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FESTIVALS. Early modern festivals and celebrations may be classified in several different ways: as religious, civic, or courtly; as annual or in honor of unique occasions; as popular and folkloric or as elite and learned; and finally, according to whether they constituted celebrations of the religious and social order or were subversive of it. None of these categories is entirely discrete, for there is considerable overlapping of tone and circumstance. The final distinction, that between "establishment" feasts and subversive ones, is the one most fundamental for contemporary scholarship and provides the most useful basis for a general discussion.


Both civic and religious pageantry aimed at portraying the established order in a favorable light and at fostering an impression of harmony and security. The distinction between the two was not always clear.

Religious feasts and processions. With its recurring commemorations of moments in the drama of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Redemption, the Christian calendar evoked a coherent and reassuring view of human history, whatever unjust or chaotic conditions might prevail in the contemporary political and social worlds. Special church services and processions through the streets brought all classes together in recollection of events recounted either in the Gospels or in the lives of saints. When government officials took part in such religious processions, for example in that for Palm Sunday in Venice, the arrangement provided a still more encompassing picture of harmony, with the integration of the civic and spiritual realms of life. Moreover, because many cities had particular saints as patrons, the celebration of their feast days, such as St. John's Day (24 June) in Florence or the day of the Assumption of the Virgin (15 August) in Siena, was a frankly civic affair.

While most religious celebrations were engraved, so to speak, on the calendar, there were others devoted to unique ecclesiastical occasions, such as the canonization of new saints and the investiture of new bishops. The Roman Holy Years, coming every quarter century, entailed very elaborate public observances. In the Iberian Peninsula, during the Counter-Reformation and into the Enlightenment, there were occasional celebrations of autos-da-fé (literally 'acts of faith'), with the public trials of heretics followed by "reconciliations" or executions. These manifestations, chilling to our late modern sensibility, were watched by great numbers of people in a festive mood. Whatever the actual effect, the intent of the organizers was undoubtedly to strengthen religious faith and ecclesiastical institutions.

State occasions. The basic aim of purely civic pageantry was to present a majestic and harmonious view of the state and to cultivate a pride of citizenship in both participants and spectators. For the state as for the church, processions were probably the most effective form of festive manifestation. When a monarch or ruling prince or the ruling council of a republic rode at the center of a colorful parade that included local guilds and confraternities, and perhaps also foreign ambassadors or, as in trading cities like Lyon and Antwerp, the representatives of foreign merchant colonies, all dressed in costumes of office or in collective "livery," one could infer a just equilibrium not only between church and state, or among social classes, but also among the nations of Christendom. Sometimes, as when new popes paused in their inaugural procession to St. John Lateran to accept the friendly greetings of Rome's Jewish colony, even non-Christians were integrated into a harmonious view of the world.

In the late Middle Ages it became customary for new monarchs to make grand, ceremonial entries into their capital cities. In the streets they might find decorative structures built by the city fathers or by organized social groups such as guilds. Such structures often bore inscriptions, and sometimes there were also stationary scenes called tableaux vivants ('living pictures') in which immobile human actors represented biblical, mythological, historical, or allegorical scenes. More rarely, actors recited verses to the monarch, who paused to listen. These manifestations were intended not just to assure rulers of the populace's loyalty but also to remind them of their own obligations toward the city. At one point in her 1559 progress through London, Queen Elizabeth I is said to have stated in answer to a display, "I have taken notice of your good meaning toward mee, and will endeavor to Answere your severall expectations." Thus entries and other civic processions tended to confirm the intangible political contracts underlying early modern societies. There is no doubt that they were often a significant force for social peace.

The style of entry decorations changed with the progress of classical revival in the Renaissance. Vernacular inscriptions gave way to Latin ones, and the principal street decorations became triumphal arches and other temporary structures imitated from the buildings of ancient Rome, or from architectural treatises. Allegory fell into relative disfavor. The Latin inscriptions and temporary paintings on entry arches alluded most often to history, above all to the history of classical Rome, either republican or imperial. These changes reflect a general shift in taste but are also instrumental in that shift. Artists and literary figures who planned the architecture and iconography of structures erected for entries belonged quite often to the avant-garde, and their work was influential in various realms. This was true not only during the initial phase of classical revival in the Renaissance but also during the subsequent development of the baroque style and sensibility in the late sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Thus the planner for decorations of the 1635 entry into Antwerp of Cardinal Ferdinand of Austria was the celebrated painter Peter Paul Rubens (15771640), who also did the engravings for the published account.

