The Fall of the Kingdom of the Amazons - One of the most beautiful Italian Baroque festival books

FESTIVALS. De Totis, Giussepe (1644-1707), librettist; Fontana, Girolamo (1665/68?-1701), set designer, artist

La caduta del regno dell'Amazzoni. Festa teatrale fatta rappresentare in Roma dall'Ecc. Signor Marchese di Coccogliudo per le nozze di Carlo II Re delle Spagne e della Principessa Marianna Contessa Palatina del Reno.

Rome: Stamperia della Camera Apostolica, 1690


Quarto: [10], 70 p. Collation: A-K4. With 13 large, folding engravings.


Bound in contemporary marbled boards. A beautiful copy, complete with all 13 plates (a number of copies have only 12.) A few small stains to the edges of a couple of plates. One plate with two small, light stains and repaired split at fold, with a little separation but without loss. The work is extremely rare. I have located only 2 copies in North America (Morgan, Harvard). Provance: Paul and Marianne Gourary, purchased from Lathrop Harper (1956).

"The Fall of the Kingdom of the Amazons", with a libretto by Domenico de Totis and music by Bernardo Pasquini, was based on Solìs y Ribadeneyra's "Las Amazonas". The production was undertaken at the behest of the Spanish ambassador in Rome, Luis Francisco de la Cerda, to celebrate the wedding of King Charles II of Spain and Marianna of Neuberg, daughter of the Elector Palatine. The opera was staged in the magnificent theater within the Palazzo Colonna, which reachedthe apex of itsvirtuosismo spettacolarewith this production, on 15 January 1690.

The "Caduta" is an excellent example of a "festa teatrale", an opera, with dances, divided into acts, with mythological themes and characters, produced for a noble audience. The elaborate sets, complete with dazzling floats (carri) and flying creatures, were designed by Girolamo Fontana (1665/68?-1701). Fontana designed the sets in such a way that one seemed to transform into another. For example, a beach surrounded by rocky crags morphs into a cave within which one of the protagonists is trapped. When the hero manages to dig a hole in the wall of the cave, the side of the cave slides aside to allow him egress, and he emerges from the gloomy cave (which is illuminated by a small lamp), into an open field bathed in sunlight.

A number of scenes from the performance, including the fantasy "The Walnut Tree of Benevento", are beautifully reproduced in 13 magnificent plates (described below), engraved by Alessandro Specchi (1668-1729), Giovanni Francesco Venturini, Luzio Bonomi, Francesco Buffettini, and Pietro Paolo Petrucci.

For a detailed discussion of the opera, see Andrea Garavaglia, "Il mito delle Amazzoni nell'opera barocca italiana" (2015), p. 183-197. For a discussion of the stage sets, see: Tamburini, Il Teatro a Roma (1997), Vol. II, p. 640-661)

Plate 1: Prologue: A beach, surrounded by crags, with a view of the sea. At center stage stands Hercules conversing with Atlas, who has fallen on the beach with the globe of the Earth, divided into four parts, upon his shoulders. [incisione: G. Fontana]

Plate 2: Prologue: The same beach. From the sea emerge three chariots, laden with gold, silver, precious gems, coral, crystal, and flowers. The first is pulled by hippocampi and surmounted by four Americans. The second is drawn by dolphins and carries Africans. The third is drawn by taurocampi(bull-headed hippocampi). On the beach, Hercules in conversation with personifications of Asia, Africa, Europe, and America.[engraved by Specchi]

Plate 3: Act 1, Scene 1: In a dark grotto, Artide, son of Alexander the Great, tries to pry away some of the rocks in the wall to escape. On the table in the foreground, an oil lamp, some books, and a globe. [engraved by Venturini]

Plate 4: Act 1, Scene 1: Artide emerges into an open clearing bathed in sunlight and surrounded by trees. In the background flows the river Termodon. Turpino, squire of King Sarmander of Sarmatia greets him. In the forest to the right, the king's army. As the scene progresses, the sun shines more brightly. [engraved by Venturini]

Plate 5: Act 1, Scene 9: Artide accompanied by soldiers, Sarmatians, and Turpino dressed as a woman, all in an elaborate architectural stage set with caryatids and an arch, visible in the background. [engraved by Petrucci]

Plate 6: Act 1, Scene 12: An ornate hall with a magnificent bed in the shape of a shell set in an alcove. In the scene: Mandane, queen of the Amazons, Mitiline, the queen's sister and general of the Amazonian army, Idaspe, Artide's guardian, and Tisbe, the queen's lady-in-waiting. [engraved by Bonomi]

Plate 7: First intermezzoA large garden with spallieri, statuary, and elevated, projecting loggias. At center stage, at the top of a grand stairway, sits Venus on a shell-shaped throne, attended by cherubs. In the foreground, other cherubs perform a dance, while in the sky above still more of them flit about brandishing bows and arrows. [engraved by Fontana(?)]

Plate 8: Act 2, Scene 6: Another beautiful garden with statuary and fountains. [engraved by Bonomi]

Plate 9: Act 2, Scene 14: Mandane and Licandro in a large, ornate gallery. [engraved by Fontana(?)]

Plate 10: Second intermezzo:A surreal scene unfolds at the "Walnut Tree of Benevento": a flying goat carries Turpino, transformed into a bat-winged bear, to the grove of Benevento, while other fantastic beasts fly about. Below, in a garden setting, "various ridiculous monsters" perform dances while satyrs, medusas, and naked caryatids frolic, forming twisted, living columns surmounted by dragons. In a glass bottle in the foreground is a gestating homunculus. In the background, under the tree, satyrs sit on wine casks. [engraved by Fontana(?)]

Plate 11: Act 3, Scene 1: Mitilene in full armor and her sister the queen stand in a regal colonnade with a lively fountain. [engraved by Bufalini]

Plate 12: Act 3, Scene 7: A large, bejeweled room, richly decorated with embroidered panels, paintings, and vases of alabaster. [engraved by Specchi]

Plate 13: Act 3, Scene 14: The armies of the Sarmatians and the Amazons , led by their sovereigns, burst forth from their tents into an open plain. In the sky above, "Fame" rides in a chariot drawn by a Pegasus. Hymnaeus flies into the sky to celebrate the wedding of Mandane and Licandro. [engraved by Petrucci]

Salvioli 588: "Splendida e rara edizione adorna di 12 (!) ammirabili stampe disegnate da G. Fontana ed incise dai migliori incisori di Roma. Il compositore della musica resta ignorato". Allacci 152. Berlin Katalog II, 4136. Michel VIII, 73. Not in Folger, Ruggieri, Derra de Moroda, or Magriel. See also: Roma splendidissima e magnifica: luoghi di spettacolo a Roma dall'umanesimo ad oggi [Roma, Acquario Romano, 24 settembre 1997 - 20 gennaio 1998], p. 121