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Lorena Vallieri

The “Festa della Porchetta” in Bologna: stage design, machinery and popular attractions

Data di pubblicazione su web 28/08/2022

Pubblichiamo di seguito la relazione presentata da Lorena Vallieri nell’ambito della sessione “European Spectacle Behind the Curtain: Décor, Machines, and Special Effect” del 52nd ASECS Annual Meeting, Baltimore MD, 10 giugno 2022, presieduta e organizzata da Elisa Cazzato.

The Festa della Porchetta in Bologna – beyond the curious name that might suggest a gastronomic festival – has been an important civic event for over half a millennium.[1] It was characterised, in the 17th and 18th centuries, by impressive and innovative theatrical performances[2] and took place, with substantial continuity, from the 12th century to the end of the 18th century (1796), on St Bartholomew’s Day (24 August), in conjunction with the city’s main fair, the “Fiera dell’Assunta”, to celebrate the freedom (libertà) and peace of the City. We still see today the libertas in the coat of arms of Bologna[3] and can also be easily identified in an engraving of 1728 (fig. 1).[4] 

We do not know the origins of the festival. According to a fortunate tradition, it was established to commemorate the conquest in 1281 of the nearby city of Faenza obtained thanks to the intervention of that Tebaldello de’ Zambrasi placed by Dante in Hell, among the traitors of the homeland, because «aprì Faenza quando si dormia» (Inf. xxxii, 122-123). This event is recorded in all the printed descriptions of the Festa,[5] but also, for example, in the spectacle created by Domenico Tagliani in 1736 (fig. 2)[6] – in which I would like to highlight the presence of dance (fig. 3), music (fig. 4) and song (fig. 5) –, as well as in that of 1681, in which the set designer Eugenio Maria Bordoni simulated the fall of Troy (fig. 6) and the fire of the city, realised by burning the aedicule present on stage with spectacular pyrotechnic effects (fig. 7).[7] Unfortunately, I have not yet had the opportunity to investigate the widespread use of fireworks in Bolognese spectacles, both for stagecraft as well as for religious and civil rituals, beginning with the Festa della Porchetta. However, it is worth remembering that the Ruggieri, a family of pyrotechnics appreciated throughout Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, were formed in this context.[8] 

In fact, according to the documents in our possession, the feast began to be celebrated before 1281,[9] and its origins are most likely related to the Battle of Fossalta and the capture of King Enzo, the son of Emperor Frederick II, who was taken to the city on 24 August 1249. Following that victory, a “palio” – a horse race –, would have been established, among which prizes included, at least since 1254, a roasted porchetta (roast suckling pig) initially destined for the runner-up, then launched from the railing of the Palazzo Comunale «with great applause from the people who attended»[10] (fig. 8). A constant and distinctive feature that characterised the Festa until 1796, when it was suppressed following the arrival of the French in Bologna (fig. 9).[11] 

As can already be seen from these first, few images, the Festa della Porchetta was primarily a «great theatrical machine for consensus»[12] that, at least from the end of the 16th century onwards, used diversified artistic, literary, musical and performative forms to convey the ambitions of the Anziani – an important city magistrature which was entrusted with the organization of the feast –[13] and more generally of the senatorial aristocracy, of which the same Anziani were part of. If not infrequently it is defined a “popular festival”, or a “popular attraction” (hence part of the title of my paper), it actually involved all the social categories present in Bologna, who attended the celebrations in pre-established places and according to rigidly codified roles.[14] This is confirmed by numerous iconographic documents,[15] such as the miniature made for the 1621 feast (fig. 10) – the first figurative testimony in our possession –[16] in which people are illustrated in the most varied and lively attitudes, while the authorities, nobles and their guests watch from the windows, balconies and from the wooden boxes placed under the arcades;[17] the most curious are climbing on the roofs and cornices of the palaces. We find confirmation of this audience distribution also in various literary sources: 

arrivai su la poblica piazza di Bologna, la quale trovai così piena di persone che, non solamente il suolo, ma le finestre, le porte, i veroni, le ringhiere, le botteghe, le case, i muri, i palchi, i merli, gli sporti, le cornici, i tetti ed ogni luogo in somma d’ogni intorno era occupato, non solo da uomini, donne, fanciulli e gente d’ogni sorte, ma da cocchi, carri, carrozze, cavalli ed altre bestie assai. E perché non vi era luogo per tutti a bastanza, avevano gli architetti accommodato lungo il muro del Palazzo ed intorno alla piazza, molti palchi di legname, sopra i quali stavano assise tutte le più belle gentildonne della città, le quali con le colorite faccie loro, con le maniere graziosissime, con gli ornamenti gai, con le smancerie d’ogni sorte, con le preziosissime vesti e co i ricchi guarnimenti rendevano una vaga, bella e solazzosa vista a riguardanti.[18] 

