Chapter 5: The Baroque Period and the Courts of LOUIS XIII and XIV (1600-1715)

The reigns of King Louis XIII and XIV encompass the Baroque Period, a time of unprecedented development in French culture juxtaposed with peasant riots and revolts lasting through much of the century. Outright wars, the cost of which was passed on to the commoners through higher taxation, gained France more territory and wealth for the upper classes (nobles and cardinals). For both kings, the actual ruling power was the church through its cardinals Richelieu (1585-1642) and his successor, the Italian Jules Mazarin (1602-1661) who initiated policies of centralization in politics and orthodoxy in religion. After the assassination of Henry IV by a Catholic religious fanatic in 1610, his nine-year-old son Louis XIII ruled France from 1610 to 1643. Again, because a king is too young to govern, the widow of Henri IV, Marie de Medici (1573-1642), initially acted as regent for Louis XIII. After Louis XIII died in 1643, his widow, Ann of Austria, became queen regent while her son Louis XIV was young. King Louis XIV (1638-1715) ruled France from 1661 to 1715.

Figure 68a
figure 68: Portraits of Henri IV (A) and Marie de Medici (B)

Cardinal Richelieu, who became focused on regulating public taste and opinion, cleverly backed the printing of France’s first newspaper in 1631 in order to manipulate public opinion.1 It was a time when the monarchy was very closely associated with patronage of the arts and the development of French classical style, still very much sought after today. The greatest contemporary architects, painters, tapestry weavers, cabinet makers, etc., were employed in the self-glorifying efforts of both Louis XIII and XIV who wanted the nobles and common folk to believe they were on a level with God in Heaven.2 Queen Anne made Cardinal Mazarin Prime Minister and Superintendent of the Education of the young Louis XIV. Louis did not take well to his education but if he was not successful in Louis’s liberal education, Mazarin was at least able to school his pupil in the basic rules of government and diplomacy.3

Figure 69
figure 69: Louis XIII and Queen Ann on horseback

At thirteen (1651) Louis XIV asserts his majority, declaring that his mother will no longer be regent. Cardinal Mazarin, however, continued his influence over the king and the court until his death in 1661. As part of Louis’s coronation ceremony in 1654, a mystical marriage of his most Christian majesty with Christian France and the Catholic Church was celebrated and at age sixteen, Louis is given “The Divine Right of Kings” by Mazarin.4

Figure 70
figure 70: Portrait Louis XIV

Through their powerful positions in the Church, both cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin greatly enlarged the French army, which led to higher royal taxation of the populace. The years of the reigns of Louis XIII and XIV were filled with civil war, peasant uprisings, revolts of the nobility, and full-out wars with the Hapsburgs and Spain. The Thirty Years’ War, 1618-1648, turned Germany into a vast battleground for marauding armies fighting in the name of Protestantism or Catholicism, whichever side paid them better.

Figure 71
figure 71: Cardinal Richelieu

Cardinal Mazarin, who was university educated and also trained in the military, became the Pope’s diplomatic representative to Paris and developed a foreign policy that brought an end to the 30 Years War. His position of power allowed him to be generous with institutions that honored France and he also set up pensions for artists and men of letters. On the personal side, he greedily plundered the French treasury, living extravagantly and amassing a huge fortune from public funds. He bought the cooperation of the parliament if anyone objected. Upon his death he left an astounding amount of money and a magnificent library and art collection. After Cardinal Mazarin’s death in 1661, the king had control over the nomination of French bishops, archbishops and the men and women in charge of the monasteries. Even though these nominations needed the confirmation of the pope, this right gave Louis XIV access to vast church revenues, which he used to continue Mazarin’s patronage of the arts and to appoint of government officials.5

Figure 72
figure 72: Cardinal Mazarin

Louis XIV was twenty-two when he married his cousin, Maria-Teresa of Spain in 1660 – a wedding that also served to ratify peace between France and Spain. Since the time of feudal lords, royal marriages were business arrangements sealed, not because the two participants were in love, but because the match would lead to more political and military prestige, greater power, and the accumulation of wealth through real estate dealings. Since the Medieval courts of love, it was common for royal marriage vows to be exchanged when the bride and groom were barely fourteen. The match, often predetermined when the two were children, was destined to be unhappy. Adultery was long condoned and in France a tradition of royal mistresses was begun during the High Renaissance court of Francis I. Once installed, all mistresses to the French kings took advantage of their high standing positions to influence court culture.6 Even though the absolute monarchy was built on patriarchal law so that the throne could pass only through the male line and only to men, queens and mistresses found very creative ways to influence their husbands, masters, and the royal family in cultural affairs.7 However, by the time of Louis XIV and his omnipotent rule, his mistresses learned to keep their political opinions to themselves.

Figure 73
figure 73: of the Royal Family

Louis XIV had several mistresses throughout his lifetime among whom Louise de La Vallière (1644-1710), Madame de Montespan (1641-1707), and Madame de Maintenon (1635-1719) are the most well known. Louise de La Vallière, whose affair with Louis began to assist him in hiding another more scandalous affair, that with his cousin Henrietta, was announced as the official mistress to the King in a series of splendid festivals. Between 1661 and 1667, Louise brought four of Louis’s children into the world. She was, however, replaced by another beautiful but scheming and unscrupulous woman, Madame de Montespan, who became official mistress in 1667. Faithful to the end, La Vallière retired to a convent spending the remaining 36 years of her life there.8

Figure 74
figure 74: Louise de La Vallière

Madame de Maintenon, to whom Louis was secretly married in 1683, replaced Madame de Montespan in 1679 after Montespan had been expelled from court, having been accused of trying to poison the king with a toxic love potion.9 Madame de Maintenon who had come to the court as a governess for Louis’ several children, impressed the king by the way she cared for her charges and showed them genuine affection. Louis gave her money so that she could purchase land and with it, a royal title, the Marquise de Maintenon.10

The mistresses were always the subject of court intrigue and gossip and schemed to keep their affairs hidden from the queen. She must have known, however, because the first two of these women alone bore King Louis twelve children, some of whom died in infancy and some of whom were legitimized by royal edict. The King always made it a priority to see that the best professionals available schooled all of his children in music, dancing and the other fine arts.

Figure 75
figure 75: King Louis’s mistress, the Marquise de Montespan

Louis XIV was a very popular and powerful monarch for most of his reign due to France’s powerful military forces and their ability to win many victories.11 As France was continually expanding her territories in Europe and in North America, Louis was energetically engaged at being both a warrior and an administrator of the business affairs of the nation.

