- Museum number
Object: La Battagliola (The Battle of the Sticks)
Series: Habiti d'uomini e donne Venetiane con la processione ...
The battle to secure the bridge between the inhabitants of Castellana and Nicolotta, two parts of Venice, fighting with sticks. c.1610
- Production date
Height: 232 millimetres
Width: 161 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- For the series see 1868,0822.8552.
(Text from Michael Bury, 'The Print in Italy 1550-1620', 2001, cat.123)
This is a plate representing the Battle of the Sticks from the 'Habiti d'huomeni et donne venetiane con la processione della Ser.ma Signoria et altri particolari cioe Trionfi Feste Cerimonie Publiche della nobilisima citta di Venetia', a somewhat miscellaneous collection of representations of aspects of Venetian costumes, games and ceremonial, forming a visual celebration of the Venetian way of life.
A decree of the Great Council in 1369 encouraged citizens to participate in what was called the 'battaglia universale' on the first day of each new year (R.C. Davis, 'The War of the Fists', New York and Oxford 1994, p. 15; also R.C. Davis, 'The Spectacle almost fit for a King', in 'Medieval and Renaissance Venice', ed. E.E. Kittell and T.F. Madden, Urbana and Chicago 1999, pp. 180-212). By the fifteenth century these battles were increasingly fought on the bridges of Venice, between factions that became known in 1548 as the Castellani and the Nicolotti (Davis 1994, p. 25).
The fights came to be organized in order to make a show for distinguished visitors. One of the high points of the visit to Venice made by Henry III of France in 1574 was the mounting of such a battle at the Ponte dei Carmini. For the celebrations surrounding the coronation of Morosina Morosini Grimani in 1597, special fights were arranged at the same location (Davis 1999, p. 209, n. 44). It was evidently felt that they were central to the cultural tradition of Venice and that great pride was to be taken in them.
There was a historical flavour to Franco's representation, for because of the danger of death or serious injury the use of sticks had largely died out by the end of the century; the bridge battles came to be fought using fists alone ('guerre di pugni'; Davis 1994, p. 52). In another plate from the same book, Franco illustrated such a fist fight and commented on the way that it had replaced the earlier form of fighting.
There is a serious question about the status of this 'book'. The copy displayed here has no title-page and many fewer plates than others that have been examined. The earliest example so far identified that is equipped with a title-page is of 1609; there is a copy in the British Library (C.48.h.II). It consists of a letter of dedication to Vincenzo Gonzaga dated 20 November 1609 and forty-one plates. The title-page has a specially reserved area in which the letters of the title are printed; it is significant that the location of this reserved area in the 1609 edition is slightly different from that in another edition, dated 1 January 1610, also with a dedication to Vincenzo Gonzaga. This must mean that an area of the plate was masked in such a way that the mask could be removed. It is therefore likely that the title-page had been made earlier for a different purpose and was being re-used.
Examination of the plates that make up the 'book' shows that they were produced at different times: they are not all the same size; they have different forms of lettering; some have margins and some do not. They are not numbered and at least some of them may originally have been sold separately. It is likely that the 'book' was just a collection of plates put together from what was available, changing in composition over time. In November 1591 Franco was granted a privilege by the Venetian Senate to cover 'il libro delli habiti alla venetiana intagliato da lui' (H. Brown, 'Privilegi', MS It.VII, 250I, Biblioteca Marciana, Venice). This suggests that Franco may have been using this method of packaging prints of Venice since the early 1590s. The privilege recorded on this plate must be the one granted in 1591.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number