The Saracen Joust in Piazza Navona (part 2)

Filippo Gagliardi e Andrea Sacchi, The Saracen Joust in Piazza Navona (1656-1659) Museo di Roma - Palazzo Braschi

Filippo Gagliardi e Andrea Sacchi,
The Saracen Joust in Piazza Navona (1656-1659)
Museo di Roma – Palazzo Braschi

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

In the first part of this article we analyzed the rules of the Saracen Joust in the seventeenth century. In this second part, we discover the complex dramaturgy of these types of equestrian festivals of the Baroque era.

Since the Renaissance, jousts and tournaments undertook eminently theatrical features. They were carried out following a literary plot, which included a prologue and an epilogue that constituted the spectacular and narrative frame in which the chivalrous trials took place. In the days preceding the contest, a knight, the so-called “Maintainer”, presented his cartel. This usually took place during a show in which sonnets were recited and music and dances were performed. Generally, the Maintainer impersonated a fairy-tale character of exotic origin. In the case of the joust in Piazza Navona, the role of the Maintainer was attributed to Marquis Cornelio Bentivoglio, who was considered a great expert in matters of chivalry and was the nephew of Cardinal Guido, who was the chronicler of the joust. Cardinal Bentivoglio’s very detailed account of the Joust and the beautiful drawings by Andrea Sacchi, which enrich the 1635 edition, offer us the opportunity to discover and “see” the complex and very interesting dramaturgy of this kind of equestrian festival in the Baroque era.

The first act was held on the Shrove Saturday of 1634, in the house of Orazio Magalotti, where the pick of the Roman nobility had gathered. During the evening, a chariot drawn by an eagle, appeared in the hall. It carried a singer impersonating Fame. After he had sung some verses, a herald entered the room and read the cartel of the Maintainer, which was written by the poet Fulvio Testi, who was also the author of the verses sung by the singer of Cardinal Barberini, Marc Antonio Pasqualini. The Maintainer presented himself as a mysterious Egyptian knight, Tiamo of Memphis, and challenged his opponents to prove him false with weapons of the assertion:

that secrecy in love is a superstitious abuse, who supposes or lack of merits of the Lady, or poverty of spirit in the Knight (BENTIVOGLIO, 1654, p. 201).

Andrea Sacchi, The Charito of Fame (impersonated by Marc’Antonio Pasqualini, singer in the service of Cardinal Barberini) in BENTIVOGLIO, 1635

Andrea Sacchi, The Chariot of Fame
(impersonated by Marc’Antonio Pasqualini, singer in the service of Cardinal Barberini)
in BENTIVOGLIO, 1635

The presentation of the mysterious character of the Maintainer, and the challenge he launched thus, represented the fabulous premise of the joust and placed it within a rich texture of symbolic cross-references to the aristocratic and courtly culture and the chivalric imagery.

In order to make the joust magnificent, twenty-four knights, divided into six different teams, were designated to participate. These knights were the so-called “adventurers,” that is, those who accepted the Maintainer’s challenge, and were ready to demonstrate with weapons in hand, that his statement was false. The first team to reply to the Maintainer’s challenge was the team of Cardinal Barberini. Again, participants impersonated fictional characters of exotic origin. In the scenic fiction they were, in fact, presented as four kings, who were held prisoners by the Romans: Aristobulus, King of Palestine; Tigranes, Infant of Armenia; Artaphernes Prince of Bithynia and Ossatre, ruler of Cappadocia. Their response was proclaimed on the occasion of another party, held at Falconieri’s palace a few days after the presentation of the cartel. During the evening, after attending a ballet, the guests moved into a room where the chairs had been arranged as in a theater. Then two actresses, dressed like Nymphs, appeared. They were there, together with some shepherds and a herald. This latter read the answer of the four knights, who said they were willing to demonstrate:

the need for secrecy in love more adequately with the spear than with the pen. (BENTIVOGLIO, 1654, page 206)

Andrea Sacchi, Ballet of Nymphs, and Shepherds in teh Falconieri Palace (during the evening in which the

Andrea Sacchi, Ballet of Nymphs and Shepherds in the Falconieri Palace
(during the evening in which the “adventurers” replied to the challenge of the Mainteiner)
in BENTIVOGLIO, 1635

In the following days, in Piazza Navona, the fence for the joust was prepared, surrounded by boxes and tiers of seats. It occupied about two-thirds of the square, which stands on the ruins of the Diocletian’s stadium and preserves, in part, its shape. The boxes and the stands for the public were placed at a certain height, so that horses and operating personnel could be placed below, without disturbing the audience. The box for the ladies was set up right across from the Saracen dummy, and was accessed directly from the Mellini Palace (later incorporated into the Pamphili Palace, which still overlooks the square). The box, covered and lavishly decorated with rich fabrics, was intended first and foremost for Anna Colonna, the wife of Taddeo Barberini, the brother of Cardinal Antonio Barberini, and for Costanza, who was the mother of the same Cardinal. Beside them sat, in an order of precedence established strictly according to their rank, the wife of the ambassador of Spain and the other ladies of the Roman nobility. The stage of the judges was, instead, placed on the opposite side of the fence, inside the competition area. The whole arena was surrounded by stands for the public. The race course was of an octagonal shape. The career (i.e. the track on which the horses run during a joust) consisted of a double fence, divided by the lists and was paved with bricks. Finally, to the right of the theater’s southern gateway, there was the Maintainer’s pavilion: a rich marquee, from where the challenger watched the competition, surrounded by his retinue.

Andrea Sacchi, Andrea Sacchi, View of Piazza Navona during the Joust, the 25 the february 1634 (on the right, marked with the letter N, the box of Donna Anna Colonna; on the left, marked by the letter M, the boc of the judges) in BENTIVOGLIO, 1635

Andrea Sacchi, Andrea Sacchi, View of Piazza Navona during the Joust, February 25, 1634
(on the right, marked with the letter N, the box of Donna Anna Colonna;
on the left, marked by the letter M, the box of the judges)
in BENTIVOGLIO, 1635

On the morning of Saturday, February 25, 1634 people began to crowd the boxes and the stands around the competition field. Many high-ranking personalities attended, leaning out of the windows of the buildings, while their servants and common people crowded on the roofs of the palaces. When the ladies and the judges took their places in their respective boxes, the festival began. The teams of knights, accompanied by their seconds and by a large cortege of pages, grooms and trumpeters, made their entry into the field, following a strict order of succession. The view was magnificent, considering that three hundred and sixty people, and a hundred and thirty eight horses, took part in the show.