As money poured into the treasury from these conquests, Louis spent the equivalent of a billion dollars and decades of his life on building the Château of Versailles, not only because he wanted to house himself and his courtiers in appropriate splendor but also because it afforded a painless method of sapping the power of the hereditary nobility whose authority he had recently diminished. He knew his public of commoners wanted a lessening the power for the nobles so Louis arrogantly moved towards absolutism by becoming his own prime minister after Mazarin’s death in 1661.12

Figure 76
figure 76: Versailles

He made sure his nobles were unable to develop their own spheres of authority outside his realm but he cleverly honored them through a strict court etiquette that recognized their differences in rank and awarded them lucrative governmental and religious posts in addition to other preferential treatment.13 Even though the hereditary noblemen had lost some of their authority due to the new arrangement of centralized government and the election of ministers, they were still able to secure administrative posts by purchasing them. Interestingly, these posts increased from 12,000 in the late 1500s to four times that in 1660.14 Bribes paid by the nobles for these posts also provided much revenue for the state. No one complained about this arrangement.

Figure 77
figure 77: Versailles Fountain

Louis, knowing that his power depended upon good relations with his nobles, invited them to Versailles, where they could exhaust their wealth and energies on the abundant pleasures provided by his court. There were always hunting expeditions that branched out from one hunting lodge or another, gambling, card games, feasting, plays, ballets and musical entertainments, promenades in the gardens and of course, the adventures of the boudoir. The nobles were honored and awed to be in the fine company of such a handsome, courtly, and charming man who loved strutting before his courtiers in his flamboyant, grand manner both on and off the stage. Louis probably thought of all of his daily activities as a performance as he could act the role of being a glorious deity better than anyone at court.

Figure 78
figure 78: Court theater

Louis was also a brilliant conversationalist.15 He encouraged the great writers of the time: Racine (1639-99), Corneille (1606-84), Molière (1622-73), and Charles Perrault (1628-1703), who compared Louis to Agustus Caesar in a poem he composed and wrote for the king’s memoirs.16 Another expression of Charles Perrault’s imagination and ingenuity were the magical fairy tales he wrote, several of which have made very successful ballets over the centuries. During Louis’s kingship the arts and letters were greatly advanced and the French language became codified. Words and expressions considered proper were listed in Denis Diderot’s dictionary, a volume that took fifty-six years to prepare. So impressive was France’s culture and literature at this time that many foreign kings, including Peter the Great of Russia, made studies in French mandatory as part of the school curriculum for nobles and the language of preference to be spoken at court.

Depending on the decade, the king had a royal household of anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 courtiers, attendants, and servants. In addition, there were thousands more nobles who lived near his palaces and on his invitation, visited often. King Louis arose late in the morning because he was often entertaining guests or being entertained late into the night. Before long, his reign was a systematically organized, tightly controlled dictatorship. Order was practiced for the sake of order and etiquette for every situation was strictly prescribed to reduce quarrels over protocol among his courtiers.

With a system of state-appointed agents sent to the provinces to regulate the local officials and with stronger, well-defended boarders, Louis’ savvy finance minister, Colbert, was able to finance civil engineering projects that elevated France’s economic infrastructure and paved the way for commerce and the export of high-quality goods and luxury items.17 Colbert, who happened to be the first honest finance minister for France, worked diligently to make the country self-sufficient economically. In gathering Europe’s most skillful artisans, artists, weavers, and architects to work for the state controlled corporations (the Gobelin tapestry makers, for example) he was able to obtain works of superb quality for export. Colbert also granted monopolies to the French industries and set up protective tariffs for their benefit.18

Figure 79
figure 79: Portrait of Colbert

The Baroque Era and the Arts

Although the period begins for different art forms at different times, most scholars think of the Baroque period from about 1600-1750. The Baroque attitude in all things was conducive to luxuriant display and baroque arts and architecture tended toward extravagance and ornamentation. Above all, it delighted in surprise, theatrical effects, such as fireworks and fountains, and valued the elements of melodrama. Because of this, it was a great time for theater in all of its forms, especially the opera, a favorite Italian import.

Figure 80
figure 80: Baroque Opera

The most glamorous and grandiose form of Italian baroque opera began around 1600 as a serious attempt to recapture the spirit of classic Greek drama and became, by mid-century, a form of singing exhibition built around heroes and heroines from Roman history or Greek legend. The composer Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) exercised his creative gifts, expertise and dramatic sense as he replaced the spoken word with recitative and adapted it to the dramatic demands of the text.19 Music, no longer just background, assumed a position of equal importance with the text and the words could now be sung in order to tell the story. Monteverdi said, …, "music should rest on the fundamental truths of nature and it should express the full range of human passions, from tranquillity to anger, from joy to despair.”20

Music becomes more important and has more functions partly due to the proscenium arch stage and the opening of public theaters. The size of the orchestra swells to fill the wider, deeper stage with more instruments and musicians. Orchestral sounds also serve the function of detracting from the noisy shifting of scenery and stage machinery. For ballets, the musicians are moved in front (downstage) or in the pit below the stage, no longer at the back of the stage or hall working in the same area as the dancers and actors. Now, the orchestra can be used to support magical transformations, to command processions, to heighten climaxes and to emphasize individual specialties. The Baroque period was also witness to vast improvements on Renaissance instruments and the development of several new ones. The harpsichord and the organ gain prominence for both secular and religious musical accompaniment.

Louis XIV dearly loved his music and had three separate bands or orchestras responsible for music played and sung for various functions at court. The Chapel Royal, responsible for all of the religious music, was the oldest organization of musicians and singers. During his reign, Louis XIV and Mazarin enlarged this group to a choir of eighty singers and thirty instrumentalists. The chamber orchestra played only for the king and his close associates in the privacy of his chambers at Versailles or one of the other palaces.21 If the king liked what he heard, it was often repeated by the Royal Academy for the public, who flocked to the theater to hear the magnificent new sounds. The third group, established during the regency of Francis I, was the Ecurie. This band was established for the purpose of enhancing the processions, parades, and tournaments. The musicians were either mounted on horses or they marched on foot, announcing and glorifying the king and his retinue or foreign dignitaries with a variety of gleaming instruments and rich baroque sounds.22 Baroque music was nearly always functional as what might be referred to as “glorification music” including ceremonial welcomes, birthday commemorations, wedding festivals and fanfares for appearances of the nobility as they entered and exited cities, palaces or ballrooms.23

Figure 81
figure 81: Musicians on horseback, carrousel

The fourth of these musical organizations was the Royal Academy of Music founded in 1669, later to become known as the Paris Opéra. The Royal Academy of Dance, founded earlier (1661), was joined with the Academy of Music in 1672 due to the king’s wish to enhance and preserve dancing as part of the opera performances. It was in this same year that Pierre Beauchamps (1636-1705) became principal ballet master and Jean Baptiste Lully became general director. Beauchamps held his title until 1687, the year Lully died.

