to envision singers encountering this same challenge in Fifteenth-Century Florence.

The implications of carnival song/lauda contrafactum are vast in terms of how Renaissance Florentine citizens formed their identities, as the singing of the laude to carnival melodies implies a fluidity of cultural meanings. The boundaries of the secular and the sacred were flexible at best, if a song in praise of a sacrilegious Greek god of wine could so easily be repurposed as a dedication to the Virgin Mary. Moreover, the melodies of the laude would at times have occupied the same urban space as the carnival songs, and been heard by a broad audience. As mentioned, the laudesi companies sang in a vast array of locations throughout the city. This demonstrates that alternate sets of lyrics could be heard in the same space of public performance. Thus, this fluid contrafactum, much like the intermingling of the so-called “sacred” and “secular” bells in Renaissance Florence, can be viewed as part of a complex culture of ideas which were communicated through cacophonous and sonorous sound.

It is not possible in all cases to say for certain whether a carnival song or a lauda was composed first. As mentioned, from chronicle accounts, it is known that carnival songs became part of the oral culture of Renaissance Florence.[46] The cantasi come markings demonstrate that at the very least, carnival song melodies were well-known enough to be applied to other lyrics through a simple short-form. It is perhaps not surprising in a culture which reconciled Aristotle with Christianity, that “pagan” and “Christian” lyrics could so freely be transferred across melodies.[47] Thus, contrafactum demonstrates the fluidity of humanist and Christian ideologies in public culture, and indeed, that the two could quite happily co-exist.

While the historiographic perception that Renaissance humanism ushered in an era of modern secularism has largely been discredited, music can be used to visualize how the fluidity of humanist and Christian ideologies operated in practice, integrating and enhancing existing cultural and social historical knowledge to form a more fully fleshed out image of how cultural identity was negotiated through sound and space.[48] Looking at music in this way helps to visualize how this fluid ideology may have circulated in daily life—from the humming of melodies in the streets—to opulently staged performances. Thus, the music of Lorenzo de’Medici reveals many facets of Renaissance Florentine social, political, and cultural identity. While his carnivals would be idealized by many future generations of Medici, he was equally the inspiration for the harsh rhetoric of Dominican reformer Girolamo Savonarola.

The carnival reforms of Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498) once again illustrate connections of music and identity. This section explores the contrafactum of one Savonarolan carnival song with two laude, as well as the Contrasto song composed for his “Bonfire of the Vanities.” Savonarola’s borrowing of carnival song melodies reveals intriguing facets of social, cultural, and political continuity from the Laurentian era, particularly in light of the fact that they were officially banned.[49] Moreover, this brings to light the continued fluidity of “sacred” and “secular” ideologies within the soundscape of Renaissance Florence.

Savonarola’s unofficial “reign” in Florence, lasted from around 1492 to his eventual execution in 1498. As has been well-established, his sermons frequently spoke out against the perceived excesses of fifteenth-century Florence while promoting modesty and religious reform. His flamboyant delivery of such rhetoric appealed to many prominent humanists, as well as a wide audience of women.[50] Savonarola took particular issue with Lorenzo de’Medici, and claimed to have predicted his death, which he viewed as an omen of the misfortune which was to befall Florence.[51] Among his goals for reform, he sought to banish the excesses of carnival, subverting many of its traditions. In this vein, carnival songs were banned, and carnival in its old form was replaced with a Christian-themed carnival.[52] However, perhaps unintentionally, by commissioning laude texts which were set to familiar melodies, Savonarola preserved some of the “secular” sounds of the carnival.

The processional route for the Savonarola carnival of 1496 reveals facets of social continuity in urban space. As a starting point for visualizing the performance of the laude, this map of the procession serves as a useful tool.

Figure 5

This route, which began at Piazza San Marco and processed down to Borgo San Iacoppo, ending up at the Loggia dei Lanzi in Piazza della Signoria, is quite elaborate in scope. In fact, the tracking of this route required zooming out an additional level from all of the other routes mapped in the project. Thus, from the sheer vantage point of optics, the spectacle of this on-foot procession across the city would have been eye-catching, to say the least. For this procession, Savonarola enlisted a large group of male youths, or fanciulli, who were mainly from property-owning classes in Florence.[53] Chronicles report how these previously rambunctious youths now appeared pious and angelic as they sang laude while clasping olive branches.[54] It is interesting to note that Savonarola appears to mix the performance contexts of the mascherate and the trionfi in this paradigm by having the fanciulli sing the laude while they process by foot, melding the tradition of performing mascherate on foot to unplanned routes, with the planned triumphal procession. This would surely have been a spectacle, though of an entirely different sort than a triumphal procession of costumed, singing “deities”. Thus, in this framework, the public expectation of a procession on the day preceding lent is fulfilled. This demonstrates that there was spatial continuity between the old carnival and the Savonarolan procession. Thus, just as complex symbols were encoded within the performance contexts of the carnival, so too were these subverted by Savonarola in creative ways. The beauty of this form of subversion is that it tacitly acknowledges the popularity of old traditions. In addition to the elements of spatial continuity of the carnival, the “sounds” of carnival were also somewhat preserved. This continuity of sound can be heard through the laude which were sung by the fanciulli under the Loggia del Lanzi.

