Section II.A -- Sixteenth Century Italian Sources


Marco Fabrito Caroso

Marco Fabrito Caroso. Il Ballarino (Venice: 1581). Facsimile reprint by Broude Brothers (New York: 1967).


All the Italian manuals of this period follow a similar format, and discuss dances of the same style. First they discuss steps, usually in fairly great detail, although not always completely clearly. They then go on to give specific choreographies for dances, sometimes including the music in lute tabulature or score, or both. As one would expect, they were all originally written in Italian, although English translations exist for some of them.

The step descriptions vary from quite easy to understand to very difficult (the most difficult are usually galliard and canary steps). It should be noted that different authors sometimes call different steps by the same name, or give different names to the same step.

The choreographies which are given are almost always lengthy (the shortest one which I am familiar with takes a couple of minutes to dance, and most of the choreographies are two or three times as long), and are fairly difficult both to dance and to reconstruct. It is clear that the nobles which danced these dances were very skilled dancers who delighted in difficult and complicated figures, which would show their skill.

The general format for most of the dances consists of several sections of relatively simple walking steps (similar to pavan or alman steps), which are fairly easy to reconstruct. Interspersed with these sections are very complicated figures of galliard and canary steps, the simplest of which rival the most difficult which Arbeau describes. These sections can be very difficult to reconstruct with any confidence.

This particular manual, Il Ballarino, or The Dancing Master, is the first of the Italian manuals of this era to be published. It contains two sections, one on steps and dance manners, and one which contains choreographies. The second section includes eighty dances, with lute tabulature for the accompanying music, as well as scores for some of the dances.


Marco Fabrito Caroso. Nobilta di Dame (Venice: 1600). Facsimile reprint by Forni Editore, Bologna. Translated with introduction by J. Sutton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).


Caroso's second book is a refinement of the first, to the extent that the cover page subtitles it the "Second Edition of the Book Called Il Ballarino." This is in spite of the fact that only some twenty of the forty-nine dances presented in it duplicate dances found in the previous volume. But while it is not a true second edition, there are many additions and refinements to both the "rules" for the steps and the dances themselves. As a result, any reconstruction of one of the dances which appears in both volumes should rely on the second for the definitive version. Even when reconstructing a dance from Il Ballarino which does not appear in Nobilta di Dame, one should examine the step descriptions in the second volume, since they are in general more clear and precise. Julia Sutton's translation makes this one of the more accessible of the sixteenth century Italian sources, but one should be careful not to rely too heavily on it in creating reconstructions, as there are always nuances lost, however good the translation may be.


Marco Fabrito Caroso. Raccolta di varij balli... (Rome: 1630).


Essentially a reprinting of Nobilta di Dame with a new title.


Cesare Negri

Cesare Negri. Le gratie d'amore (Milan: 1602) Facsimile reprint Broude Brothers (New York: 1969). Translation and Facsimile by Gustavia Yvonne Kendall, "Le Gratie D'Amore" 1602 by Cesare Negri: Translation and Commentary. PhD dissertation (Stanford University: 1985).


Like the other Italian manuals of the sixteenth century, this is a large volume of long and very difficult dances. In particular this volume includes a long discussion on galliard variations, and gives many galliard steps, including steps used for the "kick the tassel" contest. It should be noted that Negri uses some of the same names as Caroso for what seem from the descriptions to be different steps, so one should use care when reconstructing a dance to use the appropriate steps.

On average, the dances which Negri presents are more complicated than those which Caroso offers. That is, the simplest of Negri's dances is more complicated than the simplest of Caroso's; although the most difficult dances of each author are similar in complexity.

Kendall's translation is a very valuable volume, since it offers both a facsimile of the original and a translation. Thus, when reconstructing a dance, it is easy to refer to the original at any point, but the work is also accessible to those who don't know italian. The translation is not completely reliable, however, and some reference to the facsimile should be made.


Cesare Negri. Nuove inventioni di balli (Milan: 1604).


This volume was a reprint of Negri's previous volume, Le gratie d'amore.


Livio Lupi da Carravagio

Livio Lupi da Carravagio. Libro di gagliarda, tordiglione, passo e mezzo, cannarii e passeggi... (Palermo: 1607).


This is a lengthy volume (about 300 pages) discussing, as the title suggests, galliards, tordions, passo e mezzo and cannaries. It opens with a short disscussion of steps and choreographies for two dances. The majority of the volume, however, is devoted to describing hundreds of short sequences of galliards, tordions, etc. These are apparently intended for use when one needed to "invent" a galliard or other variation. The reader would memorize and practice several passages from each section, so as to have them ready at need. It is difficult to imagine anyone memorizing all of the literally hundreds of variations offered here, but it is clear that no one would have been considered an accomplished dancer without knowing a few (or better yet, being able to invent them as needed). All in all, an interesting volume, but not as generally useful as either of Caroso's works or Negri's book.


Propero Luti de Sulmona

Propero Luti de Sulmona. Opera bellissima nella quale si contegono multe partite, et passeggi di gagliarda... (Perugia: 1589).


This work is similar to that of Lupi above, but much shorter. The discussion of steps is a single page, speaking mostly about caprioles, and only some thirty-two variations are presented. Only galliard variations are discussed.


Il Papa Ms

Il Papa Ms. New York, Public Library, Dance Collection (Cia Fornaroli Coll. *ZBD-26); Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale (Codex Magliabecchiana-Strozziano XIXm cod. 31).


This is a relatively short manuscript, made up of some fourteen double sided pages. It is written in a hand which is fairly difficult to make out, and contains no music for its dances. The first two pages are introductory in nature, and discuss dance in general. The remaining twelve pages contain a total of fifteen dance choreographies. Some of these choreographies are relatively long, while others are quite short, as short or shorter than the shortest offered by Caroso. Although this is a relatively minor source from this period, it is available in the US.


Felippo de gli Alessandri

Felippo de gli Alessandri. Discorso sopra il ballo (Terni: 1620).


I have not been able to run down a copy of this source at all. If anyone has a copy or knows where one can be obtained, I would love to hear about it!