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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 9 (2003) No. 1

Most Serene Brothers-Princes-Impresarios: Theater in Florence under the Management and Protection of Mattias, Giovan Carlo, and Leopoldo de’ Medici

Sara Mamone*


By the mid-seventeenth century, the opera historian’s spotlight has shifted from Florence to Venice. Nevertheless, the activities of three sons of Grand Duke Cosimo II illuminate the nature of mid-century opera and the changes occurring in ducal government in Italy at that time. These three brothers worked as a team with interchangeable roles in providing Florence and other Tuscan cities with opera, and Venice with singers. As an example, their correspondence with regard to the singer Anna Maria Sardelli shows how local politics, the barter of favors, and a mixture of artistic and sexual interests came into play.

1. The Distortions of Retrospective History

2. The Sons of Cosimo II: Ferdinando, Giovan Carlo, Mattias, Francesco and Leopoldo de’ Medici

3. The Correspondence of Giovan Carlo, Mattias, and Leopoldo

4. The Medici Princes as an Impresarial Collective

5. The Sardelli Affair

6. Nature, Theater, and Government as iuxta propria principia



1. The Distortions of Retrospective History

1.1 History often simplifies. It tends to establish guidelines that bring out evolutionary processes, and it tends, consequently, to become fixated on the definitions that derive from them. The same thing happens to the great or nearly great personages of history, often anchored to a definition that distinguishes them immediately, causing them to lose their shadings and their contradictions. The more the definition is convincing, the more one loses the richness of shadings; and, thus, the stronger and more glorious the past, the more this glory becomes, for those who come later, a historiographic handicap to be overcome. This is certainly the case with the culture of the Medici, which succeeded, two hundred years after its foundation, in producing the event of enormous importance and repercussion that opera would become.

1.2 The luster of such an event as Euridice, which even we here are celebrating, first performed on the evening of October 6, 1600, in Don Antonio’s Sala Bianca in the Pitti Palace, confirming Florentine priority, has, however, bathed the aftermath of the event in a false light. Moving the spotlight elsewhere, perhaps a bit hastily, historiography has relegated Florence to the shadows, making it a pallid reflection of the more sparkling cities of Mantua, Venice, Rome, and then Paris, and touched only by those occasional performances worked up for dynastic celebrations, such as the 1637 wedding of Ferdinando de’ Medici and Vittoria della Rovere, and that of 1661 between Cosimo de’ Medici and Margherita Luisa d’Orleans. The rest has been seen as a long decline. Having lost the prize of the invention, Florence strained to keep up with the experiments of other centers, showing itself to be sleepy and slow to adapt to the importation of others’ novelties.

2. The Sons of Cosimo II: Ferdinando, Giovan Carlo, Mattias, Francesco and Leopoldo de’ Medici

2.1 Venetian opera, for example, a shrewd commercialization and revolutionary organization of the new genre, almost passed by a center such as Florence. This was, among other things, geographically inevitable in a state rendered ineffective by tiresome and bigoted female regents, and princes of such ill-defined identity as the orphans of Cosimo II: Ferdinando, Giovan Carlo, Mattias, Francesco, and Leopoldo. Historiography, which is always comparative, entrusts to these the task of continuing the decadence initiated by their father, Cosimo II, who died prematurely in 1621, in his turn already less active and entrepreneurial than his energetic father, Ferdinando I. Thus singled out by the simplification of a degrading historiography, the princes are presented as the curators of a slow and inexorable decline, having as its result the retreat of the family from the ranks of the powerful, and of the grand duchy from the mainstream of the true economic and cultural riches of that time, almost like a collective surrender to an inertia that transformed traditional dynamism into paralysis.

2.2 If this is partly true with respect to the broad facts of a history that is defined by military conquests, peace treaties, and dates, it is, on the other hand, profoundly inexact and, I would say, unjust if instead one would trace a history that has good civil life among its distinctive objects that measure value. In fact, civil history, of which culture is the determinant part, is never preordained. It is made up of impulses, compromises, mediations, and dreams. It is made, above all, of personal relations. It is exactly from knowledge of the relations among the Medici princes, between these and foreign correspondents, and among the latter and Tuscan society, through the detailed and first-hand information from a continuous interchange, that a new historiographic scenario can be delineated. Even if this does not overturn received opinion completely, it certainly calls for a thorough revision.

2.3 Precisely from the figure of Mattias, the prince with the least clearly drawn profile, emerge the first traces of a dynamic presence in the society of that time, of an awareness neither occasional nor naive in the presence of vital phenomena transforming culture, and, in particular, the innovations that were giving a new configuration to the legacy of spectacle, music, and singing, which during these crucial years had brought to maturation court spectacle on the one hand and professional spectacle on the other. The rich correspondence between this prince and the Venetian musician Francesco Sacrati, brought to light by Ademollo,1 and later studied by Bianconi and Walker,2 which, in the context of research on Venetian opera, inserted a Medici prince into a vital area of opera’s history, prepared a more fertile ground. But it is not the reevaluation of Mattias that interests us here. It is the indisputable discovery of a continuous, affectionate, daily collaboration and exchange of influence among the princes.

