Artibus et Historiae no. 62 (XXXI)

2010, ISSN 0391-9064

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THOMAS DACOSTA KAUFMANN - The Festival Designs of Jacopo Strada Reconsidered


Jacopo Strada (1515–1588) is probably best known for his concern with antiquarianism and architecture. But like many other artists, scholars, and entrepreneurs of his day, Strada had interests that may be described as encyclopedic, ranging from his effort to compile a polyglot dictionary, to his assembling books of designs for goldsmiths’ works, to his compilation of a book on mills. Many of these interests were represented in a large corpus of drawings, some of which Strada had collected from a number of important sources, including the workshops of Perino del Vaga and Giulio Romano, and which along with these original drawings consisted mainly of drawings after his own designs, largely known from multiple copies, either made by himself or by assistants or others he commissioned to do the work. Strada’s corpus served in the preparation of manuscripts made by his workshop and by other draftsmen that were presented to illustrious patrons, what Strada called libri di disegni; they also were intended to be the basis for an immense project to publish a series of books on a variety of subjects. Among these drawings are designs for costumes and related trappings for animals; some woodcuts that can be demonstrated to have been made after Strada’s inventions also represent his festival designs.

A volume in the manuscript collections of the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, provides the most direct evidence for Strada’s engagement in various sorts of festivities, including processions, dance, fireworks, banquets, musical performances, as well as tournaments, frequently held at the Habsburg courts in Central Europe during the sixteenth century. The manuscript contains drawings for costumes that are executed in pen and brown ink, many with brown wash, and in eight cases with watercolor. Since the discovery and first publication of the festival drawings in Vienna over thirty years ago, these designs have occasionally been described or mentioned in subsequent scholarship on Strada, and have been noted in relation to the prints by Amman. They have often been associated in particular with a tournament held in Vienna in 1571. A recent publication of some documents from the Mantuan archives allows for a general revision of the assessment and attribution of Strada’s festival designs.

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