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Report of the fourth research seminar

Rome, École Française de Rome, 1 March 2018

Guest speaker: Berthold Over (Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz)

Discussant: Jean Boutier (EHESS)

Meeting with the following members of the research team in attendance: Orsetta Baroncelli, Michela Berti, Jean Boutier, Luigi Cacciaglia, Juan José Carreras, Marco Cavietti, Valeria De Lucca, José María Domínguez, Antonella Fabriani Rojas, Cristina Fernandes, Anne-Madeleine Goulet, Christine Jeanneret, Elisabetta Mori, Barbara Nestola, Alexandra Nigito, Élodie Oriol, Berthold Over, Chiara Pelliccia, Aldo Roma, Sara Elisa Stangalino, Elena Tamburini and Huub Van der Linden.

The topic of the 1 March seminar, organised by Alexandra Nigito, wasIl librettista gentiluomo: l’arte di scrivere versi per musica nella formazione dell’identità nobiliare. After a welcome speech from Fabrice Jesné, director of modern and contemporary studies at the École française de Rome, the meeting opened with an address from Anne Madeleine Goulet,Principal Investigator of PerformArt, who gave the latest updates on the progress of the project, which has now been underway for 18 months. Research in the archives of Roman aristocratic families is proceeding apace, and the database is in operation thanks to a huge feat accomplished by Foucauld Pérotin, with over 1400 documents already registered on it. She also mentioned the brainstorming held on 28 February around the concept of ‘performance’ as applied to our field of study.

Alexandra Nigito, academic coordinator for the seminar, then introduced the programme and some of its fundamental research questions such as the definition of the concept of ‘gentleman’, the various types of noble status, and questions relating to the figure of the ‘gentleman artist’. She also drew attention to the specific case of Rome, and the evolution and delimitation of the title of ‘Roman nobleman’.

Berthold Over’s lecture, entitledOzio onesto. Poesia per musica e identità nobiliare, examined the figure of the gentleman-librettist, firstly observing the ethical value ascribed to writing verse at this time, then describing the education of the nobleman that gave him the ability to write, the place of writing poetry in the adult life of the nobleman, and his relationship with musical composers. Finally, Over discussed the places where performances took place and their audience.

As Over explained, ‘honest leisure’ (ozio onesto) is intrinsically bound up with the considerable amount of ‘free’ time that distinguished the nobility from other social strata, and legitimated by the idea of recreation. Sports, understood in the broadest sense (dance, chivalric training, fencing, etc), and literary and musical activities therefore formed part of ozio onesto. These were taught in schools for children of noble families, and especially in Jesuit colleges. The various forms of recreation found expression in academies, school theatres and musical dramas, and helped to prepare the young nobleman for his public role in society and the state.

At the same time, through the study of Latin, young noblemen acquired knowledge of grammar, meter, prosody, rhetoric, and learned to use them in epigrams, sonnets, elegies and odes, but also in letters and speeches. Noblemen often received some education at home from a master and other teachers before entering the colleges. Reconstructing the educational experience of women, meanwhile, is far harder. However, taking the example of Petronilla Paolini Massimi (who was educated at a convent school and eventually admitted as a member of Arcadia), Over argued that the educational syllabus for girls appears to have been fairly similar to that used for boys. On the other hand, while men were able to devote themselves to poetry at any stage of their lives, women did so only once they had accomplished what was considered their primary social role (for instance after raising children, after a divorce).

Over’s next topic was the role of poetry and music in the lives of adult noblemen: these artforms, he suggested, were the lifeblood of the academies frequented by noblemen or which they organised in their own palaces. Well-known examples are the Cardinals Benedetto Pamphilj and Pietro Ottoboni (both from the Collegio Romano), both authors of poems for music, along with other figures such as Agostino Piovene, Scipione Maffei, Girolamo Frigimelica Roberti, Giulio Rospigliosi, Silvio Stampiglia, and Camillo Cibo, who continued to write verse after their early experience of it at school.

