Master of Many Arts.
Because dance was only one of many arts practiced in the courts of late medieval Italy, it is important to recognize that those engaged in it were not necessarily professionals. Indeed, as the concept of the "Renaissance man" developed, what was most admired was an individual's ability to move easily from one art to another as a cultivated amateur (that is, one who loves a subject but does not make a living from it). Thus, although Antonio Cornazano taught dancing and wrote a dance manual, it would be inaccurate to refer to him as a dancing master. He was not himself a choreographer—his manual contains only choreographies by Domenico da Piacenza—and he was not a professional dancer, as were all the other dancing masters. He is better described as a poet, humanist, and statesman; at his appointment to the household staff of Duke Francesco Sforza, he was described as "counselor, secretary, chamberlain, and teacher of the Duke's children." Cornazano was born into one of Piacenza's leading noble families and, similar to other young men of his status, received a broad education that included ancient and modern languages, the theory and practice of military arts, and politics. He learned dancing from Domenico, whom he later referred to as "my only teacher and colleague." In 1454 he entered into service in Milan at the Sforza court where a year later he dedicated the first version of his treatise, Libro dell'arte del danzare (Book on the Art of Dancing), to his young student Ippolita Maria Sforza. Following the death of Duke Francesco in 1466, Cornazano moved to Venice where he spent eleven years as military adviser to General Bartolomeo Colleoni, leader of the Venetian military forces.
Cornazano was married to Taddea de Varro, a member of an old noble Ferrarese family, and in 1479 he entered the court of Ericole I d'Este in Ferrara, where he spent the remainder of his life. He was noted as an excellent and prolific poet who was also skilled at extemporizing poetry. His writings include La Sforzeide in praise of Francesco Sforza, a set of poems divided into 36 chapters, written in the style of Vergil's epic The Aeneid. His works also include Vita di Nostra Donna (Life of our Lady), a book of poems on the life of the Virgin Mary, dedicated to Ippolita Maria Sforza; and Opera bellissima de l'arte militare (The Most Beautiful Work of Military Art), a treatise on the art of war. Though to us the combination of the "arts of war" and the arts of poetry and dance might seem unusual, this was not the case in fifteenth-century courts, where dance, like poetry and the performance of music, was an activity of great interest to almost everyone and was always included as one of the skills required of a successful courtier.
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. 29 vols. 2nd ed. (New York: Grove's Dictionaries, 2001).