The first to be received by the Master of the Field was the Maintainer. He was dressed in a sumptuous green silk costume, embroidered in gold and decorated with many pearls and precious stones. He had a giant feather headdress, with a sun and the motto “Non latet quod lucet” (“what shines is not hidden”) in the center. The horse’s harness was just as rich and exotic. He was preceded by a procession made up by four trumpeters, six horses led in hand, twenty-eight grooms on foot and four pages on horseback who were carrying baskets from which they distributed printed copies of the cartel and of various sonnets. They were followed by the seconds, Don Prospero Colonna and the Count of Castel Villano, and by a page who carried the spear and the shield of the Maintainer.

Andrea Sacchi, The entry into the field of the Maintainer in BENTIVOGLIO, 1635

Andrea Sacchi, The entry into the field of the Maintainer
in BENTIVOGLIO, 1635

The magnificence of the clothes and of the rich harnesses of the horses had a great importance in this kind of show. This is demonstrated by the fact that, at least since the Renaissance, the very detailed description of the quality of the fabrics, the style of the clothes of the riders, and their retinue, took up pages and pages in the chronicles of jousts and tournaments, even being the largest part of the chronicles. These parades, in fact, represented an opportunity for the public expression of the power of the aristocracy. The noble wanted to dazzle the people with showy and flashy clothes, made with rare and precious fabrics. On the other hand, the showing off of wealth by the nobles was not directed only to common people, but also to their peers, in a competition for which they were ready to spend huge sums, in some cases up to getting into debt and ruining their finances. But it was not always gold that glittered. In some cases, the showy trappings of pages and footmen were made, as real theatrical costumes, with the poorest materials, such as papier mâché and plaster.

Andrea Sacchi, The team of the Kings prisoners of the Romans (The parade was open by the dwarf in the service of Cardinal Barberini) in BENTIVOGLIO, 1635

Andrea Sacchi, The team of the Kings prisoners of the Romans
(the parade was open by the dwarf in the service of Cardinal Barberini)
in BENTIVOGLIO, 1635

The first team of adventurers to enter the field, after the Maintainer was, of course, the team of Cardinal Barberini. The parade was opened by the dwarf of the Cardinal who rode a small bull, covered with gaudy trappings. At that time, almost all nobles kept dwarves at their service, as jesters, or just for company. He was followed by a cortege similar to that of the Maintainer, made of seconds, trumpeters, pages, grooms and spare horses. Again, the knights had extravagant dresses and tiaras with feathers on their heads and were holding a dart in their right hand. It should be noted that one of the knights of this team was Domenico Cinquini, one of the most famous Roman horseman of the time. In the second edition of his book La perfettione del cavallo (The perfection of the horse, 1669), Francesco Liberati wrote about him:

[he was] of such great value and experience in the Chivalric things that without any exaggeration it can be said that in our century he was the Apollo of this noble profession; since there was not any wild and untamed horse that under him did not acquired a wonderful gentleness and obedience; nor it was ever found such a skilled professor of this art, who did not voluntarily surrender and admire the lightness and the gracefulness with which he held himself on horseback, so that I sometimes saw him riding with such steadiness that if any subtle thing would have been placed between the stirrup and the foot, or between the boot and the saddle no one would have seen it move at all.  (LIBERATI, 1669, p. 78)

Andrea Sacchi, The teamo of the Indignant knights in BENTIVOGLIO 1634

Andrea Sacchi, The team of the Indignant knights
in BENTIVOGLIO 1634

After entering the field and parading before the audience, the knights of the first team faced the Saracen. Then the following team entered and so on. All knights were impersonating fabulous characters. There was the team of the Roman knights, that of the Provençal, the team of the so-called Pertinacious, the one entitled to the Goddess Isis and that of the Indignant knights. Each of them “paced the field”, ie paraded before the boxes and the stands, while the pages distributed sonnets and printed copies of the knights’ replies to the Maintainer’s challenge. Then they took the place of the team that preceded them and the riders competed in the joust, charging the dummy with their spear. In this way the teams were continuously moving,

so that the Theater could easily gaze fondly, from all sides, the dresses and liveries of each Squadron.  (BENTIVOGLIO, 1635, p. 115)

Andrea Sacchi, The team of the Provençal knights (At the end of the joust this team won the deciding-game for Masgalano prize) in Bentivoglio, 1635

Andrea Sacchi, The team of the Provençal knights
(At the end of the joust this team won
the deciding-game for the “Masgalano” prize)
in Bentivoglio, 1635

When all the riders had run against the Saracen, the Master of the Field ordered them to made another parade before the audience. Finally, the blare of trumpets announced the trail of “the spear of the Lady”, a sort of special prize, which consisted of a jewel studded with diamonds, placed in the middle of a bunch of red roses, offered by Anna Colonna. During this trial, twelve knights hit the dummy in the front and then resulted at an equal score. The judges therefore decided to draw lots for the winner. After the end of the trails, the knights kept in showing off, demonstrating their skill before the audience. In particular, the Maintainer charged the dummy holding a spear in each arm and driving the horse with the reins between his teeth, finally hitting the target with both spears. Then he ordered to tie together three spears and charged and hit the dummy with them, nearly cutting off his head. His superiority over his rivals in the chivalric trials was overwhelming, so much so that he won sixteen awards. These were jewels that the knight gave as a present to the most prominent ladies, as a sign of gallantry.

Andrea Sacchi, The team of the knights of the the Goddess Isis in BENTIVOGLIO 1634

Andrea Sacchi, The team of the knights of the the Goddess Isis
in BENTIVOGLIO 1634

In addition to the prizes awarded for the chivalrous trials, each joust also included a prize to the squadron that was judged the more elegant and with better bearing. It was the so-called Masgalano (from the Spanish “mas galante”, i.e. the more gallant). This prize still survives today in the Palio of Siena, in which it is awarded to the contrada whose “comparsa” (i.e. team) is considered the most “elegant”, during the parade that precedes the race. In the Joust of Piazza Navona the prize, offered by Cardinal Barberini, consisted of a magnificent silver sword and a beaver hat, gloves and other ornaments. The judges were the Ladies, and they decreed an ex-aequo among the knights of the First Squadron (the one of the four Kings) and that of the Provençal knights. It was decided to elect a champion for each team, who had to run three times with his spears against the Saracen, to determine the verdict. The winner was Ambrogio count of Carpegna, of the Provençal team.