The Festa della Porchetta was a significant moment of the «Effimero di Stato» (Ephemera of State), to use a definition by Marcello Fagiolo then taken up by Anna Maria Matteucci,[19] and allowed Bologna to be assigned its rightful place among the European capitals of Ancient Regime spectacle.[20] Not only. The Festa della Porchetta, with its highly original set-ups, confirms the inventive quality of the local school of stage and set designers, with important ripercussions also in the Opera field at European level. 

Just think of the Bibiena family and the theatrical debut of the progenitor Ferdinando: before the Fano experience in the shadow of Giacomo Torelli (Teatro della Fortuna, 1674-1675) he studied perspective with Giulio Troili, known as Paradosso, and debuted as a set designer in 1672 alongside Ercole Rivani.[21] Both of his masters produced complex apparatuses and ingenious machines for the Festival of Bologna: Troili at least in 1660, 1661, 1663, 1664, 1666 and 1667; Rivani in 1672, 1683, 1686 (?) and 1688. Most interesting are the engravings signed by Marco Antonio Chiarini in 1683 (fig. 11-12), including the carefully annotated technical drawing in scale, which describes the mechanism that made it possible to transform the Prometheus rock into three fountains (fig. 13).[22] And we cannot investigate here the hypothesis according to which the conception of some of the Bolognese productions was inspired by scenes by Torelli, such as that of 1664 representing the port of Rhodes with the colossus of the Sun (fig. 16), which could derive from the prologue of the Deidamia staged in 1644 at the Teatro Novissimo in Venice.[23] 

All the scenic apparatuses for the Festa were carried out in Piazza Maggiore, the urban scene par excellence of the great en plein air events in Bologna, often with installations of the highest technical value.[24] We have already seen the machinery for the 1683 festival (fig. 13), but I would like to show you a technical drawing that I recently found at the State Archives of Bologna (fig. 15).[25] Also in this case, the drawing is carefully annotated and explain how to flood Piazza Maggiore in the event of equestrian shows. We would like to be able to refer it to the Festa della Porchetta of 1668 signed by Giulio Pandolfi (fig. 16), or to that of 1751 handed down by an engraving by Alessandro Scarselli (fig. 17), less likely to that of another spectacle of which we have no information. 

There is still a lot of research to be done on the Festa and on the committed stage designers. With the exception of the names mentioned above, in most cases the sets of the shows, especially in the 18th century, remained anonymous. The investigations I am carrying out have highlighted an interesting aspect: that of executive practice that provided that the construction of the structures was entrusted to local workers supported by the advice of a professional, forcing us to distinguish between design and execution. A not insignificant aspect that, in my opinion, suggests an unprecedented point of view from which to look at the material history of the Bolognese spectacle, not only that of the Festa della Porchetta. In fact, I think that too often scholars have insisted on looking for the names of the “illustrious” set designers (who were not lacking) involved in the magnificent summer theatre productions, neglecting the hypothesis of a possible specialisation of some wood craftsmen both in the construction of the imposing ephemeral structures for the festival – perhaps through the reuse of modular “prefabricated” scaffolding adapted from time to time to the specific scenographic needs both in the production of the spectacles in the main city theatres (Teatro della Sala, Teatro Formagliari, Teatro Malvezzi, Teatro Marsigli-Rossi); and, finally, in the creation of the grandiose tournaments that marked the theatrical life of Bologna.[26] 

The proof of their specialisation in the construction of ephemeral structures for the fair is to be found in another document that I recently unearthed and which I believe can be dated 1705: Ristretti degl’instrumenti ultimi fatti dagli eccelsi ss.ri Anziani con li fondeghieri, o appaltatori delle fiere d’agosto[27] in which the names of the contractors and their remuneration for the years 1697-1704 are reported according to the following scheme: 

1697: Giuseppe Ventioli and Alessandro dal Fiume
1698: Domenico Fanti and Alessandro Saratelli
1699: Giuseppe Ventioli and Alessandro dal Fiume
1700: Giuseppe Ventioli and Alessandro dal Fiume
1701: Alessandro Saratelli and Domenco dal Fiume
1702: Alessandro Saratelli and Alessandro dal Fiume
1703: Alessandro Saratelli and Alessandro dal Fiume
1704: Giuseppe Ventioli and Domenico Fanti 

We are faced with a precious testimony that sheds light on the workers employed in the realisation of the Festa and confirms the existence of a production system based on specialisation and on the transmission of artistic knowledge and craftsmanship at family level: a way forward for future research. 

