Category Archives: Italy

Italy Prostitution Vice

Licentious Wantons

These snippets are taken from Coryat’s Crudities, Thomas Coryate’s observations on Europe gathered during a five-month walking tour in 1608, published in 1611.

The woman that professeth this trade is called in the Italian tongue Cortezana, which word is derived from the Italian word cortesia that signifieth courtesie, because these kinde of women are said to receive courtesies of their favourites. As for the number of these Venetian Cortezans it is very great; it is thought there are of them in the whole City and other adjacent places, as Murano, Malomocco, &c. at the least twenty thousand, whereof many are esteemed so loose, that they are said to open their quivers to every arrow. A most ungodly thing without doubt that there should be a tolleration of such licentious wantons in so glorious, so potent, so renowned a city. For so infinite are the allurements of these amorous Calypsoes, that the fame of them hath drawen many to Venice from some of the remotest parts of Christendome, to contemplate their beauties, and enjoy their pleasing dalliances.

And indeede such is the variety of the delicious objects they minister to their lovers, that they want nothing tending to delight. For when you come into one of their Palaces (as indeed some few of the principallest of them live in very magnificent and portly buildings fit for the entertainement of a great Prince) you seeme to enter into the Paradise of Venus. For their fairest roomes are most glorious and glittering to behold. The walles round about being adorned with most sumptuous tapistry and gilt leather.

As for her selfe shee comes to thee decked like the Queene and Goddesse of love, for her face is adorned with the quintessence of beauty. In her cheekes thou shalt see the Lilly and the Rose strive for the supremacy, and the silver tramels of her haire displayed in that curious manner besides her two frisled peakes standing up like prety Pyramides. Thou maist easily discerne the effects of those famous apothecary drugs heretofore used amongst the Noble Ladies of Rome, a thing so common amongst them, that many of them which have an elegant naturall beauty, doe varnish their faces (the observation whereof made me not a little pitty their vanities) with sordid trumperies. Also the ornaments of her body are so rich, that except thou dost even geld thy affections (a thing hardly to be done) or carry with thee some antidote against those Venereous titillations, shee wil very neare benumme and captivate thy senses.

Thou shalt see her decked with many chaines of gold and orient pearle like a second Cleopatra, divers gold rings beautified with diamonds and other costly stones, jewels in both her eares of great worth. A gowne of damaske (I speake this of the nobler Cortizans) either decked with a deep gold fringe or laced with five or sixe gold laces each two inches broade. Her petticoate of red chamlet edged with rich gold fringe, stockings of carnasion silke, her breath and her whole body, the more to enamour thee, most fragrantly perfumed. Moreover shee will endevour to enchaunt thee partly with her melodious notes that she warbles out upon her lute, which shee fingers with as laudable a stroake as many men that are excellent professors in the noble science of Musicke ; and partly with that heart-tempting harmony of her voice. Also thou wilt finde the Venetian Cortezan (if she be a selected woman indeede) a good Rhetorician, and a most elegant discourser, shee will assay thy constancy with her Rhetoricall tongue.

And to the end shee may minister unto thee the stronger temptations to come to her lure, shee will shew thee her chamber of recreation, where thou shalt see all manner of pleasing objects, as many faire painted coffers wherewith it is garnished round about, a curious milke-white canopy of needle worke, a silke quilt embroidered with gold : and generally all her bedding sweetly perfumed. And amongst other amiable ornaments shee will shew thee the picture of our Lady by her bedde side, with Christ in her armes, placed within a cristall glasse.

Moreover I will tell thee this newes which is most true, that if thou shouldest wantonly converse with her, and not give her that payment which thou hast promised her, but perhaps cunningly escape from her company, shee will either cause thy throate to be cut by her Rurfiano, if he can after catch thee in the City, or procure thee to be arrested (if thou art to be found) and clapped up in the prison, where thou shalt remaine till thou hast paid her all thou didst promise her.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Italy Love Poetry Shakespeare

The Episode of the Two Unhappy Lovers

Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet sometime in the 1590s, dramatising an Italian story already familiar in Elizabethan England. The original author was the Italian poet Luigi Da Porto (1485 -1529), who wrote the story at his villa near Vicenza. Da Porto’s Istoria novellamente ritrovata di due nobili amanti (‘Newly discovered story of two noble lovers’, 1524) was immediately popular when it was first published, and at least five versions of his book were published in Italy and France over the next thirty years. Da Porto’s novel arrived in England in the 1560s, via translations by Arthur Brooke in 1562 and William Painter in 1567. It is widely accepted that Brooke’s The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet was the primary source used by Shakespeare. In the introduction to his novel, Da Porto dedicates the story to ‘the most beautiful and graceful Lady Lucina Savorgnano’. This dedication reveals both the inspiration behind the now legendary story of the star-crossed lovers, and Da Porto’s own rather poignant and romantic attachment to Lucina herself:
After informing you some days ago that I wished to narrate a touching incident which happened at Verona, and, having heard the same story many times, the writing thereof seemed to be a debt of honour which I owe to you, not only that I should remain faithful to my word, but, being myself very unfortunate in my love affairs, the episode of the two unhappy lovers, of which this novel is full, does in a great measure resemble mine. And I dedicate this story to you all the more willingly, because you are acknowledged among the beautiful, the most beautiful, besides being the most prudent, and in reading it you will clearly perceive what great risks and what rash deeds lovers will commit in the name of love, and in some cases their follies lead them even to death itself. And I address myself all the more willingly to you because I have determined that this venture shall be my last, and after writing this for your sake, my literary work in this kind of art will cease.
And as you are esteemed the harbor of all my worth and every virtue, I pray you to shelter this frail bark of my brain. Although loaded with much ignorance, it has been impelled by love, and having hitherto navigated the less profound seas of poverty, and that she may now on reaching you be placed in more skillful hands and under a brighter star, steer on the same sea and with helm, oars and sails unhampered, achor herself firmly on your hospitable shores. Therefore, my lady, receive it in the spirit in which it was conceived. Peruse it carefully not only for its subject, which in my judgement is a most pitiful one, but also for the close bond of consanguinity and sweet friendship which exists between yourself and the author who now addresses you.
Frontispiece of Giulietta e Romeo (1530)
© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved
Art Dining Italy Renaissance

