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The problem of audience in Mantua: understanding ritual efficacy in an Italian Renaissance princely state

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Traditional historical analysis of the highly developed pageantry of Renaissance courts generally assumes the efficacy of ritual. In the case of Mantua, it would be easy to assume that the elaborate processions, costly chivalric tournaments, and stately commemorations of the city's patron saints communicated vital messages of power and authority to the subjects of marquis Francesco II Gonzaga and his wife Isabella d'Este, who ruled the city in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The archival evidence, however, suggests that the Gonzaga often confronted a problem co-ordinating the symbolic content of their rituals with the interests of their audiences. While the Gonzaga focused much of their energy and resources on the Mantuan nobility, they frequently failed to excite their more humble subjects. Specifically, the Gonzaga transformed formerly popular celebrations, such as the feasts of San Leonardo and Santi Pietro e Paolo, into elite affairs designed to construct and maintain their aristocratic networks while at the same time exalting themselves. But, by the end of the fifteenth century, both of these public events experienced flagging participation, not only among the city's lower orders but, surprisingly, also among Mantua's nobility.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: The College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA

Publication date: 2002-09-01

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