Figure 6 – 360 degree view of the Loggia dei Lanzi – Image via Wikimedia Commons

The borrowing of carnival songs for the pre-Lenten festival reveals social and cultural continuity in the urban soundscape of Renaissance Florence. Due to the extensive work of musicologist Patrick Macey on the use of carnival texts by Savonarola, it is possible to trace the texts of the laude to corresponding carnival song melodies. Macey astutely pinpoints four possible songs for the procession based on Parenti’s chronicle of youths shouting “Viva Cristo!” along the route.[55] Among these are the anonymous laude, Viva viva in Oratione (Long live, long live in prayer) and Viva, viva in nostro core, which both borrow the melody of the carnival song Viva, viva la ragione (Long Live, Long Live Reason).[56] Once again, listen to the three songs and note the melodic and harmonic borrowing. Note how the tempo (speed of the song), and dynamics (loudness and softness), can be used to communicate the meaning of the texts. The laude are both sung more softly and slowly, giving the song a comparatively sombre mood which fits with the penitential themes of the texts. As musicologists have noted, Renaissance singers would have been given some artistic license to improvise in this manner.[57]

Viva, viva la ragione (Carnival Song Excerpt)

Viva, viva in nostro core (Lauda 1 excerpt)

Viva viva in Oratione (Lauda 2 Excerpt)

Figures 7 and 8

Figure 9

Similar to the carnival song/laude contrafactum in Lorenzo de’Medici’s music, there is a syntactic and phonetic connection between the songs. The most obvious connection is that all three songs begin with the lyrics “viva, viva”. Beyond this  detail, the phonetic connection is particularly emphasized in the first two lines of Viva, Viva in oratione and Viva, viva la ragione through the rhyming of -ione endings (ragione with oratione, and champione with devotione) (See bolded words in figures 7 and 9)curated Quant’e bella giovanezza (How Beautiful Youth Can Be) and its corresponding lauda Quante grande la ballezza, where lyrics are rhymed throughout the verse, this rhyming is far less extensive. This may be because, unlike Lorenzo’s songs, the carnival song and the laude were likely written by different composers. Nevertheless, the rhyming scheme is identical within all three versions, which each follow a form of xx ababbccx (same letters indicate rhymed words), with the exception of the word “dannati” in Viva, Viva in oratione.[58] This demonstrates the connection between the texts.

While the syntactic and phonetic similarities are perhaps less pronounced between the three songs in comparison to Lorenzo’s songs, the lyrical themes of the laude are quite striking in their subversion of the carnival song. Where the carnival song praises rationality (ragione), great men, and of going to a pagan realm “We departed from this realm, and we have sought through many regions, beyond where Hercules placed his columns as a sign”, the laude speak pointedly of damnation and the need for moral cleansing. Thus, the fluidity of “sacred” and “secular” ideologies can once again be seen through the contrafactum between carnival songs and laude. However, the key difference in this case is that this contrafactum was occurring at a time when carnival songs had been removed from formal festivals.[59] Yet, Florentine citizens would have been used to this kind of musical borrowing. Thus, if one imagines how this musical borrowing might have operated in practice, it is very easy to envision informal gatherings where, having just heard the lauda, a group is then is reminded of the carnival song with the same melody. As witnessed through actually singing the songs, the mixing of lyrics is quite easily done. This may perhaps seem speculative, but it is relevant to consider the implausibility that carnival song lyrics, once banned, were never again sung in Savonarolan Florence. What then is to be made of the setting of a carnival song melody, not once, but twice, to two different texts? Would the songs be interpreted as a bold statement of a new regime, as Savonarola intended, or conversely, would people perhaps be drawn to the laude because they were already familiar with this genre, as well as these tunes? Given the widespread interest in lay devotion in pre-Savonarolan Florence, the latter seems more likely.

In his book Ficino, Pico, and Savonarola: The Evolution of Humanist Theology (1461/2-1498), Amos Edelheit posits that modern scholarship has not fully considered the deep interest that humanists, such as Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, had in theology. Edelheit suggests that it is in part this interest which drew humanists to Savonarola’s “brand” of, what Edelheit calls, his humanist theology.[60] This theoretical paradigm can also be viewed through the continuities in musical conventions from the Laurentian to the Savonarolan eras. The increased production and performance of laude appears to have satisfied the interest in lay religious devotional practices which were present in pre-Savonarolan Florence. Additionally, the setting of many laude to carnival song melodies through cantasi come indications preserved the familiarity of the sound of the carnival song, satisfying lay religiosity, as well as the excitement of carnival.

In addition to the “sound” of carnival, the excitement of carnival was arguably preserved through events like Savonarola’s “Bonfire of the Vanities”. The contrasto which was sung for the bonfire gives clues as to the social dynamics of the event. The bonfire took place on February 7, 1497, in the Piazza della Signoria, on the day which would have been reserved for the Pre-Lenten carnival under the Medici. “Pagan” artifacts of excess, such as wigs, costumes, paintings, and even musical instruments were collected and burned by Savonarola’s followers. [61] Thus, the pageantry of the trionfi procession appears to have been a particular target. Given this variety of materials, it is not difficult to imagine a considerable odour of smoke, burning hair, and burning paint materials mingling with the open air. In addition to the visual and olfactory dimensions of the event, the music reveals much about social and cultural dynamics of Savonarolan Florence.

The contrasto song features a dialogue between the character of “Carnival” and the citizens of Florence. Thus, Savonarola takes the mythological allegory of the trionfi carnival song and subverts this by creating an allegorical representation of Carnival. Unfortunately, the musical setting for the song does not appear to have survived, but the lyrics are preserved. The narrative of the song follows the character of Carnival as it (or he) is ultimately burned to death by the newfound faith of the city. Overt references to the “pagan” deities celebrated in carnival songs are prominently featured: “(Character of Florence): Where are Jove, Juno, and Mars, and beautiful Venus so adorned, the silly Bacchus with his horns, who usually assist you so much?” It is noteworthy that the text specifically references Bacchus, demonstrating the tacit acknowledgment of the popularity of Bacchic imagery at this time.[62] It is also conceivable, given Savonarola’s specific targeting of Lorenzo, that this is a tacit reference to Bacchus and Ariadne.

