Horses that looked like flame!

Francesco Mochi, Equestrian Monument to Alessandro Farnese Piazza dei Cavalli, Piacenza (1612)

Francesco Mochi, Equestrian Monument to Alessandro Farnese
Piazza dei Cavalli, Piacenza (1612)

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

In 1565, a large equestrian feast was held in Lisbon to celebrate the marriage of Alessandro Farnese with Maria of Portugal. A chronicle of the period testifies of the extraordinary qualities of the Lusitano horses and riders, who profoundly impressed the Italian dignitaries who were in the Portuguese capital

Until the catastrophic earthquake and the subsequent tsunami that destroyed the city of Lisbon in 1755, the Paço da Ribeira, the royal palace, stood in the place where now stands the great Praça do Comérçio, one of the most famous and characteristic places in the Portuguese capital. So much so that, although nothing remains of the building destroyed by the earthquake, the square is still familiarly known as Terriero do Paço, the palace square. The building was built around 1500 and stood perpendicular to the river. It overlooked a large square, similar in size to the current one, where the great public events of the city were held. On May 28, 1565, that large esplanade offered a magnificent spectacle to the bystanders. For days, carpenters, upholsterers and decorators had worked non-stop to set up the boxes along the side of the square which opened onto the river Tagus, which at that point is so wide that it looked like the ocean. The carpenters had built wide and solid wooden steps, partly covered with canopies, which were then covered with fine fabrics and decorated with allegorical paintings. Even the facade of the building had been decorated with pomp. A brightly colored cloth hung from every window and the window sills were decorated with cushions and ribbons. Two weeks earlier, in the royal chapel, the Spanish ambassador Alonso de Tovar had married Maria d’Aviz, nephew of King Manuel I, in the name and on behalf of Alessandro Farnese, son of the Duke of Parma and Piacenza, Ottavio, and Margherita of Austria, half-sister of the king of Spain, Philip II, and governor of the Netherlands. After the first celebrations at the court, now the time had come for the public celebration of the wedding, which united the Portuguese princess to the scion of one of the first families in Italy, linked by kinship, but also by a relationship of fear and suspicion, to the very powerful Spanish crown. And like in any public feast in those years, aimed to celebrate the power of aristocracy, horses played a leading role on that memorable day.

Lisbon as it was in the sixteenth century Georg Braun and Franz Hogenber, Civitates orbis terrarum (1572-1612)

Lisbon as it was in the sixteenth century
Georg Braun and Franz Hogenber, Civitates orbis terrarum (1572-1612)

We know of those events thanks to the direct testimony of Francesco De Marchi, a singular scholarly figure and adventurer, in the service of Margaret of Austria for more than forty years and part of the Italian delegation that went to Portugal to escort the princess to Brussels, where her young husband was waiting for her. In the aftermath of the wedding celebrations (which were held by proxy in Portugal and, months later, in person in the Belgian capital), De Marchi composed a detailed chronicle entitled Narratione particolare delle gran feste e trionfi fatti in Portogallo e Fiandra nello sposalitio dell’illustrissimo sig. Alessandro Farnese e donna Maria del Portogallo (Detailed narration of the great feasts and triumphs made in Portugal and Flanders in the marriage of the very illustrious Sir Alessandro Farnese and lady Maria of Portugal), printed in Bologna in 1566. His account gives us a very vivid picture of the skill of the Portuguese riders, of the extraordinary value of their horses and of the pomp and refinement of the harnesses with which they were harnessed.

Detail of the Royal Palace of Lisbon. The square on which the equestrian feast was held was on the right side of the building

Detail of the Royal Palace of Lisbon.
The square on which the equestrian feast was held was on the right side of the building

As typical in the Iberian tradition, the feast began with a grandiose toirada, a bullfight. At first, the animals were faced by gentlemen on horseback, who proved to be very skilled riders. However, what deeply impressed De Marchi were the amazing qualities of the horses, which were so richly harnessed and so perfectly trained, that they looked as if they were animated by a kind of human understanding.

At the beginning of the feast there were fights with seventeen wild bulls, which were terrible and ferocious animals. The first fighters were on horseback, and all of them were Knights and esteemed gentlemen. They fought on richly harnessed jennets, holding an assagai with two irons [i.e. with a two iron spikes at both ends] in each hand, and they killed the bulls with so much skill and dexterity and attitude that it was one of the beautiful and worthy things that could be seen, because not only the riders did very well, but the horses were so alive and quick to dodge the charges of the bulls, that they looked like flame and they showed that they had something like a human judgment (DE MARCHI, p. 3).

Jan Van de Straet, Venationes Ferarum (bullfighting) etching by Phillips Galle, 1578 (or later) British Museum - London

Jan Van de Straet, Venationes Ferarum (bullfighting)
etching by Phillips Galle, 1578 (or later)
British Museum – London

Yet, despite the riders’ ability and the liveliness of the horses, two of them were injured, though not seriously. The fights on horseback were then followed by those on foot, in which the bulls were confronted with sword and cape. The Portuguese gentlemen proved to be very expert also in this kind of struggle:

because as the bull comes towards them, they throw the cape over his horns and so, as the beast is momentarily blinded, they easily dodge him and give him a big stab, either on the head, or on the nose, or on the front legs, and because the swords are very sharp the bystanders immediately see the sign (DE MARCHI, p. 3).