Andrea Sacchi, The ship of Bacchus (Along the broadside are the emblems of those who at the time were the two most powerful families of Rome: the bees for the Barberini and the column for the Colonna) in BENTIVOGLIO, 1635

Andrea Sacchi, The ship of Bacchus
(along the broadside are the emblems of those who at the time were the two most powerful families of Rome: the bees of the Barberini and the column of the Colonna)
in BENTIVOGLIO, 1635

The entire show lasted over five hours. When it was beginning to get dark, some cannon shots were heard. Then two chariots entered inside the fence: one shaped like a ship, the second in the form of a boat. The first was richly decorated with the emblems of the Barberini and the Colonna (at the time, the two main noble families in Rome). The ship was armed with cannons and fireworks and carried actors impersonating the god Bacchus, accompanied by the Laughter, bacchantes, satyrs, shepherds and gunners firing blanks with cannons. The boat was, instead, carrying several musicians, who held a concert under the box of Anna Colonna and of the Marchioness of Castel Rodrigo, wife of the Spanish ambassador. The spectacle of the Ship of Bacchus excited such wonder that the people demanded that it was exposed, so that even those who had not attended the joust could come to admire it. And so it was done, while the ladies and the knights spent the evening at the reception hosted by Cardinal Barberini, in the Palazzo Mellini, which overlooked the square.

Andrea Sacchi, The musicians boat (After covering the field, they held a concert under the Ladies box) in BENTIVOGLIO ,1635

Andrea Sacchi, The musicians boat
(after covering the field, they held a concert under the Ladies box)
in BENTIVOGLIO ,1635

BIBLIOGRAPHY

ADEMOLLO, Alessandro, Il Carnevale del 1634 in Piazza Navona, in Il carnevale di Roma nei secoli XVII e XVIII : appunti storici con note e documenti, Roma, A. Sommaruga, 1883, pp. 23-58.

BENTIVOGLIO, Guido, Festa fatta in Roma alli 25. di febraio MDCXXXIV, in Roma, data in luce da Vitale Mascardi, 1635.

LIBERATI, Francesco, La Perfettione del cavallo, Roma, per Michele Hercole, 1639 (2° ed. Roma, 1669).

LINK:

Hati Trust Digital Library

The Saracen Joust in Piazza Navona (part 1)

Giovanni Ferri, Saracen joust in Piazza Navona in the 25th of February 1634 (Seventeenth century) Museo di Roma - Palazzo Braschi

Giovanni Ferri, Saracen joust in Piazza Navona in the 25th of February 1634 (Seventeenth century)
Museo di Roma – Palazzo Braschi

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

With the typical unscrupulousness of the Popes of the time, in 1628, Urban VIII ordained his nephew as cardinal when he was just twenty. In a short time, Antonio Barberini gained a prominent position in the Roman Curia, where his brother, Francesco, and his uncle, Antonio the elder, also sat in the college of cardinals. To celebrate his role and the power of his family, which was enormously increased because of the protection of the Pope, at the beginning of 1634, Antonio decided to finance, with the fabulous sum of 60,000 scudi, a large Saracen Joust in honor of Prince Alexander Carl Wasa of Poland, who at that time was on a visit to Rome. His intention was the joust had to be the culminating event of that year’s Carnival and it would then remain in the memory for posterity. Piazza Navona was chosen as the scene of the joust. For several centuries, in fact, the Carnival jousts and other chivalric trails were held in that square. The literary conception of the joust was entrusted to the poet Fulvio Testi, who was resident (akind of diplomat) of the Duke of Modena, while the staging was commissioned to architect Francesco Guitti, from Ferrara.

We have several testimonies of this formidable joust. Beginning with two beautiful paintings, preserved in the Museo di Roma at Palazzo Braschi, one by Filippo Gagliardi and Andrea Sacchi, which offers an overview of the square, and the other attributed to Giovanni Ferri, giving a closer view. We also have a detailed account of the event by Cardinal Guido Bentivoglio, published in 1635, and enriched by splendid drawings by Andrea Sacchi.

Carlo Maratta, Portrait of cardinal Antonio Barberini (1670) Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica di Palazzo Barberini - Roma

Carlo Maratta, Portrait of
Cardinal Antonio Barberini (1670)
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica
di Palazzo Barberini – Roma

The Saracen Joust is a special type of chivalric trial that consists of charging, at the canter, and hitting, with a spear, a rotating dummy that is placed on top of a pole. Usually the dummy has his right arm armed with a mace, or a lash, and has a shield on his left. According to some, this exercise would be based on that of the palus (pole, in Latin), described in Vegetius’ Epitoma rei militaris (IV-V century A.D.), which was used to train Roman soldiers to strike with the sword. The Saracen Joust was also called Quintain and included the variant in which, instead of hitting the dummy, the rider had to insert the tip of his spear in a ring suspended from the dummy’s arm. It is called “Saracen” because the rotating dummy typically had the features and clothing of a Moor, i.e. of a Muslim, like the pirates who, having come from North Africa, raided tat the time he Italian coasts.

On the contrary to what we see today, in many re-enactments of this type of Joust (for example in Arezzo, or in Ascoli Piceno), originally the rider did not have to hit the shield of the dummy, but its head. In fact, if the rider hit the shield he was penalized. This is explicitly explained in the “chapters to be observed in the Feast,” that is to say the rules of the joust held in Piazza Navona in 1634.