While the lyrics themselves present a layer of allegorical symbolism, there is yet another layer which is connected to the performance context, and to the performers, of the song. The text directly references the fanciulli, who are singing the song, as the final “nail in the coffin” of Carnival. “(Character of Carnival): Those fanciulli are the death of me; they have stolen away all my glory, with another sweet story, they have driven me out of their court; they don’t remember me anymore.”[63] Thus, once again, there is a complex encoding of symbols which extends from the allegorical lyrics referencing the old carnival traditions, to the allegorical “killing of carnival” by the singers of the song. In referencing the fanciulli directly, the youth of Florence are literally singing a message to themselves to “kill” carnival by eschewing its evils and adopting piety. This is then surrounded by the overarching spectacle of the bonfire. Thus, while the bonfire may signify on one level that a new social order is in place, on a more subliminal level it also appeals to the traditions it subverts, filling the streets with an event which is another kind of spectacle, and perhaps satisfying the excitement of carnival.

While the degree to which Savonarolan reforms were ultimately “successful” can perhaps not be quantified, through an analysis of the social and cultural continuities of music and its performance contexts in this era, it is possible to gain new insights and new methods of visualizing the sound and space of Savonarolan Florence, and how Florentine identity was, or was not, greatly affected during this time. This visualization gives a sense of the atmosphere which surrounded Savonarolan Florence, and the continuities which were enacted at a musical, social, and political level. Amidst the blazing fires, the elaborate processional routes, and the music on the streets, it appears that many, if not most, of the elements of the pre-Savonarolan carnival were preserved. There were fewer lyrics about pagan gods perhaps, but the symbolic pageantry that had gone hand-in-hand with those lyrics was largely preserved and even visible. Thus, once again, situating the music and its performance contexts within the soundscape of Renaissance Florence can facilitate new avenues of historical analysis, both reinforcing existing knowledge and exploring new pathways.

Perhaps the most compelling illustration of the continuities of Savonarolan reforms lies in the continuity of people whose lives spanned across the Medicean and Savonarolan eras. One significant exemplar is Jacopo Nardi, a staunch Savonarolan supporter who somehow became the lead organizer for the triumphal carnival of 1513 for the return of the Medici to Florence.[64] This section features two events of 1513: the February carnival, for which much textual and musical detail is available, and the triumphal processions for Leo X’s election in March 1513. In this era of Florentine history, the shifting of social and political alliances is prevalent. As well there are spatial and sonic indications of the shifting mentality toward the future duchy.

Negotiations of identity can once again be seen through the music for the carnival of February, 1513. In particular, the contexts of patronage and performance reveal assertions of political power, as well as shifting social and political alliances. Although Lorenzo and Giuliano de’Medici returned to Florence in 1512 after a roughly eighteen-year exile, celebratory festivities were put on hold until the carnival season of 1513.[65] Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists provides a particularly vivid window into the inner workings of patronage and artistic production that the event encompassed.

As Vasari’s account details, Lorenzo and Giuliano created two competing carnival companies, Diamante and Broncone. The creation of these carnival companies was an overt attempt to harken back to the perceived “Golden Age” of Lorenzo the Magnificent.[66] Among the members of the Broncone company was Jacopo Nardi, whose prominent contribution included a play and a trionfo song.[67]

As Vasari recounts, Jacopo Nardi was charged with commissioning six trionfi floats for the carnival procession. One such float featured his song Colui che dà le leggi all natura (He Who Gives the Laws to Nature), which details the return to the Age of Gold from the Age of Iron.[68] Once again, listen to the song while reading the lyrics and note the similarities in overall imagery and sound to the previous carnival song examples.  Like Lorenzo Il Magnifico’s Quant’e bella giovanezza, the song resides in the world of Ancient Greek mythology, with references to the arrival of the Golden Age scattered throughout.[69] The lyrical themes of the song reveal the pointed return to the triumphalism of the Laurentian age. Unlike the previous examples which pair carnival songs with laude, Nardi’s song was composed as a standalone carnival song. Thus, there is no contrafactum to demonstrate. However, the song is included here to aid in contextualizing the soundscape of the carnival. Additionally, the song does not appear to have previously been recorded; it is not included in the Naxos music database, nor does it appear to be found in any library databases searched, or online, though it is possible a recording exists in a closed archive.

Colui che dà le leggi all natura (Carnival Song excerpt)

Figure 10

The performance contexts of the song provide a rare snapshot into the social dynamics of carnival productions. Vasari’s account of the Life of Pontormo connects the performance of Colui che dà le leggi all natura, to the “gilded boy”, a child who was painted entirely in gold to personify the Age of Gold. Vasari gives a detailed account of the trionfo float which included a man clad in rusty iron who laid prostrate on his face, while the young boy in gold arose from an opening in the back of the armour to signify the rebirth of the golden age of Florence with the election of Pope Leo X.[70] The child, who was the son of a baker, died shortly after the carnival, most likely of the effects of the gilding and the chilly February weather.[71]

There is a small measure of historical justice in the fact that through his death, the boy provides a rare window into the social dynamics of the carnival, as performers are rarely mentioned in accounts.[72] Were it not for his death, the brief mention would have been unlikely to be made. Thus, through the account of the “gilded boy” it is possible to place the lowly son of a baker in the thick of the drama of carnival, acting out the all-important role of the Age of Gold. This demonstrates that trionfi performances did not merely include the socially elite. Just as Christian and humanist ideologies resided fluidly in music, so too did social classes intermingle in elaborate carnival productions. Thus, Nardi’s trionfi song and its performance contexts reveal much about the underlying social structures of carnival. While the story of the “gilded boy” is well-known in carnival historiography, analyzing the music and its performance contexts once again reveals social dynamics, as well as shifting social alliances, and networks of patronage, thereby integrating the soundscape of carnival with these elements.