In the milieu of the Baroque court theaters the singers were sensational in and of themselves. Young boys who studied singing were taught ingenious vocal exercises in the schools that abounded in Paris. Ordinarily, when the boy went through puberty and the voice lowered, training had to be suspended for a time.24 Choir masters, seeking to preserve the angelic tone and continuity of training for these gifted young singers, had many of them operated on. In a few cases the operation was successful and the pure soprano voice coupled with the breath capacity of an adult man’s body as he matured resulted in an astounding vocal range, agility and power. “Such was the power of the theater in baroque life that no one questioned the custom of castrating these young boys….”25 The most successful castrati earned huge fees and were sought after by audiences throughout Europe. Composers wrote some of their finest operatic roles for them and artists glorified them in their paintings.

From 1600 on ballet and opera were systematically developed by Cardinal Richelieu and later, by Cardinal Mazarin as a means to exalt the power and order of the crown as a symbol of the nation’s greatness. Music and dancing continued to be an all-important princely pastime at court. Queen Mother Marie insisted upon seeing a ballet once a week in her private quarters and other court ballets were done frequently with the main concentration at Christmas time and Lent.26 Her son and grandson were not content only to dance with their nobles and ladies; they also designed the costumes and even choreographed some of the productions.

Needless to say, these were expensive undertakings considering the cost of paying the hundreds of personnel necessary to carry them off. There was the coordination of the vast preparations, the cost of procuring the rich fabrics for the costumes and building the stages and fantastic machinery for the magical transformations. For example, the Francini brothers and Giacomo Torelli (1608-78), who specialized in building spectacular scenery and fantastic water fountains, were brought from Italy. There is also actual documentation of experts imported and paid to produce magnificent sea battles and fireworks displays for finales.27

King Louis XIV inherited his strong sense of rhythm, ear for music and dance talent from his father, who was happy to appear in dance roles at court. Louis studied daily from his dancing master Pierre Beauchamps for over two decades. He was also a skilled musician on the guitar and harpsichord and had such a keen ear he could tell if an instrument in his orchestra was out of tune. Louis wanted ever-new musical inventions and insisted that all music for his supper parties, balls and divertissements be freshly composed for each amusement.28 He busied himself with frequent formal dancing parties that included his active participation as lead dancer in the ballets that his courtiers produced for both ballroom and stage.

In addition to spending a large part of the day dealing with the business matters of the court, Louis was a connoisseur of the fine arts and had control over court culture through the various academies he established. The board of the Academy of Painting and Sculpture, for example, decided how these arts should be taught and applied, which artists were worthy of receiving commissions and prizes and even whose work would be exhibited. Talented architects, artists and portrait painters working at the palaces of Louis XIV included Charles Le Brun (1619-1690), who was entrusted with overseeing all of art and architecture as director of the Académy royale. Hyacinthe Riguard (1659-1743) was one of the excellent court painters but Louis’s favorite was Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) because his work embodied the principles of Classicism and his imagery drew its inspiration from Classical texts. He was comfortable working in biblical or mythological subject matter as well as historical events, landscape and portraiture.29 His work reflected the solemn order, dignity, symmetry and grandeur of the Classical style but combined it with action and movement springing from the depth of emotion. Because Poussin arranged the models of his figures in rectangular boxes before combining them in a unified scene, author Laurie Schneider Adams leads us to the idea that, “Poussin’s painting is thus choreographed to show that the events that change history are comprised of individual dramas.”30

A multitude of other artists - sculptors, engravers, tapestry weavers and architects were commissioned to glorify the king and his realm through magnificent equestrian statuary, triumphal arches, beautiful tapestries, glorious sculptures and decorative frescos and paintings, the subjects of which were grand historical and mythological themes reflecting the brilliance of the Sun King throughout his kingdom and beyond to all of Europe. The architect responsible for overseeing the construction of the Versailles and Louvre palaces were Louis Le Vau (1612-90), François Mansart, his son Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Le Brun. During his reign, Louis’s art collection increased by ten times and now forms the basis of the French national collection in the Louvre. By the end of the seventeenth century France (Paris) superseded Italy (Rome) as the dominant focal point of the art world and its patronage.31

By mid-century, ballet is very much connected to the ornate, showy manners of the court and the rules of etiquette for the noble carriage of the body set down by its ballet masters. The style of classic ballet also owes a great deal to the personal mannerisms of Louis XIV and his courtiers. These in turn were rooted in elegance of Renaissance court life, together with Louis’ own cultivation of physical grace through a daily routine that, in addition to dancing lessons, included horseback riding, exercises with weapons, and fencing. The arts of dancing and dueling with swords were popular imports from the Italians introduced by Catherine de Medici. The French nobles took to these forms with gusto and surpassed their Italian counterparts as they emulated their grand monarch. After 1648, it was also Louis who dictated what court dress was proper and appropriate. He and his mistresses would now determine the next fashion craze and they had no shortage of imagination as evidenced by the splendid works of art depicting fanciful costumes for every courtly occasion. Through the merging of The Royal Academies of Music and Dance in 1672, Louis’ influence manifested itself in an ever-tightening grip on the cultural life of France.

Jean Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) and Music at Court

Although the Italian composer Cavalli wrote an opera for the wedding of Louis XIV in 1662, it was another Italian-born musician, Lully (Lulli, It.), who gained great popularity by cultivating the French manner in opera. This included the insertion of ballet between the acts similar to the intermedi of the Italian courts mentioned in chapter four. For several years Lully used the librettist Philippe Quinault (1635-1688) for his operas, which opened with an overture, a grave passage followed by a faster fugato section and a prelude in honor of the king. Five acts followed, composed of declamatory recitatives, choruses and arias interspersed with dances.32 The interest and contrast provided by the dancing made these operas especially attractive to the French courtiers.