In addition to inaugural entries into their capital cities, some rulers were honored with triumphal processions in other towns of their own dominions or those of friendly foreign princes. The undisputed champion triumphator during the Renaissance was the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (ruled 15191556), who periodically traveled in state through his possessions and vassal states in Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany, and the Low Countries. Popes also occasionally made ceremonial journeys entailing grand urban entries, as when Pope Clement VIII traveled north from Rome in 1598 to take possession of the duchy of Ferrara. Queen Elizabeth I of England, during her long reign (15581603) staged a number of "progresses" through her kingdom. French kings as well, for example Charles IX in 15641566, sometimes made state tours of their provinces. Noble brides traveled in triumphal processions from their homes to those of their husbands, as, for example, when Marie de Médicis proceeded from Florence to the French court in 1600.

During the Renaissance, several particularly poignant occasions for pageantry and popular festivity were furnished by what we might now call "summit meetings," that is, conferences between rival sovereigns, or between sovereigns and popes. Of these the two best remembered are the meeting between the young kings Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold near Calais in 1520, and the prolonged consultations of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Pope Clement VII at Bologna in 15291530. The first meeting, which antedated the main thrust of the classical revival, was marked by chivalric ceremonies and entertainments. At Bologna, there were triumphal entries and then, months later, a papal coronation of the emperor, the last such ever to take place. After the crowning, pope and emperor rode together through the streets of Bologna under a single canopy. This striking image, which seemed to herald an era of peace, soon became known all over Europe through a series of engravings.

The great political upheavals in western Europe during the late sixteenth century and the first half of the seventeenth centuriesreligious wars in France and the Low Countries, the troubles of the Fronde in France, the Civil War in England, the Thirty Years' War in Germanywere not favorable for great displays of pageantry. In 1660, however, the young Louis XIV made a grand entry into Paris with his new queen, Marie-Thérèse of Spain, and the next year the recently restored Charles II of England traversed London from the Tower to Whitehall on his way to be crowned. These two major events were recorded in elaborately printed "festival books" with much finer engravings than had been found in similar publications of the sixteenth century. Following decades saw the publication of many more such books.

Royal and dynastic weddings. Just as some celebrations partook of both the religious and the civic realms, others had both civic and courtly elements. Thus royal and other dynastic weddings usually involved joyous entries of brides into their husbands' cities. If the marriage sealed a political alliance, as when Duke Cosimo I of Florence married the daughter of the Spanish viceroy of Naples in 1539, or when the future Louis XVI of France married the Austrian Marie-Antoinette, daughter of the Holy Roman emperor, in 1770, decorations for the urban entries of the brides often had political themes. Such weddings were, however, also accompanied by ever more elaborate series of "closed" entertainments whose only evident purpose was the display of magnificenza (wealth and generosity) for the pleasure of elite audiences. That seemingly frivolous purpose was in fact politically important for rulers in increasingly absolutist regimes.

Courtly entertainments. The diversions offered by princes to aristocratic audiences became more varied and more lavish as courts grew larger. It was a very long way from the small ducal court of Urbino immortalized by Baldassare Castiglione in The Book of the Courtier (1528) to the large body of French aristocrats who gravitated around the palace of Versailles in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By the end of the early modern period, the variety of courtly entertainments had become very large, including tournaments and other forms of chivalric combat (now largely feigned), organized hunts, fireworks, banquets, concerts, ballets, and dramatic performances of many different kinds. Although commercial theater was already becoming important, several major theatrical genresthe neo-classical commedia erudita (learned comedy) of the Italian Renaissance, the Italian opera, the comedia of the Spanish Golden Age, the classical comedies and tragedies of seventeenth-century Francewere born or perfected in part at court. Dance genres such as the French ballet de cour and the English masque were virtually confined to courtly circles.

During the Renaissance the occasions for grand entertainments were relatively few, mainly weddings, baptisms of heirs, Christmas, and carnival. Later, at least in large courts, entertainments were commissioned more frequently and might last several days. The French court at Versailles, the largest and most magnificent in Europe from the 1660s to the French Revolution, set the standard in such things. One famous and well documented fête of 1664 may serve as an example. By command of the young Louis XIV, the Plaisirs de l'île enchantée (Pleasures of the bewitched island) were devised by the duke of Saint-Aignan to last three days, 79 May. A rather loose unifying theme was taken from the sixth, seventh, and eighth cantos of Ludovico Ariosto's immensely popular chivalric epic Orlando furioso (15161532; Madness of Roland). Saint-Aignan had as collaborators the playwright Molière (16221673) with his troupe of actors; the lyric poet Isaac de Benserade (1613?1691), the musician Jean-Baptiste Lully (16321689), and the stage architect Carlo Vigarani (d. 1693). On the first day, the king and some of his courtiers paraded in "Ariostean" costume and then competed in a run at the ring. Louis was disguised as Ariosto's hero Ruggiero. There followed a ballet and a banquet punctuated by the appearance of marvelous stage "machines" or automata. Molière's play La princesse d'Élide (The princess of Elis), interspersed with pieces of music and ballet, was performed the second day. The third day featured still another ballet and an exhibition of fireworks, fused into a sort of "pyrotechnic opera." Further entertainments, including the playing of two more comedies of Molière, ensued during four more days. The Plaisirs were commemorated in handsome publications.


