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Festivals, Splendid Ceremonies: A New Rare Book Acquisition in The Ringling Art Library

The Rare Book Collection of The Ringling Art Library spans a wide range of subjects and periods of art, but when considering a new acquisition or gift, the primary goal is to make selections that relate to the Museum’s works of art. The Library’s newest rare book addition certainly accomplishes this objective and provides historical insight into several of The Ringling’s paintings.

Title Page, Festivals, Splendid Ceremonies (Historica narration profectionis et inaugurationis serenissimorum Belgii principum Albert et Isabellae, Antwerp, 1602

Title Page, Festivals, Splendid Ceremonies (Historica narration profectionis et inaugurationis serenissimorum Belgii principum Albert et Isabellae, Antwerp, 1602

The Latin title of the Library’s new rare book has thirty-six words, but for the purpose of this article, we will call it by its simpler name, Festivals, Splendid Ceremonies. It was printed in the publishing house of Christophe Plantin, the most influential book printer in Antwerp in the seventeenth century. Only one edition of 77 copies was produced and The Ringling copy is in exceptionally good condition.

The book is relevant to The Ringling’s art collection in several ways. First is its connection to Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia, who commissioned Peter Paul Rubens to paint the series The Triumph of the Eucharist (c. 1625) (he even included her portrait in one painting in the series, Defenders of the Eucharist). As a devout Roman Catholic, Rubens was the ideal artist to carry out the Archduchess’ support and promotion of the Catholic Reformation, which is why she invited him to be her court painter in 1609.

In 1599, Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, favorite daughter of King Philip II of Spain, married Albert VII, Archduke of Austria. Her father ceded the Habsburg Spanish Netherlands to the couple and they became the co-sovereigns, a reign that  the Archduchess continued after her husband’s death.

Portrait of Isabella Clara Eugenia, by Gaspar de Crayer, 1620 Bequest of John Ringling

Portrait of Isabella Clara Eugenia, by Gaspar de Crayer, 1620. Bequest of John Ringling

The newly acquired Ringling book is a splendidly illustrated record of the entry of the newlyweds Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia into Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Valenciennes. Following the tradition of the Roman emperors centuries before, the seventeenth century was a time when elaborate spectacles were designed for the triumphal entries of royalty into the cities of Europe. The main reason for these processions was to glorify the royalty, as well as a means for conveying political interests. There was a robust competition between architects and artists as they competed with each other to see who could design the grandest and most extravagant pageantry. Peter Paul Rubens was one of the artists who designed several of these triumphal entries.

Illustration of a court procession in front of a castle

The main author of the book was Joannes Bochius, the town clerk of Antwerp.  He also wrote the section devoted to the procession into Brussels, while Max. Vriendt wrote about the festivities in Ghent, and Henri d’Outreman described the entry into Valenciennes. Each of the authors gave detailed descriptions of all of the structures, ceremonies, fireworks, the meanings of the various allegorical decorations, and even included the musical notes for compositions written especially for these celebrations.

A mythical procession featuring sea creatures pulling a carriage

The book includes twenty-eight engraved plates, including fifteen double-pages by Pieter van der Borcht, a student of Pieter Bruegel. Some of the drawings were by Otto van Veen, Peter Paul Rubens’ master and an artist whose work was also commissioned by Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia. The Ringling Art Library owns a rare copy of one of the most well-known seventeenth-century emblem books illustrated by van Veen.

Illustration of an elephant on a parade float

This elephant design is one of the floats on wheels that would have been pulled in the parade. People would have been placed on the structure, an idea not unlike something that one might have seen in John Ringling’s circus.

Illustration from Festivals, Splendid Ceremonies featuring tableaux vivant float

Above is one of the book’s engravings that shows an example of a “tableaux vivants” along the procession route, often with images of the gods of antiquity, such as in this design.

Illustration from Festivals, Splendid Ceremonies featuring a crowd of people

The structures and ceremonial objects created for these triumphal entries have long since disappeared, but a rare book such as The Ringling’s survives as the only permanent record of these ephemeral festivals.

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