A Comic Festival on the Frozen Arno


Relazione delle feste fatte in Fiorenza sopra il ghiaccio del fiume d'Arno l'ultimo di dicembre 1604.

Florence: Bartolomeo Sermartelli, 1604


Quarto: [16] p. Collation: A-B4

FIRST EDITION. A second edition, in octavo, was printed by Guiducci in the same year.

A very good, untrimmed copy in modern cartoncino, slight fraying to edges. Very rare. In North America, the book is represented by 2 copies of the second edition (Getty, Berkeley) and another copy (edition not determined) at Harvard.

A marvelous account of festivities held in Florence in 1604 when, for the first time in sixty years, the river Arno froze. The Florentines were at first hesitant to step out onto the ice but soon overcame their fear and began to play ball and devise amusements (such as a "hunt" with cats and rabbits),

Taking advantage of the unusual occurrence, the city organized an elaborate festival that involved dances, ball games, barefoot races, sled jousts, musical performances, a parade, fireworks, and performances in which nobles and illustrious men recited comic and courtly poems.

The complexity of the festival was extraordinary when one considers that it all had to be put together very quickly, given the unexpected onset of the freeze and concern that the ice would melt before the events could be performed.

"The pageantry provided the spectators with an impressive visual display. While Camillo Suarez and Francesco Martelli appeared as savages with riotous beards and great turbans. Filippo Valori came dressed as a Turkish woman in a red garment trimmed in jewels and feathers. Their slitta (a parade float that had a sled with metal runners at its core) was painted colorfully with touches of gold and silver and pulled by a fire-breathing dragon. Accompanied by ten attendants, Don Virginio appeared as a Bascià Ottomanno (Turkish viceroy) 'with the most remarkable and sublime apparatus.' Wearing a feather plume of nearly six feet in height, he rode in a golden slitta that was shaped like two birds with swan wings." These Turkish elements might have had special significance in 1604, given the recent pact established between Ferdinando de Medici and the Ottoman Druze emir Fakhr-al-Din II (1591-1635).

The Florentines were not at all accustomed to navigating ice and, consequently, there was a tremendous amount of slipping and falling. This circumstance amplified the comic aspect of the festival, which had a carnivalesque character.

"As understood from the festival text, much of the success of this event stemmed from the comic disorder that arose from the participants' lack of control over their environment… The first contest was a barefoot race where the runners slipped, stumbled, and fell on the ice. Describing it as 'one of the most graceless and ridiculous spectacles that had ever been seen, the author comments on the jumble of tangled bodies. Tired from so much laughter, the spectators could not easily determine a winner."

The next activity was an equally entertaining 'palio delle seggiolette' (chair race) that involved similar slippery action on the ice. The final competition was a joust where the 'cavalieri began to run and target their lances at a mock Saracen.' Placed on a slitta, the mannequin was pushed by four men wearing shoes 'well made of iron'. Sliding around the ice, many of the participants tumbled from their seats and broke their lances." Margaret Shewring, " Waterborne Pageants and Festivities in the Renaissance")