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Aby Warburg's ‘Costumi teatrali’ (1895) and the Art Historical Foundations of Theatre Iconography

  • M. A. Katritzky (a1)


In 1895, Aby Warburg drew attention to ways in which information of theatre historical significance can be gained from visual images, in an article which outlines a clear methodology for their evaluation as historical documents, based on a comparative approach in the context of the surviving documentation concerning the event under investigation as a whole, the Florentine intermedi of 1589. ‘Probably the most described theatrical production in history’, these intermedi were especially devised to embellish dramatic performances by professional commedia dell'arte actors (La Zingana and Pazzia of Isabella) and amateur players (La Pellegrina) which were intended by the Medici as the greatest attraction of the celebrations in honour of the wedding of Ferdinande I de'Medici to Christine de Lorraine, and recognized by both contemporaries and historians as a highpoint of European court festival.



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1. Warburg, Aby, ‘I Costumi teatrali per gli intermezzi del 1589.1 disegni di Bernardo Buontalenti e il Libro di Conti di Emilio de' Cavalieri’, Atti dell'Accademia del Regio Istituto Musicale di Firenze, 1895: Commemorazione della Riforma Melodrammatica, 23 (1895), pp. 133–6. Warburg's previously unpublished German language original (from which it was translated into Italian) was included, with the Italian version and numerous additional footnotes researched by Bing, Gertrud, in Gesammelte Schriften, I (Die Erneuerung der Heidnischen Antike: Kulturwissenschaftliche Beiträge zur Geschichte der Europäischen Renaissance), 2 vols., edited by Rougemont, F. and Bing, G. (Leipzig & Berlin: Teubner, 1932), pp. 259300 & 394438.

2. Paul Kafno (quoted in Freedman, Peter, ‘At Last the 1589 Show’, Evening Standard, 14 12 1990, p. 47).

3. Botti, Giovanna, ed., Biblioteca teatrale (‘Immagini di teatro’), 36/37 (1996); Erenstein, R. L. and Senelick, Laurence, eds., Theatre Research International (‘Theatre and Iconography’), Vol. 22, No. 3 (Autumn 1997).

4. Saslow, James, The Medici Wedding of 1589, Florentine Festival as ‘Theatrum Mundi’ (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), p. 3; Fischer-Lichte, Erika, ‘Theatre Historiography and Performance Analysis: Different Field—Common Approaches?’, Assaph, 10 (1994), pp. 99112 (111).

5. Gombrich, E. H., Ideals and Idols, Essays on Values in History and in Art (Oxford: Phaidon, 1979), p. 152; Haskell, Francis, History and its Images: Art and the Interpretation of the Past (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), p. 6.

6. Gombrich, , Ideals and Idols, pp. 57–8, 118–20.

7. Krauss, Rosalind et al. , eds., ‘Visual Culture Questionnaire’, 10 (77), 1996, pp. 2570; all but two based in the art history (7), art and archaeology (1), architecture (1), film (1), visual and cultural studies (1), history/ government (2) and English and/ or foreign language and literature (4) departments of North American universities.

8. Gombrich, , Ideals and Idols, p. 151.

9. As Elam, Caroline (Editorial: ‘Art History or Kunstgeschichte?’, The Burlington Magazine, 129 (1987), pp. 643–4) points out, in Germany, the quest for new methodologies does not challenge the common ground of this discipline, which continues to be accepted as its professional foundation. As highlighted by Fischer-Lichte, Erika (‘Thoughts on the ‘Interdisciplinary’ Nature of Theatre Studies’, Assaph, 12 (1997), pp. 111–24; ‘Theatre Historiography’), this unity of approach contrasts with the situation in German theatre studies.

10. Holly, Michael Ann, Kaufmann, Thomas Dacosta, Wood, Christopher, ‘Visual Culture Questionnaire’ (1996), pp. 3941, 45–8, 6870 (69).