The case of the dal Fiume demonstrates this. A member of the family is named substantially every year: almost always Alessandro, except in 1701, when his father Domenico is mentioned instead. It is an economic working hypothesis to think of a family business, in which they alternately collaborated with a still unidentified Giuseppe Ventioli (1697, 1699, 1700) or with Saratelli (1701, 1702, 1703). The exceptions are the contracts of 1698 and 1704 in which Domenico Fanti is named, belonging to another too little-known Bolognese art family. If the information about Domenico is scarce, fortunately we know more about his son Ercole Antonio Gaetano.[28] A pupil of Marc’Antonio Chiarini, with whom he collaborated for a long time, he married his daughter and inherited his rich drawing collection.[29] To him we owe the decorations for the Festa della Porchetta of 1712, 1713 and 1714, which he signed before moving to Vienna, where he obtained important commissions as a quadraturist and scenographer. He was joined by his son Vincenzo in his activities.

I will conclude by focusing on Saratelli. We already knew that he had signed the inventions for the fairs of 1692, 1702 and 1703, to which we can now add those of 1698 and 1701.[30] I think he can be identified with that Alessandro Saratelli[31] to whom is attributed the libretto Il savio delirante (Bologna, Peri, 1695), set to music by Giovan Carlo Maria Clari, and who signed the dedication of Amor torna in s’al so’ ouer sie L’nozz dla Checha e d’Bdett (Bologna, Erede di Vittorio Benacci, 1698), staged respectively at the Teatro della Sala and the Teatro Formagliari. An identification that becomes more and more convincing in the light of the emerging links between the productions in the Piazza and those in the nearby Salone del Podestà.[32]

[1]  For further consideration, I refer to L. VALLIERI, La festa della Porchetta a Bologna: nuove prospettive di indagine (I), in «Drammaturgia», XVI / ns. 6, 2019, pp. 111-171 (in which the previous bibliography is accurately registred); ID., La festa della Porchetta a Bologna: nuove prospettive di indagine (II), in «Drammaturgia», XVIII / ns. 8, 2021, pp. 369-434.

[2]  Cfr. Atlante delle immagini, ed. by U. LEOTTI, in La festa della Porchetta a Bologna, ed. by U. L. and M. Pigozzi, introduction of M. Fagiolo, Loreto, Edizioni tecnostampa Loreto, 2010, pp. 49-319.

[3]  https://www.comune.bologna.it/home.

[4]  Theatre for the Festa della Porchetta, 1728, engraving, detail with the coat of arms of Bologna, in Descrizione della festa popolare della Porchetta fatta in Bologna il giorno 24 agosto 1728, Bologna, Clemente Maria Sassi, 1728, p. n.n.

[5]  Cfr. VALLIERI, La festa della Porchetta a Bologna (I), cit., pp. 111-113.

[6]  Cfr. La festa della Porchetta a Bologna, cit., pp. 286-287. In 1736, the traditional description of the Festa was not published, but only the beautiful engraving by Antonio Alessandro Scarselli, who also signed the miniature engraving of the Insignia: Bologna, State Archives, Archivio degli Anziani consoli, Insignia degli Anziani e del Gonfaloniere di giustizia, vol. XIII, c. 120a.

[7]  Cfr. Pallade vendicata nell’incendio troiano. Festa popolare fatta rappresentare il giorno 24 d’agosto M.DC.LXXXI giorno detto della Porcellina nel teatro della fiera, eretto nella publica Piazza, d’ordine degl’illustriss. & eccelsi signori Confaloniero di giustizia, & Anziani. Dedicata all’illustriss. sig. e padron colendissimo il sig. senatore Virgilio Maria Davia, Bologna, Manolessi, 1681; M. Giansante, Gerarchie e scenografie. La festa della Porchetta nelle “Insignia” degli Anziani consoli di Bologna, in Il medioevo a Bologna, ed. by R. Sernicola, in «I quaderni del m.ae.s.», viii, 2005, pp. 93-125: 108-110; La festa della Porchetta a Bologna, cit., pp. 148-151.