2.4 My sense that in this, more than in other cultural matters, the singularity of one dominant figure does not count as much as reciprocal interrelations has induced me to undertake systematic documentary research into the correspondence of these princes. There has emerged from this a dense cultural and, even more, organizational dialogue which the mass of correspondence examined with the collaboration of my students brings to light in an unequivocal manner.3

3. The Correspondence of Giovan Carlo, Mattias, and Leopoldo

3.1 The correspondence relating to Giovan Carlo, Mattias, and Leopoldo is preserved in the Archivio di Stato of Florence. In the catalogue Mediceo del principato, it is inventoried summarily under the name of each prince; and its indeterminate vastness is not yet tamed by either indexes or an adequate chronological ordering. But a reading of it, systematic within the limits of a careful selection, allows a clear definition of the importance of each of the princes in the theatrical life of the time and, above all, permits a definition of the continuum of an always interconnected activity that was rarely capricious and never nostalgic, but, rather, was broadly in step with the times. We can truly claim to have arrived at the discovery and definition of the existence and the methods of that which I would not hesitate to call an impresarial collective.

3.2 This research leaves aside the correspondence of Grand Duke Ferdinando II, unapproachable for its vastness and anyway of a predominantly political significance. Notwithstanding the dutiful referral to his authority of the more delicate questions, the means and spaces of the theater were by now sufficiently defined, and they did not necessitate the directed energies of the sovereign. On the other hand, the unstable health of the preceding sovereign, Cosimo II, had already led to a partial loss of direct control of the theater, and, rather, had remotivated the fabric of continuous and vicarious theatrical life constituted by the association of citizens, giving it new energy. This was the third determinant force in Florentine theater at the middle of the Seicento, next to the court theater and the professional theater.4 The other decisive element that we will see later is the extension of the web of family connections in a continuous and working dialogue with the production-teams of the theater of the time. One sees the participation of the Medici princes as protagonists in the tight web of impresarial connections, which extended from Venice to Mantua, to Bologna, to Ferrara, to Genoa, to Rome, to Naples, and, still by way of Italian connections, to Paris, Vienna, Innsbruck, and Prague, and which tied together the dynamic protagonists of this vocal century.

4. The Medici Princes as an Impresarial Collective

4.1 The span of time under examination extends from the 1630s, as the activity of Giovan Carlo emerged with some consistency, through the 1670s, when the operatic life of the younger Leopoldo came to a conclusion. It is a fertile forty years in which the harmony among the brothers became an extremely efficient instrument of the collective cultural policy that bestowed on Florence a mixed theatrical system. On the one hand, there was court theater, which by now had become European in its orientation, and on the other, civic theater, at the service of an active community in which nobility, bourgeoisie, and commoners gained access to the pleasures of modern theatrical society.

4.2 At the heart of this system lay the trio of princes. Dividing their tasks equably and effectively, they succeeded in holding the reins of a complex theatrical system and, above all, in bringing efficiency to the interaction of three levels of communication necessary for this system: court theater, academic theater, and commercial theater. In the present report, I will not discuss relations with the Grand Duke concerning the activities of the grand court theater, which were in fact only intermittent, since this phenomenon has already been investigated to good effect. I will take it into consideration only in the case of some examples with direct implications for the other two levels of activity.

4.3 Relations with Florentine society were the most complex, and they were carried on very ably and consistently, encompassing the participation, control, financing, and stimulation of the various academies, regulating their orientation from time to time, and effectively guaranteeing, by means of protection, the possibility of intervening at any time in order to resuscitate their activity. The academies provided the means by which the three brothers gained a practical acquaintance with every citizen of any importance, certainly with all the intellectuals, but also with the artists and artisans of the city.

4.4 The reorganization of the academies in the late 1630s, due principally to Giovan Carlo but chiefly encouraged and then followed by the other two, reinforced and reinvigorated them, rendering them more active. With their small theaters, their literary people, their technicians, their painters, their actors, their musicians, their translators, their adaptors, their spirit of initiative, their patrimony, and their desire to accomplish and to please, the academies provided an impetus in a fluid system. The protection of the princes made this system fundamental to the introduction of commercial theater in Florence. The princes, in fact, were actually present in the marketplace (a marketplace still quite far from having the autonomous solidity of free enterprise) by means of the very extensive network formed by their informants and their protégés. The princes were, in fact, also in touch with the evolution of theatrical spectacle in the commercial sense, and they could take part in this, given that their patronage was not yet defined in the sense of the work of a self-sufficient impresario.

4.5 The correspondence is quite eloquent in identifying, in the interwoven relations among the three brothers, how they adroitly and enthusiastically exploited their own power, a power also in the modern sense, power based on information and of communication in the service of their own hegemonic role in contemporary society. Production and distribution in this field is not reducible to the traditional exchange of courtesies among the powerful, nor to the also traditional dependence of subjects in the presence of power. Their consciousness of change is precise and articulated. By discovering and training singers, for example, they built up capital, as it were, to be employed prudently in the future. It is clear what results they expected from their machinations, since their management of the same talents is prudent, whether undertaken by one or another of the brothers.5 They operated on the double track of autonomy and interrelation: each of them had his theater, each had his academy and his protégés, but at any point, one of them could take the place of another. It is significant, for example, that Mattias was occupied in the preparations for Cavalli’s Hipermestra (1658), and Leopoldo was the “general superintendent” when Giovan Carlo, financier and inventor of the enterprise, was occupied in Rome by his duties as cardinal. Leopoldo also managed affairs in Siena when his brother Mattias was absent.