If one takes Vasari’s explanation of the message of the song and its accompanying trionfo as fact, Nardi’s involvement not only as a coordinator of events, but as a composer of the song additionally reveals that, at the very least, political and social alliances during this time were fluid. The idea conveyed through his song that everything before the election of Pope Leo X was a “rusty Iron Age” would certainly seem to condemn the era of Savonarolan Florence. As Nicholas Scott Baker observes, Nardi’s Istorie is less an attempt to relay historical facts as it is an emotional history of his life.[73] Thus, of even greater significance than the details he recounts are those which are omitted. As Baker again notes, Nardi’s shift from avid Savonarola supporter to head coordinator of the Medicean carnival of 1513 is a subject which is conspicuously absent from his Istorie della città di Firenze.[74] That Nardi could at one time be adamantly opposed to the “pagan” corruption of the Medicean regime and a close supporter of Savonarola, and in 1513 coordinate a triumphal program which prominently displayed the very “vanities” which Savonarola targeted, is telling of the malleability of political and social alliances in Renaissance Florence at this time. This shifting of alliances is once again visible at a musical level, with the composition of a song with ostensibly “pagan” lyrics. Thus, Nardi’s involvement with the 1513 carnival, and his design of the festivities reveals connections of music and identity in Renaissance Florence.

Agenore Gelli, who published and glossed the 1858 edition of Nardi’s Istorie della città di Firenze, is careful to state of Nardi’s involvement in the 1513 carnival that, while Nardi wished to revive the excellent poetic forms of Lorenzo il Magnifico, he aimed to do so in a way which also honoured Savonarola’s reforms.[75] It is interesting to note this hindsight framing of Nardi’s motives, particularly in the nineteenth-century when Italian nationalism was in a state of accelerated development, and Italian Renaissance historiography had begun to reflect this shift.[76] Thus, the analysis of music and its performance contexts can also shed light upon historiographical biases.

Through the music of former Savonarola supporters like Nardi, it is possible to gauge the fluidity of social identity in new ways. While valuable analysis has been conducted on both Savonarola and on the carnival of 1513, music and its performance contexts provide a vehicle for bringing together historical continuities and changes over time.[77] Additionally, the various ways in which Laurentian imagery was revived can be viewed from new angles. This works in the reverse as well, raising questions once again about the level of continuity which existed in Savonarola’s reforms. If the same people who were his staunch supporters then propagated triumphalism upon the return of the Medici, it is possible that there was more continuity than has been supposed. The triumphal processions for the election of the first Medicean pope, Leo X, further demonstrate this continuity of triumphalism.

In addition to shifting social and political alliances, the triumphal processions to celebrate the election of Leo X reveal changing dynamics of political identity. The procession took place on three successive nights in March, 1513. On each night, a triumphal car was paraded from the Piazza San Marco down Via Larga to the Palazzo de’Medici and subsequently set alight with fireworks.[78] Unfortunately the trionfi songs which were composed for each procession have not been recovered. [79] The short processional route ran from the Medicean garden in Piazza San Marco to the Palazzo Medici. Musicologist Anthony M. Cummings notes that there were many properties along Via Larga which belonged to the Medici.[80] Thus, it is possible that the procession may have encountered not one, but several, Medici holdings along its short route.[81]

Figure 11

In contrast to the mascherate performance with its exaggeratedly public route, or even the elaborate fanciulli procession of Savonarola’s carnival, this route seems intentionally exclusive. This is emphasized all the more when sound is factored into this paradigm. It seems highly unlikely that the performance of music or the loud crackle of fireworks would not be heard beyond Via Larga. Thus, as with the illustration of the women at their windows in the mascherate performance context, sound once again permeates the artificial barrier of built space. However, in this case, “built space” has moved into the public realm, with the street a marker of “Medici” territory. This marking of territory is then reinforced through its repetition over three nights. Thus, the permeation of sound beyond the processional route declaims a barrier which aurally signifies to those “in” and those “out” where they stand socially and politically in relation to where they literally stand. In contrast to the republican government’s “rhetoric of inclusivity”, as defined by Niall Atkinson, these delineations of sound and space can be said to enact an inverse “rhetoric of exclusivity”.[82] This mentality of exclusivity continued to progress, leading the official beginnings of the Florentine duchy in 1532, and to the subsequent marriage of Cosimo I de’Medici to Eleonora di Toledo.

The music and performance contexts for Eleonora di Toledo’s entry into Florence shed light on how political and social identity were enacted through sound and space in this era. The elaborate wedding of Cosimo I de’Medici, the second official “duke” of Florence, and Eleonora di Toledo, a Spanish noblewoman, took place over twelve days from June 29-July 9, 1539. Due to the emergence of the formalized festival book around the 1520s, the event, including Eleonora’s processional route, is meticulously described, and the texts of the music are preserved.[83] This section will explore, in particular, the political rhetoric and social dynamics of the bridal processional entry of Eleonora into Florence. The festivities as a whole have been well-covered in Bonner Mitchell and Andrew Minor’s A Renaissance Entertainment: Festivities for the Marriage of Cosimo I, Duke of Florence, in 1539 based on Pier Franceso Giambullari’s account in his festival book edition.[84] However, digital mapping, in conjunction with the musical contexts, provide the opportunity to look at this event in new detail.