A centaur made of sugar

These fragments are taken from a Milanese banquet menu dated 1491. As well as providing descriptions of the sorts of food eaten at a large feast, the menu also indicates the theatrical presentation of each course (which, frankly, in some cases is distinctly surreal). Formal dining is one aspect of court life which underwent very few changes from the Middle Ages onwards.  Hors d’oeuvre courses consisted of pastries, poultry and fish, and were followed by main courses of more fish, and heavier meats. The meal ended with courses of sweet desserts and oysters. Each course is accompanied by especially chosen wines. Here are a few excerpts from the menu:

Three swans with their skins decorated with gold; two roasted reared geese with bowls of grape juice on the side; one large golden pastry of game per plate. The lids of the same game pies are to be in the form of three very high and ornate mountains with forts on top, decorated with gold.

Large boiled pikes covered with black pepper sauce; one large boiled Toro [fish] with bowls of blue sauce on the side; salted fish. The covers of the plates holding the salted fish should consist of a model of the Colosseum lavishly decorated with gold.

A course of large boiled meats: two whole calves; four whole heifers; four whole kids; two whole roe deer; eight hares; pigs; and two wild boar. On large platters should be served six large capons; six geese; six pheasants; six ducks; twelve pigeons; and ten partridges. On other large platters should go eight hams; two salami; six large sausages; six tongues.’  This course is to be presented as follows: ‘a centrepiece with a laurel tree which is cut open and spurts blood; a small boy comes out on horseback reciting apposite verses and mottoes with much grace and skill.

Fish jelly on large plates; saffron jelly on others; white jelly which looks like snow on others.  The plate covers are three different forts made out of jelly with drawbridges over a moat in which live fish swim, surrounded by golden cuttlefish with flowers all around.

A course of large fish; four fried John Dorys per plate in a sauce with olives and lemons; four fried sea bass covered with salsa verse per plate with sugar-coated aniseed.

To be served in the following mind-boggling manner:

a centaur made of sugar carrying a woman dressed elaborately in vegetable leaves, crosses a river, as he runs from another figure made of sugar who appears to be following him and defeating him.

Pies of sour apples; and other kinds of pies; black tarts with sour apples in basins and mashed pears in bowls.

This is presented in

three large ships loaded with apple jam, adorned lavishly with mottoes and carried by sailors from under the sea.

Oysters in large basins with little bowls of pepper on the side; truffles in little plates or cups; giant roast chestnuts with fennel and pepper.

To be served in

a galleon full of oysters presented with other marine creatures adorned with mottoes.

Large golden sponges; large golden marzipans; large columns of icing; and other things made out of sugar in the Roman manner and decorated with gold.

This teeth-aching course is delivered in

a large ship from the Fortunate Isles bearing Moors with mottoes, full of sugar and gold.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Art Florence Italy Renaissance

Giotto & The Perfect O

This is from Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, and is one of my favourite snippets. It concerns Giotto (c.1267-1337), one of the first great Italian artists of the Renaissance.

Giotto won such reputation in Pisa and beyond that Pope Benedict IX, who was intending to have some paintings commissioned for St Peter’s, sent one of his courtiers from Trevisi to Tuscany to find out what sort of man Giotto was and what his work was like. On his way to see Giotto and to see whether there were other masters in Florence who could do skilful work in paintings and mosaic, this courtier spoke to many artists in Siena. He took some of their drawings and then went to Florence itself, where one day he arrived at Giotto’s workshop to find the artist at work. The courtier told Giotto what the Pope had in mind and the way in which he wanted to make use of his services, and, finally, he asked Giotto for a drawing which he could send to his holiness. At this, Giotto, who was a very courteous man, took a sheet of paper and a brush dipped in red, closed his arm to his side, so as to make a sort of compass of it, and then with a twist of his hand drew such a perfect circle that it was a marvel to see. Then, with a smile, he said to the courtier: ‘There’s your drawing.’ As if he were being ridiculed, the courtier replied: ‘Is this the only drawing I am to have?’ ‘It’s more than enough,’ answered Giotto. ‘Send it along with the others, and you’ll see whether it’s understood or not.’

The Pope’s messenger, seeing that was all he was going to get, went away very dissatisfied, convinced he had been made a fool of. All the same when he sent the Pope the other drawings and the names of those who had done them, he also sent the one by Giotto, explaining the way Giotto had drawn the circle without moving his arm and without the help of a compass… So the Pope sent for Giotto to come to Rome, where he recognised and honoured his genius, and commissioned from him five scenes from the Life of Christ for the apse of St Peter’s, as well as the principle work for the sacristy. Giotto executed these so painstakingly that they were the most finished work in tempera ever to have left his hands. The Pope, realising how well he had been served, had Giotto given as a reward six hundred gold ducats, and did him so many other favours besides that it was talked about through all Italy.

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