4.6 All three brothers, among themselves as well as with their correspondents, were always very careful to respect the boundaries of their spheres of influence (that is, of theaters or of artists) even if they often asked one brother to act as intermediary for the other. The perception of a “team” is clear and precise among their correspondents. Ferdinando Cospi, Florentine ambassador to the strategic center of Bologna and involved in innumerable reports and negotiations, not infrequently addresses himself collectively to “Your Highnesses.”6

4.7 It becomes progressively more evident that this network of relations was seen as central to a system that reduces the differences, assumed thus far in the historiography, from the impresario system of Venice. The latter, it is worth recalling, was not, in fact, in the hands of the bourgeoisie but was, rather, under the control of industrious noblemen who were often in politely impresarial negotiations with our princes. The performers in the stable of the three Medici brothers included individuals of great value, which bears witness to a lucrative, long-term investment that put them in a position to negotiate from strength with the leading players in operatic distribution networks: Grimani and Vendramin in Venice, Gonzaga in Mantua, Farnese in Parma, Bentivoglio in Bologna, Colonna in Rome, etc. Particularly revealing is the correspondence of Giovan Carlo, Mattias, and Leopoldo with the Farnese cousins Ranuccio II, Alessandro, and Ottavio, managers of a family impresarial activity analogous to that of the Medici.

4.8 The requests from musicians for protection7 frequently refer to their availability or their suitability for a series of performances in commercial theaters, and the loan of these musicians from noblemen almost always implied an exchange of performers. The protector was, thus, free to loan a singer to other impresarios or to other troupes or to insert him in local productions, whether courtly or academic. In these cases, successful professional singers could enrich local productions of out-of-town hits, or they could contribute to the success of entirely original productions. In the correspondence, almost all the impresarios of the time are present, chiefly members of the nobility, even if their credentials were perhaps a bit exaggerated in the case of Venetians. The negotiations often imply very precise technical knowledge of the mechanisms of production on both sides. To give a concrete idea of the substance of the Medici undertaking in professional musical theater, it is enough to mention the names of Anna Maria Sardelli, Eleonora Baroni, Eleonora Ballerini, Michele Grasseschi, Antonio Rivani, Antonio Cesti, Giovanni Bonaccorsi detto il Moro, Cosimo, Caterina Angiola Botteghi, Giuseppini Ghini, Francesca Costa, etc. The Pergola theater was endowed with an essentially stable company of singers,8 and many of the performers in La finta pazza, whom Mazarin would bring to Paris, had strong and decisive connections with the Medici management. Also, Mattias had a significant role in the creation and management of the Melani clan.9 Many important voices in operatic casts of the time sang with a Tuscan accent.

4.9 In the imposing mass of judgments, requests, names, titles, and objective data, it is evident that to a great extent it was personal relationships that made possible most commercial theatrical productions. The Medici were at the center of this delicate and highly influential web. The possibilities of reconstructing theatrical centers and repertoires, of delineating processes of training, of filling out the biographies of well-known individuals, of discovering hitherto unknown ones, and of tracing more precisely the developments of commercial theater prompt extensive use of the Medici correspondence. This material also enables one to identify, within the broader international context, a more local, Tuscan network of theatrical activity, comprising not just Florence but also Pisa, Siena, Livorno, and the independent Republic of Lucca. These centers were equally ambitious, and they contained theaters, and also the academies to run them, whether on a regular basis or for occasional celebrations (especially for distinguished visitors), or even a bourgeois impresario with whom the Medici princes had to deal in some way.10 Other areas for exploration, with significant ramifications for theater history, include the specific desire for the renewal of court theater in Siena, and the long-standing relationships among the singers, the Medici court, and Venetian impresarios. Particularly important are the documents that permit the reconstruction of the managements, and the conflicts in the running, of the three Florentine theaters—the Pergola, the Dogana, and the Cocomero—or those dealing with the functioning of the grand-ducal circuit of professional actors and musicians. In this report, however, I have decided to focus on one affair that reveals the relations between the three brothers on a smaller scale.

5. The Sardelli Affair

5.1 The central role played by the Medici trio in the distribution of singers during these years is revealed by an apparently scandalous affair that is, nevertheless, very significant: one involving the singer Anna Maria Sardelli.11 This occurred during the years in which the patient work of selecting and nurturing singers by the Medici princes achieved its best results. Aided by their own competence and by a shrewd selection policy, the princes by this time managed a respectable stable, in which the more mature singers also played the role of talent scout, proposing promising talent to their protectors, especially during their travels away from the Medici court for engagements at the more remunerative commercial theaters. In the 1650s the Medici team, in particular the one headed by Mattias (but always very freely available to each of the brothers according to his needs) boasted of artists such as Antonio Rivani, Antonio Cesti, Atto Melani, Ippolito Fusai, Leonora Ballerini Falbetti, and Michele Grasseschi. Grasseschi at this time was entrusted with the role of singing teacher and discoverer of new talent, since he had the advantage of extreme mobility through the Florentine court, the Hapsburg court, and the Venetian marketplace.