[8]  Cfr. H. Chennevières, Les Ruggieri, artificiers: 1730-1885, in «Gazette des Beaux-arts. Courrier Européen de l’art et de la curiosité», xxix, 1887, 36, 2, pp. 132-140; P. Bracco-E. Lebovici, Ruggieri: 250 ans de jeux d’artifice, Paris, Denoel, 1988. See also: K. Salatino, Incendiary Art: The Representation of Firewors in Early Modern Europe, Los Angeles, The Getty Research Insitute, 1998; S. Werrett, Fireworks. Pyrotechnic Arts & Sciences in European History, Chicago-London, The University of Chicago Press, 2010.

[9]  Cfr. U. Dallari, Un’antica costumanza bolognese (festa di san Bartolomeo o della Porchetta), in «Atti e memorie della r. Deputazione di storia patria per le provincie di Romagna», s. iii, xiii, 1895, pp. 57-81; VALLIERI, La festa della Porchetta a Bologna (I), cit., pp. 111-112.

[10]  Bologna, State Archives, Archivio degli Anziani consoli, Insignia degli Anziani e del Gonfaloniere di giustizia, vol. I, c. 110v.

[11]  Cfr. Dallari, Un’antica costumanza bolognese, cit., pp. 57-81; VALLIERI, La festa della Porchetta a Bologna (I), cit., in partic. pp. 119-122.

[12]  M. Giansante, Gerarchie e scenografie. La festa della Porchetta nelle “Insignia” degli Anziani consoli di Bologna, in Il medioevo a Bologna, ed. by R. Sernicola, VIII, 2005, pp. 93-125: 96.

[13]  Cfr. Archivio di stato di Bologna, a cura di G. Tampa e I. Zanni Rosiello, in Guida generale degli archivi di stato italiani, Roma, Ministero per i beni culturali e ambientali-Ufficio centrale per i beni archivistici, 1981, vol. I, pp. 549-661: 570, 592; I. Zanni Rosiello, Anche le carte hanno una storia (a proposito del i volume delle Insignia), Bologna, Edizioni scientifiche Lo Scarabeo, 1990; L’archivio degli Anziani consoli. Inventario, a cura di I. Z.R., Bologna, Lo Scarabeo, 1992; Id., Le «Insignia» degli Anziani: un autoritratto celebrativo (1991), in L’archivista sul confine. Scritti di Isabella Zanni Rosiello, ed. by C. Binchi and T. Di Zio, Roma, Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali, 2000, pp. 305-331.

[14]  GIANSANTE, Gerarchie e scenografie, cit., passim.

[15]  Cfr. Vallieri, La festa della Porchetta a Bologna (I), cit., pp. 122-126; and see Le “Insignia” degli Anziani del Comune dal 1530 al 1796. Catalogo-inventario, Roma, s.e., 1954; ID., Le “Insignia” degli Anziani del comune dal 1530 al 1796. Appendice araldica, Roma, s.e., 1960; Atlante delle immagini, cit.

[16]  Cfr. U. Leotti, Il lento formarsi, e affermarsi, di un’iconografia, in La festa della Porchetta a Bologna, cit., pp. 23-47; Vallieri, La festa della Porchetta a Bologna (I), cit., p. 122.

[17]  For other examples see ivi, pp. 114-115, 119-120; VALLIERI, La festa della Porchetta a Bologna (II), cit., pp. 375-377, 381, 390 e passim.

[18]  Le disgratie di Bartolino, opera di Sere Scioperone Bergolo, nella quale in persona di un solenne bevitore, si dimostra che gli uomini codardi e sciocchi, oltra che di tutte le negligenze loro incolpano la Fortuna, vanno anco spesso fantasticando cose impossibili. Con la giunta di una festa fatta in Bologna, Bologna, Eredi di Giovanni Rossi, 1597, now available in the modern edition: P. Vizzani, Le disgrazie di Bartolino, ed. by I. Chia, Roma, Carocci, 2007 (pp. 113-114 for the citation).