The one who will hit from the eyebrows up, and in the sign adjusted for this purpose, breaking [the spear] will gain three strokes. From the Eyebrows to the Mouth, he will gain two, and one from the Mouth to the Chin, according to the distinction made apparent by the lines. Without breaking [the spear], it will be deemed he had not hit, nor made the stroke. Breaking from the Chin and the Throat down he does not gain any stroke. If the ferrule falls, without breaking, and without detaching wood from wood, it will not be deemed broken, and if the Spear touches one of the lines it will be granted the next lowest stroke. […]
Who will hit the shield, or other place in the body of the Saracen, breaking or not, will lose a stroke among those already gained or between those he still has to gain.
The one who during the Charge will lose the Spear, the Hat, the Sword, the Bridle, or the Stirrup will lose the Charge. (BENTIVOGLIO, 1635, p. 20)

Andrea Sacchi, The team of the Roman knights in BENTIVOGLIO 1634

Andrea Sacchi, The team of the Roman knights
in BENTIVOGLIO 1634

The score was then awarded as follows: three points (“strokes”) to the rider hitting the dummy on the front (“from the eyebrows up”), where a specific target was placed (“the sign adjusted for this purpose”). Two points were awarded if the rider hit the face (“from the Eyebrows to the Mouth”), one if he hit the chin (“from the Mouth to the Chin”). These areas were delimited by lines drawn on the dummy’s head (“the distinction made apparent by the lines”). To be valid, the blow had to produce the rupture of the tip of the spear, which for this purpose was made of a softer wood than the one used for war spears. In the event that the blow just produced the detachment of the tip of the spear (“ferrule”), but without breaking the wooden pole, the blow was considered invalid, while if the spear had hit one of the lines that divided the target, i.e. the head of the Saracen, the rider was awarded with the score associated to the lower part of the target, that is to say the lowest. If the rider hit the shield, or another part of the dummy’s body, whether breaking the spear, or not, he was still penalized by one point. Finally, if, during the charge the rider lost his spear, sword, hat, stirrup or bridle, he lost the “charge”, that is to say that he received no points.

Crispin de Passe the young, Quintain, in PLUVINEL, 1625, Plat. 47

Crispin de Passe the young, Quintain, in PLUVINEL, 1625, Plat. 47

We find these same rules in the slightly foregoing French treatise by Antoine de Pluvinel L’instruction du Roi en l’exercice de monter à cheval (1625), proving that not only they were already in use before, but also that they were wide spread also outside Italy. The treatise is written in the form of a dialogue between the author and the King of France, Louis XIII, who was his pupil in the knightly disciplines:

SIRE, sometimes the riders get tired of doing always the same thing and they find too difficult and sometimes painful to often repeat the exercise of confronting each other entering the lists; instead they enjoy the ring joust, of which they rarely get tired. But considering this exercise not martial enough, the more inventive among them found an intermediate exercise, which consists in placing the figure of a man in the same position and at the same height as an opponent who is facing them at the lists. Fully armed, they break their spears against this silhouette, which they also call Quintain, attacking it as they would do with a real man; thus performing an exercise that is halfway between the fury of facing each other at the lists and the gentleness of the ring joust: the point at which to break [the spear] is in the head, the best blows are the ones above the eyes,  in the forehead, the less good are those who hit below. And if some evil man-at-arms hits the shield that the Quintain has on the left arm, this last turns on a pivot, and it is likely to hit the one who uses his spear so badly, who thus loses his charge because of his bad grace. (PLUVINEL, 1625, pp. 138-139 [1627, pp. 177-178).

The author’s words are made explicit by one of the wonderful plates by Crispin de Passe the young, which decorates Pluvinel’s book and make it one of the most beautiful treatises about horsemanship ever. In plate number 47 we see the king in the act of hitting the Quintain (which looks like a Roman emperor, armed with sword and shield, and with his head crowned with laurel). The sovereign hits a target at the center of the dummy’s forehead. In the background, some courtiers and the author mounted on horseback watch with a pleased expression, while a page follows the rider closely, carrying a new spear.

Go to part 2… ->

Andrea Sacchi, The team of the Pertinacious knights in BENTIVOGLIO 1634

Andrea Sacchi, The team of the Pertinacious knights
in BENTIVOGLIO 1634

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

BENTIVOGLIO, Guido, Festa fatta in Roma alli 25. di febraio MDCXXXIV, in Roma, data in luce da Vitale Mascardi, 1635.

PLUVINEL, Antoine de, L’instruction du Roy en l ’exercice de monter à cheval, desseignées & gravées par Crispian de Pas le jeune, Paris, M. Nivelle, 1625.

LINKS:

Museo di Roma – Palazzo Braschi: http://www.museodiroma.it/

Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica – Palazzo Barberini:
http://galleriabarberini.beniculturali.it/

The cheerfulness of the horse. 
Giovanni de Gamboa, a pupil of Pignatelli

Horse attributed to Francesco Allegrini - 1624-63 © Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York

Horse attributed to Francesco Allegrini, 1624-63
© Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

“The cheerfulness of the horse is the most beautiful part of him, and the most valuable.” I think this sentence is enough to guess the great interest, but also the inherent difficulty of a book printed in Palermo in 1606, entitled La raggione [sic] dell’arte di cavalcare (The Reason of the Art of Riding, Palermo, Gio. Antonio de Franceschi). In fact, the sentence expresses a sensitivity towards the animal that many incorrectly consider typical only of modern times. However, it is written with a rough style, which makes the reading of the book quite difficult for the reader of today. But, for certain, it worth the effort because the author, Giovanni de Gamboa, was a pupil of Giovan Battista Pignatelli, the celebrated Neapolitan maestro, considered one of the most prominent figures of the Italian Renaissance equestrian tradition. The book is certainly a minor work compared to those of the better known foreign students of Pignatelli: Salomon de la Broue, who was the first to publish an equestrian treatise in French, and Antoine de Pluvinel, master of riding of the king of France, Louis XIII, and author of the splendid L’instruction du roi en l’exercice de monter à cheval (1625). Nevertheless, Gamboa’s book gives voice, albeit with a hardly intelligible language, to a refined conception of the equestrian art, which has significant similarities to that of his more titled and famous foreign colleagues and sinks its roots in the teachings of Pignatelli.