5.2 Grasseschi was the favored musician of the 1640s, Mattias’s companion on the Venetian mission of 1641, and so close to Grimani that he was given the role of protagonist in Bellerofonte by Sacrati,12 the key production of the 1642 season. And Grasseschi can serve as the point of departure for the messy story of Anna Maria Sardelli, which involved the three brothers in a delicate question. The story is simple and, in part, already known, but it has been treated more as an entertaining anecdote of manners than as an example—I think a very important example—of the intelligent interaction among the three brothers, or, rather, four, since even the Grand Duke became involved. It is also an example of their shrewd maneuvers in a theatrical world that was changing and in which relations with the market were carried on with skill and judgment, not with the arrogance of the conservative aristocracy. Venice was treated with care and attention since it offered the best opportunity and environment for profitable exchange, given that these were the years in which Medici singers were very much in demand.

5.3 The logic of the marketplace certainly cannot be considered extraneous to the Medici family and to their fortunes, and they treat with great respect and understanding all the financial aspects of the operation of nascent commercial theater.13 Absolutely unacceptable, on any level, was the refusal of one of their protégées to respect the terms of a contract signed with the impresario Grimani, to whom Prince Mattias furnished the most beautiful voices, at least from the 1640s.

5.4 Concerning Anna Maria Sardelli nothing is known until 1649, when she appears in the payrolls of Mattias. But there is a letter from Michele Grasseschi in Bologna (a noted gathering place for singers and actors) written in 1642 before he went to Venice for Bellerofonte. The letter introduces a talent with a description not at all incompatible with what is known of the future contributions of Anna Maria and of her fascination as seductress:

Signora Maria passed through Bologna on her way to Your Serene Highness, and she was lodged by the Most Illustrious Balì Cospi, my lord, and he by his grace and by the command of the Most Illustrious Marchese Guicciardini, allowed me to hear her. I will say that she pleased me very much, so that if Your Serene Highness will accept her, it will be a good choice; and I will offer what I can, provided that I may teach her for six months without your Highness letting anyone hear her. Then you will see what Grasseschi can do, because I recognize in her a great desire to learn; and I tell Your Highness that she will please you more singing one aria than someone else would in singing six of them. And the reason for this is because she is beautiful.14

5.5 Both Grasseschi and Guicciardini already seem infatuated with this singer, who may well be the Anna Maria Sardelli whom we find years later as a prominent virtuoso dependent upon Mattias, obsessively protected by the same Marchese Guicciardini, and indispensable to the Grimani. Eight years separate the first appearance of a creature with all the characteristics of a future diva from the affair in which she will appear as protagonist. These eight years could be precisely those used to turn her into that diva.

5.6 Here are the facts. In October 1649 Sardelli was already committed to perform in Bradamante by Pietro Paolo Bissani, with music by Francesco Cavalli, in the Grimani theater of San Giovanni e Paolo in Venice. But her protector, Marchese Guicciardini, did not want to let her leave. Thus began the mediation of the Medici, which clearly shows the degree of autonomy achieved by the diva, who cannot be directed by an order but who requires a prudent collective strategy. Thus writes Grimani, in great alarm, to Prince Mattias:

An affair of the greatest urgency now presses on me. Out of need to present an opera during this carnival, I have worked for the past months on the basis of promises made to me by Signora Anna Maria Sardelli, who was to have undertaken a part. And having, for this, arranged many things at great expense, I thought that I would have the said Signora here this week. But unexpectedly I received the reply that the Marchese Guicciardini, who keeps her under his protection, has said that the said Signora can no longer honor this promise, because she has decided to become a nun. This news, because it comes to me so suddenly, has left me very upset.15

5.7 Grimani summarizes the terms of a new proposal: that Guicciardini accompany her and that he reconfirm the agreed-upon fee of two hundred piastre, with all travel expenses and hospitality provided by Grimani. The impresario asks Mattias to intervene, almost with the air of an equal in rank: “With your authority, please deign to prevent this lady from withholding herself from me in any way, and have her set out on her journey by issuing the requisite orders.” 16 There follows a promise that can be read as a commitment to future exchanges: “I tell Your Most Serene Highness that my obligations will be similar.”17 Others became involved to some extent in this ever more troubling negotiation: the Venetian ambassador Francesco Maria Zati, to whom Mattias was indebted for his having sent some models of the Grimani theater for the experiment in Siena, used his authority on behalf of the impresario on 31 December, referring to Grimani as a “nobleman whose distinguished qualities are well known to Your Highness,” and asking Mattias

to arrange that Anna Maria Sardelli, the Roman and very capable singer, who is now in Florence, comes to perform in this Grimani theater on the occasion of the noble opera that the same [Grimani] is having prepared for the upcoming carnival, having already committed the necessary expenses for the appropriate magnificence. He is, for that reason, involved with the whole city, so that he would be not a little mortified if this lady does not come, not having time to provide for himself in some other way.18

The noose of impresarial anxiety tightens.