Figure 82
figure 82: Jean Baptiste Lully

Jean Baptiste Lully, the most eminent French composer of his time, formulated ballet-opera and founded of the Academies of music and dance, whose aesthetic and repertory ruled into the eighteenth century. In his youth he knew the Commedia Dell’ Arte and performed as comic dancer and mime. As he danced beside Louis XIII and XIV in some thirty ballets as courtier and collaborator, he also enjoyed royal intrigues and confidences. Energetic and ambitious, Lully was a virtuoso violinist, harpsichordist, composer-conductor, musical administrator and dancer. Above all, he was a skilled theatrical visionary who, in addition to the opera, created a national style of instrumentation leading to our modern orchestra.

Lully came to the French court at age thirteen originally to teach Italian to one of the young ladies of the court, the niece of Louis XIII. Mademoiselle de Montpensier, impressed by his violin playing, made him the head of her private orchestra. At this point, however, Lully could not resist setting satirical verses to music, and when Mademoiselle discovered that she was the butt of his ridicule, she quickly got rid of him.33 The King, who was about fourteen at the time, knew Lully’s musical talent and hired him as part of his Twenty-Four Violins, one of the finest chamber orchestras in Europe. One of Lully's finest dance moments came with his introduction of the menuet (minuet) as a courtly dance form in 1653. He produced his first opera in 1673 and won lasting fame as the creator of classical French opera.

Unfortunately, Lully became greedy and sadistic in his drive for perfection and thought nothing of smashing a violin over an orchestra member’s head if he was disappointed with the sounds he heard.34 Under his elegant facade, Lully led a licentious life; he was lewd, vulgar, obscene and mean. His power and influence continued to grow until 1684 when Louis XIV signed a decree whereby every operatic production presented anywhere in France had to be approved by Lully personally.35

Lully’s capacity for both organization and intrigue made it possible for him to leave, at his death, four fine homes and securities equal to many times his annual salary as the Sun King’s composer and director of music. Although positions in court bands and orchestras were highly sought after, many court musicians must have breathed a sigh of relief when he died literally by his own hand three years later: he accidentally struck his foot with the long staff used at that time as a conductor’s baton.36 Several agonizing weeks later, he died of gangrene.

To some extent his pompous and dignified style derived from the personal wishes of his monarch. The ballets and operas whose themes were mythological or semi-historical were a focused reflection of political etiquette, novelty and French taste. The royal participants loved the glittering costumes, the masks and being able to dance along side the king no matter what role they took. Lully’s music - clear-cut, logical, deliberate, authoritative - suited the firm symmetry of Versailles. It was the embodiment of formal brilliance, glory and joy.

Figure 83
figure 83: Baroque Orchestra

Examples of Baroque Court Ballets and Entertainments

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, dance, as it is used for sumptuous display and pageantry, continues. It is also valuable as an adjunct to the art of fencing, making men more agile, strong and sure-footed in battle. As professional dancers gain a foothold over the courtiers there are an increasing variety of forms that develop in response to courtiers and commoners alike. Here are some of the more important types of court ballets and theater entertainments.

The Pastorale

Originally, pastorales were dances with no plot to speak of and were enjoyed just to delight in the fun of dancing. The pastorale could also be a stage performance, often with music, on a pastoral or other theme drawn from classical literature. This form first arose in Renaissance Italy but was taken up in France, where it was found to be an ideal vehicle for the ballet.

Ballet à Entrée

The ballet à entrée is a series, sometimes a very long series, of thematically related dances, serious and comic, concluding with a grand figured dance in which all the characters appeared together. The finale, called Le Grand Ballet, was danced by all of the court nobles including the audience members in attendance, who were dressed in the same sumptuous attire and exotic masks as the performers. The plot was introduced by spoken verse and song and this was followed by a dance called an entrée. The choreography consisted mostly of geometrical patterns. Novelty and entertainment were the only objectives. These spectacular court ballets were produced from 1550 -1670 and could be very costly with elephants, horses, camels and exotic cats as part of the processions. They were created to celebrate a special occasion and could be serious or grotesque in subject.

Figure 84
Figure 85
Figure 86
Figure 84, 85, 86: Images of Louis XIV in performance

An example of a ballet à entrée is La Ballet de la Nuit, 1653, for Louis XIV in which he makes his grand entrance dancing the part of Apollo, the Sun God. The music, written by the young Jean Baptiste Lully and Jean de Camberfort, was serious, suiting the elegance and sophistication of the monarch. This ballet contained four vigils or scenes with over forty entrées that symbolically spanned twelve hours, three for each scene: Six to nine, nine to midnight, midnight to three a.m., and three a.m. to sunrise.

The last and most important scene is the one in which Louis appears as the Rising Sun with Aurora (dawn) accompanied by her twelve Hours.37 The logical theme of the passing and triumph of time connected the scenes and a display of an amazing variety of dramatic elements; poetry, singing, picturesque and grotesque dancing, glittering masks and costumes all combined with magic, satire and allegory to make this a very persuasive and potent ballet. The magical transformations of persons and places were metaphors for unlimited power of France and its king, promising unlimited political possibilities in the future.38 Louis had as his disposal dozens of artist- collaborators who brought the stage elements together in a sumptuous feast for the senses. This court ballet was such a success that it was repeated six times.

Performed in 1681, Le Triomphe de l’Amour was the last ballet à entrée, but the first in which a professional female dancer appears, not in the court version performed in January, but in a simplified version performed by the members of the Academie Royale de Musique et de Danse as the Palais Royal theater in March of the same year.39 It was a revival of the old style and was done as an excuse to celebrate the marriage of the Dauphin with Princess Marie Anne Christine of Bavaria, both of whom were performers in this production. Lully composed some twenty entrées and a more complex structure and range for the sung parts, perhaps because he was involved with the writing and composing of tragic operas at the time. This work is actually considered a ballet-opera by some historians.40 Lully still held the position of King Louis’ musical director and Pierre Beauchamp with his student, Louis Pécourt (1653-1729), choreographed and also danced the male leads since the king had retired from dancing before his courtiers by this time. Carlo Vigarini was again entrusted with building the scenery and machines used to hoist the gods and goddesses into the heavens for the court production.