La Raggione dell'arte del caualcare, composta per lo sig. D. Giouanni de Gamboa, Cavaliero Napoltano - 1606 Frontispiece

La Raggione dell’arte del caualcare, composta per lo sig. D. Giouanni de Gamboa, Cavaliero Napoltano, 1606
Frontispiece

Like his master, Giovanni de Gamboa was also from Naples. In the initial dedication of his book to the Sicilian Senate, Gamboa says he formed a company of light cavalry in the service of the city of Palermo and that he maintained it at his own expense for a year, until an officer appointed to its command, came from Spain. He then claims he was captain of another company of light horses in the service of the Prince of Butera, general vicarious of the Kingdom. From his book, we also know that he worked as a horseman in several Italian cities, including Naples, Milan, Turin and Genoa, where he was in the service of the Doria and of the Pallavicini families. In Reggio Emilia (at the time named Reggio of Lombardy), he was then in the service of the governor Count Fulvio Rangoni. Like other contemporary Neapolitan authors, Gamboa also says that Pignatelli devoted himself to the teaching of equitation when, because of his age, he was no longer able to ride.

I have already said many times that knowing this art without knowing how to put it into practice, would be like knowing only one part of it, by means of which one could be helpful to others rather than serve himself; as the old Riders of this profession did, like the happy memory of my Master, Sir Gio. Battista Pignatelli, and others of his age in the city of Naples, who with their very big experience could communicate this art to others, although they could no longer personally practice it because of their age (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 14).

The book is written as a dialogue between the author and Don Antonino Morso, Baron of Gibellina who was a depute of the Kingdom, Captain of Justice of Palermo in 1615-16 and became Marquis of Gibellina in 1619.

Giuseppe Cesari, named Cavalier d’Arpino, Battle between the Romans and the Veienti (detail), Roma, Palazzo dei Conservatori, 1597

Giuseppe Cesari, named Cavalier d’Arpino, Battle between the Romans and the Veienti (detail), Roma, Palazzo dei Conservatori, 1597

Gamboa distinguishes three different aspects of the art of riding: the training, the equestrian technique itself, and the art of bridling, which is to say the art of choosing the right bit for each horse. The first aspect requires a great deal of experience on the part of the rider, as he must be able to adapt the training to the different temperaments and the different inclinations of the various specimens. In any case, Gamboa stressed the need of a gentle and nonviolent approach. Therefore, he claims that the colt to be tamed must first of all be calmed down when he is in the stable.

When it’s time to tame the horse, you must first of all make him as pleasant and docile as possible in the stable, so that he does not disobey and act in a wicked manner due to his fright and fear of man, forcing for this reason his rider to use the lash from the beginning (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 56).

Then the rider can begin to ride him with a padded saddle, which is to say with a lighter and softer saddle than those that were employed at the time with trained horses. Gamboa underlines that it is important to proceed gradually, so that the horse understands what the rider asks him, without bothering him, but rather encouraging him and taking care not to tire him too much in order to preserve his good will to work:

you have to ride him [the young horse] very slowly, with many caresses, avoiding to beat him, so that he does not become discouraged or rebel, because he does not understand the will of the man, or because of the anger he conceived for the offense [he received from the rider], but you should ride him with skill and patience in order to reassure him and that he finally agrees to let you ride him (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 56).

Two horses - Attributed to Francesco Allegrini - 1624-1663 © Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York

Two horses, attributed to Francesco Allegrini, 1624-1663
© Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York

Like Marco de Pavari (see the article in this blog: Marco de Pavari and the dominion of pleasantness), Gamboa suggests to distract the horse, when the riders first mounts him, by giving him grass to eat. Then, he should be induced to move the first steps showing him the grass from a certain distance. An experienced horse can be placed near the colt to reassure him or, even better, he should be lead from the ground by the groom who takes care of him every day. Gamboa insists that the young, untrained horse should not be overtaxed, both to avoid damaging his health and to not dishearten him. He adds that, at the beginning, it is better to make the young horse trot on a straight path, and not on a circle, which is much more tiring for him. In fact, he explains that often the young horses that are trained too early on the circles, tend to adopt wrong attitudes (excessive inside bend of the neck, croup on the outside, exc.), which is difficult to correct, taking much time on the part of the trainer. In any case:

all the actions you want from him must be obtained without beatings, but with skill and art (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 58).

Anthony Vand Dyck, Study for an Equestrian Portrait, Possibly that of Albert de Ligne, Count of Arenberg, 1628-32 © Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York

Anthony Vand Dyck, Study for an Equestrian Portrait, Possibly that of Albert de Ligne, Count of Arenberg, 1628-32
© Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York

“Art” here means primarily the theoretical knowledge of horsemanship. According to Gamboa, in fact the theory provides general concepts that allow the rider to understand the causes of the defects of each specimen, so that he can then apply to them the appropriate practical remedies. The theoretical understanding of the principles of the equestrian art also facilitates learning how to ride. And it is because they ignore the theoretical basics of horsemanship that, according to Gamboa, many riders act blindly, using violent means, resulting in demoralizing and exhausting the poor animals.

I remember that I saw riders giving such lessons, straining and beating the poor horses, who could not understand what their horseman wanted from them. And when they were very anguished and tired and dejected, they were dismounted and sent back home so tired and sorrowful, that they inspired me great compassion (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 10).

A horse that is dejected and exhausted, because he is subdued with brutal means, will never be able to show the beauty of an animal that is calm and moves in unison with the will of his rider:

a melancholic horse will never make as much a fine showing as a horse who is lively and cheerful, so the discerning Rider must make him like that, with every care and art (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 10).

Peter Paul Rubens, St. George Fighting the Dragon, 1606-10 Museo del Prado, Madrid

Peter Paul Rubens, St. George Fighting the Dragon, 1606-10
Museo del Prado, Madrid

This results in common sense rules, which are still fully valid today. For example, the correct attitude of head and neck should be taught to the horse gradually. If you want to immediately induce the flexion with force you will get the opposite effect, causing the inevitable resistance and defense of the animal. Similarly, Gamboa argues that the horse that tends to bring the head down and to lean on the bit must be ridden with the cavesson only, making him trot uphill and downhill, in order to let him find his natural balance. Instead, the author warns,  those who believe to solve this problem by changing the bridle are wrong. Any horse, concludes Gamboa, can be trained to the chivalric exercises, which he will perform according to his natural abilities. So it is up to the rider to have the competence to evaluate the horse’s aptitudes, adjusting his training in order to highlight his best qualities:

as the art and skill of the rider can overcome everything, if he [the horse] has not enough strength to perform a certain exercise, it does not mean that he hasn’t also for an easier one. Because the defect comes from us, as we do not know how to apply to him those exercises that would conform to his nature and inclination, but we want that nature and him adapt to our follies and to our thoughtless rules. (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 74).