5.8 Grimani tried to intervene directly with the recalcitrant singer, whom Ambassador Zati went to visit, in order to lay out for her, with all the evidence, the problems she had created and perhaps to raise the offer. On 4 January Mattias was immediately informed by the alarmed Marchese Guicciardini that he had seen the letters from Grimani, among which was the one cited above, in which he offers Anna Maria and her protector more secure guarantees for the honorable treatment of the future nun. But if the Venetian project was so advanced, the Marchese Guicciardini pointed out, on his side, the state of advancement of the much more important business of the salvation and, perhaps, the holiness of the singer. He writes to Mattias,

I beg you to silence this gentleman, explaining to him the reason why the said lady cannot serve him, as she has agreed to become a nun by the middle of Lent. I have called her husband from Rome on this account, and the process of divorce, renunciation, and so on has been accomplished with the archbishop, and soon she will appear before the vicar in order to conclude this business.19

Guicciardini, aware of obvious doubts concerning this sudden conversion, gives personal guarantees that everything will happen rapidly, rejecting Grimani’s proposition that he persuade the singer to delay taking her vows. The nobleman guarantees her entrance “into a convent, promptly,” given that, in addition, Anna Maria is “utterly resolved” not to go to Venice.20

5.9 The risk for Grimani—who was in fact an abbot—is great, since the side of the singer and her protector has been joined by the Jesuit priest Giovanni Domenico Ottonelli, who was violently opposed to theatrical spectacles and who in these very years authored a pamphlet against the theater, in which the chapter on conversions of its leading ladies21 could have been adorned to great effect with this example. Nor has the echo been silenced of the conversion of Antonia De Ribeira, one of the great “providential” examples from theatrical life in the first half of the century.22

5.10 Perfectly aware of the risks, the ever more anxious Grimani appealed again to Mattias. He describes the “damage” that he will suffer by the absence of the greatly desired singer, but above all, he reduces to an “honest employment of a few days” that which would separate her from what he recognizes for the first time as a most laudable desire.23 On 8 January, Grimani is not aware of the fact that on the 6th Mattias had already provided everything. But when, on 12 January, Zati showed him a copy of the prince’s letter, the impresario reveals himself “to be completely satisfied with what has been done to dispose Anna Maria to come to Venice.”24 And now reassured, he explains that which everyone had supposed, that is, the pretext of taking the veil, “and, since she persists in her resolution to become a nun, the abbot [Grimani] does not wish that, on his account, she be exposed to violence in the convent, when she is not transported truly by her spirit.”25 Between 12 and 15 January, things collapse; but we do not know why. We do know, however, that while Mattias was sending the Grimani a letter in which he informs him that his good offices and his strategy (explained in the letter of 6 January) for the moment have collided with the lady’s decision “to show herself to be just as firm in her decision already taken as ladies are usually changeable.”26 But just at this point an earlier letter reached the prince in which Grimani renounced Sardelli. Thus Mattias complements him, saying, “I see with pleasure that, recognizing the firm resolution of Anna Maria to enter the convent, you agree to the accomplishment of this good intention.”27

5.11 Even if Sardelli did not succeed in obtaining an immediate result from the strategy put in play by the letter of 6 January, it is nevertheless certain, on the basis of the outcome of the affair, that after a delay of one season, she was to consent, to the complete satisfaction of all: in October 1650, Sardelli left for Venice, where she would be the protagonist in Alessandro vincitor di sè stesso by Antonio Cesti, who with precisely this opera and under the Medici aegis, would thus begin his glorious international career.28 The letter that Anna Maria Sardelli sent to her protector on 20 October reveals no trace of her monastic plans, but she is rather effectively projected into a professional future, well remunerated, between Venice and Florence.29 The singer, triumphant in the role with which she would be henceforth identified, “la signora Campaspe,” had victoriously distanced herself from any religious tendencies, just as everyone expected and as everyone wished deep down. Only the Marchese Guicciardini was disappointed, as he was perhaps the only one who believed it all.

5.12 The impresarial connections between the Medici and the Grimani afterward would become more solid than ever. When Cardinal Giovan Carlo decided to bring Alessandro vincitor de sè stesso to the Cocomero theater in Florence on behalf of his beloved Accademia degli Immobili, Sardelli was far quicker than she had been in the case of Venice to return to the stage, and she was soon integrated into the orbit of the cardinal, who, apparently, was the only one of the brothers not involved in the earlier affair. The fact that Sardelli would be requested by the Duke of Mantua in 1652, precisely from Cardinal Giovan Carlo, demonstrates, again, how the brothers were functionally interchangeable, passing the baton from one to the other as needed.

5.13 I want to focus a bit more on the letter of 6 January, which is the crux of the business. The tone is very reserved, and yet, within the limits of human enterprises, this is a sincere communication from Mattias to Leopoldo. The letter clearly shows the prince’s procedure, and it gives an exact account of internal relations at court, where the growth of Leopoldo’s prestige is evident, the harmony among the brothers is confirmed (Mattias literally gives carte blanche to his younger brother, sending him signed sheets that are blank), and where, however, the presence of an impresarial logic seems to me incontestable. This amounts to a prudent strategy and not a lordly imposition. For the rest, the length of the negotiations, the care shown, and the leeway in decision-making given the singer seem to me sufficient proof that we are in the presence of a mixed system of quasi-business-like strategies.