However, despite their skill, some of the bullfighters were overwhelmed and saved only because the bulls were immediately distracted by the assistants and the unfortunates were promptly rescued.

Francisco Goya, Charles V spearing a bull in the ring at Valladolid, during the celebrations for the birth of his son Philip II (1814 - 1816) Museo del Prado - Madrid

Francisco Goya, Charles V spearing a bull in the ring at Valladolid,
during the celebrations for the birth of his son Philip II (1814 – 1816)
Museo del Prado – Madrid

After the bullfight, the feast continued with the “game of reeds” and with a “carousel joust”. These were two kinds of chivalric trials which were very popular at that time. For some time now, the old and brutal tournaments, a legacy of medieval knightly culture, had almost everywhere been replaced by less bloody equestrian games, which required a more sophisticated equitation, allowing the qualities of the riders to shine without exposing them to mortal risks. This trend was spreading more and more after the death of the King of France Henry II, in 1559, as a result of an accident in the joust that was disputed during the celebrations for the marriage of his daughter Elizabeth with Philip II of Spain. The game of reeds and the carousel joust were mainly practiced in the Iberian peninsula and in the European territories under Spanish rule. In Portugal, for example, these types of equestrian games continued to be played until the end of the eighteenth century, as shown by two splendid plates of the monumental Portuguese equestrian treatise by Carlos de Andrade, Luz da Liberal e Nobre Arte da Cavallaria (1790). Spaniards and Portuguese had probably borrowed these chivalric trials from the Arab early rulers of the Iberian peninsula, as testified by the habit of playing them while wearing Moorish costumes.

The game of reeds and the carousel joust continued to be practiced in Portugal until the end of the eighteenth century (Carlos de Andrade, Luz da Liberal and Nobre Arte da Cavalleria, 1790)

The game of reeds and the carousel joust continued
to be played in Portugal until the end of the eighteenth century
(Carlos de Andrade, Luz da Liberal and Nobre Arte da Cavalleria, 1790)

In the game of reeds, the teams lined up on the opposite sides of the field. Then a first group of riders cantered towards the opposing team and threw reeds at them, as if they were javelins. Often these fictitious weapons had sticky tips, which would stick to the opponent’s cuirass. At that point, those who were assailed began to counterattack, chasing the others, who turned towards their friends’ rank. When, in turn, the pursuers arrived in the opposing field, they threw their darts. The carousel joust had a similar dynamics, but the riders chased each other, throwing clay projectiles, which the adversaries had to dodge with rapid changes of direction of their horses, or protecting themselves and their animals with small shields, generally made of leather.

As it was usual at the time, that day the chivalric trials were preceded by a solemn pageant of over a thousand people and hundreds of splendid and richly harnessed horses:

Four companies of knights entered the square on beautiful jennet horses. Each company was made of sixteen riders, which together totaled sixty-four horses. [here follows the list of the leaders of each company]. The other fifteen riders of each company were all gentlemen, dressed in yellow and black satin Moorish livery; the harness of the horses were in the gineta style and they were made of silver and gold, with golden and white damask steel stirrups, and they wore spurs of the same style. The horses’ breastplates and cruppers were full of silver rings and the horses had collars with silver and gold bells, great silk and gold bows, and gilded bridles and bits, with lined saddles decorated in gold in the Moorish style, which was something so beautiful and rare that you could not desire more. As a sign of luxury and grandeur, in front of the chiefs of each company six large Andalusian and Granada horses were led by hand. Not only were they big and beautiful, but they danced like as if they did not even touch the ground. They were harnessed with the so called giaizzi [i.e. with the Portuguese harness called “jaez”], which were so rich and beautiful that each horse could be estimated at great amount of money; because their harnesses were made of wrought gold and silver and of silk and gold yarns and also of damask steel and silver embossed with gold and the leathers were embroidered with gold and silk, and it is certain that these horses were so rare that no painter, however good he could be, could portray any horse of such beauty and adornment just through his imagination (DE MARCHI, pp. 3r-3v).

The game of reeds was widespread in Spain and Portugal, but also in the Spanish domains in Italy (Juan de La Corte, Fiesta in the Plaza Mayor de Madrid, Museo Municipal, Madrid, 1623)

The game of reeds was widespread in Spain and Portugal,
but also in the Spanish domains in Italy
(Juan de La Corte, Fiesta in the Plaza Mayor de Madrid, Museo Municipal, Madrid, 1623)

As usual, the knights were dressed in Moorish costumes, their heads covered with turbans adorned with precious stones, and they carried small leather shields. Each of them was accompanied by eight grooms and eight pages. So a thousand and twenty-four people took part in the initial parade, which, after having crossed the square, divided into two opposing groups. Then, two pairs of knights departed from the opposing fronts:

they chased each other, throwing their reeds with so much ferocity that they looked like darts; but because of the continuous exercise of the knights and thanks to the agility and skill of the horses who were accustomed to the game, when they were about to be hit, they elegantly protected themselves and the horse with their leather shield, thus succeeding in dodging the dart. Then they turned the horse, as if they were sitting on a chair, and in a moment they came back (DE MARCHI, p. 3v).