Like most others, this ballet praises the power of love with characters such as Cupid, Flora and Zephyr, Venus, Neptune, Diana, Mercury, and Jupiter, accompanied by naiads, dryads and fauns. It is important for the fact that the varied and challenging steps crafted by the choreographers required a group of dance professionals from the Acadèmie Royale de Musique et de Danse rather than aristocratic amateurs. Mlle de Lafontaine (1655-1738) danced the principal female role in the second, Palais Royale version marking the first time a professional female dancer appears in a public theater. From this time forward, the female soloists become more important, eclipsing the male dancer almost completely to become star attractions by the beginning of the Romantic Era (1832). 41

Figure 87
figure 87: Court Ballet

Burlesque Ballets

After about 1620, the serious political court ballets lost some of their popularity and were replaced by a series of burlesque ballets with a number of entrées in which society’s manners and morals were subjected to ridicule. Burlesque ballets developed character dancing and acting to a high degree and great use was made of professional dancers and acrobats. Aristocratic amateurs were playing less of a role by this time and some professional actors and dancers were being employed. Examples of these ballets are Ballet of the Fairies of St. Germain Forest, or the Ballet of Ridicules,1625, and Ballet of the Heiress of Bilbao,1626, in which the leading lady’s fiancé is a character to be humiliated.42 The costumes, head dresses and masks were imaginative, visually grotesque and fantastic, enhancing the unusual characters that were portrayed. At this time, professional men were still dancing the parts of women.

Figure 88
figure 88: Music, a grotesque figure from 1625 attributed to Daniel Rabel

Dramatic Ballets or Ballet Mélodramatique

Most ballets around 1600 were comique or dramatic (mimetic) productions featuring action around an actual plot or story line, borrowed either from the classical literature of ancient Greece and Rome or from medieval legends. Mime at this time takes on the same baroque qualities as other forms of art so that gestures were exaggerated and overdone, similar to what one might see in the old silent movies filmed in the early part of the twentieth-century. With time, many of these story ballets also take on an operatic quality and are noted as ballet-operas or opera-ballets. There are many different types.

Ballet-Operas and Opera-Ballets

An early example of a ballet-opera is the one-act Liberation of Renaud, 1617, in which Louis XIII dances the lead as a fire demon who is later transformed through “divine reason”. 43 The Liberation of Renaud was a dramatic ballet in which King Louis XIII of France chose the plot based on Torquato Tasso’s epic poem, Jerusalem Delivered, written in 1575. The Christian, Rinaldo, was freed from the pagan female warrior Clorinda and the sensual temptress Armida; a metaphor for how King Louis frees France from disorder and chaos.44 Louis also used this well-known story about the Crusades to make the political point to his court that at sixteen, he considered himself to have come of age and he was prepared to take over the reins of government despite his mother’s wishes.45

Figure 89
figure 89: Louis XIII in dance costume for the ballet Four Seasons

Through the exalted image Prime Minister Cardinal Richelieu helped to create for Louis XIII, he was the Prince Absolute and represented divine authority on earth. This court spectacle carried portentous messages for the future and foretold of the king’s desire for central authority over the French provinces.46 The captive Renaud is able to free himself and escape. For the Grand Ballet at the close of the evening, Renaud is revealed as the crusader King Godfrey (Louis XIII) with his knights. Louis leads a ballet where, excluding females, the men dance in high-heeled shoes, which were part of the male courtier’s fashion at the time.47 The steps were dignified bassa danza (low dance) with simple turns and glides, leaving dances with jumps and acrobatic capers to the various demons, furies and other grotesque characters.48

Figure 90
figure 90: Le Grand Ballet

In this ballet, new elements of characterization and dress were introduced. Tournament dress was preserved with the tonnelet but changes were incorporated for each character. The comic potentialities of this kind of costume were to be highly developed after 1620. Emphasis was on richness and variety of costume fabrics - silks, satins, taffeta, brocades with embroidery and heavy padding were used. The costumes, beaded with precious stones and pearls, glittered under the candles and torches lighting the festivities. This ballet was also notable for its new system of changing scenery: painted panels were slid into slots on a fixed frame that was able to revolve on a turntable.49

The Marriage of Peleus and Thetis, choreographed by Beauchamps in 1654, was really an opera with ballets inserted between the acts. Due to the king’s and the public’s insistence that operas in the Italian manner include ballets, this work and others like it helped insure ballet’s survival as dance made the transition from court to theater. The entrées were not consistent in time, place, and sometimes the ballets were not related to the opera or concept but in spite of this they became very popular at court until around 1735.

Figure 91
figure 91: A duke in costume for The Marriage of Peleus and Thetis

Le Palais d'Alcine was another ballet-opera done in 1664 to celebrate the nearly completed gardens at Versailles. The gardens provided a stunningly beautiful background for an outdoor festival staged over several days. The festival included a ballet in which Louis danced the hero and made his elegant entrance riding in on a spirited, caparisoned Arabian stallion. There were magical transformations as Alcine’s spell over the hero is broken and both she and her enchanted island disappear behind a magnificent fireworks display on one of the lakes. The festival continued with a staged work by Molière the next evening and also included concerts given by Lully and several days of tournaments and feasting.

Figure 92
Figure 93
figure 92: A. Louis on Horseback
figure 93: Fireworks display

The first opera-ballet, Les Festes de L’Amour et de Bacchus in 1669, is a productions in which ballet becomes a more integrated part of the opera. It’s creator Lully, felt that ballet should be an integrated whole - a unit rather than a string of disconnected dances. He wrote music for the mime scenes as well as for the singing and dancing and actually had the dances carry some of the plot.

Lully purchased the royal performance license from the poet Perrin in 1673, the same year he wrote his first French opera. He then proceeded to monopolize all of the best dancers, musicians and dramatists for his productions.50 As the gradual transition of ballet from the court into the theater took place, ballet dancers became more proficient and the opera-ballet evolved, giving equality to singing and dancing.

Later, opera-ballets become thorough nonsense, simply diversion for the upper classes. Some evenings at the opera consisted of “fragments” which contained the most popular segments of several operas and ballets thrown together with no particular rhyme or reason. One of the last great ones, Les Indes Galantes (The Gallant Indies), 1735, was not like this, but consisted of a coherent work in which drama, music and choreography worked in harmony toward a balanced theatrical whole.51 It had a score by Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) who was a master at developing all facets of the instrumental and vocal parts in a broad range of styles. This opera-ballet was his first major achievement and is still performed today.

Comedy Ballets

In 1662, Lully began his fruitful association with Molière (1622-1673), who was a brilliant professional actor and dramatist. Molière’s comedies turned the farce into witty satires, the first of which Louis XIV allowed him to produce in 1661, even though it ridiculed the nobility and the clergy, in fact, everyone but the king. His satires on modern manners used exaggeration and deformation of ordinary occupational gesture, much of which was adapted from the Commedia Dell’Arte. Molière and Lully worked together in 1670 producing two very popular comedy-ballets: The Magnificent Lovers and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. The latter ballet was a contemporary comedy of manners with four entrées or dance scenes that carried the action forward. The would-be gentleman is a person of new wealth who wants desperately to be accepted as one of his aristocratic brothers, but is ultimately mocked and ridiculed. Molière played the principal role and Jean Baptiste Lully danced another role to his own music.

