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Martedì 29 Gennaio 2008  14:09
BREAKFAST AT ESTE'S
BREAKFAST AT ESTE'S


Based on "Life and Times of Girolamo Savonarola:" by Pasquale Villari, London, 1888.

The aspect of modern Ferrara, makes it difficult for us to realize the former splendor of the capital of the House of Este. But at the beginning of 15th century it was a city of 100,000 inhabitants, and its Court, continually visited by princes, emperors, and popes, was one of the most famous in Italy.

Nowadays only the Este's castle remains as witness of those glorious times but that grim quadrangular building, with its four massive towers guarded by moats and drawbridges, testifies the force of the tyranny that once was entrenched amidst the people of Ferrara.

In Este's times no one thought of visiting for amusement the subterranean dungeons of the castle because they were full of immured victims, and the clanking of chains and groans of human beings in pain could be heard from their depths. A grotesque symphony mingled with the strains of music, the ringing of silver plates, the clatter of majolica dishes, and the clinking of Venetian glasses going on above.

In 1402, the reigning Marquess of Ferrara and of the rich and fertile province of Modena was Niccolo III. After sixteen years of continuous warfare with the lords of the neighboring strongholds, he had at last subdued them by force of arms, and then, having become an absolute sovereign, he devoted his peaceful reign to enhancing the glory of his Court.

He began the erection of the cathedral tower, and the palace of Belriguardo; he built the church of Santa Maria di Belfiore and other splendid edifices. Niccolo III. was also a lover of letters and the arts, and he was taking real pride in attracting distinguished men to his Court. As it happened with the celebrated scholar Guarino of Verona, to whom he even entrusted the education of his two natural sons, Lionello and Borso.

These two boys, although they were born outside the official channels, were afterwards legitimized, and, by their father's express desire, named his successors. Well, he had a legitimate son too, Ercole, but he had chosen them in preference to him, because Ercole he was then still an infant.

So Lionello ascended the throne on Niccolo's decease, in 1441, but, unfortunately for him, he started to reign during difficult times.

The extinction of the House of Visconti, the revolt of Milan, and the jealousy of Venice and the neighboring States, had kindled war on all sides, so that it seemed impossible for the Este to avoid being embroiled with one or the other of the contending parties. Yet Lionello not only contrived to remain neutral, but so often mediated successfully between hostile princes and States as to gain for Ferrara the title of " the land of peace."

But the Este were chiefly renowned for the magnificence of their Court and as the first Italian potentates who were noted patrons of learning.

Lionello, in fact, befriended many scholars ; he was the protector of Guarino, Valla, Trapezunzio, and others he composed Latin orations, Italian sonnets, founded the famous Este museums, caused the University to flourish and built the Hospital of St. Anna.

His Court was maintained with dazzling luxury, and the festivities held there at the time of his marriage were the talk of the whole country.

But, after reigning only nine years, he died in 1450, and was succeeded by his brother Borso, who soon threw his munificence and splendor into the shade.

He taxed all the citizens in equal proportions, supported the university at his own expense, introduced in Ferrara the new-born art of printing, founded the Carthusian monastery, fortified the city bastions on the banks of the river Po', and succeeded in extending his territories.

The Marquis Borso was a man of the Medicean stamp then, although not devoid of good qualities, even these were born of vanity and personal ambition. He loved justice, and caused it to be strictly observed whenever, of course, it did not clash with his interests; but better than justice itself he loved his title of "The Just," which was universally conferred upon him. Anyway Borso's reputed justice never withstood any serious test.

It may seem hazardous to assert that his great reputation was mainly acquired by the luxury of his Court and the perpetual festivities with which he entertained his people, yet this was undoubtedly the case.

Because it's true that the quarrels which had burst forth in Italy during Lionello's reign grew fiercer in his own, and he lived in even more difficult times; and it's true that, nevertheless, he preserved his neutrality, and was the chosen arbiter in nearly all disputes among the other Italian States.
But, actually, the vaunted prudence enabling him to remain at peace while surrounded by fighting neighbors, really consisted in cautiously refusing to espouse any man's cause, and being always ready to join the stronger side.

On the other hand, as lord of Ferrara, he was lavish of hospitality to all, had a rare collection of manuscripts and antiquities, was always seen dressed in gold brocade, and the richest stuffs in Italy were worn at his Court. He had the finest falcons, horses, and dogs that had ever been seen; he was even famous for the excellence of his buffoons, while descriptions of his State entertainments were printed and circulated throughout the whole of Italy.