While religious and civic festivals have attracted the attention of historians of art, literature, and ideas, the festivals of misrule have recently held a particular interest for anthropologists, semioticians, and social historians. An indisputable ancestor of festivals in the latter category can be seen in the ancient Roman Saturnalia, during the celebration of which the social order was temporarily turned upside down as slaves wore their masters' clothing and were served by them at table. The Saturnalia were doubtless seen by Romans in power as a safety valve for the release of popular resentment against social injustice. Whether they served only that purpose or were also a force for reform or revolution is a matter of historical speculation, as is also the effect of early modern feasts descended from them.

The Feast of Fools and Abbeys of Misrule. The Feast of Fools (Latin Festum Stultorum, French Fête des Fous, German Narrenfest ) was long celebrated in religious communities shortly after Christmas. A reversal of hierarchy was effected through the election of a young cleric or monastic as "bishop," and sometimes things held sacred were made fun of in mock masses. The actual church authorities were understandably uneasy with such frivolities. In the sixteenth century and later, some towns also had lay organizations of young men known as "abbeys" or "kingdoms" of misrule. These groups elected "abbots" or "kings" and participated together in various lighthearted activities during Christmas and Carnival. In Renaissance England, on a higher social plane, a court lord of misrule was sometimes appointed for yuletide celebrations, or "revels." Thus George Ferrars, holding that appointment from the young King Edward VI, staged a mock triumphal entry into London in January 1552.

Carnival. The most important feast of misrule by far was that of Carnival, celebrated just before the onset of Lent. It was a period of "licensed transgression" enjoyed by all classes of society. A measure of its popularity can be seen in the curious fact that carnival celebrations persisted in some Protestant areas of northern Europe that had ceased to observe Lent. Italian Carnival parades sometimes had elaborate decorated pageant cars. In Rome, such parades often flattered reigning pontiffs, as when that of 1536 recreated the ancient triumph of Paulus Aemilius in allusion to Pope Paul III. In Florence and Venice, where the parades were sometimes planned by well-born young men in companies analogous to the abbeys of misrule, there might be a less reverent tone.

Carnival in Italy was also the principal occasion for the production of neoclassical comedies, and in Germany there were special Fastnachtspiele (Carnival plays), most memorably those of Hans Sachs (14941576). In France, during the next century, the celebration was also a favored time for the performance of Molière's comedies. At the Stuart courts in seventeenth-century England, allegorical masques might be written and performed for Shrovetide, the three days preceding Ash Wednesday. Unlike the generally apolitical Italian and French comedies and German Fastnachtspiele, which made fun of typical human faults, the English compositions often carried ideological messages supporting the divine right of kings.

The most subversive activity of Carnival probably lay in the custom of "masking," which permitted the social classes to mingle promiscuously in the streets and even to express seditious sentiments under the protection of anonymity. Church authorities periodically forbade masking, but it was tremendously popular. Carnival activities in general became less important during the baroque period and the Enlightenment, although they are still lively today in a few Catholic cities such as Cologne and Venice. It would be hard to prove that they were lastingly subversive of dominant institutions, although their spirit often stood in opposition to official ideology.

See also Carnival ; Games and Play .


Anglo, Sydney. Spectacle, Pageantry, and Early Tudor Policy. 2nd ed. Oxford and New York, 1997. A solid study of English royal pageantry through the coronation of Elizabeth I in 1559.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Translated by Helene Iswolsky. Boston, 1968. Translation of Tvorchestivo Fransua Rable (1965). An influential book whose contraposition of popular and official culture has affected scholarship in the history of festivals, along with that in several other domains.

Béhar, Pierre, and Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly, eds. Spectaculum Europaeum. Theatre and Spectacle in Europe. Histoire du spectacle en Europe (15801750). Wolfenbütteler Arbeiten zur Barockforschung, Band 31. Wiesbaden, 1999. A wide-ranging and systematic study of civic and courtly festivals for most of the early modern period, with some coverage also of religious celebrations. Unusual amount of attention to festivals in smaller countries or linguistic areas.