Carousel joust Carlos de Andrade, Luz da Liberal e Nobre Arte da Cavallaria (1790)

Carousel joust
Carlos de Andrade, Luz da Liberal e Nobre Arte da Cavallaria (1790)

After the first two pairs, the exercise was repeated by four knights on each side, then by six and then by eight, and ten, until they all ran together chasing each other. During the game, the horses and the horsemen proved to be so skilled that the author says that it would be impossible to emulate them elsewhere, because it would be impossibile to find horses and riders so perfectly trained:

I do not believe that one can so easily do the same elsewhere, both because of the lack of horses and harnesses, but also because men must be trained for a very long time, otherwise they would not have the grace and the nimbleness they have in this country” (DE MARCHI, p. 4r).

During the simulated combat the riders showed off their skills, making authentic virtuoso exercises:

there were some who threw a reed in the air in front of themselves, as fast as an arrow, and then they chased it by running at full speed with their horse, so fast that before it fell on the ground they took it back. There were others who, running at the same speed, lifted a reed from the ground, taking it with their hands. And others who threw their reeds into the air towards the sky, in a way that it looked like a lightning bolt that pierced the clouds” (DE MARCHI, p. 4r).

De Marchi reports the daring performances of the Portuguese riders (Galvao de Andrade, Arte de Cavalaria de gineta e estardiota, 1678)

De Marchi reports the daring performances of the Portuguese riders
(Galvao de Andrade, Arte de Cavalaria de gineta e estardiota, 1678)

The following carousel joust was similar to the previous game of the reeds, except that the knights were using raw clay projectiles, filled with coal, the size of a small orange. If  one of the knights was hit, the shell broke and the coal that filled it, stained his clothes. But De Marchi says it happened rarely, given the skill with which the participants knew how to dodge the shots. The carousel joust concluded the celebrations which, with typically courtly exaggeration, De Marchi considers

for the decorations, the banquets, the dances, the music, the ferocity of the bulls, the agility of the horses and of the riders and for the beauty of their harnesses and their liveries, for the good fights on foot and on horseback … the greatest [feast] known among those made in Portugal for hundreds of years” (DE MARCHI, p. 4r).

Recently, the duke Ottavio Farnese and Francesco De Marchi (behind him) have been identified in the two figures of the Double male portrait (1556), of Maso da San Friano, preserved in the Capodimonte Museum, in Naples

Recently, the duke Ottavio Farnese and Francesco De Marchi
(behind him) have been identified in the two figures
of the Double male portrait (1556), of Maso da San Friano,
preserved in the Capodimonte Museum, in Naples

Before concluding our article, it is perhaps worthwhile to spend a few more words on some of the historical figures that have been mentioned. Beginning with Margaret of Austria (1522-1586), who was that “Madama” (i.e. “Milady” in Italian) from which the palace that today is the seat of the Italian Senate, takes its name. It is in fact know as Palazzo Madama. Margherita inherited the palace from her first husband, Duke Alessandro de’ Medici. She married him in 1536, but he was killed by his cousin Lorenzino, the following year. “Madama”, as the Romans called her confidentially, moved to Rome in 1538, to marry, very reluctantly, Ottavio Farnese, nephew of Pope Paul III. She was seventeen while he was only fifteen. It took a while for the two to consummate the marriage and this caused a lot of conjectures and rumors. After seven years, on August 27, 1545, Margherita finally gave birth to twins, Carlo and Alessandro, who were solemnly baptized in the Basilica of Sant’Eustachio, a few steps from the maternal palace. Carlo died as an infant, while Alessandro (1545-1592) grew up and became one of the most important leaders and politicians of his time. He was educated in Italy until the age of ten, then he was sent to the court of the King of Spain, Philip II. Here he was supposed to continue his education, but above all he was there to guarantee, as a hostage, the loyalty to the Spanish crown of his father, Ottavio, who had a tendency to change alliances with considerable ease. When it came to marrying him, Philip II denied permission for his marriage with one of the daughters of the Duke of Urbino, to avoid a too close bond between two powerful Italian families who could create problems on the peninsula, and gave him a Portuguese princess, considering the kinship thus acquired less dangerous for the interests of the Kingdom of Spain. Finally, the author of the report, Francesco De Marchi (1504-1576). Although self-taught, he was not only a scholar, a military architect and an artillery expert, but also a courtier, a horse and dance instructor, an adventurer who escaped pirates off the coast of Ponza, a shipwrecked man at the mouth of the Tiber. In 1535, protected by a rudimentary diving suit, he dived in the lake of Nemi, near Rome, in search of the ships of Caligula, which were actually in the lake and they were recovered only in 1929-30, to be then destroyed in a fire in 1944. He accomplished his last adventure at the age of sixty-nine when, in 1573, he was one of the first men to climb to the top of the Gran Sasso.