[19]  M. Fagiolo, L’effimero di Stato. Strutture e archetipi di una città d’illusione, in La città effimera e l’universo artificiale del giardino. La Firenze dei Medici e l’Italia del ’500, ed. by M. F., Roma, Officina edizioni, 1980, pp. 9-21; A.M. Matteucci, La cultura dell’effimero a Bologna nel XVII secolo, in Barocco romano e barocco italiano. Il teatro, l’effimero, l’allegoria, ed. by M. Fagiolo and M.L. MADONNA, Roma, Gangemi, 1985, pp. 158-173: 165.

[20]  Cfr. M. Fagiolo, Presentare la Porchetta: una festa europea, in La festa della Porchetta a Bologna, cit., pp. v-viii: viii; M. Pigozzi, Bologna e le città d’Emilia in festa, in Le capitali della festa. Italia centrale e meridionale, a cura di M. Fagiolo, Roma, De Luca, 2007, pp. 12-13.

[21]  Cfr. D. Lenzi, La dinastia dei Galli Bibiena, in I Bibiena: una famiglia europea, catalogue of the exhibition ed. by D. L. and J. Bentini, with the collaboration of S. Battistini and A. Cantelli (Bologna, 23 September 2000-7 January 2001), Venezia, Marsilio, 2000, pp. 19-35: 20; ID., La più celebre famiglia di architetti e scenografi di età barocca, ivi, pp. 37-52: 37; S. Mazzoni, Note su Ferdinando e Antonio Bibiena, 2018, http://drammaturgia.fupress.net/saggi/saggio.php?id=7437#_ftn1 (last access: 26 September 2021).

[22]  Cfr. Matteucci, La cultura dell’effimero a Bologna nel XVII secolo, cit., pp. 172-173 e nota 23; I Bibiena: una famiglia europea, cit., pp. 219-221; La festa della Porchetta a Bologna, cit., pp. 152-161.

[23]  Cfr. Matteucci, La cultura dell’effimero a Bologna nel XVII secolo, cit., p. 172 e nota 21. Su Torelli cfr: Giacomo Torelli. L’invenzione scenica nell’Europa barocca, catalogue of the exhibition ed. by F. Milesi (Fano, 8 July-30 September 2000), Fano, Fondazione Cassa di risparmio di Fano, 2000, in partic. pp. 122-146.

[24]  Cfr. M. Pigozzi, Duraturo spettacolo pubblico in teatri effimeri, in La festa della Porchetta a Bologna, cit., pp. 1-7.

[25]  Cfr. VALLIERI, La festa della Porchetta a Bologna (I), cit., p. 126; ID., La festa della Porchetta a Bologna (II), cit., pp. 394, 430 (fig. 23). 

[26]  Cfr. ivi, passim.

[27]  Ristretti degl’instrumenti ultimi fatti dagli eccelsi ss.ri Anziani con li fondeghieri, o appaltatori delle fiere d’agosto, [1705], in Cartelli, e capittoli da giostre, machine, et inventioni per dette. Memorie sì per il torneo fatto su la piazza delle Scuole del 1628 che per feste populari su l’altra Maggiore in occasione della Porchetta dell’anno 1627 et altre. Storia di detta festa, secc. XVI-XVIII, Bologna, State Archives, Archivi privati e diversi, Fondo Marsili, Strumenti e scritture, b. 155, fasc. 5: 1628. Scritture della festa delle Scole. Note di spese fatte in varie feste delle Scole, loose leaf.

[28]  U. Knall-Brskovsky, Fanti, Gaetano, in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, Roma, Istituto della enciclopedia italiana, 1994, vol. 44, pp. 633-635.

[29]  Cfr. U. Seeger, Gli interventi di Chiarini per il principe Eugenio a Vienna, in Crocevia e capitale della migrazione artistica: forestieri a Bologna e bolognesi nel mondo (secolo XVIII), ed. by S. Frommel, Bologna, BUP, 2013, pp. 326-342; M. Mádl, I soffitti barocchi bolognesi in Boemia, in ivi, pp. 343-364.

[30]  Cfr. Leotti, Atlante delle immagini, cit., p. 320 (Scenografi e ideatori dei macchinismi).

[31]  Cfr. Notizie degli scrittori bolognesi raccolte da Giovanni Fantuzzi, Bologna, Stamperia di Tommaso d’Aquino, 1789 (rist. anast. Bologna, Forni, 1965), to. VII, pp. 322-323.

[32]  Cfr. VALLIERI, La festa della Porchetta a Bologna (II), cit., passim.

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