11. A point discussed by Forster, Kurt [‘Aby Warburg: His Study of Ritual and Art on Two Continents’, pp. 524 (16)], in the same issue of October.

12. Pace Moxey, who suggests that the way forward for visual studies is to make aesthetics their ‘keystone of disciplinary focus’(‘Visual Culture Questionnaire’ (1996), p. 58).

13. ‘What Help from Art?’, Times Literary Supplement (7 April 1966).

14. Rabb, Theodore K., ‘The Historian and the Art Historian’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 4 (1973), pp. 107–17; Rabb, , ‘The Historian and the Art Historian Revisited’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 14 (1984), pp. 647–55; Rabb, and Brown, Jonathan, ‘The Evidence of Art: Images and Meaning in History’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History (1986), pp. 17, 16 (5); Rabb, , ‘Historians and Art Historians: A Lowering of Sights?’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 27(1996), pp. 8794(88).

15. Rampley, Matthew, ‘From Symbol to Allegory: Aby Warburg's Theory of Art’, Art Bulletin, 79 (1997), pp. 4155 (46).

16. Gombrich, E. H., Aby Warburg, an Intellectual Biography, (Oxford: Phaidon, 1986 [1st ed. 1970]), p. 140: ‘Trüffelschweindienste / the services of a pig in rooting up truffles’.

17. Warburg/Bing, Gesammelte Schriften, pp. 267, 273n.

18. Warburg/Bing, Gesammelte Schriften, pp. 423–4.

19. Elam, , ‘Art History or Kunstgeschichte?’, p. 643.

20. Erenstein, R. L., ‘Theatre Iconography: An Introduction’, Theatre Research International, 22, 3 (1997), pp. 185–9 (185).

21. Zorzi, Ludovico, ‘Figurazione pittorica e figurazione teatrale’, in Storia dell'arte italiana (Torino: Einaudi, 1979), I, pp. 419–62; quoted by Molinari, Cesare, ‘Sull'iconografia come fonte della storia del teatro’, Biblioteca teatrale, 36/37 (1996), pp. 1940 (20), and by Guardenti, Renzo, ‘Il quadro e la cornice: iconografia e storia dello spettacolo’, Biblioteca teatrale, 36/37, (1996), pp. 6174 (65).

22. Kowzan, Tadeusz, ‘Iconographie-iconologie théâtrale: le signe iconique et son référent’, Diogènes, 130 (1985), pp. 5168 (67–8); Guardenti, , ‘Il quadro e la cornice’, p. 66; Molinari, , ‘Sull'iconografia’, p. 26; Balme, Christopher, ‘Interpreting the Pictorial Record: Theatre Iconography and the Referential Dilemma’, Theatre Research International, 22, 3 (1997), pp. 190201 (193); de Vries, Lyckle, ‘Iconography and Iconology in Art History: Panofsky's Prescriptive Definitions, and some Art-Historical Responses to them’, in Heck, T. F., ed., Picturing Performance: The Iconography of the Performing Arts in Theory and Practice (Rochester University Press, forthcoming).

23. Exceptions include Brandstetter, Gabriele, TanzLektüren: Körperbilder und Raumfiguren der Avantgarde, (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1995); Botti, Giovanna, ‘Presentazione: Immagini di teatro’, Biblioteca teatrale, 36/37 (1996), pp. 1317.

24. Herrmann, Max, Forschungen zur deutschen Theatergeschichte des Mittelalters und der Renaissance (Berlin: Weidmann, 1914), part D, pp. 273500; Corssen, Stefan, ‘Das erste Standardwerk der Theaterwissenschaft: Max Herrmann und die Forschungen zur deutschen Theatergeschichte des Mittelalters und der Renaissance’, in Kotte, Andreas, ed., Theater der Region – Theater Europas. Kongress der Gesellschaft für Theaterwissenschaft (Basel: Theaterkultur, 1995), pp. 201–9; Corssen, , Max Herrmann und die Anfänge der Theaterwissenschaft (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1998).