These ballets introduced elements of social criticism and we see the heroic or mythological themes giving way to, or at least coexisting with, more realistic, true-to-life subjects.52 In 1671, ten years after the first, the last comedy ballet is performed. Psyche, with a scenario by Corneille and Quinault, adapted by Molière, also had the collaboration of Lully for the music and Beauchamp for the dancing.

Figure 94
figure 94: Portrait of Molière

Masquerades, Court Masques or Maskes

Masquerades, as distinguished from masques, were usually all-inclusive, unstructured occasions - less a theatrical event than a social gathering for the amusement of the participants, distinguished by costumed revelry, intrigue, and license.53 The customs of masquerading originated in European Carnival tradition and were popular from about 1530 on but the truly magnificent time of the masquerade was in seventeenth-century Europe where the disguised participants used this social affair as an excuse for all sorts of licentious and unrestrained behavior in addition to dancing and merry-making.

Figure 95
figure 95: Masquerade Ball at the Louvre

At court, masquerade costumes were elegant and fantastic: foreign or exotic fancy dress, ecclesiastical parodies, transvestite costume, picturesque occupational dress, animal or supernatural disguises, commedia dell’ arte costume and dresses representing various theatrical, historical and allegorical figures.54 People took particular delight at the sight of incongruously masked couples performing together: a pretty nun and a Presbyterian Parson or a Devil and a Quaker.

During the time of Shakespeare, England evolved its own form of the court ballet - the masque, a unique form of designed dance presentations to be viewed in dramatic contexts. This new genre, developed by the poet Ben Johnson and the architect Inigo Jones, was one in which the spoken narrative was more important that the dancing although elements of the French court dances were adapted. The peak of these productions was from around 1605 until 1629.

Ben Johnson (1572-1637) and Inigo Jones (1573 -1652) collaborated to produce the Maske of Blackness in 1605 and in 1608, the Maske of Beauty. Dress for Jones was never merely splendid decoration or an interpretation of character in itself, but a vehicle for morals and philosophy. There was always the revelation of hidden truth. He designed handsome, witty costumes, better adapted for body movement than those in use elsewhere, and topped them with richly expressive masks. Jones also designed scenery and innovative machinery (the first fly loft) for scenic changes.

Figure 96
figure 96: Drawing of Nymph , by Inigo Jones

The origin of the masque can be traced back to popular folk rituals, such as mummers’ plays, sword dances, and Morris dances. Also influencing this genre was the Italian Commedia dell’Arte in addition to ballet. Developed from around 1590, the productions involved dialogue, song, music and dance in three sections:

  • * The Masque: These performances were danced by the nobility and were seen as powerful practice through their approving monarchs. The masquers were the “good guys” and played the role of Heaven come down to Earth similar to the French court ballets of the period.
  • The Antimasque: Danced by professionals, who, as inhabitants of a mysterious underworld contrasting with the realm of the high-born masquers, made extensive use of bizarre music and dance to enhance their often satiric pantomime. These figures were the opposition: witches, old-fashioned or ugly courtiers, puritans, quacks, or anyone the participants wished to parody. They were to be ultimately dismissed in scorn and ridicule. Female witches take on an evil, grotesque role in the court performances of the day. With the diverse characters they played, the anti-masquers gave the dance a contrast and interest it had not achieved before.55 This was significant in the development for ballet due to the fact that these roles were danced by professionals, not courtiers.
  • Figure 97
    figure 97: Antimasquer
  • The Revel: After the antimasque, the royal masquers and noble persons were then revealed in a beautiful tableau at the climax and escorted down into the dancing area (the ballroom floor) by pages bearing torches. The masquers would then turn to invite guests from the courtly assemblage to join in their “revels”. This social dance was begun with stately measures in an orderly sequence but concluded with dances of a more informal and fanciful sort. The French court ballets and masques, in contrast, concluded with Le Grand Ballet for the nobles with the audience remaining in their seats.
  • The motivation for this English activity was overtly political, just as it was in the French Court. King, Queen and court, in the guise of virtues, heroes, and heroines vanquished the opposition. Masques were usually staged as Twelfth Night Revels or for royal or aristocratic marriages. The dance was still a reflection of the cosmos, and showed disorder moving to order or, order-disorder- and order again until the plot was resolved; exactly what each king hoped to show during his years of rule over his country. In 1630 Charles I of England married French Queen, Henrietta Maria, who influenced the masques by introducing more elements from the French Ballet à Entrées. There was a vast development in mime and dance characterization from 1631 on stemming from the innovations of the court masque.

    Unfortunately, by 1645 the English Court Masques died out, ceasing abruptly due to civil war. This conflict was caused by the growth of the Puritan sect in England. Numerous sermons against dancing were heard expounding on the madness of men and women together, turning and jumping in public places with such pagan hugging and kissing and other misdemeanors! Every leap and skip was a leap toward Hell.56 Masques lost popularity with the public and the Puritans got into the government in the next century putting an abrupt halt to the development of theatrical dance in England. There were few foreign and native ballet masters at the English court and, although English ballet masters contribute in substantial ways to the development of ballet in the eighteenth century, there was no genuine academy of dance until the Royal Academy of Dancing was formed in 1920 in London.

    Tournaments and Carrousels

    The life and death struggle of fighting in war gives way to a more chivalrous, princely sport in times of peace - the tournament. Battle dress and caparisoned horses added to the splendor and excitement of these events which included military processions, jousting, feasting and equestrian exercises done to music in celebration of a royal marriage or as part of festival seasons or carnivals. It was not uncommon for a dancing master to choreograph a ballet for horses and riders as part of these entertainments, the production of which took much complex planning.57

    Figure 98
    figure 98: Figure of a Carrousel in 1612

    The first record of a horse ballet dates from 1606 in Paris, but these were choreographed from about 1550 onward clear up until 1900 when famous riding schools such as the one in Vienna, trained riders and horses on the advanced feats of dressage for public exhibition and competition.58 These carrousels contained choreographed movement performed by knights on horseback and they were especially popular during the 17th century. Claude Ménéstrier, in his notes on choreography in 1682, considered the horses’ steps as “true dance figures, in harmony with the sounds and tunes which guide the horses during the ballet”.59 These were originally Italian but traveled with so many other cultural ideas to France where, in 1662, King Louis XIV developed them into a celebration of magnificent proportions.