(This is the text of the lecture I gave in September 9, 2017, during the Festival Italiano del Cavallo Puro Sangue Lusitano, at Tenuta Malaspina (Ornago) MB – Italy)

left: Portrait of Alessandro Farnese, attributed to Sofonisba Anguissola, around 1560 (National Gallery of Ireland). Right: Portrait of Maria d'Aviz, Anthonis Mor school, second half of the 16th century (Pinacoteca Stuard, Parma)

left: Portrait of Alessandro Farnese,
attributed to Sofonisba Anguissola, around 1560 (National Gallery of Ireland).
Right: Portrait of Maria d’Aviz,
Anthonis Mor’s school, second half of the 16th century (Pinacoteca Stuard, Parma)

Bibliography:

Francesco DE MARCHI, Narratione particolare delle gran feste e trionfi fatti in Portogallo e Fiandra nello sposalitio dell’illustrissimo sig. Alessandro Farnese e donna Maria del Portogallo, Bologna, Appresso Alessandro Benacci, 1566.

Giuseppe BERTINI, Le nozze di Alessandro Farnese. Feste alle corti di Lisbona e di Bruxelles, Milano, Skira, 1997.

Frontispiece of De Marchi's book

Frontispiece of De Marchi’s book

Equestrian traditions of the Roman Carnival during the Renaissance

Il gioco dell'anello era molto praticato sin dal Rinascimento Bartolomeo Pinelli, Costumi diversi inventati ed incisi da Bartolomeo Pinelli, 1822

The ring joust was widely practiced since the Renaissance
from Costumi diversi inventati ed incisi da Bartolomeo Pinelli, 1822

di Giovanni Battista Tomassini

This is the text of the lecture I gave on Tuesday, February 28, 2017, during the final symposium of the 9th edition of the Roman Carnival. I am especially grateful to the Associazione Carnevale Romano for inviting me, once again, to the beautiful Biblioteca Angelica to tell the stories of this great collective ritual of the city of Rome. For more information: http://www.carnevaleromano.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/Carnevale-Romano-454618444667202/?fref=ts

On Thursday, February 24, 1536, about a year and a half after the election of Pope Paul III, the people of Rome started, once again, to celebrate the Carnival after many years, during which in the city disfigured by the Sack of 1527, there had been very little to celebrate. On that day, all the municipal authorities gathered at the Campidoglio (where the Roman Senate had its seat): the Senator of the Roman people, the Conservatori, the Caporioni and the Priors, the Mayors, the Constables, and the representatives of the Guilds. All of them wore their most elegant clothes and were armed with the weapons of the town militia. As one of the few civic events in the Holy City, the Carnival pageant was, in fact, an opportunity to show the military pride of the city and was exploited by the aristocracy to show off the signs of its wealth and power. For this reason, the horses and the other attributes of chivalric dignity, such as the more luxurious weapons and clothes, played a leading role in the event.

Cavaliere con costume e bardatura "alla romana" da parata. Libro dei disegni di Filippo Ursoni, 1554 Royal and Albert Hall Museum - Londra

Knight “alla romana”
The design book of Filippo Ursoni, 1554
Royal and Albert Hall Museum – Londra

The pageant moved toward the “Campo in Agone”, that is to say towards Piazza Navona, according to a strict order of precedence. After the representatives of the Rioni (i.e. the Wards, or city districts) there were the so-called Giocatori (the Players), namely the champions of the Wards themselves who were going to take part in the knightly trials during the afternoon and in the following days. There were eight for each Ward, each of them was accompanied by eight grooms. Among them, we read in an anonymous account of the time, addressed to Girolamo Orsini d’Aragona, Duke of Bracciano::

“two of them were riding beautiful horses and were dressed in the ancient style, with beautiful helmets and many gems, pearls, chains and other beautiful ornaments, on their chest and head, among which there was one in particular whose gold and precious stones it was said that valued at more than thirty thousand scudi” (FORCELLA, 1885, pp. 22-23).

This description gives us an idea of the magnificence associated with the presence of horses in the parade, which was evident both because of the precious ornaments (thirty thousand scudi for only one piece of jewelry) and because of the beauty and the value of the animals themselves. It should then be noted that the Statutes of the City of Rome of 1360-1363, specified that the Giocatori (Players) belonged to the social category of the so-called cavallarocti, i.e. those who could contribute to the urban militia with a mount. They, therefore, came from the corporations of the major arts and from the baronial aristocracy, which is to say, from the richer social strata of the Roman society.

Corsiero d'Italia con bardatura "alla leggera" Filippo Ursoni, 1554 Royal and Albert Hall Museum - Londra

Italian courser “lightly” harnessed
The design book of Filippo Ursoni, 1554
Royal and Albert Hall Museum – Londra

The following description of the Caporioni emphasizes even more the quality of the horses participating in the parade on which the Caporioni were mounted:

“on beautiful lightly harnessed horses, three by three, with their pages also proceeding three by tree, on horseback, dressed in their livery and armed with lances and shields of the two Caporioni” (FORCELLA, 1885, p. 23).