For this reason the training must be guided by two fundamental criteria:

above all keeping in mind to not excessively tire him, and the other: always begin teaching him the easier things, so that obeying and understanding is lighter to him (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 79).

Anthony Van Dyck (attributed), Man Mounting a Horse Attributed - Anthony van Dyck, around 1630 © Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York

Anthony Van Dyck (attributed), Man Mounting a Horse, around 1630
© Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York

At the beginning of the training, the rider should first aim toward obedience, without worrying about correctness and attitude, but being content that the animal shows his good will. Then he can gradually “adjust” him, that is to say, he can little by little accustom him to a correct posture. The rider must always avoid tiring him too much, making sure that the animal understands what is required, since strength is of no use,

to make him [the horse] do what his intelligence does not understand (de Gamboa, 1606, p. 80).

The resistances and the defenses of the horse, says Gamboa, can arise either from the excessive ardor, excessive fatigue, or weakness, of the animal. It is essential to understand the reasons why the horse rebels, or disobeys, in order to use the appropriate remedies. Which, however, must not be violent, but they must calm the horse that is too fiery, correct the one who simply does not understand the man’s request, or train the weak. This is just the reason why so many different exercises were invented: to offer to the experienced rider a range of instruments to be used according to requirements.

Aelbert Cuyp, Grey Horse in a Landscape, XVII sec Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Aelbert Cuyp, Grey Horse in a Landscape, Seventeenth century
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

The concept of training proposed by Gamboa is quite original and shows explicit affinity with the doctrine of Pluvinel, though not with the techniques. Also, the French master insists on the need to avoid all gratuitous forms of violence, because only the horse that is willing to work can show all his beauty:

(if it is possible to do without) you must not beat [the horse] at the beginning, in the middle, or in the end [of the training], being much more necessary to train him through sweetness (if possible) that through rigor, as the horse who works with pleasure, shows much greater grace than the one who is compelled by force (Pluvinel, 1625, p. 24).

A concept that Pluvinel repeats with the same insistence of Gamboa, so much so that he argues that if a horse could be trained and be ridden only by force, he would give up riding, as brutality will deny any grace to the rider and deprive the horse of every virtue:

if horses would not go by other aids than the kicks of the spurs, I frankly confess that I would give up the exercise of chivalry, as there is no delight riding a horse only by force: because man will never have good grace as long as he will be forced to beat him and a horse will never be nice to see while performing his exercise, if he does not take pleasure in all his acts (Pluvinel, 1625, pp. 35-36).

Antoine de Pluvinel, L'instruction du roy en l'exercice de monter à cheval, 1625 Plate 8, Part I

Antoine de Pluvinel, L’instruction du roy en l’exercice de monter à cheval, 1625
Plate 8, Part I

Although Gamboa’s book was published nineteen years before that of Pluvinel, it seems to me impossible to imagine a direct influence between them. It is much more reasonable to assume that the strong affinity of the respective conceptions of the training is due to the common root of Pignatelli’s teaching. And that the Neapolitan master was inclined to the gentlest possible approach to the horse, it is witnessed also by his other famous pupil, Salomon de la Broue, who recalls how his teacher used mainly the bit that, at the time, was considered the lighter, the so-called simple cannon:

Several envious or not very skillful often blamed that great and important character, Sir Giovan Battista Pignatelli, since he wasn’t very dedicated to the diversity of the bridles and cavessons and they nearly pretend that one could think that he ignored their effects. On the contrary, what once made me admire his knowledge and that moved me the most to seek and to serve him, is the thought that, as he made the horses so obedient and so easy to manage and showing so beautiful airs in his school without however commonly using any other bit than an ordinary cannon and a common cavesson, his rules and his experience should have much more effect than the ways of those that apply so much to the artifice of an infinity of bridles (LA BROUE, 1610, p. 18).

Even if it is penalized by a confused and sometimes almost incomprehensible style, Gamboa’s book proves to be extremely significant. Not only because it shows once again how inaccurate is the cliché that the Italian horsemanship during the Renaissance was indiscriminately characterized by particular brutality, but because, on the contrary, it documents the clear elements of continuity between the Italian and the French tradition, whereas many authors have seen a rather sharp break between the two schools.

 Stefano della Bella, Two horses, around 1649,  ©  The National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Stefano della Bella, Two horses, around 1649,
© The National Gallery of Art, Washington.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

LA BROUE, Salomon de, Le Cavalerice François, 3° édition, reveue et augmentée de beaucoup de leçons et figures par l’autheur, Paris, A. l’Angelier, 1610.

DE GAMBOA, Don Giovanni, Raggione dell’arte di cavalcare, nella quale si insegna quanto conviene di sapere ad un cavaliero a cavallo, Per Gio. Antonio de Franceschi, 1606.

PLUVINEL, Antoine de, L’instruction du Roy en l ’exercice de monter à cheval, desseignées & gravées par Crispian de Pas le jeune, Paris, M. Nivelle, 1625.

In horseback riding “it always remains something to desire”

Édouard Boutibonne, Portrait of Napoleon III, 1856,  © The Royal Collection

Édouard Boutibonne, Portrait of Napoleon III, 1856
© The Royal Collection

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

“In the military art there is no discipline more beautiful of this of the Horses, which is not only adorned with beautiful effects; but it is necessary and of great value.” This is the beginning of the first printed book dedicated to horseback riding. Written in 1550, this model, established by Federico Grisone in his The Rules of Riding, was followed by many other authors and the initial apologia of the equestrian art became commonplace in equestrian treatises. Although in some instances, these panegyrics are tangled in a nearly incomprehensible and convoluted style, they however represent a source of very interesting ideas for the modern reader because they offer a perspective on how mankind narrated and motivated over the centuries his millennial passion for horses.

