A ballet for the Polish prince

In my previous Collation post, I discussed a rare broadside announcing a Jesuit theater performance held in Brussels in September 1624. The Jesuits hoped that Ladislas Sigismund Wasa, who was traveling through Europe, would honor that event with his presence. Whether that happened remains uncertain, but thanks to a printed report, we do know that the Polish prince attended a ballet organized at the behest of the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia. The Folger Shakespeare Library holds what we believe is the unique copy of that report, Diane triomphante.1 What is even more exciting than this quarto booklet’s unique status is that it is the earliest printed account of a ballet performed in the Southern Netherlands.2

At the end of August 1624, Ladislas Wasa came from Cologne via Jülich, Diest, and Louvain to visit Brussels, where he was expected to arrive on the 6th of September. This visit formed a part of the Grand Tour he had set out on 17 May 1624, bringing him and his entourage of about 50 people to a large number of western European cities. The journey went to Wroclaw, Vienna, Linz, Munich, Frankfurt, Mainz, Brussels, Antwerp, Strasbourg, and Metz. From there the company traveled through Switzerland and on to Italy, where they would head to Naples, Rome, Florence, and Venice.

The Archduchess wanted to celebrate Ladislas’s arrival with an event that certainly would please him. The prince was known to be a devotee of dance and music, so she ordered a ballet to be performed upon his arrival at the archduke’s residence, the palace on the Coudenberg in Brussels.

In contrast to the broadside announcing the Jesuit theater performance, the commemorative booklet for the ballet does mention the name of the honored guest on the title page. But it does not indicate an exact date of the performance, perhaps because at the moment that the text was put under the printing press, the dates were not yet fixed.

 Title-page of the unique description of the oldest recorded ballet performance held in the Southern Netherlands, Diane triomphante, Brussels 9 september 1624

Title page of Diane triomphante

Traveling in those days was not easy, and because of the war with the Dutch in the region (Breda was under siege), it was not safe either. At the very last moment, the prince and his company decided to take another route to Brussels, where they finally arrived in the middle of the night.

The whole situation was very unfortunate. The members of the court had been waiting the entire evening—probably fully prepared to perform their welcoming ballet—and must have been very tired. When the prince at last arrived at 2 o’clock in the morning, an accident occurred. One of the members of the escort injured the prince’s foot, making it impossible for him to take part in any dancing for that evening. It is almost certain that the performance was cancelled for that evening.

But all is not lost that is delayed. According to Jan Hagenau, a courtier who was part of the prince’s entourage, the Duke Karel Alexander de Croÿ invited Ladislas Wasa for a dinner that was followed by a ballet. Jan Hagenau wrote in his diary: “Die Tänze und Gesänge währten die ganze Nacht. Fürst Radziwiłł, der an Zahnschmerzen litt, verließ die Gesellschaft um zwei Uhr nach Mitternacht, die anderen hielten es bis zum Morgengrauen aus.” [The dancing and singing went on for the entire night. Lord Radziwiłł, who was suffering from tooth ache, left the company around 2 a.m., the others kept on going until the break of dawn.] According to another diary kept by Stefan Pac, the prince’s secretary, all the songs and interludes referred to Prince Ladislas.3

However succinct these contemporary notes in the two surviving diaries are, they clearly refer to the ballet described in Diane triomphante. On the second page of that booklet we find an Italian sonnet which alludes to the prince’s conquest of the Turks in the battle of Chocim in 1621, a victory which turned Ladislas into a celebrated defender of Christianity.

The ballet itself is a moralizing pastoral in four parts, populated by satyrs, wild men, and peasants. It shows how the nymphs of Diana beat the Cupidos, the sons of Venus, goddess of love. In various places the text explicitly mentions the Polish prince and his victory over the Turks—it is these references which allow us to link this ballet to the one described by Jan Hagenau in his diary.

The beginning of part 3 explicitly refers to the prince’s entry in Brussels. (fol. D2r)

The beginning of part 3 explicitly refers to the prince’s entry in Brussels. (fol. D2r)

This rare booklet testifies to how deep and important the Folger’s collections are for our understanding of the Renaissance in Europe. I look forward to finding more such materials and to sharing them with you.

  1. The Folger acquired it in 1961 as part of lot number 72 from the property of the Marquess of Downshire, which indirectly came to us through the book seller H.W. Edwards. []
  2. I am currently preparing an article about this ballet, about which I recently spoke at a conference at the Royal Library of the Netherlands, The Hague, which was organized by the Werkgroep Zeventiende Eeuw: De zingende Nederlanden, 24 August 2013. []
  3. Die Reise des Kronprinzen Władyslaw Wasa in die Länder Westeuropas in den Jahren 1624/1625. München: C.H. Beck 1988, p. 111; about Pac, see pp. 18–20. []

Author: Goran Proot

GORAN PROOT is Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Rare Books at the Folger Shakespeare Library. He is currently surveying layout and typography in early modern books.

3 Comments

  1. Intriguing, Goran, your explication of the pamphlet. As to the printed pamphlet per se, is the tailpiece on the title page meant to depict Hubert Antoine’s aigle d’or? (In the image online, it looks more like a death’s head.)

    • Thank you for your question, Donald!
      As you point out, the decoration on the title-page is a tailpiece, in this case a rather crude image of an angel (hence the wings) surrounded by acanthus leaves and flours. The angel holds an round object in his arms, which I cannot identify.
      Hubert Antoine was the court’s printer (c. 1615–1630) and his shop was located “in de Gulden Arend”, “à l’Aigle d’Or”, “sub Aquila Aurea”. This is certainly not what is depicted on the tailpiece. The Short Title Catalogue Flanders (www.stcv.be) contains 93 editions published by Hubert Antoine, but any of the 47 title-pages which are currently linked to the descriptions holds a printer’s device, and this tailpiece is not used on any other title-page than the one referred to in my Collation post. Tailpieces and headpieces are not commonly used on title-pages; they do sometimes turn up, as an alternative of other decorative elements (fleurons, vignettes, printer’s devices). Their function is to embellish and to fill the empty space.

  2. Hi. I am writing about old Romanian books printed by a German tipography in Sibiu (In German called Hermannstadt), Romania 200 years ago. Tell me, please, which is the word that we should use for these men who were buying a book before it was printed? In Romanian we call them ,,prenumeranti,, Thanks!

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