In this case, the horses were “lightly” harnessed, that is to say, they were unarmored and without the other protection typical of the steeds of the so-called “men at arms”.

Cavallo armato e "uomo d'arme", entrambi protetti da armatura metallica. Pirro Antonio Ferraro, Cavallo frenato, 1602

Armed horse and “man at arms”,
both protected by a metal armor
Pirro Antonio Ferraro, Cavallo frenato, 1602

The Caporioni Prior and the Conservatore ended the first part of the parade. Thirteen allegorical chariots followed them, one for each Rione (Ward). They celebrated the victory of the Roman consul Paulo Emilio, the winner in the second century AD, of the third Macedonian war. His story is told in Plutarch’s Parallel Lives and his name was considered allusive to the name of the Pope (Paul III). Other authorities and high-ranking personalities, finally, ended the parade. All of them were mounting “big beautiful harnessed horses.” Giuliano Cesarini, Gonfalonier of Rome, came as the last one, with a splendid dress and mounted on a “beautiful horse”, as equally beautiful specimens were those mounted by his retinue.

The pageant arrived at the Castel Sant’Angelo where the Pope awaited and where a concert was held in his honor. Then the parade went back to Piazza Navona, where the participants drew up in good order. A ring joust then began. This was a kind of knightly trial in which the riders had to insert the tip of their lance in a ring suspended by a ribbon, while cantering at full speed. It was very popular at that time and it is still practiced today in many parts of the world, as for example, during the Oristano Carnival, in Sardinia. In this case, riders dressed with suggestive masks, must seize a star with a central ring, with the tip of their sword. In one of his plates, Bartolomeo Pinelli has handed down to us a variant of this kind of joust, practiced in the surroundings of Rome at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The ring was suspended under a vat filled with water. In this case, if the rider missed his target and bumped the vat with the lance, the water poured down on him and his horse (see the picture at the beginning of this article).

La Corsa della Stella

The Sartiglia at Oristano
Picture from www.paradisola.it website, by Domenico Corraine

The martial and chivalrous character of these demonstrations is underlined in the Nuptiali, a key text for the memory of the Roman festivals, written by Marco Antonio Altieri, in the first two decades of the sixteenth century. In particular, he underlines the virtues shown by the Roman aristocracy on the Campo di Agone, “practicing the manly principles” (ALTIERI, 1873, p. 26), i.e. doing the knightly exercises. He also highlights the appearance of “an infinite number of valiant gentlemen, on their harnessed horses” (ALTIERI, 1873, p. 114) during the pageants from the Campidoglio to Piazza Navona, on the Thursday before Lent.

The next day, Friday, February 25, 1536, a real encierro was held in Rome. The Caporioni ordered their Constables to lead thirteen ferocious bulls, one for each Ward, through the city streets. On Saturday, these animals were displayed on the Piazza del Campidoglio. This practice is not surprising. At the time, in fact, bullfighting was wide spread, not only in Rome, but also in many other areas of Italy. Bullfights are well documented, for example, in Naples, particularly favored by the Spanish viceroy Don Pedro de Toledo (1484-1553), who had a real passion for them and he personally took part in them. There were bullfights also in Tuscany. According to Benedetto Croce, those held in 1584 in Siena and Florence during the visit of Prince Vincenzo Gonzaga, heir to the throne of Mantua, were particularly memorable. The fact that the herdsmen conducted the bulls through the city streets was normal, considering the lack of other means of transport at the time. It was for centuries the only way also to bring the animals to the slaughterhouse, as we see in one of the plates of Costumi diversi inventati ed incisi da Bartolomeo Pinelli (Different costumes invented and engraved by Bartolomeo Pinelli), dated 1822.

Buoi condotti dai mandriani attraverso le vie di Roma Bartolomeo Pinelli, Costumi diversi inventati ed incisi da Bartolomeo Pinelli, 1822

Bulls lead by herdsmen through the streets of Rome
from Costumi diversi inventati ed incisi da Bartolomeo Pinelli, 1822

On Sunday, February 27, they all finally gathered at the Campo di Testaccio, to the south of the city and on the left side of the river Tevere. Here the Giocatori (Players) preceded the Caporioni,

“dressed and armed like the previous Thursday. Once on the square, that is to say the Campo di Testaccio, the Players began a beautiful tournament, running across the square, two by two, then four at a time, so that they never rested.” (FORCELLA, 1885, p. 30).

In this case also, the “tournament” consisted of ring jousts. During the tournament, the Conservatori prepared six carriages covered with red cloth, each carrying a cage containing a live pig. Then three “palios”, i.e. three pieces of fine cloth, were exposed: one of gold brocade lined with ermine, one of crimson velvet, lined with green taffeta, the third of blue damask. Afterwards, there were three horse races: that of the barbs, that of the jennets and that of the mares. In the palio, the horses competed riderless, that is to say, without jockeys. The barbs were the lightest and fastest horses at the time, mainly of oriental blood. Jennets were, rather, the precious Spanish horses: small, agile and spirited.