Even if all of the ancient works emphasize the importance of horsemanship for military purposes, there are also several authors who underline that learning how to ride a horse produces beneficial effects on body and spirit. We have, for example, already seen in another article (see Riding as a way to cultivate the soul. Dom Duarte and the remedies against fear) that in the fifteenth century, the King of Portugal, Dom Duarte, claimed that riding a horse formed a person’s character because it instills courage. However, it is probably Claudio Corte  the author who writes with more depth than others, his thoughts on this subject. First, extolling the benefits that riding brings to the health of the body:

the use of the horse is very helpful to the health of the body; since it is a very noble and moderate exercise of almost all limbs, as in mounting a horse each limb is used separately and the whole body all together, with an incredible proportion of motion that is impossible to put into words. […] Riding also generates cheerful humor and banishes melancholy, which is a very bad and very harsh humor in the human body. And this you can easily see, by considering that anyone who is oppressed by any great sorrow feels very much relieved when riding a horse who satisfies him (CORTE, 1562, p. 11v).

In the fifteenth century, Dom Duarte claimed that riding a horse formed a person’s character because it instills courage (The tournament of Camelot, miniature from Gautier Map, Le livre de messire Lancelot du Lac,  manuscript of the fifteenth century Source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliotèque nationale de France)

In the fifteenth century, Dom Duarte claimed that riding a horse
formed a person’s character because it instills courage
(The tournament of Camelot, miniature from Gautier Map, Le livre
de messire Lancelot du Lac, manuscript of the fifteenth century
Source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliotèque nationale de France)

According to Corte, from horses and equitation comes also social prestige. Every gentleman is, in fact, judged by others for the way he rides and maintains his mounts. In addition, the author adds a remark that is still fully valid today: the horse gives the pleasure to contemplate places that without him would be difficult to reach:

And that it is true you can see in considering that without the horse it would be difficult to enjoy that great pleasure and happiness, which the view of the countryside away from the tumult of the city and the goodness of the weather and the serenity of the sky give to men, being impossible to go there on foot without a lot of effort and discomfort, which would take away the pleasure, either in whole or in large part (CORTE, 1562, p. 13v).

The practice of equestrian sports imposes the contact with nature to man. For that alone, riding is an activity that makes us a better people. (Diego Velasquez, Don Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, 1635, © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

The practice of equestrian sports imposes the contact
with nature to man. For that alone, riding is an activity
that makes us a better people.
(Diego Velasquez, Don Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, 1635, © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

If this was true at a time when the horse was also used as a means of transport, it is perhaps even more so today. The practice of equestrian sports imposes on modern man, whose life is marked by the rhythms of technological society, the urge to carve out a moment in his day devoted to contact with nature. For that alone, riding is an activity that makes us a better people.

The spiritual dimension of horseback riding is further emphasized in the first treatise in French: Le Cavalerice François, by Salomon de La Broue. According to the author, the study of the nature of the horse and the practice of the means to tame and train him for war, or for the use in jousts and tournaments, changes the rider, enhancing his best qualities.

Because to fully master such a vigorous and proud animal, the horseman must be naturally ingenious, patient, brave and strong. In addition to this, it is necessary that the long experience of the best schools that teach this exercise has given him a knowledge such that he can judge well the mood and disposition of the horse to industriously profit of the good effects of the same horse’s nature (LA BROUE 1602, p. 3).

Author of the first equestrian treatise    ever published in French, Salomon de La Broue  emphasizes the spiritual dimension of horsemanship. (Salomon de LA BROUE, Le Cavalerice François, Paris, A. l’Angelier, 1602, frontispiece)

Author of the first equestrian treatise
ever published in French, Salomon de La Broue
emphasizes the spiritual dimension of horsemanship.
(Salomon de La Broue, Le Cavalerice François, Paris, A. l’Angelier, 1602, frontispiece)

To train the horse, the horseman must possess innate, and further refine, his own sense of proportion and rhythm, reaching an almost mathematical ability to perform with the due rigor, the complicated “manège airs”. La Broue adds that the gifts required are so sophisticated that, considering a horseman who is really competent in his art, it is easy to believe that he may well succeed in many other activities. Indeed, horsemanship is an art that requires very subtle qualities that, according to the author, cannot be learned by everyone. Especially by a rough and uncultured person:

I think it never happens that the perfection of such knowledge is communicated to certain weak and coarse spirits who profane it every day apparently attributing the honor of such competence to themselves and letting the ignorant admire them (LA BROUE 1602, p. 3).

In Pluvinel's work horseback riding assumes the character of a true spiritual gymnasium (Antoine de Pluvinel (1552-1620), L’instruction du Roy en l’exercice de monter à cheval,  Paris, P. Rocolet, 1627, engraving watercolored in the seventeenth century, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris)

In Pluvinel’s work horseback riding assumes the character of a true spiritual gymnasium
(Antoine de Pluvinel, L’instruction du Roy en l’exercice de monter à cheval,
Paris, P. Rocolet, 1627, engraving watercolored in the seventeenth century,
Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris)

These arguments are further developed in the subsequent work by Antoine de Pluvinel, L’instruction du Roy en l’exercice de monter à cheval (1625). In this work, horseback riding is described as assuming the character of a true spiritual gymnasium. Indeed, while one can learn the sciences and other arts in a state of calm and with no other concern than to apply to the study, the equestrian art can be learned only by mounting a horse, which is to say, deciding to suffer all the extremes that can be expected from an irrational being. The rider must, in fact, face his mount’s fears, anger and laziness, while overcoming at the same time, his own concern about the dangers to which he is exposed. According to Pluvinel, the rider can overcome these difficulties only through knowledge and the firmness of his judgment, maintaining the same calmness and readiness with which the student tries to learn something from a book, but while in the midst of danger.

By this, your Majesty may know very clearly in which sense this beautiful exercise is useful to the spirit, because it educates it and accustoms it to execute with precision and order all of these functions between the hassles, the noise, the agitation and the continuous fear of danger, which are like an encouragement to make it capable of performing the same tasks between the arms and in the middle of the dangers that you meet in a battle (PLUVINEL, 1625, p. 3).

In short, by riding horses we become accustomed to facing difficulties and dangers, while maintaining self-control, thanks to the knowledge and serenity that comes from our experience. Pluvinel emphasizes the importance of this exercise in the military and political field, but the modern reader can easily grasp its existential value: while getting used to facing problems and risks, keeping our nerve and making quick decisions on the basis of our own experience, it is useful not only on a battlefield, but in everyday life.