    Choreographic Development During the 1600s: Choreographers and Authors of Treatises on Ballet

    Monsieur Saint-Hubert wrote his treatise on How to Compose Successful Ballets in 1641. He took the responsibility of analyzing the problems of the past by scrutinizing the ballet à entrée. From his observations Saint-Hubert determined that a successful ballet should have a plot, music, dance, costumes, machinery and organization.60 He sought more careful collaboration among the various artists responsible for crafting the production and felt that dances up to this time were too fragmented and in disarray. What dancing masters needed, he thought, were a few rules to follow so that there would be a more professional result. Saint-Hubert felt everything should be subordinate to the subject so that none of the entrées should be irrelevant, too repetitive or have the same number of dancers.61 He felt it was a waste of talent to use the best dancers on insignificant entrées.

    In addition, Saint-Hubert discussed program notes for the audience and the use of props for the dancers and the music, which he felt should be written with some knowledge of the plot and organization of the entrées. Steps and costumes should be appropriate and legible, fitting the dancer’s role and character. He also mentioned that dancers wouldn’t have to make up the steps as they went along if they would devote more time to practice so they could better memorize the movements and poses they were taught. Gradually, the form, structure and technique change for the better, but this was easier said than done, as King Louis’s successors and the Academy clung to the traditional modes of dance spectacle long after his death in 1715.

    Claude Ménéstrier - 1631-1705

    Claude Ménéstrier was a French Jesuit, choreographer, diplomat, and pioneer theorist of a new dance form, the ballet d’action. Under Jesuit instruction, theater was designed to teach rather than to merely amuse. The Monks cloaked morality in myth to make it more palatable. “Hence, the grammar of mythical metaphor, absorbed by courtiers from school days, was not farfetched, but in the hands of court poets and painters, appropriate and legible.62

    Ménéstrier wrote two books in which he describes his work and ideas: a treatise on tournaments, jousts, carousels and other public spectacles and in 1682, a book on ancient and modern ballets according to theater regulations. Going further than his predecessor, Ménéstrier asserted that the motions of the body were capable of depicting inner feelings that could be made known in no other way than through movement and gesture. This idea is important in the development of the ballet d’action in the next century, in which the story is told by the dancing and the pantomime instead of by singing the words, thus enabling dance to stand on its own without the opera.

    Pierre Beauchamps (1636-1705)

    Pierre Beauchamps was born into a noble family, many of whom were court violinists. In addition to his love of music, Beauchamps was an avid art collector and counted many of the court painters and costume designers among his friends. He was also related to Moliére. Beauchamps became superintendent of court ballets in 1661 and was responsible to the king as his ballet master and later, as director of Academie Royale la Danse. His contribution in addition to being royal choreographer and composer of dance music with Lully was to establish the foundation and basic principles we use in classical ballet today. He stressed technical excellence rather than expression of ideas and emotions. He also created a notation system, which he never published.63

    In 1672, the first school of dancing was established at the Royal Academy of Music to train artists for the opera-ballets that were staged in the new public theaters. By 1713, a new, professional dancing school was in place at the Paris Opera theater and a children’s school was begun in 1784.

    Developments in Theaters, Costume, Scenery and Mime in the 17th Century:

    The Proscenium Stage

    As scenic designers and developers of stage machinery, the Italians demonstrated skills far superior to the French and they continued to be brought to the French courts throughout the century. The new proscenium arch stage caused many changes to occur in the French theater. After 1640, court performances are done on a raised platform rather than in the center of a ballroom, although the theaters at court were all temporary constructions until 1770. Given the weekly plays, operas and ballet that were done, the construction and demolition of performance spaces greatly added to the expense of these temporary spectacles.

    In 1645, Giacomo Torelli, the phenomenal Italian scenic designer and engineer, and a ballet master, Balbi, were brought by the Queen of France from Italy create a new spectacle. Since 1619, the Italians had theaters with proscenium stages and slotted, movable scenery that Torelli had invented. The importance of the ballet, La Folle Supposée (The Maiden Feigning Madness) 1645, was not the dancing but the fact that elaborate movable scenery was used for the first time on a proscenium stage in France. For this ballet the scenery was designed in perspective and it set a precedent in that ballroom floors were rarely used for theatrical productions after this time. The Italian scenic designers, Francini, Torelli, and Carlo Vigarini (1622-1713) cleverly hid their machinery behind the arch that framed the stage so they could avoid distracting the audience. Thus, they were able to center more attention on the glorious monarch. The king occupied the focal point either as participant or viewer from the throne directly upstage, center.

    Francini and Torelli were responsible for the splendid scenic effects and amazing cloud machinery used in Louis’s ballets and operas. They created sensations by introducing the theater of illusion where innovative mechanical inventions moved sets and scenery and flew cloud-cushioned courtiers from heaven to earth and back again. These new engineering feats along with wings, trap doors, curtains, and a fly loft made illusion more fantastic. By distancing the audience from the stage, observers would be more dazzled by the scenic spectacle dependent on the magic of sudden changes of scenery, unseen entrances and exits, and the magical, metaphorical transformations of the dancers, singers and actors.

    During the age of the Baroque, France was beginning to establish a lineage of gifted, ambitious costume designers in Daniel Rabel, whose father Jean was a court painter, and later, Henri Gissey (1621-1673), whose father was commissioned as a sculptor for the king. Gissey, designer of the king’s chamber and office from 1660 on, designed magnificent costumes for a horse ballet as part of a mock tournament in 1662. (See figure 81). This made him famous and highly sought after at court.

    Jean Berain (1640-1711), who followed Gissey, established his reputation as an engraver before becoming a costume, scenic and stage machinery designer. He collaborated with Lully on Le Triompe de l’Amour, 1681 and became the most famous costume designer of the period. Bérain was an exceptionally inventive artist whose costume sketches were conceived in a graceful Baroque idiom that was ideally suited to the noble style of dancing as it was then practiced (La Danse Serious). There was an elegance and sophistication to his work that anticipated the Rococo style. Bérain also revealed an extraordinarily fertile imagination in his designs for character dancers and for fantastic beings such as furies and demons. His costumes were always created from imaginative but tasteful designs, refined ornamentation and sumptuous fabrics. Many of his sketches were preserved and his scenic designs became known through the engravings of Bonnart (1652 - 1729).