As Michel Plaisance has noted, musical performances in ducal Florence began to feature increasingly elaborate harmonies and lyrics with complex meanings. In contrast to the relatively accessible themes and melodies of the carnival songs and the laude, this increased complexity of lyrical themes often confused certain demographics of the audience, and would most likely require more specialized performers. [85]

Figure 12 – The bridal processional route of Elenora di Toledo

The lyrics of Ingredere, and its accompanying triumphal imagery provide a window into the fluidity of sacred and secular ideologies, as well as the political rhetoric of the early Florentine duchy. When Eleonora di Toledo entered the city of Florence at the age of seventeen for the official festivities to celebrate her marriage to Cosimo I de’Medici, she was greeted at Porta al Prato by a gigantic triumphal arch constructed for the occasion, atop which stood various statues, including the goddess Juno, who is representative of fecundity in Greek mythology (See processional route, Figure 12). Additionally, a box was built into the arch for a choir of twenty-four singers.[86] The motif of fertility was additionally filtered through the music composed for this occasion, which featured the lyrics: “Enter, Eleonora under the most favourable auspices of your city, and, fruitful in excellent offspring, may you produce descendants similar to your father and forebears abroad (See Figure 13).”

If this message still needed clarification, these lyrics were additionally engraved on the triumphal arch in rustic capitals. [87] Thus, the performance contexts of the song first and foremost enact a very public political rhetoric of aristocratic legitimization by the early Florentine duchy. If Pier Franceso Giambullari’s narration of the procession is to be deemed credible, this reception was greeted by “cheering crowds” who “lined the streets”.[88] While it is not possible to say for certain exactly who was in the crowd at Porto Prato, what is known are that there were several permanent religious orders in close proximity within the neighbourhood.

Figure 13

The digital mapping of the performance contexts of Ingredere, provides the opportunity to investigate the social dynamics of Elenora’s procession. As the census data of 1561 reveals, the neighbourhood of Porta al Prato was dominated by the monasteries of Santa Anna sul Prato, and Santa Maria sul Prato. Both fell within the parish district of Santa Lucia sul Prato (See Figure 14).

Figure 14

As pictured on the maps in figures 15 and 16, Porta al Prato, where the gigantic triumphal arch was erected, was within a very close radius to two monasteries. Thus, it is highly unlikely that the monks would not have heard the sounds of this grand reception. In effect, those inhabiting these religious houses could have gazed out their windows to see triumphal imagery, which included statues of the pagan deities. This brings to mind Thomas Cohen’s theoretical paradigm of the “pastness of the past”; it is difficult to conceive of a world where one could gaze out their window to see a triumphal arch with a choir of twenty-four singers.[89]

Figure 15

While it is not possible to know if the various members of these religious orders would have welcomed these sights and sounds, this scene demonstrates several social dimensions to the street procession. There is the melding of old “republican” triumphal traditions with the aristocratic concept of legitimization. This is enacted visually and aurally through an elaborate musical performance. The deliberate construction of gender roles is also pervasive in Eleonora’s designation as the producer of future heirs.

Figure 16

Beyond the political rhetoric and dynamics of this scene, there are layers of social dynamics in the immediate proximity of religious institutions to this triumphal display which constitutes a spatial representation of how the sacred and the secular intersected in the streets. Thus, once again, as has been a common thread throughout the various contexts explored, built space is in many cases an artificial barrier. As Niall Atkinson has skillfully pointed out, sound can provide cues as to how identity operated in practice.[90] Thus, there is the melding of old and new traditions and themes, complex political motivations, and social dynamics. Once again, music operates as a useful vehicle for exploring such avenues of social, cultural, and even political history, and the digital humanities additionally facilitate this investigation.

The music itself further exemplifies political dynamics, as well as the political objectives of Cosimo I. Unlike the vernacular Italian lyrics of the carnival song and the lauda, the song was written in Latin. Additionally, the harmonies were complex in comparison to the three- or four-part carnival songs, as the song was written in eight parts and composed for two choirs, each comprised of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voice types.[91] This musical example was selected because it is instrumental which helps to facilitate hearing the many parts, and appreciating the complexity. The song is too detailed to facilitate a comprehensive aural analysis. As mentioned, there are limits to the amount of detail that the method of aural analysis can encapsulate. However, what can be “heard” is the complexity of the music. Note how much more “crowded” the song sounds than the carnival songs and laude. The graphical notation used in this YouTube video is particularly helpful for sorting out the different “voices”, or parts.

It is striking to observe that while the language, form, and performance context of the song differs significantly from the mascherate or the trionfo carnival song context, there is continuity in the use of triumphal imagery. Thus, there is the melding of the trionfi tradition with the new complexities of the music, as well as political themes, which relate to aristocratic lineage. This juxtaposition of old and new continued throughout the Italian Renaissance, far beyond the temporal scope of the present study, in various forms such as madrigals which featured settings of Petrarch’s poetry to increasingly complex formal structures.[92] As with the trionfi tradition, Italian Renaissance history circles back to Francesco Petrarch.

This project has explored music’s place in the sensory and spatial world of Renaissance Florence through festivals in four phases of Florentine history. The music and performances for these events reveal various facets of social, cultural, and political identity. Among such connections are gender and female agency, the fluid co-existence the “sacred” and the “secular”, prospective political motives, and cultural, social, and political continuities, as well as changes, over time. While, as stated at the outset, this is in no way an exhaustive analysis, it is hoped that the methods used to explore these contexts have shed light on music’s role in the historical landscape of Renaissance Florence, as well as how digital humanities applications can help to bring together disciplines and facilitate new methods of inquiry.