Le tauromachie si svolgevano in un'area delimitata ai piedi del Monte di Testaccio Etienne Du Pérac, La festa di Testaccio del 1545, incisione. British Museum - Londra

The bullfights were held in a designated area at the foot of Monte Testaccio
Etienne Du Pérac, La festa di Testaccio del 1545, engraving,

At the foot of Monte Testaccio, an area of the field was designated by tying together wagons and erecting boxes and stands, creating a sort of big arena. The chariots with the pigs were then run downhill from the Monte and the bulls were released in the arena. The hunt then began. A cruel rite, halfway between the corrida de toros and the Coliseum’s venatio (hunt in Latin). At this stage, the horses were playing a major role, since the bullfight was mainly fought on horseback.

Bullfights, or as they were called at the time, “bulls hunting” was so popular that in 1500, during the papacy of Alexander VI (1431-1503), the son of the pope, Cesare Borgia, fought a bullfight in an arena that was set, no less, than on Saint Peter’s Square, on the day of the feast of St. John (June, 24). The same event took place two years later when, during the celebrations for the wedding of Lucrezia Borgia and Alfonso d’Este, on December 31, 1502 a horse race and a bullfight were held in St. Peter’s Square. The tradition to hold bullfights in the Vatican continued even with the pontificate of Julius II (1443-1513). On Shrove Tuesday of 1510, for example, there were horse races in the Vatican and a bullfight in the Belvedere courtyard. However, many contemporaries considered bullfighting in the Vatican as an excess of worldliness in the heart of Christianity, as for example, Erasmus of Rotterdam who expressed his indignation in his Responsio ad Petri Cursii defensionem (1535).

I tori venivano liberati sul Monte Testaccio e irrompevano nell'arena correndo lungo la discesa Hendrick Van Cleve III, Mons Testaceus, , Festa a Testaccio, incisione di Philipp Galle, 1557-1612 (c.).

The bulls were released on Monte Testaccio and swarmed into the arena running down the slope
Hendrick Van Cleve III, Mons Testaceus, engraving by Philipp Galle, 1557-1612 (c.).

The “Games of Testaccio” ended with Pope Paul III, with a final massacre in 1545. Subsequently, the axis of the Roman Carnival returned in the Via Lata, now Via del Corso, where Pope Paul II already moved it in 1465. On 1 November 1567, Pope Pius V (1504-172) published the apostolic constitution De salute, with which he forbade bullfights and condemned animal cruelty by man, but unfortunately without any real effect.

I stop here. From these few examples, you can easily understand the central role that the chivalrous dimension held in the context of the Roman Carnival. A feature that the Carnival in Rome maintained into later centuries, in which it was characterized, for better or for worse, by the famous Race of the Barbs, that went from Piazza del Popolo to Palazzo Venezia.

A bullfight in front of the Palazzo Farnese, Hendrick Van Cleve III, engraving by Philipp Galle, 1557-1612

A bullfight in front of the Palazzo Farnese, in Rome
Hendrick Van Cleve III, engraving by Philipp Galle, 1557-1612

BIBLIOGRAPHY

ALTIERI, Marco Antonio, Li nuptiali, pubblicati da Enrico Narducci, Roma Tip. C. Bartoli, 1873.

CROCE, Benedetto, La Spagna nella vita italiana durante la Rinascenza, 2a ed. riveduta, Bari, Laterza, 1922.

FORCELLA, Vincenzo, Tornei e giostre, ingressi trionfali e feste carnevalesche in Roma sotto Paolo III, Roma, Tip. Artigianelli, 1885.

GUARINO, Raimondo, Carnevale e festa civica nei Ludi di Testaccio, “Roma moderna e contemporanea”, XX, 2012, 2, pp. 475-497.

L’History talk alla Biblioteca Angelica nelle immagini di Barbara Roppo e Robbi Huner

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“A la brida” and “a la gineta.” Different riding techniques in the late Middle Ages 
and the Renaissance

Rider in the

Rider in the “a la gineta” style
(in Pirro Antonio Ferraro, Cavallo frenato, Napoli, 1602)

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

Defining, in his Book of the Courtier (1528), the ideal features of the Renaissance gentleman, Baldassare Castiglione wrote: “I would hope that our Courtier is a perfect horseman in every kind of saddle” (1, 21). That a gentleman had to be able to perfectly ride a horse is quite obvious. Since the Middle Ages, and for many centuries thereafter, the practice of knightly exercises represented one of the characteristic features of the identity of aristocracy. So much so that the term “knight” came to be identified with that of “noble” as a synonym. What is instead striking is the reference to the different types of saddles. This was a suggestion that the author did not explain, considering it clear to his contemporary readers, but which now seems far less apparent, giving us the opportunity for a quick overview of the main equestrian techniques practiced at the time.