Another insight from Over’s talk was the idea of writing verse as a channel of acculturation or appropriation of foreign styles. For example, Antonio Ottoboni translated French tragedies, such asPierre Corneille’s La Mort de Pompée(1643) andHéraclius(1647), into Italian. This aspect should not be underestimated, since the Ottobonis were actively working to shift tastes in libretto-writing at the end of the seventeenth century.

Of crucial importance, too, was noblemen’s role in overseeing the setting of their own poems to music, a process that can be gleaned from the correspondence of librettists like Antonio Ottoboni with composers such as Antonio Pollarolo. Over contends that Pollarolo’s cantatas in the collections of 1709, 1710 and 1713 on texts by Antonio were probably composed on the orders of Ottoboni himself. The presence of some non-Roman composers (Ariosti, Biffi, Bigaglia, Pollarolo, Ziani) in the collections can be explained by the idea of a possible commission by letter. Another example is that of Benedetto Pamphilj, who had his texts set to music not only by his music teacher Carlo Cesarini but other composers too. Another subject of discussion was to what extent the librettist/patron influenced the composer: for example, Antonio Ottoboni expresses clear wishes in the librettoCain overo Il primo omicidio, set to music by Alessandro Scarlatti, and Ferdinando de’ Medici made Scarlatti aware of his intentions via the librettist Silvio Stampiglia.

In the last part of the conference, Over looked at the figures for whom texts were written and the many and varied places where they were performed: the nobleman’s palace (often equipped with a theatre), public opera houses, colleges and confraternities, but also academies such as that founded by Pietro Ottoboni in 1702. The distinction between academies (formally structured as speeches and poems, interspersed with sonatas and/or cantatas) and the freer form of the conversations was also discussed. In terms of the audience, the fact that it was made up mostly of fellow noblemen made this an arena not only for exhibiting one’s talent in front of cultured and supportive fellow men, but also for strategies of aristocratic self-representation. To illustrate this possibility, Over recounted a curious episode: in 1697, during the Pope’s journey to Nettuno, Pietro Ottoboni improvised a cantata which was set to music immediately after he had finished the text. But this ‘improvisation’ looks likely to have been a forgery, since a ‘Cantata di Nettuno’ had already been copied for the cardinal two days before. The nobleman-librettist was putting on this performance, we may surmise, out of a wish to demonstrate his virtue, understood as excellence.

At the end of the conference several audience members asked questions, including about the practice of poetic improvisation and the additional legitimacy that poetry could gain from music.

The programme had also included the paperDa segretario a gentiluomo: un “librettista” nella Ferrara del Seicento to be given by another guest speaker (Roberto Gigliucci, La Sapienza University), who unfortunately had to cancel his attendance for health reasons. In its place, papers were presented by Aldo Roma and Sara Elisa Stangalino, members of the PerformArt team. Aldo Roma discussed the literary education and theatrical culture of the gentleman-librettist through the figure of Giulio Rospigliosi. Starting by outlining Rospigliosi’s biography, Roma then concentrated on libretti such asIl Sant’Alessio(1632) set to music by Stefano Landi, andSan Bonifatio(1638) with music by Virgilio Mazzocchi, both in order to explain the context of patronage linked to these works and to underline influences such as the Spanish model of the comedy of the saints, masked theatre, and the use of comic characters. Sara Elisa Stangalino in turn focused on Nicolò Minato, an ambiguous figure since he worked as a professional librettist but also acceded to the title of count. Active in Venice and then in Vienna, he was, among other things, a lawyer, a theatre impresario, a court playwright and a member of various academies. The complexity and versatility of his profile as a playwright offers a wide arena for discussion of the performing arts in the seventeenth century.

The morning ended with a roundtable discussion, with Jean Boutier, Berthold Over, Aldo Roma, Sara Elisa Stangalino and Alexandra Nigito taking part. The discussion was chaired by Boutier, who took up the contributions of previous speakers to add new questions, starting fromCastiglione’s treatise Il Cortigiano: to what extent was the nobleman able to enter the cultural world? What is the relationship between the nobility of arms and the nobility of the arts? At what point in history does culture become a central element in the concept of nobility? Boutier then considered the Florentine context and the cases of librettists such as Ferdinando Saracinelli and Mattias Bartolomei, in order to propose an analysis from a social as well as intellectual standpoint.