From the three letters that I have sent to Your Highness, you will see in one the request from the Abbot Grimani to have Anna Maria sing in certain of his musical plays, in accordance with that which she promised him, and the refusal of Francesco Guicciardini to consent to her coming. Inasmuch as she has given her word to a gentleman, Guicciardini cannot prevent her from keeping it without offending the same gentleman … not so much in order to please the latter but because I wish it, because he is a gentleman of close association, my friend, and in order to help someone in need. … I, having spoken about this matter to the Most Serene Grand Duke, propose, with the complete approval of His Highness, these two expedients: either Anna Maria comes to Venice to fulfill her promise, assured of receiving not just what was agreed upon but much more than that, through the generosity of spirit of Grimani, or else she should enter the convent immediately to take the veil without great delay and not to leave it without the permission of the Grand Duke.… In order to persuade a jealous lover, the force of the reasons for the above-said proposals not being considered sufficient, I believed, with the assent of the Grand Duke, that he should have recourse to the authority of Your Highness. I pray you, therefore, affectionately, to take the step of calling Guicciardini to you and to make sure that she comes to one of the two above-said decisions, as she will understand and she will be able to do. And according to what is decided, I also pray Your Highness to order one of your men to add, above my signed blank sheet, the response to be given to Signor Grimani, in order to show him that I have sought to serve him either in having Anna Maria come to Venice or with the mortification of Guicciardini in shutting her up in a convent without his being at liberty to get what he wants out of her.… Above the other signed blank sheet you can write a response to Zati, similar to that sent to Grimani.… As the responses will be addressed to Venice, may Your Highness be pleased to have them sent by courier to the ambassador Zati, in order to demonstrate to Grimani the readiness of my soul to do what he desires in every matter placed before me.30

5.14 If one pays attention to how much importance the prince attributes to the financial obligations assumed by the impresario and how great a place money has in this negotiation, one will see how much the purpose of the entire operation is to maintain the trustworthiness of the impresario Mattias: “And truly we all must exert ourselves in making her go to Venice, because she promised it, because Grimani has already incurred great expense, because one gives pleasure to one’s dear friend, and finally because one makes oneself loved by Guicciardini by not letting him become an enemy.”31

5.15 At the level of lordly logic, Mattias and the grand ducal family would have had everything to gain from a notable conversion of the prince’s protégée, who would be able to repeat in Italy the exemplary case of De Ribeira, setting off on the road to sainthood, a path as rich as possible in potential dramaturgical reversals: the Magdalene, returned to life, finding her way to holiness, just as Eularia Coris triumphs in that role in contemporary plays by Andreini.32 Padre Ottonelli proposed to Mattias a moral strategy; Abbot Grimani proposed an economic and strategic alliance. Mattias was comforted by the agreement of his more prestigious and serious brothers, the agreement of Giovan Carlo being clearly assumed. In the end, he would prefer the saint somewhat less and the excellent singer somewhat more.

5.16 Faced with a choice between a noble strategy and a tiring negotiation, an administrative team (president, administrator, delegate, and directors) chose the second road, apparently a compromise by comparison with the first, but very productive at the level of one of the most important commercial values: that of reliability. It was a reliability difficult to guarantee, since the protégés, by now, had a strong awareness of their own autonomy: Sardelli committed herself on her own and independently re-imposed a new agreement, and the conditions that she imposed on Grimani got her professional gain, although that professional gain was a blatant travesty of Medici dependency. Nevertheless, the reliability sought by the administrative team would be crucial for its continued viability in the marketplace. The prince could be overbearing or variable, but not the impresario. This is the underlying logic of the matter, the key to understanding that productive and tenacious humility which sustains the entire correspondence and of which this episode is a typical example: the Medici grip cannot be compromised by an inconclusive outcome. Since the impresario Grimani would not be served by the punishment of the guilty party but rather by her acquiescence, here we have the most efficient strategies of reassurance for pacifying the participants and for keeping the Venetian market open, as if to say, “Excuse us for the worries that have arisen, but we are trying to arrange things so that the singer will arrive there in the best way.” Thus, the last letter to Grimani concluded humbly and obediently:

I suppose that when Your Lordship has seen that which the Lord Prince Leopoldo and I have done so that Anna Maria keeps her word with Your Lordship, you will have to be satisfied with my willingness to show Your Lordship that, also in this occasion, I have your interests at heart and to show the esteem in which I hold your person. But I can only repeat that … nothing has been spared in directing new efforts to persuade this lady to come there, where I have assured her she will receive the most honorable treatment and generous remuneration.33

The prince, transformed into an honest merchant, has done his duty. He can put out the light and sleep peacefully.

6. Nature, Theater, and Government as iuxta propria principia

6.1 If the first Tuscan grand dukes tried to furnish the courts of Europe with a model for absolutism, the last, or next-to-last Medici perhaps already understood the crisis in this effort toward neoplatonic government. If, therefore, for the first grand dukes the theater had been a microcosm of a harmonious system of abstract relations and the court a metaphor of universal harmony, the uncertainties that history imputes to Ferdinando and his brothers are, perhaps, instead the tangible sign of Galileo’s lesson, rejected because of the necessities of government but absorbed into everyday thought through the master’s teaching, deeply felt as true, and unavoidable in the future. If nature was seen as iuxta propria principia, no strategic effort would have been able to change it. It would be better to conform to nature, even to human nature, leaving aside the artificial separateness of the court. It would be better to limit oneself to knowing and regulating the mechanisms of the soul and of the economy, better to engage oneself for a while in that evolution which would lead to bourgeois society. Good government, within the limitations of the times, will not be that of him who dominates but of him who participates and rules.