Baldassare Castiglione portrayed by Raffaello (1514-15) Louvre Museum - Paris

Baldassare Castiglione portrayed by Raffaello (1514-15)
Louvre Museum – Paris

It is evident that, if it was only a matter of harness, Castiglione’s specification would have been superfluous. In fact, as we will see in more detail, the author of the Book of the Courtier refers to different riding techniques which characterized equitation in late medieval times and during the Renaissance. We find a clear testimony of these different techniques in the most ancient equestrian treatise of the post-classic age: the Livro da ensinança de bem cavalgar toda sela. This is the work which Edward (Duarte), King of Portugal (1391-1438), wrote around 1434 and which was handed down to us in a manuscript, first published in Paris, dating back to 1842. The title can be translated into the Book of the art of riding with any type of saddle. We then find the same premise discussed in Castiglione, but in this work, the author gives us many more details.

In the

Tthe “a la brida” style consisted of riding deeply seated, keeping the leg outstretched
and the feet forward
(in Pierre de la Noue, La Cavalerie Française et Italienne, Paris, 1620)

In his book, Dom Duarte distinguishes five different ways to ride a horse: 1) the one with the Bravante saddle, 2) the one in which the rider does not take support on the stirrups, 3) the one in which the rider stands firm on the stirrups, 4) the one in which the rider rides with short stirrups, 5) and finally, riding bareback, or with a pack-saddle without stirrups. The distinction, according to the type of the saddle and to the length of the stirrups, clearly refers to different ways in which the rider is seated and then to different riding techniques. Dom Duarte says that the habit of riding nearly without resting the rider’s feet on the stirrups was widespread in England and in some Italian regions, while riding without stirrups and no spurs was typical of Ireland. According to Carlos Henriques Pereira, who devoted detailed studies to Dom Duarte’s book, the first and the third way mentioned by Dom Duarte substantially coincide and correspond to the so-called “a la brida” style, which was frequently mentioned in later treatises. In fact, as we will see, these two ways of riding were very different and can be compared only by the fact that the rider rode keeping his legs straight. These ways of riding were opposed to the so-called “a la gineta” style, characterized by the fact that the rider rode with shorter stirrups and bent legs. Even though Dom Duarte’s classification demonstrates the coexistence of many different riding techniques in the late medieval period, equitation at the time and during the Renaissance was mainly characterized by the contrast between the a la brida and the a la gineta styles.

Paolo Uccello, detail of Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino unseating Bernardino della Ciarda at the Battle of San Romano (1435-1440) Florence, Uffizi Musuem

Paolo Uccello, detail of Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino unseating Bernardino della Ciarda at the Battle of San Romano (1435-1440), Florence, Uffizi Musuem

The “a la brida” style was the typical technique of heavy cavalry and was characterized by the use of long stirrups. As we have already seen, Dom Duarte distinguished two different methods:  the first one was done with a particular kind of saddle, called “Bravante saddle”, and consisted of riding deeply seated, keeping the feet forward (III, 2); the second, in contrast, consisted of riding standing up in the stirrups, never sitting on the saddle (III, 4). To facilitate this second method, the stirrups were fastened to each other with a strap under the horse’s belly in order to prevent them from separating. According to Dom Duarte, the method of standing while riding was older and required the rider to keep his legs perfectly straight under him. Both of these techniques were used to facilitate the knight in handling the lance. Between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the length and the weight of this weapon increased progressively. This required the rider, who was already awkward in his movements from heavy armor, to stand firm in the saddle in order to face the moment of collision with his opponent. For this purpose, special saddles with very high pommels and cantles were used in order to support the rider. According to Carlos Henriques Pereira, and to other historians, the “a la brida” style was typical of Northern Europe. But it is well documented that this way of riding was also widespread in southern countries such as Italy and also in Portugal. Indeed, according to Baldassare Castiglione, Italian knights stood out because of their ability in this technique and for their ability to master difficult horses.

it is the special pride of the Italians to ride well a la brida, to school wild horses with consummate skill, and to play at tilting and jousting.” (Book of the Courtier, I, 21)

The “a la brida” style was the typical technique of heavy cavalry (in Johann Jacobi von Wallhausen, Ritterkunst, Franckfurt, 1616)

The “a la brida” style was the typical technique of heavy cavalry
(in Johann Jacobi von Wallhausen, Ritterkunst, Franckfurt, 1616)

In addition, this was the typical riding technique used in jousting, the knightly games in which two armed knights on horseback faced off at “the barrier,” if between the two contenders, there was a “tilt,” made of wood, or of canvas, or in the “open field.” These chivalrous events were widespread throughout Europe up until the seventeenth century and this explains also why “a la brida” was a common style.

The

The “a la brida” style was used in jousting, a type of chivalrous events
which were widespread throughout Europe
(in Anthoine de Pluvinel, L’instruction du roy en l’exercice de monter à cheval, Paris, 1625)
© The Trustees of the British Museum

In contrast, the “a la gineta” style of riding with shorter stirrups, allowed the rider a more direct and precise contact of the “lower aids” with the horse’s sides. According to Dom Duarte, this style required the rider to sit “in the middle of the saddle”, not using the support of the pommel and the cantle, keeping the feet firmly resting on the stirrups, with the heels slightly down (III, 5). It was a technique typical of the Iberian Peninsula, clearly originating in North Africa. The term “gineta” or “ginetta” comes from the Spanish word “jinete” which, in turn, most likely derived from the Berber tribe of Zeneti, famous for it’s light cavalry. They would have been the ones to introduce this style of riding to the Iberian Peninsula. This origin is also clearly identified by the fact that in the “a la gineta” style,  a kind of bit was used which was identical to those still in use in North Africa. It was formed by two short shanks connected by a cannon, with a central shovel that rested flat on the horse’s tongue and on top of which a large metal ring was attached. This ring passed under the lower jaw of the animal and acted as a curb chain. Also, the saddle was clearly of Arabic origin and was quite similar to the “silla vaquera” still used in Spain.

