In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Nativity and Magi Plays in Renaissance Florence Konrad Eisenbichler A scanning of Richard Trexler's provisional checklist of theatrical performances in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Florence reveals two types of Christmas dramas: Nativity plays and Magi plays.1 This should come as no surprise, given that the Christmas holiday lasts until Epiphany. When we examine the dates of these recorded performances, however, we notice an unusual pattern. While the Magi plays, as expected, are listed as having been staged at Epiphany,2 none of the Nativity plays recorded by Trexler were staged during the Christmas season; instead, they are listed in connection with the parade of floats commemorating St. John's day (24 June) and are associated with the youths' confraternity of the Archangel Raphael, also known as the confraternity of the Nativity.3 It would seem that there were no Nativity plays staged at Christmas! Such a conclusion is, by all means, untenable. Several reasons may be advanced for the absence of Nativity plays at Christmas in the official documents examined by Trexler. One is that these plays were the rule, not the exception, during the Christmas season. Many churches, convents, and confraternities must have staged some type of dramatic or theatrical re-enactment of the Nativity, from actual plays to tableaux vivants, and therefore no one considered them especially memorable. Another is that these plays were of a private devotional nature, not official public displays of civic pride, and as such they did not find their way into civic records. When they were performed in conjunction with a civic celebration, as in the case of the parade of floats associated with the St. John's festivities, then they became memorable and appropriate for mention in personal or public records. In this article I will use the references to Nativity and Magi plays provided by Richard Trexler in his checklist as a starting point for an examination of plays on the Christmas story that 319 320Comparative Drama were performed in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Florence, an appreciation of their different contexts, and an invitation to carry out a fuller and more determined archival search for further documentation on early Florentine theater. Until 1453 the parade of floats that was part of the festivities for Florence's patron saint had been part of the ecclesiastical procession on the morning of 23 June. A brief description of the pre-1453 procession of St. John the Baptist and some of its elements has come down to us in the words of a Greek prelate who saw it in 1439 when he was in Florence for the Ecumenical Council of Union: On 23 June they hold a great procession and have a great popular feast, in which they carry out prodigious things, such as miracles or representations of miracles. In fact, they raise the dead; St. Michael treads on the devils, they crucify a man who plays the part of Christ; they re-enact [rappresentano] the resurrection of Christ; they have men interpret the part of Magi; with men they stage the birth of Christ; with the shepherds, the star, the animals, and the manger. Then they go on procession with statues and relics of the saints, images, and venerable crosses; trumpets and other musical instruments always march first. What is there to say of the fact that they had a monk represent St. Augustine, they put him at a height of 25 braccia, and there he walked up and down and preached? They had some mimes assume the role of hermits with beards, and they walked high up on wooden legs: a shocking [impressionante] spectacle! We also saw statues, some very large, others tall, that moved ponderously [con pesantezza]. What is there to say of St. George, who performed the miracle of the dragon?4 The many secular elements in this procession eventually shocked not only the visiting Greek prelate but even some of the Florentine clergy. In 1454 the saintly archbishop Antonio Pierozzi (1389—1459, canonized as St. Antoninus in 1523) ordered a fundamental restructuring of the order of events: the floats were separated from the procession of the clergy, moved to the morning of the previous day (22 June), and...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 319-333
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.