Antoon Van Dyck, Portrait of Tommaso di Savoia Carignano, Torino,  Galleria Sabauda, 1634.

Antoon Van Dyck, Portrait of Tommaso di Savoia Carignano, 1634, Torino, Galleria Sabauda.

In the following centuries, the equestrian treatises seem to put more attention to the benefits that physical exercise brings to health, although there are authors, such as the Italian Federico Mazzucchelli, who identify further positive consequences of riding:

When sometimes our spirit is jammed by lazy cares and slow torpor, this obedient, fast, and elegant animal shakes our burdened senses, rekindles the languishing genius in us and awakens the activity, without which even the most useful, and bright works remain unattempted (MAZZUCCHELLI, 1805, pp. 7-8).

A century later, in the posthumous masterpiece of General L’Hotte, we find, again, an idea already mentioned by La Broue at the end of the sixteenth century: it is not so much horseback riding that has an effect on certain aspects of the personality of those who ride, but rather that in order to become a good rider, one must already have special “inborn” qualities, both physical and spiritual. According to L’Hotte, the one who aspires to become a true horseman must have a calm and, at the same time, energetic character, sweet but without weakness, firm without being rude. He must, especially, always maintain his self-control in order to act on the horse opposing his patience toward the animal’s impatience, calm to violence, energy to laziness, and obedience to rejection. He must be persevering and competent, but above all he must have an innate and essential quality:

a very special feeling called equestrian tact, which is the ability to recognize the nature of the good or bad contractions of the horse and that inspires the appropriateness and moderation of the horseman’s actions.
This feeling that the work develops, but cannot generate, it is so necessary to the horseman, that is to say the rider-artist, like the feeling of the color is essential to the painter and the feeling of the harmony of sounds to the musician
(L ‘HOTTE 1906, pp. 201-202).

According to General L'Hotte (1825-194), only those with innate qualities can really excel in horseback riding.

According to General L’Hotte (1825-194),
only those with innate qualities
can really excel in horseback riding.

Let us finally add a personal remark to this brief survey of the arguments used by the authors of equestrian treatises to describe the peculiarity of horseback riding. Being based on the confrontation between two living beings, riding is an experience that is perpetually renewed. Each horse, in fact, has his own temperament, his physical conformation and a particular sensitivity, a degree of training and therefore a different ability to interact with human beings. For this reason, on every occasion on which we ride a new horse, we live a profoundly different experience. On the other hand, simply because we confront ourselves with a living being, even riding the same animal, we live each time a different experience.

Each rider has experienced, at least once, the exciting feeling of a perfect reciprocity with his horse: the heady giddiness of an ineffable communication with the animal, which makes it possible to perform, without apparent effort, exercises that up to then seemed very difficult. Those are the moments when the horse responds promptly to the imperceptible aids of his rider, nearly foreseeing his intentions and happily complying with them. However, generally enthusiasm is soon replaced by disappointment. The next day, the rider comes back to the barn, being sure to live again the ecstasy of that miraculous ride, but he soon realizes that, even if the conditions are apparently the same, the magic does not repeat, the connection with the animal appears less immediate, the gestures are more mechanical and the man’s intentions cannot be so easily translated into the horse’s attitudes. The rider feels his body inexplicably heavy and clumsy. And the animal, that just the day before was full of energy and sensitivity, seems rather unwilling and insensitive to the aids. The result is not up to the previous one. There is no denying that to realize this, it is often very bitter. The failure, however, inevitably nourishes the desire to rediscover the joy of those moments of enthusiasm. The initial dejection is soon replaced by the desire to try again and to improve.

Charles Édouard Boutibonne, The Empress Eugénie on horseback, 1856 © The Royal Collection

Charles Édouard Boutibonne, The Empress Eugénie on horseback, 1856 © The Royal Collection

This seesaw of opposing emotions fuels our passion. Of course, between one ride and the other (except in cases of accident, or illness) nothing definitive happened. The rider has not forgotten how to ride, nor has the horse suddenly been deprived of his qualities. The fact is that every ride is the result of a complex relationship between living beings that influence each other. For this reason, the rider cannot help but wonder if the cause of his temporary failure is due to his own unaware fault, or to a change in the physical, or mental condition of the animal. It is most likely due to both and to a remarkable series of further concomitant factors, which make it impossible to reduce the issue to a mechanistic relation of cause and effect. On the other hand, it is precisely the variety of sensations that each ride gives us, pointing out new goals to achieve, which makes the equestrian practice an activity in which it is substantially impossible to become bored.

And this applies for all riders. Even for the best. Once General L’Hotte confessed to his master, François Baucher, that he was never completely satisfied with the training of his horses. Baucher looked at him with his piercing gaze and replied with a smile: “But it will always be like this; it always remains something to desire” (L’HOTTE 1906, p. 209).

Anche per i più grandi cavalieri, in equitazione

Even for the best riders,
in horseback riding “it always remains something to desire”
(François Baucher, Méthode d’équitation basée sur de nouveaux principes, Paris, 1842)

Bibliography

CORTE, Claudio, Il Cavallarizzo, Venezia, Giordano Zilletti, 1562.

Dom DUARTE, The Royal Book of Jousting, Horsemanship and Knightly Combat. A transaltion into English of King’Dom Duarte’s 1438 Treatise Livro da Ensinança de Bem Cavalgar Toda Sela, by Antonio Franco Preto, ed. by S. Mulhberger, Higland Village, The Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005.

GRISONE, Federico, Gli ordini del cavalcare, Napoli, Giovan Paolo Suganappo, 1550.

L’HOTTE, Alexis François Questions équestres, Paris, Librairie Plon, 1906

LA BROUE, Salomon de, Le Cavalerice François, Paris, A. l’Angelier, 1602.

MAZZUCCHELLI, Federico, Scuola equestre, Milano, presso Gio Pietro Giegler, Libraio sulla Corsia de’ Servi, 1805

PLUVINEL, Antoine de, L’instruction du Roy en l’exercice de monter à cheval, , Paris, M. Nivelle, 1610.