* Sara Mamone (saramamone@hotmail.com) is Professor of Theater History at the Università degli Studi of Florence. Her book Il teatro nella Firenze medicea (1991) is a classic in the field. She is editor of Firenze e Parigi: due capitali dello spettacolo per una regina, Maria de’ Medici (1988) and Sophia: commedia studentesca del sec. XVI (1983). Professor Mamone serves on a very large number of international committees and research groups devoted to theater history in the early-modern period.

1 Alessandro Ademollo, I primi fasti della musica italiana a Parigi (1645–1662) (Milan: Ricordi, 1885), 98–105.

2 Lorenzo Bianconi and Thomas Walker, “Dalla ‘Finta Pazza’ alla ‘Veremonda’: storie di Febiarmonici,” Rivista italiana di musicologia 10 (1975): 379–454.

3 More systematic results are contained in the dissertations by Corrado Casini on Don Antonio de’ Medici, by Alessandra Maretti on Mattias de’ Medici, by Nicola Michelassi on Giovan Carlo de’ Medici, by Alessia Alessandri on Leopoldo de’ Medici, and by Silvia Castelli, who, during her research in the correspondence between the Florentine and Spanish courts for her doctoral dissertation on the connections between Spanish and Italian academic dramaturgy, identified a very rich correspondence containing negotiations between actors, including about 300 letters relating to the impressarial work of Giovan Carlo, Mattias, and Leopoldo during the years 1639–41. This correspondence will be reported in a future publication. For a companion-piece to the present essay including this material in a different context, see Sara Mamone, “Accademie e opera in musica nella vita di Giovan Carlo, Mattias e Leopoldo de’ Medici, fratelli del Granduce Ferdinando,” in Lo stupor dell’ invenzione: Firenze e la nascita dell’ opera; atti del Convegno Internazionale di Studi, Firenze, 5–6 ottobre 2000 (Florence: Olschki, 2001), 119–38.

4 Cf. Sara Mamone, “Tra tela e scena: vita d’accademia e vita di corte nel primo Seicento fiorentino,” Biblioteca teatrale 37–38 (1996): 213–28.

5 Suffice it to recall the resentment of the musician Luigi Rossi on account of his treatment by Giovan Carlo on the occasion of the commission of the music for Le nozze degli dei (1637)—"my muse corresponds to practical needs”—and also his disgust at having “to finish the first act by Christmas and having to compose the other two in great haste” (I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5300, fol. 222r. The letter is cited in Silvia Mascalchi, “Anticipazioni sul mecenatismo del cardinale Giovan Carlo de’ Medici e suo contributo alle collezioni degli Uffizi,” Fonti e documenti. Gli Uffizi: quattro secoli di una galleria (Firenze: Centro Di, 1982), 41–42; and in Mascalchi, “Giovan Carlo de’ Medici: an Outstanding but Neglected Collector in Seventeenth Century Florence,” Apollo 120 (1984): 268–72. Consider, also, the very delicate Sardelli affair, of which we will speak below.

6 I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5531, fol.2r (Document 1), also cited in Alessia Alessandri, “Il carteggio di Leopoldo de’Medici come fonte per la storia dello spettacolo” (Tesi di laurea, Università degli Studi di Firenze, 1999–2000), 549.

7 The mechanism for actors is identical and better documented, with the fundamental difference that the negotiations with musicians are still individual, while that of actors is almost always directed at the entire troup. I limited myself to citing Siro Ferrone, Attori, mercanti, corsari: la commedia dell’arte in Europa tra Cinque e Seicento (Turin: Einaudi, 1993), and the very ample correspondence of actors cited in Comici dell’arte. Corrispondenze, ed. Siro Ferrone, Claudia Buratelli, et al., (Florence: Le Lettere, 1993).

8 The list of singers employed in the performances at the Pergola theater during the years in which it was managed by the Accademia degl’Immobili is found in Françoise Decroisette, “I virtuosi del Cardinale, da Firenze all’Europa, Lo ‘spettacolo maraviglioso,’” in Il Teatro della Pergola: l’opera a Firenze, ed. Marcello De Angelis, Elvira Garbero Zorzi, Loredana Maccabruni, Piero Marchi, and Luigi Zangheri (Florence: Polistampa 2000), 77–89. See also Decroisette, “L’Académie des Immobili de Florence & le théatre de la Pergola (1652–1713)” (Ph.D. dissertation, Université de Paris VIII, 1984); and “Un Exemple d’aministration des theatres au XVII siècle: Le Théâtre de la Pergola à Florence (1652–1662),” Recueil offert en hommage à Jean Jacquot (Tours: Centre d’Etudes Supérieures de la Renaissance,1984), 73–90.

9 Robert Lamar Weaver, “Materiali per le biografie dei fratelli Melani,” Rivista italiana di musicologia 12 (1977): 252–95.

10 The need for research extending to theatrical management throughout the entire grand duchy is emerging ever more clearly; see “Lo spettacolo nella Toscana del Seicento,” ed. Sara Mamone, Medioevo e Rinascimento 9, n.s. 8 (1997).

