Section I.A -- Fifteenth Century Italian Sources


Domenico da Piacenza

Domenico da Piacenza. De arte saltandi & choreas ducendi (c. 1450). Ms. in Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale (fonds it. 972). Published by Dante Bianchi. "Un trattato inedito di Domenico da Piacenza." La Bibliofilia. Florence. Anno 65 (1963), pp. 109-149.


Italian dance of the fifteenth century is the earliest form of dance for which written instructions have survived to the present. This is the earliest of those manuals, and according to some authorities, the best. Many of the dances described in this manual continue to appear in manuals up until the early sixteenth century, which gives an indication of their popularity.

Italian dances of the time can be broken down into two general categories, bassadanza and balli. The difference between the two is primarily one of tempo and meter; bassadanza are always in 3/2 time, while the meter may change in the middle of balli, from 4/4 to 3/2 to 3/4, etc. There are often several such changes in a ballo, sometimes as many as four or five. Balli also tend to be more involved choreographically, including more complex steps and figures.

This manual consists of 56 relatively small pages. The first thirteen of these contain instruction on how the dances and steps are to be performed, and the remainder of the manuscript consists of choreographies and their music. A total of fifteen choreographies are included.


Antonio Cornazano.

Antonio Cornazano. Libro dell'arte del danzare (1455). Ms. copy (c.1465) in Rome Biblioteca Aposolica Vaticana (Codex Capponiano, 203). Published with notes by C. Mazzi. "Il <<libro dell'arte del danzare>> di Antonio Cornazano." La Bibliofilia. Florence. Anno 17 (1916), pp. 1-30. Translated by Madeleie Inglehearn and Peggy Forsyth. The Book on the Art of Dancing (London: Dance Books Ltd, 1981).


This is currently the only one of the fifteenth century Italian treatises which is available in translation, and so is the earliest source easily accessible to most readers. Anyone who is at all serious about fifteenth century dance should obtain a copy, although consultation of the original and other sources in the Italian are a must for any serious reconstruction of the dances. About two fifths of the book contains a discussion of the qualities which one needs for dancing, such as Memory, Measure, Manner, Spirit, Variety and Use of Space. These generalities give way to a discussion of tempo and steps, although the step descriptions given are hazy and open to multiple interpretations (as is usually the case with these manuals). The remaining three fifths of the book are given over to descriptions of dances, balli and bassedanza, some of which appear in the other available sources.


Guglielmo Ebreo

Guglielmo Ebreo. Guglielmi Hebraei pisauriensis de pratica seu arte tripudii vulgare opusculum (1463). Ms. (by the amanuensis Paganus Raudensis) in Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale (fonds it. 973). unpublished.


All of the manuals attributed to Guglielmo Ebreo are roughly similar in structure (note that by manual I mean a work which includes information on how the dances and steps are to be performed, not just choreographies). The discussion in each is broken down into classifications in a similar fashion to Cornazano, including sections on Measure, Memory, Use of Space, etc. The differences are primarily small changes in the exact wording, although some manuals include sections that are not in others, and some sections are more extensive in some manuals. The primary difference between the manuals is how many choreographies each includes, and which they are. Another difference is whether the manual includes music for the dances or not.

This particular manuscript consists of one hundred and three small pages. The first forty three discuss steps and their performance. The remainder of the manual includes choreographies for thirty one dances, fourteen bassadanze and seventeen balli. The last few pages contain the music for the dances.


Guglielmo Ebreo. Untitled (c. 1460). Ms. in Foligno, Seminario Vescovile, Biblioteca L. Jacobilli (MS D.I. 42). Published (as a nuptial offering to the couple Renier-Campostrini) by Michele Faloci-Pulignani. Otto bassdanze di M. Guglielmo de Pesaro e de M. Domenico da Ferrara (Foligno: 1887).


This is a short manuscript which contains the choreographies for 8 bassadanza. It includes no music, nor is there an introductory section discussing steps. Among the dances are Pelygryna and La Reale.