It is to the credit of enterprising projects like DECIMA that the streets of Renaissance Florence are beginning to be visualized in new ways. This is an exciting time for cross-disciplinary collaboration. Similarly, it is because of the work of musicologists like Anthony M. Cummings, Patrick Macey, William Prizer, and Blake Wilson, which has dared to delve into the cultural contexts surrounding the music of Renaissance Florence, that explorations of this music are able to be informed by a wealth of foundational research. Sound in its ephemerality has been a notoriously difficult aspect of historical reconstruction. It is hoped that the methods presented here might contribute toward conceptualizing the place of music in the broader soundscape of Renaissance Florence, and situate music as a vital communicator and constructor of identity. While the deeply symbolic culture of Renaissance Florence is something which may never be fully grasped, if one imagines these songs in various timbres and tones mingling with the bells of Santa Maria del Fiore, or as the backdrop for an impromptu performance of poetry in Piazza San Martino, this may provide another path to truly “hearing” history.


[1]. Murray Schafer first coined the term ‘soundscape’, defining it as the acoustic sound environment of the world. See The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (Rochester: Destiny Books, 1977), 4-5.

[2]. Musicologists Robert Toft and Blake Wilson have argued that modern methods of harmonic notation are too narrow to encapsulate the nuances of musical performance in the Italian Renaissance. Toft has emphasized the importance of intabulations (notation commonly used during the Renaissance and Baroque eras of music), characterizing this debate in musicology as “controversial”. See Aural Images of Lost Traditions: Sharps and Flats in the Sixteenth Century (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992), 7, and Blake Wilson, Music and Merchants: The Laudesi Companies of Republican Florence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), vii.

[3].  Anthony M. Cummings, The Politicized Muse: Music for Medici Festivals 1512-1537 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 172.

[4]. Within the context of this project, “cultural history” refers to the cultural production, and those involved in the cultural production, of music, art, literature, and other creative endeavors, with networks of patronage intersecting between the social and the cultural.

[5]. Some of the many works of these historians include Gene A. Brucker’s Giovanni and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), Thomas V. Cohen’s Love and Death in Renaissance Italy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004), and Lauro Martines’s An Italian Renaissance Sextet: Six Tales in Historical Context (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004).

[6]. Lauro Martines, An Italian Renaissance Sextet (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 9.

[7]. McClary, Susan, “Audible Traces: What Music Gives Historians,” plenary Session presented at the annual meeting for the Renaissance Society of America, Chicago, Illinois, March 30-April 1, 2017.

[8]. See Richard Trexler’s Public Life in Renaissance Florence (New York: Academic Press Inc., 1980), and Edward Muir’s Ritual in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). Some articles featured in the I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance include “Owning the Corner: The ‘Powers’ of Florence and the Question of Agency,” by David Rosenthal, I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance 16, no. 2 (2013):181-196, “Creations and Re-Creations: Contexts for the Experience of the Renaissance Street,” by Nicholas Terpstra, 221-229, “Introduction: The Experience of the Street in Early Modern Italy,” by Georgia Clarke and Fabrizio Nevola, 47-55, and Niall Atkinson’s “The Republic of Sound: Listening to the Republic at the Florence of the Threshold of the Renaissance,”57-84.

[9]. DECIMA: Digitally-Encoded Census Information and Mapping Archive (University of Toronto, 2014),

[10]. Niall Atkinson, The Noisy Renaissance (Pennsylvania Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2016), 4-5.

[11]. Niall Atkinson places music in the urban soundscape. See The Noisy Renaissance (Pennsylvania Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2016), 14.

[12]. This project has benefited from much generous advice and collaboration. I would like to especially thank Dr. Chris Nighman for allowing me to pursue this project, and for his time and support, Dr. Kirsten Yri for attending my presentation of this project and offering helpful suggestions of musical terminology; thank you to Barry Torch for engaging in conversations about the project and allowing me to work through ideas; to the singers who brought the songs to life: Rachel Kalap, Dylann Miller, Grace Scheele, Sophie Vogan, River Guard, and Daniel Quintia, my sincere thanks for giving your time and creative energy during midterm and exam season. Many thanks as well to  Professor Alicia McKenzie for her advice with WordPress, and Professor Christine Kralik for her encouragement and advice on the iconography of Lent and carnival. Lastly, a special thanks to my mom, Mary Ann Smith, for patiently listening to me read passages aloud and offering helpful suggestions.

[13]. Nicholas Terpstra astutely notes how historical reconstructions which are overly polished and glossy might detract from their authenticity. See “Creations and Re-Creations: Contexts for the Experience of the Renaissance Street,” 225.

[14]. Patrick Macey, Bonfire Songs: Savonarola’s Musical Legacy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 50-51.

[15]. William F. Prizer, “Reading Carnival: The Creation of a Carnival Song,” Early Music History 23, (2004): 192.

[16]. Nicholas Terpstra, “Catechizing in Prison and on the Gallows in Renaissance Italy: The Politics of Comforting the Condemned,” in The Renaissance in the Streets, Schools, and Studies, eds. Konrad Eisenbichler and Nicholas Terpstra (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2008), 163.  For a focused study on laudesi companies, see Blake Wilson’s Music and Merchants: The Laudesi Companies of Republican Florence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

[17]. Patrick Macey, Bonfire Songs, 49.  