11 See Bianconi and.Walker, “Dalla ‘Finta Pazza’ alla ‘Veremonda,’” 440–44. This article remains fundamental for the issue, even if the conclusions concerning the singer and her role in the exchanges between Venice and Florence, to the disadvantage of the latter, cannot be accepted, since it seems evident, as I will try to show in what follows, that their treatment of the question can be read in the light of a mature Florentine impresario and must not be confused with Medici patronage.

12 As emerges from the correspondence between the prince and Sacrati, published by Ademollo, the musician had “urgent need of the singer, having reserved for him the ‘first position’ in the opera, or rather having worked on him, since he would be ‘the splendor of the opera’”; see Ademollo, I primi fasti della musica italiana a Parigi, 100 (letter from Francesco Sacrati to Mattias de’ Medici, 16 November 1641) and 99 (28 September 1641).

13 Grand Duke Ferdinando’s respect for the impresarios of his grand duchy is constant. When petitioned by Leopoldo, who, at the request of his nephew Alessandro Farnese, requested access to Livorno for his own theatrical company, the grand duke weighed the intentions of the proprietor, Giovanvincenzo Bonfigli, but, having obtained clear confirmation of the latter’s preference for the comic troupe of Eularia, sent his reply to the nephew through Leopoldo thus: “The Most Serene Grand Duke would have wanted to bend to the satisfaction of Your Highness and would have cooperated to the extent that he considered convenient, but, since they have undertaken on their own the expense of construction of the theater, and having involved themselves in the undertaking with Eularia, he has not judged that he should interpose the hand of his authority, it appearing reasonable that he who has spent his own money should have the satisfaction of it.” 15 March 1659, I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5508, ff. 96r–96bis r (Document 2), also cited in Alessandri, “Il carteggio di Leopoldo de’ Medici,” 219–221. For more on the Livorno case, see also Alessandra Maretti, “Profili d’attore e ‘piazze’ teatrali: Serena Mansani, la famiglia Fiala e lo ‘stanzone’ di Livorno. Documenti sulla commedia dell’arte (1642–1666),” Medioevo e Rinascimento, 9, n.s. 8 (1997): 395–416.

14 I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5472, fol. 16r, Venice 15 January 1642 (Document 3).

15 I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5446, ff. 118r–v. Venice, 31 October 1649 (Document 4).

16 I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5446, ff. 118r–v. Venice, 31 October 1649 (Document 4).

17 I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5446, ff. 118r–v. Venice, 31 October 1649 (Document 4).

18 I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5446, fol. 119r. Venice, 31 December 1649 (Document 5).

19 I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5446, ff. 117r–v. Florence 4 January 1650 (Document 6).

20 I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5446, ff. 117r–v. Florence 4 January 1650 (Document 6).

21 Giovanni Domenico Ottonelli, Della Christiana moderatione del Theatro. Libro detto l’Ammonitioni a’ recitanti Per avvisare ogni Christiano a moderarsi da gli eccessi nel recitare (Florence: Gio.Antonio Bonardi, 1652), 272–77 (Document 7). See also S. Giacobello, “Giovan Domenico Ottonelli sulle donne cantatrici,” Studi musicali 26 (1997): 297–311.

22 See Isabella Innamorati, “De Ribeira, Antonia,” Dizionario biografico degli italiani (Rome: Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana, 1991), 39:121–23.

23 I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5446, fol. 121r. Venice, 8 January 1650 (Document 8).

24 I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5446, fol. 122r. Venice, 12 January 1650 (Document 9).

25 I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5446, fol. 122r. Venice, 12 January 1650 (Document 9).

26 I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5416, ff. 671r–v. Florence, 20 January 1650 (Document 10).

27 I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5416, ff. 671r–v. Florence, 20 January 1650 (Document 10).

28 See John Walter Hill, “Le relazioni di Antonio Cesti con la corte e i teatri fiorentini,” Rivista italiana di musicologia 11 (1976): 28–36.

29 I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5446, ff. 279r–v. Florence, 20 October 1650 (Document 11).

30 I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5500, ff. 375r–376r. Pisa, 6 January 1650 (Document 12).

31 I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5500, ff. 375r–376r. Pisa, 6 January 1650 (Document 12).

32 Concerning the topos of Magdelene in the Baroque theater, see Ferrone, Attori, mercanti, corsari, 243–47.

33 I-Fas Mediceo del Principato, 5416, ff. 671r–v. Pisa, 20 January 1650 (Document 10).


Document 1: Letter from Ferdinando Cospi, 2 February 1643

Document 2: Letter from Leopoldo de’ Medici, 15 March 1659

Document 3: Letter from Michele Grasseschi, 15 January 1642

Document 4: Letter from Abbate Grimani, 31 October 1649

Document 5: Letter from Francesco Maria Zati, 31 December 1649

Document 6: Letter from Francesco Guicciardini, 4 January 1650

Document 7: Giovanni Domenico Ottonelli, Della Christiana moderatione del theatro. Libro detto l’Ammonitioni a’ recitanti Per avvisare ogni Christiano a moderarsi da gli eccessi nel recitare (Florence, 1652)

Document 8: Letter from Abbate Grimani, 8 January 1650

Document 9: Letter from Francesco Maria Zati, 12 January 1650

Document 10: Letter from Mattias de’ Medici, 20 January 1650

Document 11: Letter from Anna Maria Sardelli, 20 October 1650

Document 12: Letter from Mattias de’ Medici, 6 January 1650

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