Sforza, Ippolita Maria

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Ippolita Maria Sforza



A Child Prodigy of Dance.

Ippolita Maria Sforza was the daughter of Duke Francesco Sforza of Milan and Bianca Maria Visconti. Her father employed a number of scholars to provide his children with the finest of classical educations, which included Greek, Latin, rhetoric, and the arts. In 1454, Francesco added the humanist poet Antonio Cornazano to his household staff, assigning the instruction of dance as one of his teaching duties. A year later Cornazano dedicated his treatise Libro dell'arte del danzare (Book on the Art of Dancing) to his ten-year-old star pupil, Ippolita, making her the earliest known ballerina, that is, a dancer of choreographed dances. The treatise also includes a sonnet by Cornazano, extolling Ippolita's graces in language, echoing Latin mythological poetry. In the spring of that same year, Ippolita was introduced to two of the most famous dancing masters of the century when Domenico da Piacenza and Guglielmo Ebreo were summoned to the Sforza court to work with Cornazano to organize the festivities and dances for the marriage of Tristano Sforza to Beatrice d'Este, a woman widely acclaimed as a dancer. Shortly afterward, in the fall, Ippolita, still only age ten, was promised in marriage by her father to Alfonso of Naples. From that point forward she was usually referred to as the Duchess of Calabria, which would be her title following her marriage ten years later.

A Performing Artist.

Ippolita's renown as a dancer began at the 1455 Sforza wedding, where she participated in a ballo with Beatrice. The next recorded notice of her dancing is from 1465, associated with her wedding celebration in Milan, followed by the long journey she took from Milan to Naples for her marriage. She was escorted on the trip by Federigo, the youngest son of King Ferrante of Naples, accompanied by two of her brothers and a company of more than a thousand, including 600 nobles, soldiers, servants, and courtiers, among them her dancing teacher Antonio Cornazano. All along the journey the entourage stopped at the major cities and courts where she was lavishly entertained; in Florence she danced with Lorenzo de' Medici (age sixteen), whom she had met and danced with at the earlier wedding celebration in her home palace. Next she traveled to Siena, where one of the entertainments presented in her honor included a costumed moresca (Moorish dance). When she finally arrived in Naples after three months on the road, a full week was set aside for the wedding festivities, which included lavish balls. Throughout her reign as Duchess of Calabria, Ippolita was renowned for her learning and her support of the arts, including her beloved dance.


Eileen Southern, "A 15th-Century Prima Ballerina," in Music and Context, Essays for John M. Ward. Ed. A. D. Shapiro (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985): 183–197.