Festival book

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Illustration from festival book Descriptio Publicae Gratulationis by Joannes Bochius, commemorating 1594 entry into Antwerp of Archduke Ernest of Austria[1]

Festival books (Dutch: feestboeken, Spanish: libros de festivos) are books, often illustrated, that commemorate a notable event such as a royal entry, coronation or wedding.[2] Funerals were also commemorated in similar fashion. The genre thrived in Renaissance and early modern Europe, where rulers utilized the form to both document and embellish displays of wealth and power.


Large numbers were produced, often surviving in very few copies; the largest collection, in the British Library, has over 2000 examples.[3] Originally manuscripts, often illustrated, compiled for prince or city, with the arrival of print they were frequently published, varying in form from short pamphlets describing the order of events, and perhaps recording speeches, to lavish books illustrated with woodcuts or engravings showing the various tableaux, often including a fold-out panorama of the procession, curling to and fro across the page. The pamphlets were ephemera; a printed description of two leaves describing the entry of Ferdinand II of Aragon into Valladolid, 1513, survives in a single copy (at Harvard) because it was bound with another text. A lost description of the ceremonious reception given by Louis XII to Ferdinand at Savona (June 1507) is only known from a purchase receipt of Ferdinand Columbus.[4]

These livrets are not always to be trusted as literal records; some were compiled beforehand from the plans, and others after the event from fading memories. The authors or artists engaged in producing the books had by no means always seen the entry themselves. Roy Strong finds that they are "an idealization of an event, often quite distant from its reality as experienced by the average onlooker. One of the objects of such publications was to reinforce by means of word and image the central ideas that motivated those who conceived the programme."[5] Philip II of Spain's ceremonial entry into Antwerp in 1549 was all but called off because of torrential rain, but the book shows it as it should have been.[6] Thomas Dekker, the playwright and author of the book on The Magnificent Entertainment for James I of England is refreshingly frank:

Reader, you must understand, that a regard, being had that his Majestie should not be wearied with teadious speeches; A great part of those which are in this Booke set downe, were left unspoken; So that thou doest here receive them as they should have been delivered, not as they were.[7]
Detail of top (about 1/10 of the height) of the Triumphal Arch of Maximilian, coloured woodcut, overall design by Albrecht Dürer.

The Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, went a step further, creating enormous virtual triumphs that existed solely in the form of print. The Triumphs of Maximilian (begun in 1512 and unfinished at Maximilian's death in 1519) contains over 130 large woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer and other artists, showing a huge procession (still in open country) culminating in the Emperor himself, mounted on a huge car. The Triumphal Arch (1515), the largest print ever made, at 3.57 x 2.95 metres when the 192 sheets are assembled, was produced in an edition of seven hundred copies for distribution to friendly cities and princes. It was intended to be hand-coloured and then pasted to a wall.[8] Traditional tableau themes, including a large genealogy, and many figures of Virtues, are complemented by scenes of Maximilian's life and military victories.[9] Maximilian was wary of entries in person, having been locked up by his loyal subjects in Bruges in 1488 for eleven weeks, until he could pay the bills from his stay.[10]

An early meeting between the festival book with travel literature is the account of the visit in 1530 of the future Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor, then King of Hungary and Bohemia, to Constantinople.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Entry of Ernst, Archduke of Austria, into Antwerp. (Antwerp: 14th June, 1594)". Treasures in Full: Renaissance Festival Books. British Library. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  2. ^ "Festival books". Art & Architecture Thesaurus. J. Paul Getty Trust. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  3. ^ The British Library collection of festival books
  4. ^ Knighton and Morte Garcia 1999:120f.
  5. ^ Strong, 1984:47.
  6. ^ British Library
  7. ^ British Library online book
  8. ^ The American Institute for Conservation; Figure 9 (and many later ones) show the Triumphal Car of Maximilian, and Figure 10 is the first appearance of the Arch
  9. ^ For all on Dürer's involvement: Giulia Bartrum, Albrecht Dürer and his Legacy, (British Museum Press), 2002:194–7, ISBN 0-7141-2633-0
  10. ^ A move the burghers were to regret when his son Charles V later took family revenge with an especially tough siege
  11. ^ Andrea Bayer (2008). Art and Love in Renaissance Italy. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 272+. ISBN 978-1-58839-300-5.
  12. ^ "Feste nelle nozze del serenissimo Don Francesco Medici Gran Duca di Toscana". NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  13. ^ "Descrizione delle feste fatte in Firenze". 1637. Retrieved 30 August 2014 – via Luna Commons.
  14. ^ Ferdinando Bardi (1637). Descrizione delle feste fatte in Firenze per le reali nozze de serenissimi sposi Ferdinando 2. Gran Duca di Toscana e Vittoria principessa d'Urbino. Zanobi Pignoni – via Google Books.
  15. ^ "Entry of Ferdinand, Infante of Spain, into Antwerp. (Antwerp: 15th May, 1635)". Treasures in Full: Renaissance Festival Books. British Library. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  16. ^ "Exequies and Funeral of Isabel de Borbon, Queen of Spain, at the Real Convento de San Geronimo, Madrid. (Madrid: 1644)". Treasures in Full: Renaissance Festival Books. British Library. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  17. ^ "Tournament with running at the ring and at the head, held in Paris by Louis XIV (Paris: 1662)". Treasures in Full: Renaissance Festival Books. British Library. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  18. ^ "Celebration of the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle held at Versailles by Louis XIV, King of France. (Versailles: 1668)". Treasures in Full: Renaissance Festival Books. British Library. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  19. ^ "Cuccagna posta sulla piazza del real palazzo". Narrazione delle solenni reali feste In Napoli – via Getty Trust.

Further reading[edit]

  • "Fête books", Art of Terpsichore: from Renaissance festivals to romantic ballets, Provo, Utah: Friends of the Brigham Young University Library, 1994 – via Open Library Free to read
  • Edmund A. Bowles. "Music in Court Festivals of State: Festival Books as Sources for Performance Practices", Early Music 28/3 (Aug. 2000). JSTOR 3519059
  • Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly, 'The Early Modern Festival Book: Function and Form' in J.R. Mulryne, Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly and Margaret Shewring (eds.), Europa Triumphans: Court and Civic Festivals in Early Modern Europe (Aldershot and Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2004) vol. I, pp. 3–18.
  • Karl F. Morrison (2006). "'The Mask of Ceremony': Rutgers' Growing Collection of Festival Books with a List of Holdings". Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries. US. ISSN 0036-0473. open access publication – free to read
  • Thomas Rahn (2006). Festbeschreibung: Funktion und Topik einer Textsorte am Beispiel der Beschreibung höfischer Hochzeiten (1568-1794) (in German). Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-094732-8.
  • Jelena Todorović (2006). An orthodox festival book in the Habsburg Empire: Zaharija Orfelin's Festive greeting to Mojsej Putnik (1757). Ashgate.
  • Ana Milosevic (2011). "The festival book dedicated to the exchange of Austrian and Turkish deputations in 1719". In Charles Ingrao; et al. The peace of Passarowitz, 1718. Purdue University Press.
  • Marie Baudière (2013). "The Carrousel of 1612 and the Festival Book". In Margaret M. McGowan. Dynastic marriages, 1612/1615 : a celebration of the Habsburg and Bourbon unions. Ashgate.
  • Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly (2014). "'True and Historical Descriptions'? European Festivals and the Printed Record". The Dynastic Centre and the Provinces: Agents and Interactions. Brill. p. 150+. ISBN 978-90-04-27209-5.

External links[edit]