25. Zampino, M. Daniela, ‘Gli studi teatrali e il “Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes’”, Biblioteca teatrale, 18(1977), pp. 144(2).

26. Zampino, , ‘Gli studi teatrali’, pp. 14, 20.

27. Molinari, Cesare, ‘L'altra faccia del 1589: Isabella Andreini e la sua “pazzia”’, in Garfagnini, Giancarlo, ed., Firenze e la Toscana dei Medici nell'Europa del '500, 3 vols. (Florence: Olschki, 1983), II, pp. 565–73; Andrews, Richard, Scripts and Scenarios: The Performance of Comedy in Renaissance Italy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 235; MacNeil, Anne, ‘The Divine Madness of Isabella Andreini’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 120 (1995), pp. 195215.

28. Of which the most substantial are Bing's addenda to Warburg, and the monographs of Matteini, Annamaria Testaverde, ‘L'officina delle nuvole. Il Teatro Mediceo nel 1589 e gli Intermedi del Buontalenti nel Memoriale di Girolamo Seriacopi’, Musica e Teatro (Quaderni degli amici della Scala), 11/12 (1991) and Saslow, , The Medici Wedding of 1589.

29. For English translations of diary entries by the German Barthold von Gadenstedt and an anonymous Frenchman (published in the original by Kümmel, Werner Friedrich, ‘Ein deutscher Bericht über die florentinischen Intermedien des Jahres 1589’, Analecta Musicologica, 9 (1970), pp. 119 and Monga, Luigi, ‘Voyage de Provence et d'Italia: Paris, édition, introduction et notes’, Biblioteca del Viaggio in Italia, 49 (Genève: Slatkine, 1994) and a transcription and translation of a Bavarian report, see Katritzky, M. A., ‘Aby Warburg and the Florentine intermedi of 1589 (forthcoming); for possible iconographie representations of members of the Gelosi troupe in 1589, see: Katritzky, M. A., ‘Eight Portraits of Gelosi Actors in 1589?’, Theatre Research International, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Summer 1996), pp. 108–20.

30. Fruth, Mary Ann, ‘Research with French Festival Books: An Introduction’, Theatre Studies, 18 (19711972), p. 8; Shearman, John, ‘The Florentine Entrata of Leo X, 1515’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 38 (1975), p. 146; Watanabe-O'Kelly, Helen, ‘Festival Books in Europe from Renaissance to Rococo’, The Seventeenth Century, 3 (1988), p. 181.

31. Balme, Christopher, ‘Cultural Anthropology and Theatre Historiography: Notes on a Methodological Rapprochement’, Theatre Survey, 35 (1994), pp. 3353; Balme, , ‘Kulturanthropologie und Theatergeschichtsschreibung: Methoden und Perspektiven’, in Fischer-Lichte, Erika, ed., Arbeitsfelder der Theaterwissenschaft (Tübingen: Narr, 1994); Katritzky, M. A., “The Mountebank: A Case-Study in Early Modern Theatre Iconography”, in Twining, William & Hampsher-Monk, Iain, eds., Evidence and Inference in History and Law: Interdisciplinary Dialogues (Northwestern University Press, forthcoming).

32. Kümmel, , ‘Ein deutscher Bericht’, p. 6.

33. Nagler, A. M., Theatre Festivals of the Medici 1539–1637, (New Haven & London: Yale, 1964), pp. 74, n. 11, 75.

34. Nagler, , Theatre Festivals, p. 75; Gascoigne, Bamber, World Theatre, an Illustrated History (London, 1968), p. 145; Saslow, , The Medici Wedding of 1589, pp. 82–3 & fig. 7.

35. Monga, , ‘Voyage de Provence’, p. 113.

36. Moxey, Pace, ‘Visual Culture Questionnaire’, p. 58.

Aby Warburg's ‘Costumi teatrali’ (1895) and the Art Historical Foundations of Theatre Iconography

  • M. A. Katritzky (a1)


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