Bergeron, David. English Civic Pageantry 15581642. Columbia, S.C., 1971. A systematic study, with attention to lord mayors' shows, royal entries, and progresses.

Bryant, Lawrence M. The King and the City in the Parisian Royal Entry Ceremony: Politics, Ritual, and Art in the Renaissance. Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance, 216. Geneva, 1986. A careful and clear study of the evolution of royal entries into Paris through that of Louis XIV in 1660.

Burke, Peter. Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe. Rev. reprint. Aldershot, U.K., and Brookfield, Vt., 1994. See particularly the chapters "The World of Carnival" (pp. 178204) and, for changes in festive practice made by Protestant and Catholic reformers, "The Triumph of Lent: the Reform of Popular Culture" (pp. 207243).

Jacquot, Jean, ed. Les Fêtes de la Renaissance. 3 vols. Paris, 19561975. The proceedings of three pioneering colloquia on Renaissance festival studies.

Mitchell, Bonner. The Majesty of the State: Triumphal Progresses of Foreign Sovereigns in Renaissance Italy (14941600). Biblioteca dell'Archivum Romanicum, 203. Florence, 1986. A systematic narrative.

Muir, Edward. Ritual in Early Modern Europe. New Approaches to European History, 11. Cambridge, U.K., 1997. A study in the current school of ritual scholarship that is both synthesizing and original. Much about Carnival and other popular festivals, as well as about ecclesiastical and civic pageantry.

Strong, Roy. Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals 1450 1650. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1984. Excellent analyses of selected festivals at the Habsburg, Valois, Medici, and Stuart courts.

Watanabe-O'Kelly, Helen, and Anne Simon. Festivals and Ceremonies. A Bibliography of Works Relating to Court, Civic and Religious Festivals in Europe 15001800. London and New York, 2000. A partial but vast bibliography of printed festival books and relevant news bulletins for virtually the whole early modern period. This is the starting place for primary research.

Wisch, Barbara, and Susan Scott Munshower, eds. "All the World's a Stage": Art and Pageantry in the Renaissance and Baroque. Part 1, Triumphal Celebrations and the Rituals of Statecraft. Part 2, Theatrical Spectacle and Spectacular Theatre. Papers in Art History from the Pennsylvania State University, Vol. 6. University Park, Pa., 1990. Includes several focused studies on Renaissance and baroque celebrations and a highly useful "Bibliography of the Literature on Triumph" (Part 1, pp. 370385) covering studies for the early modern period as well as those for ancient and medieval times.

Bonner Mitchell

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festivals (from Lat. festivalis, ‘festival’). The Eng. derivative ‘festival’ has come to be applied to gatherings in which one or several of the arts is celebrated. Its first mus. use was possibly the Fest. of the Sons of the Clergy which, from 1698, used an orch. as part of what was really only an elaborate church service. The oldest Eng. fest. in the truer sense is the 3 Choirs Fest., alternating annually between the cath. cities of Gloucester, Hereford, and Worcester. In the 19th cent. the emphasis was on choral mus., and the Handel Fest., the Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, and Norwich Fests. flourished. Abroad, the Haydn Fests. in Austria and the 1845 Beethoven Fest. in Bonn were outstanding events. Other famous continental fests. are those at Bayreuth (devoted exclusively to Wagner) and Salzburg (based on Mozart, but with wider scope). Since the end of the 1939–45 war, fests. have developed alongside the growth of tourism. Almost any attractive town (and several unattractive ones) has considered establishing a fest. as a means of attracting visitors. Among the best and longest est. are those at Edinburgh, Cheltenham, Bath, Harrogate, Aldeburgh, York, Haslemere, Holland, Aix-en-Provence, Bregenz, Florence, Savonlinna, Munich, Spoleto, Berkshire (Boston, Mass.), Hollywood Bowl, Ravinia Park (Chicago), etc. Some fests. have a theme (one particular composer or one type of mus.); others are just a random coll. of artistic events.

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Aspen Music Festival

Aspen Music Festival, classical music festival held annuallly each summer in Aspen, Colo. Chicagoans Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke established the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies (now the Aspen Institute) in the former silver-mining boomtown, and the Aspen Music Festival and School was founded in 1949 under the auspices of the Institute. Originally a two-week event, it is now an eight-week festival led by music director Robert Spano. Artists from all over the world perform in recitals, concerts, operas, and other events and teach several hundred young music students.

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