c. 1530–c. 1605
Little is known about the circumstances of Caroso's life, except that he was born in Sermoneta, a small town near Rome, sometime between 1527 and 1535. Long-standing legends have alleged that he was a peasant taken into the household of the Caetani family, dukes of Sermoneta and Rome, and provided with an education. In his treatises Caroso dedicates a number of his dances to members of the Caetani and Orsini families, and it is likely that he probably served as the dance instructor in these households for a time. Both families kept large palaces in Rome during the sixteenth century, and besides the Orsini and Caetani, Caroso mentions other powerful Roman nobles of the day, including the Farnese and Aldobrandini Duke and Duchess of Parma and Piacenza, to whom he dedicates his second dance book, The Nobility of Ladies (1600). Torquato Tasso, the accomplished late Renaissance poet, also wrote a sonnet dedicated to Caroso, which is included in The Nobility. Like most of the prominent dance masters of the period, though, he probably spent much of his life moving in princely circles in Italy, teaching dance and mounting spectacles and other entertainments for court circles. Little more, though, can be determined about his life.
Caroso is remembered today for two dance manuals he published late in the sixteenth century: The Dancing Master (1581) and The Nobility of Ladies (1600). Both are informative sources about the kinds of dances that were popular in the later Renaissance and together include information on about 100 different dances. Among these dances, Caroso includes a number of balletto, which were specially choreographed dances that consisted of multiple parts and specially composed music. While Caroso's works include a few simple dances that could be easily mastered, most of them were highly complex constructions that even expert amateurs might have had to spend many hours practicing. His books also include music intended to accompany these dances, and thus his work has been of great value to scholars and modern dance enthusiasts anxious to recover Renaissance styles of dance. In his Nobility of Ladies Caroso also included two dialogues between a dance master and his student that outline ballroom etiquette and a series of hard-and-fast rules for dancers to observe. His prescriptions on etiquette are notable for their extreme courtliness. He advises his readers on such subjects as how to wear a cape, how to sit and stand, when and how to remove gloves, and so forth. New editions of Caroso's book Nobility of Ladies continued to appear in Italy until 1630, demonstrating its continued role in the seventeenth century as an authority on dance techniques and ballroom behavior.
Fabrizio Caroso, Nobiltà di Dame. Trans. J. Sutton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).
A. Feves, "Fabritio Caroso and the Changing Shape of the Dance, 1550–1600," in Dance Chronicle 14 (1991): 159–174.
P. Gargiulo, ed., La danza italiana tra Cinque e Seicento: studi per Fabrizio Caroso da Sermoneta (Rome: Bardi, 1997).
J. Sutton, "Caroso, Fabrizio," in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2nd ed. (New York: Norton, 2001).