[18]. Musicologist Frank D’Accone speaks of the improvisatory tradition, and of Lorenzo de’Medici’s, as well as Marsilio Ficino’s, participation in musical improvisation. See Frank A. D’Accone, Music in Renaissance Florence: Studies and Documents (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2006), 272-273.

[19]. Patrick Macey, Bonfire Songs, 33.

[20]. Lauro Martines gives a particularly succinct and apt description of Lorenzo in Strong Words: Writing and Social Strain in the Italian Renaissance (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2001), 99-100.

[21]. Edward Muir lays out a helpful diagram of the ritual calendar in Ritual in Early Modern Europe, 59.

[22]. “Laurentian” is an adjectival way of referring to anything relating to Lorenzo de’Medici. This is also sometimes a way that Lorenzo’s followers are referred to in historical writings.

[23]. Bonner Mitchell, Italian Civic Pageantry in the High Renaissance: A Descriptive Bibliography of Triumphal Entries and Selected Other Festivals for State Occasions (Florence: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 1979), 6.

[24]. Hans Baron is perhaps the most notable example of the equation of “pagan” imagery with secularism in the twentieth century. See In Search of Florentine Civic Humanism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988).

[25]. Jacob, Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, trans. S.G.C. Middlemore. (New York: Random House, 2002), 208.

[26]. Macey, Bonfire Songs, 35.

[27]. Bernardo Giambullari, “Canzone per andare in maschera fatte da piu persone,” (Florence: 1515), 1, accessed March 2, 2017,

[28]. Antonio Grazzini, Tutti i trionfi, carri, mascherate o canti carnascialeschi andati per Firenze dal tempo del Magnifico Lorenzo de’ Medici fino all’ anno 1559: in questa seconda edizione corretti, con diversi MSS. collazionati, delle loro varie lezioni arricchiti, notabilmente accresciuti, e co’ ritratti di ciascun poeta adornate (Lucca: In Cosmopoli, 1559), x, accessed March 2, 2017.  

[29]. Translation by William Prizer in, “Reading Carnival: The Creation of a Carnival Song,” 188-189.

[30]. Both Patrick Macey and Anthony M. Cummings have included this woodcut in their works. Macey discusses the lyrics and musical contexts, while Cummings has connected the song to a description of the trionfo song type. Given the sexual themes of the song and its lack of triumphal imagery, as well as its performance on foot, it seems to better fit with the mascherate song type as defined by Prizer. Patrick Macey, Bonfire Songs, 41, and Anthony M. Cummings, The Meacenas and the Madrigalist: Patrons, Patronage, and the Origins of the Italian Madrigal (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2004), 132.

[31].  Ibid., 37.

[32]. Michel Plaisance, Florence in the Time of the Medici: Public Celebrations, Politics and Literature in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, edited and trans. Nicole Carew-Reid (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2008), 20.

[33]. Natalie Tomas, “Did Women Have a Space?” in Renaissance Florence: A Social History, eds. Roger J. Crum and John T. Paoletti (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 315.

[34].  I have in mind here the symbolic acts of Lucrece which communicate meaning, such as the way in which the “act” of sending letters connotes her desire for Eurialus, even if her letters contain rejections. “This letter, (though it seemed unto Eurialus very hard, and contrary to the woman’s words), yet did show him the ready way how to send his letters. See Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, The Two Lovers: The Goodly History of Lady Lucrece and Her Lover Eurialus, eds. Emily O’Brien and Kenneth R. Bartlett (Ottawa: Doverhouse Editions Inc., 1999), 133, Gene Brucker, Giovanni and Lusanna, 27, and Thomas Cohen, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy, 61.

[35]. Grazzini, Tutti i trionfi, x. 

[36]. Niall Atkinson, The Noisy Renaissance, 123-124.

[37]. Prizer, “Reading Carnival”, 192.

[38]. I originally proposed the term “performative” as a descriptor of Renaissance humanism in a paper entitled “Hegemonies of Humanism: Dichotomies of Medieval and Renaissance Historiography,” written in 2016. The paper contains the following definition: “The term ‘performative’ refers to dominant characteristics of Renaissance humanism. While some ad hoc quoting of ancient sources did occur, Renaissance humanist engagements with Antiquity appear to have predominantly been geared toward bolstering personal and civic identity through the emulation of ancient Roman and Greek culture, particularly in Renaissance Florence.” To the best of my knowledge, this term is my own creation.

[39]. Cristelle Baskins, The Triumph of Marriage (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 2008), 6.

[40]. Triumphal imagery in festival books will be discussed in the context of the marriage of Cosimo I de’Medici.

[41] . A particularly vivid description of triumphal apparati appears in “Life of Pontormo” in Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists. See The Lives of the Artists, translated by Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991) 394-413. Specific passages from this account are analyzed for the 1513 carnivals section.

[42]. This project benefitted greatly from Emily Haug’s transcription of carnival songs, which provided the singers with easily readable scores. In Musical Borrowing in Renaissance Florence: Carnival Songs and Contrafracture (Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 2014), 34-40.

[43]. Emily Haug also notes the rhyming connections between the texts, in Musical Borrowing in Renaissance Florence, 41. Haug remarks that the contrafactum of carnival songs and laude demonstrates very little in the way of separation between sacred and secular aspects of social behaviour in fifteenth-century Florence. I would expand this paradigm to the broader umbrella of ideology, to incorporate humanistic thought, as well as cultural significance. Musical Borrowing in Renaissance Florence, 98.

[44]. Translation adapted from Emily Haug’s version. Ibid., 34-36

[45]. Patrick Macey notes the prevalence of the cantasi come convention. See Patrick Macey, Bonfire Songs, 32.