It's not strange, then, if his fame was so widespread that Indian princes sent him rich gifts in the belief that he was the king of all Italy.

For that, in 1452, the Emperor Frederic III., with two thousand followers in his train, halted at Ferrara on his way to assume the imperial crown in Rome. Borso rode forth to meet him, attended by all his nobles and clergy, received him under a State canopy, and for ten successive days gave tournaments, banquets, concerts, and balls in his honor.

The emperor remained so impressed that, on his return from Rome, decided to confer a ducal title upon Borso, and all these festivities were renewed on a still grander scale.

A sumptuous platform was erected in the Piazza, and there the emperor sat , wearing his mantle and an imperial crown adorned with precious stones to the value of 150,000 florins. Borso, attired in cloth of gold and likewise loaded with jewels, issued from his palace attended by all the nobles of Ferrara and amidst the applause of the people and loud cries of " The Duke, the Duke ! Long live Duke Borso! Then, mounting the platform, Borso knelt at the emperor's feet, and received the coveted title.

But the festivities were still more magnificent and given on a far more remarkable occasion.

The fall of Constantinople in 1453, the increasing power of the Turks, and the consequent danger to Christendom, were continual subjects of interest ; all yearned for a fresh crusade, but the general indifference and indolence were too great for anyone to set it afoot.

At last, in 1458, Enea Silvio Piccolomini, recently elected to the pontificate as Pope Pius II., summoned a council at Mantua under his own presidency, for the purpose of inciting the Christian Powers to war with the infidel.

He set forth on his progress in 1459 with a cortège of incredible pomp, and with ten cardinals, sixty bishops, and many secular princes in his train. The cities through which he passed strove to outshine one another in the luxury and splendor of his reception.

The Pontiff entered Florence borne on the shoulders of Galeazzo Maria Sforza and of the lords Malatesta, Manfredi, and Ordelaffi ; and the festivals ordained him by the Republic were such as were generally accorded to no one but the emperor or some other great temporal potentate.

At Ferrara the Pope made his entrance under a canopy of gold brocade ; the streets through which he passed were carpeted with cloth and sprinkled with flowers ; rich tapestries hung from the windows, and the city echoed with music and songs and when the pope reached the cathedral, Guarino read him a long Latin oration, crammed with learned allusions and praise of the Holy Father.

For a whole week Pius II. was detained in Ferrara by a succession of festivities.

Continuing his journey under the same circumstances, he at last reached Mantua on May 27, 1459. There he made a marvelous display of eloquence in the Latin tongue, and moved his hearers to tears by his description of the woeful sufferings of the Christians in Constantinople.

Other Latin speeches were delivered by Francesco Filelfo and Ippolita, daughter of Francesco Sforza; but, lastly, were the Greek ambassadors that aroused the deepest and truest emotion by recounting the miseries of their country and the ferocious cruelty of the Turks.

It's not difficult to imagine that all the princes offered help in money and men, and Duke Borso promised the (for him) enormous sum of 300,000 florins.

But it was soon seen that he had been more ganassa than generous. Because these grand preliminaries, as usual with Italians, all ended in talk, and the foolhardy attempt of Rene of Anjou to conquer the Neapolitan kingdom with a handful of French, sufficed to put an end to the proposed expedition to the East.

In 1460 the Pope returned to Ferrara without having achieved anything; nevertheless, his reception was even more splendid than before.

The Duke went up the Po' to meet him in a magnificent barge, surrounded by a swarm of boats gaily decked with banners and musical instruments, spreading across the river from bank to bank. A multitude of youths dressed in white stood arrayed on the flower-strewn shores, and at the spot where the Head of the Church was to land, statues of the Pagan divinities were set up in his honor!

On the 9th of August, 1 47 1 , the Duke passed away, and was scarcely cold in his grave that Lionello's son, Niccolo, and Ercole I. (the legitimate son of Niccolo III.) who was now of age, fiercely disputed the succession by force of arms. Ercole proved the victor, and, entering Ferrara in triumph, was proclaimed sovereign by the people.
At the same moment Niccolo's followers were slaughtered in the streets, and those who succeeded in escaping were condemned to death in contumacy. On the morrow, feasting and dancing went on as usual, and the people seemed to forget the bloodshed of the previous day.

Such was the famous, splendid, jovial Court of the Este ; such were the rulers of Italy. And such are.

Giorgio Monteforti

Martedì 29 Gennaio 2008  14:09


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