In the

In the “a la gineta” style the use of short stirrups
allowed the rider a more direct and precise contact
of the “lower aids”
(in Galvão de Andrade, Arte da cavalaria de Gineta, Lisboa, 1678)

The “a la gineta” style was typical of the Iberian Peninsula, but rapidly spread into the domains of the Spanish Empire and particularly into southern Italy, where the horses of Spanish  origin were called “Ginnetti”. We find testimony of the widespread breeding of this kind of horse in the southern regions of Italy, in the frescoes of Palazzo Pandone in Venafro. Among these frescos is the portrait of the bay “ginecto” called Stella, portrayed at the age of four on the 23rd of May 1523, which was subsequently donated to the Neapolitan nobleman Annibale Caracciolo. Dom Duarte underlines that riding “a la gineta” was not practiced in Northern Europe and that the British and the French had little experience with this way of riding (III, 7).

The bay Stella, life-size portrayed in Castello Pandone in Venafro (XV century). The breeding of

The bay Stella, life-size portrayed in Castello Pandone in Venafro (XV century). The breeding of “Ginnetti” (jennets, i.e. horses of Iberian origin) was widespread in southern Italy

Riding “a la gineta” is also the basic technique of bullfighting on horseback. The short stirrups allowed the rider to make fast stops and departures, as well as sudden changes of direction, which are essential in the fight with the bull. It is well known that this kind of fighting took place not only on the Iberian peninsula, but during the Renaissance, was used as well in Italy. Benedetto Croce recalls events in Siena and Florence, where, in 1584, in Piazza Santa Croce, there was a magnificent bullfight on the occasion of the visit of Prince Vincenzo Gonzaga, heir to the throne of Mantua. Maria Bellonci chronicles the passion of the Borgias for bulls and mentions the bullfight with which the Duke Valentino, Cesare Borgia (the son of Pope Alexander VI), celebrated the New Year’s Eve 1502, no less than in Saint Peter’s square in Rome. The features of the “a la gineta” style were also further used in some types of chivalrous trials, such as the “game of the reeds” (juego de canhas) and the “carousel joust.” They both were equestrian games of Arabic origin, imported by the Spaniards in Italy, in which two teams of riders faced each other in a bloodless battle armed with reeds and Moorish shields, or hurling projectiles made of clay.

Riding “a la gineta” was the basic technique of bullfighting on horseback. During the Reinassance, this kind of fighting were widespread  also outside the Iberian peninsula (Antonio Tempesta, Caccia al toro, 1598)

Riding “a la gineta” was the basic technique of bullfighting on horseback. During the Reinassance, this kind of fighting were widespread also outside the Iberian peninsula
(Antonio Tempesta, Caccia al toro, 1598)

However, both Dom Duarte and, about a century after him, Baldassare Castiglione were convinced of one thing: the perfect knight must master each of these techniques and be able to adapt to any type of saddle, since each one is useful for specific needs. “A man will never be a good rider if he is not able to choose the most appropriate way to ride on each type of saddle” (Livro da Ensinança de Bem Cavalgar Toda Sela, III, 14).

The “a la gineta” bit was of a clear Arabic origin and was identical to those still in use in North Africa (in Pirro Antonio Ferraro, Cavallo frenato, Napoli, 1602)

The “a la gineta” bit was of a clear Arabic origin and was identical to those still in use in North Africa
(in Pirro Antonio Ferraro, Cavallo frenato, Napoli, 1602)

Bibliography

BELLONCI, Maria, Lucrezia Borgia, Milano, Mondadori 1939.

CASTIGLIONE, Baldassare, Il Cortigiano, a cura di A. Quondam, Milano, Mondadori, 2002.

CROCE, Benedetto, La Spagna nella vita italiana durante la Rinascenza, 2a ed. riveduta, Bari, Laterza, 1922.

D’ANDRADE, Fernando Sommer,  La tauromachie équestre au Portugal, Paris, Michel Chandeigne, 1991.

Dom DUARTE, The Royal Book of Horsemanship, Jousting and Knightly Combat, translatetd by A. F. and L. Preto, edited by Steven Muhlberger, Highland Viallge, The Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005.

PEREIRA, Carlos Henriques, Etude du premier traité d’équitation portugais. Livro da ensinança de bem cavalgar toda sela, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2001.

PEREIRA, Carlos Henriques, Naissance et renaissance de l’equitation portugaise, Paris, l’Harmattan, 2010.