[46]. Frank A. D’Accone, Music in Renaissance Florence, 272-273. 

[47]. Amos Edelheit observes how figures such as Giovanni Pico della Mirandola engaged in debates which fused Plato and Aristotle with Christianity. In Amos Edelheit, Ficino, Pico, and Savonarola: The Evolution of Humanist Theology (1461/2-1498) (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2008), 350.

[48]. Robert Black’s essay on humanist historiography is helpful for tracing lines of historical thought. See Robert Black “Humanism” in Renaissance Thought: A Reader, ed. Robert Black (London: Routledge, 2001), 69-70.

[49]. Michel Plaisance, Florence in the Time of the Medici, 58.

[50]. For continuities between social networks of Lorenzo de’Medici and Savanarola, see Stefano Dall’Aglio, Savonarola and Savonarolism, trans. John Gagné (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2010), 23. For Savanarola’s popularity with women, see Natalie Tomas, “Did Women Have a Space?” in Renaissance Florence: A Social History, eds. Roger J. Crum and John T Paoletti (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 320.

[51]. Girolamo Savonarola, “Sermon on the Renovation of the Church,” in The Catholic Reformation: Savonarola to Ignatius Loyola: Reform in the Church, edited and translated by John Olin (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 9.

[52]. Michel Plaisance, Florence in the Time of the Medici, 58

[53]. Lauro Martines, Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for the Soul of the Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 119.

[54]. Patrick Macey, Bonfire Songs, 62.

[55]. Ibid., 59.

[56]. Emily Haug, Borrowing in Renaissance Florence, 45-46.

[57].  Frank D’Accone, Music in Renaissance Florence, 272-273.

[58]. Patrick Macey, Bonfire Songs, 64.

[59].  Michel Plaisance, Florence in the Time of the Medici, 58

[60].  Amos Edelheit, Ficino, Pico, and Savonarola: The Evolution of Humanist Theology, 463.

[61].  Patrick Macey, Bonfire Songs, 59.

[62]. Ibid., 76.

[63]. Ibid.

[64]. Anthony M. Cummings, The Politicized Muse, 16.

[65]. Ibid., 11.

[66]. Ibid., 16.

[67]. Ibid.

[68]. Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, 402.

[69]. John Dillon, “Plato and the Golden Age,” Hermathena no. 51 (1992): 23. 

[70]. Ibid.

[71]. Anthony M. Cummings, Politicized Muse, 30.

[72]. As an example, as Frank D’Accone notes, the names of carnival song performers have still not been recovered, if they were recorded. Frank D’Accone, Music in Renaissance Florence, 261.

[73]. Nicholas Scott Baker, “The Remembrance of Politics Past: Memory and Melancholia in Jacopo Nardi’s Istorie della città di Firenze,” in After Civic Humanism: Learning and Politics in Renaissance Italy, eds. Nicholas Scott Baker and Brian Jeffrey Maxson (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2015), 263.

[74]. Ibid., 267. 

[75]. “Negli suoi canti carnascialeschi e’ si guardò da quella scorrettezza e licenza di linguaggio e d’ immagini che fu tanto in grado di Lorenzo il Magnifico e degli altri letterati, i quali pure intendendo a più nobili subbietti credevan bene ricrearsi con tali bazzecole giustamente riprovate dal Savonarola, siccome quelle che deturpavano la castità della poesia ed erano fomento alla corruzione de costume,” in Istorie della città di Firenze, ed. Agenore Gelli (Florence: Felice le Monnier, 1858), xviii.

[76]. James Hankins, “Renaissance Humanism and Historiography Today,” in Palgrave Advances in Renaissance Historiography, ed. Jonathan Woolfson (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 75.

[77]. Nicholas Scott Baker offers a recent analysis in “Medicean Metamorphoses: Carnival in Florence, 1513,” Renaissance Studies 25, no. 4 (2010): 491-510.

[78].  Anthony M. Cummings, The Politicized Muse, 42.

[79].  Ibid.

[80]. Ibid., 43.

[81]. Ibid.

[82]. Niall Atkinson, The Noisy Renaissance, 123-124.

[83]. Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly “The Early Modern Festival Book: Function and Form,” in Europa Triumphans: Court and Civic Festivals in Early Modern Europe, eds. Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly and Margaret Shewring (Aldershot and Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2004), 4.

[84]. Andrew C. Minor and Mitchell Bonner, A Renaissance Entertainment: Festivities for the Marriage of Cosimo I, Duke of Florence, in 1539 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1969), 3.

[85]. Michel Plaisance, Florence in the Time of the Medici, 21.

[86]. Eleonora was greeted with triumphal statues representing Victory, Fame, and the asteroid, Pallas. Pier Francesco Giambullari, “Apparato et feste nelle nozze dello illustrissimo signor duca di Firenze [et] della duchessa sua consorte, con le sue stanze, madriali, comedia, [et] intermedij, in quelle recitati,” Florence: Bendetto Giunta, 1539. Accessed February 25, 2017., 7. Processional route and lyrics excerpted from this account.    Janet Cox-Rearick, Bronzino’s Chapel of Eleonora in the Palazzo Vecchio (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 314.

[87].  Bonner Mitchell and Andrew C. Minor, A Renaissance Entertainment, 3.

[88]. Ibid.

[89]. Thomas V. Cohen, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy, 7.

[90]. Niall Atkinson, The Noisy Renaissance, 4-5.

[91]. Anthony M. Cummings, The Politicized Muse, 76-77.

[92]. Anthony M. Cummings, Meacenas and Madrigalist, 31.


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