Guglielmo Ebreo. De praticha seu arte tripudii vulgare opsculum, Ghuglielmi hebrei Pisauriensis. Ms. in Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale (Codex Magliabecchiana-Strozziano XIX, 9, Nr. 88). Published by Francesco Zambrini. Trattato dell'arte del ballo di Guglielmo Ebreo, pesarese (Bologna: 1873). Reprinted by Forni (Bologna: 1968).


This manuscript contains the usual section discussing steps, and a total of thirty four dances, seventeen bassadanza and seventeen balli. As usual, most of the dances can be found in other sources. No music is included.


Guglielmo Ebreo. Trattato della danza composto da Maestro Guglielmo ed in parte cavato dell'opera di Maestro Domenico, Cavagliere Piacentino (n.d.). Ms. in Siena, Biblioteca Comunale (Codex V. 29). Published, with omission of passages agreeing with Zambrini (above) and Roncaglia (below) versions, by Curzio Mazzi. "Una sconosciuta compilazione di un libro quattrocentistico di balli." La Bibliofilia. Florence: Anno 16 (1915), pp.185-209.


This source in nearly identical to the above source, except that it includes many dances which are not in the other. It includes a total of sixty four dances, of which thirty are bassadanza and thirty four are balli. This source does not include any music.


Guglielmo Ebreo. Title page absent. Ms. in Modena, Biblioteca Estense (Ital. 82, a.J.9.4. (formerly VII.A.82)). Published by Giovanni Messori Roncaglia. Della virtue et arte del danzare... (Modena: 1885).


This manuscript is relatively small, only fifty eight pages, and includes the usual section concerning steps and dancing in general. This is followed by a relatively small number of dances, five bassadanza and ten balli. No music is included.


Guglielmo Ebreo (G. Ambrosio). Domini Iohannis Ambrosii Pisauriensis de Practica seu arte Tripudii Vulgare Opusculum. Ms. in Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale (fonds it. 476). Unpublished.


This is a relatively thick manuscript, with some 161 relatively small pages. It is similar in structure to most of the major sources of the period, beginning with the usual section on steps, and proceeding on to specific choreographies. Thirty six choreographies are included, fifteen bassadanza and twenty one balli, as well as the music for them. This source is an excellent place for a person who wishes to begin reconstructing fifteenth century Italian dances to begin, since it includes discussion on steps, music and a large number of interesting dances. The only drawback is, of course, that it is in Italian and has not been translated.


Guglielmo Ebreo. Guglielmus ebreis pisauriensis de pracha seu arte tripudi vorghare opusculum. Ms. (dated 6 December 1510 (or possibly 1540)) in Florence, Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana (Codex Antinori A 13). Unpublished.


This source is made up of ninety pages of text, and like the following source, is written in a hand that is very difficult to read. It contains the usual remarks on the art of dancing, and a relatively large section of choreographies. Eighteen bassadanza and twenty one balli are included. No music is given.


Guglielmo Ebreo. Guglielmi ebrei pisaurienses de pracha seu arte tripudi vulghare opuschulam feliciter incipit senper chongratia sia di dio senper. Ms. (originally owned by Giorgio del Giudeo (c. 1470), donated by Walter Toscanini) in New York, Public Library, Dance Collection (Cia Fornaroli Coll. (S) *MGZMB-Res. 72-254). Unpublished.


This manuscript contains some thirty seven large pages of very difficult to read writting. The first nine pages are discussion of dance and how the steps are performed, while the remaining pages give choreographies for fifty five separate balli and bassadanza. No music is included, but many of the dances appear in other manuscripts in which the music is recorded. This manuscript is not for the faint of heart, as the handwriting is almost illegible, and no transcription exists. It does, however, contain a wealth of valuable information. It is also one of the few sources which is in the U.S., which makes it somewhat more available, at least to those who live on the east coast.


Guglielmo Ebreo. Untitled. Ms. fragment in Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale (Fondo Palatino 1021, ff. 105r-106v.). Unpublished.


This is a relatively minor source, being a pair of pages which are all that are left of a Guglielmo manual. They are from the section on how dances are performed, so they are of some use in reconstructing steps. Their use is limited, however, by the fact that they are not that different from the more complete manuals, and by their brevity.