There was lively audience participation in the final discussion, including various questions for example about what motivated a small proportion of noblemen to write libretti; the differences between the gentleman-librettist (who was not part of the production system) and the professional librettist; and the ways in which the noblemen themselves were involved in composition (including in their relationship with composers) and musical interpretation.

Cristina Fernandes


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Report on visit to Palazzo Doria Pamphilj


As on previous occasions, this seminar was followed by a visit to the palace of an important aristocratic family in Rome. The team visited the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj on Via del Corso; still owned by the family today, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the palace was the residence of the Pamphilj princes and notably the cardinal-poet Benedetto Pamphilj. The tour, guided by Ludovica Schmidt, began on the ground floor with an exposition of the origins and wealth of the Pamphilj family, followed by an overview of the history of the palace and its construction, associated with the Aldobrandinis as well as the Pamphilj family. The visit continued on the first floor, where various rooms housing the family’s impressive collection of paintings can be viewed, in particular the four wings of the main gallery including the famous Galleria degli Specchi (Gallery of Mirrors). The visit ended with a visit to some of the rooms that originally formed part of the Aldobrandini palace.

Huub van der Linden


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Report on the database workshop

Michela Berti took the floor to present new database features:

– Automatic update is now available for Windows.

– All records now have an identification N composed of a letter indicating the category (Event, Document, Historical Person etc) followed by 9 digits (e.g. 123-456-789). This number can be clicked on, copied and entered into a browser. Even when the database is closed, the browser will ask permission to open the record in PerformArt. It can also be entered into the database search field. These features are currently not available for PC, only on Mac OS.

– Creation of a new field known as VIAF ID. The VIAF is an institution that collects the standardised forms of names of people, objects and so on at both national and international levels. It provides a naming system that is internationally recognised, compatible and therefore effective.

– Finalising the layout (display format). This now allows records to be exported in the form of treatable text (they can be copied and pasted, for example). All important fields are listed, even if they are empty. Very long (and less important) fields that are not always filled are not exported, on the other hand.

– Location record, GPS field. The easiest method is to copy this fromGoogle Maps. However, onMaps there is a point separating the digits, while in the database there is a comma. Now, when coordinates are copied and pasted, the comma is automatically inserted.

– Document record. Where we have reconstructed data, we can put them in square brackets and insert the link. Example: place of dispatch [Bracciano (Lazio)].

– Indexing of the Document record. Not only persons but also other categories are listed. Example of the Orsini palace, cited as Palazzo Pasquino.

– Libretto category: the Title and Dedication fields have been expanded, in addition to the vertical and horizontal separators. Addition of an Opera field to directly indicate the link between a libretto and an opera. Orsetta Baroncelli and Marco Cavietti worked on these categories. They can be selected within ‘formatting’ options (wide, free and inventory).

– Supervision of records. Orsetta Baroncelli and Marco Cavietti are the reference point for all types of documents except scores and libretti, Christine Jeanneret for scores, Barbara Nestola for libretti, Huub Van Der Linden for historical persons, Elodie Oriol for organised groups, Diana Blichmann for iconography, Michela Berti for events. In order to oversee records in this way, which is essential to guarantee the consistency of the final product, it is important to put a quality status on each record. Discussion of the use of colours to indicate the completeness of the data on each record and symbols to indicate the progress of work on it. Important: Supervisors can edit the records of the category for which they are responsible.

– Marco Cavietti updated the team about progress on the thesaurus. Insertion of specific terms selected by the Nuovo Soggettario created by the Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze, to which terms that do not yet appear are in the process of being added.

– New feature in the bibliography category, which allows users to create titles (for example, journals) and index them automatically.

– Presentations by the supervisors of 3 categories: Elodie Oriol presented organised groups, Huub Van Der Linden historical persons, Barbara Nestola libretti.


Barbara Nestola