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Spectacles of Fire and Water : Performing the Destructive Forces of Early Modern Naval Battles

Felicia M. Else

Else, Felicia M., « Spectacles of Fire and Water : Performing the Destructive Forces of Early Modern Naval Battles », Arti dello Spettacolo / Performing Arts, Performance and Spectacle in Early Modern Europe, 2020.

Extrait de l’article

When it comes to the expressive power of performance and spectacle in Early Modern Europe, the naval battle, sometimes dubbed with its ancient monikor, naumachia, was surely one of the most complex and arduous, speaking to pretensions of political power in this age of territorial expansion and conflict. Tuscany serves as a good case in point, exemplified by the famous naumachia set in the Palazzo Pitti courtyard put on for the 1589 wedding of Ferdinando I de’ Medici and Christine of Lorraine and reproduced in a well-known ngraving by Orazio Scarabelli (Fig. 1).
Scholars of art and festivals have rightly emphasized the manipulation and visual splendor of water in such impressive maritime displays, and J. R. Mulryne’s fine study of this Medici spectacle points out the vivid, borderline unpleasant sensual experience that audience would have felt in such an enclosed space. This study takes inspiration from Mulryne’s work by looking specifically at the pairing of water and fire in sixteenth-century representations and performances of naval battles, efforts that required an astounding level of manipulation and choreography to bring together two unpredictable and dangerous opposing elements of nature.

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