The Iconography of Power

Ceremonial Entries in Early Modern Europe: The Iconography of Power
J.R. Mulryne with Maria Ines Aliverti and Anna Maria Testaverde (eds.)
Ashgate Publishing  388pp  £85

One of the few occasions on which an early modern ruler interacted with his subjects was during a ceremonial entry into one of the cities in his realm. In a ceremony that goes back to the Roman adventus ritual, in which an emperor entered Rome in triumph, the ruler appeared before the city gates and formally requested the citizens to be allowed to enter. The burghers of the city recognised the ruler's authority by presenting him with the keys to the city gates, which the ruler returned, thereby confirming his relationship with them. The ruler then rode into the city, often under a baldachin, accompanied by his entourage. The procession wound its way along a ceremonial route marked out by triumphal arches and other ephemeral structures. The decoration of these arches was often the occasion for the citizens not only to praise their lord but also to declare what it was that they hoped for from him. Where the ruler himself had commissioned the decorations, he naturally dictated the iconographic programme and used it to put across an agenda of his own.

Jacek Żukowski, in an acute analysis of hitherto unresearched source material relating to the entries of Vladislaus IV Vasa, King of Poland (r.1632-1648), into various Polish and Lithuanian cities, shows how an independent city such as Gdańsk could use the complex decorations on their ephemeral architecture to convey their 'fears, aims and expectations'. The first four essays in the book relating to France demonstrate the opposite, showing how French monarchs used the ceremonial entry to present themselves in a particular light and convey their message. Richard Cooper shows how 16th-century French kings used their entries to present themselves as army commanders, while Margaret M. McGowan explains how Henri IV's entry into Rouen in 1596 depicted the king as restorer of the state after a time of war. Linda Briggs discusses the progress of the teenage Charles IX round his kingdom from 1565 to 1566, a progress masterminded by his mother, Catherine de' Medici, while Marie-Claude Canova-Green analyses the way in which Louis XIII represented himself as the victor over Protestantism.

The popes had their own version of the ceremonial entry called the possesso, in which a newly crowned pope, in a ceremony modelled on Christ's entry into Jerusalem, rode from St Peter's in Rome to the church of St John Lateran. In an excellent chapter Lucia Nuti shows how the popes remodelled the city of Rome to make a ceremonial route for their possessi. Her transcription of the manuscript 'Register of Expenses' for the coronation of Pope Leo X in 1513 by Leonardo di Zanobi Bartolini is usefully printed as an appendix. Entries, like all festivals, had to be organised by someone and Anna Maria Testaverde's discussion of the Book of Ceremonies of the Florentine master of ceremonies Francesco Tongiarini (1536-1612) allows us to look over the shoulder of one such organiser.

A different sort of entry was that of the foreign bride, arriving for the first time in her husband's kingdom and being presented to her new subjects as her coach drew into the capital. Lucinda Dean discusses the entry of Anne of Denmark as Queen of Scotland into Edinburgh in 1590 and the earlier 16th-century entries into Scottish cities that preceded it. Sara Trevisan analyses the use of the myth of the Golden Fleece by the Drapers Company in the Lord Mayor's shows in 16th- and 17th- century London and Margaret Shewring brings discussion of the entry up to the present by linking the processions on the Thames for Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Braganza with the rain-soaked water pageant for Elizabeth II in 2012. Sixteenth-century Habsburg festivals, music in the Italian Renaissance entry and Elizabeth of Valois's entry into Spain in 1559 are the topics of other essays in this beautifully-produced book with its seven colour plates and 38 half-tone illustrations.

My only criticism is that the book lacks a final chapter that would have drawn out some general principles or trends, highlighting similarities and differences between so many disparate and dazzling events in so many different territories across two centuries.

Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly is Professor of German Literature, University of Oxford.

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