    Dress for the princely male on the Renaissance and Baroque stage was ancient armor, complete with cape, helmet, and plumes. “The outfit also included something never seen in Rome: the tonnelet, a full hoop skirt of mid-thigh length that was to remain a standard feature in the costume of the male dancer in the high style through the greater part of the eighteenth century.”6 (See figure 91). This feature was used for both noble and grotesque parts and it brought attention to the well-shaped calf, ankle and foot of the elegant courtier or professional dancer.

    The upright, vertical bearing with straight back, elegantly sloping shoulders, graceful neck, regal head, and gentle carriage of arms and hands were dictated partly by lady’s dress and partly by court manners and decorum. Among other items of dress popular in Italian culture, the corset came to be a critical undergarment for women of the nobility. Probably introduced to France by Catherine de’ Medici, it functioned as a metaphor for control of the passions and self-discipline while at the same time emphasizing a high bust and giving the lady a proud, regal and commanding silhouette.65 The tight sleeves, form-fitting bodice with low-cut neckline, and length of the gown may well have prevented much arm or torso movement and the weight of the costume probably determined the kinds of steps done just as the weight of the train carried over the arm caused it to be gently rounded.66 From 1670 on into the Rococo Period, artificial padding was used for female dancers and singers, allowing females to carry less weight but still enlarge the circumference of their skirts. The tonnelets for the males grow ever wider so as to become quite unwieldy and comical.

    Figure 99
    figure 99: Male court dancer in tonnelet

    In the matter of dress, the Baroque surpasses all other ages in the gaudiness of its plumage and the extravagant ornamentation of its costumes for both men and women, on and off the stage. Having the same influence on costume that they had on the stage, it was the king and his mistresses who prescribed what was fashionable in dress, from mid-seventeenth century on.67 The ornate, fussy, flamboyant, glamorous dress of the French court was imitated everywhere in Europe. And ultimately, the erect carriage of the body and the positions of the feet and arms used today, initially developed from fencing, were incorporated and codified into ballet technique under Louis XIV.68

    Refinements in ballet technique during the 1600s:

    Turnout or the lateral rotation of the femur at the hip joint was about 45 degrees at this time and was used for “pure” dance. Later, turned out positions were used for dance serious or dance noble and turned in or knock-kneed positions were used for grotesque, burlesque or comedic dance. There was a form of grand plié, or deep knee bend, but for the basic position of the feet and legs, the knees were taut and well pulled up. The men did tours en l’air and other tricks and there were attempts to achieve lightness in jumping movements. As the technical range expanded ballet masters invented new steps that became more challenging and difficult such as turn preparations and pirouettes from one leg with the other foot held on the ankle. Some noble dancers were so accomplished, it was difficult to distinguish them from the professionals who began to appear at court.

    More important than technical developments were the changes in the places where people went to see theatrical performances. McGowan informs us that court performances were regularly taken outside the palace grounds, with performances scheduled for the military and for the merchants and city officials of Paris.69 Dancers and actors were separated from the audience, first by the proscenium arch and more importantly, by the removal of the productions from the court.

    The Dancers

    Since dancing masters at the Paris Opèra did not have enough dancers to train in the beginning, nobles wearing masks were given permission to go on stage without ruining their reputations. Even though some courtiers had been dancing a long time and had acquired considerable skill, acting, mime and dance were on the way to becoming totally professional activities.

    The status of the male dancer, transforming from amateur to professional, was being improved. Royal dancing masters were given higher regard and status and were exempt from taxes. Their children could inherit their positions when they retired. Only licensed people could work as legitimate dancing masters, thus, dancing families became the norm with the traditions, positions and movements being passes on verbally and visually through kinetic demonstration from one generation to the next.

    Ladies of the court had appeared in ballets during the reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, but with the arrival of the professional male dancer, it was not proper for highborn ladies to appear on stage. Because women of nobility faced serious consequences to their reputations from being seen with commoners, they declined to participate in performances outside the walls of the palace. For most of the century, female roles were danced by men en travesty. When professional women dancers finally did appear, they were usually of lower social class and expected to be mistresses of the noblemen, in fact that is how many of them survived financially. For the female dancers, associating themselves with the theater brought on social stigma and suspicion.70 Professional female artists were unable to procure valid marriage licenses and many of them had children out of wedlock.

    Figure 100
    Figure 101
    figure 100: Male and Female court dancer
    figure 101: Professional dancer

    Popular Entertainment

    By the time of the Renaissance powerful princes owned the court jesters, dwarfs, acrobats and other entertainers housed on the palace grounds. While allowed considerable freedom with parody and satire, they were nevertheless kept under control. In the sixteenth century, independent troupes of comic actors begin to form, operating under contract with a director but they were also at the mercy of the nobles and the Church when it came to being allowed to perform in the cities, towns and at court. Historically, popular comedy had always been risky, entwined with political protest, social critique, and going beyond the limits of law and moral code.71

    Throughout the seventeenth century the principal troupes were based in Italy, but entertained all over Europe under the auspices of kings.72 They had great influence on the masquerade balls, carnival festivities, dress and local customs and the stylized characters and intricate plots have provided a rich resource and inspiration for all types of writers, artists, actors, singers and dancers throughout successive periods.

    Their plots were the relatively unchanged over the centuries and pivoted around adultery, pretended madness, or lovers whose over protective parents keep them apart.73 Only by trickery and cunning of sympathetic servants could the two finally get together. Columbine, the female zanni or comic peasant type is called a soubrette in French, a title used to describe a type of ballet heroine such as Swanhilda in Coppélia or the peasant lass, Lise in La Fille Mal Gardée.


    Women continue to be associated with the Commedia dell’ Arte for which they are required to dance, sing, act several roles, and do acrobatic stunts. Even though they were superb at their art, they were not any better regarded than women in other areas of the theater partly due to their scandalous private lives. Perhaps it was also because the plays had erotic undertones, used broad obscenities and displayed the continual metamorphoses of men into women and vice versa.74 The traditional humor in many of the plots was cruel and crude but provided an inexhaustible source of ridicule and shame and therefore, hilarity.75 Audiences during this period though it funny if persons with handicaps were humiliated or tricked.

    In 1697 Louis XIV had involved the country in an unpopular war and was facing criticism for his cultured, sensual, and licentious court. Under pressure from his court, he banned the Commedia, closed the theater where it was frequently performed, and expelled the Italian troupes from France. The most compelling reason for this action, however, was a performance, The False Prude, a satire about Madame de Maintenon.76 Some of the actors remained in France and were punished again when in 1704 dialogue on stage at the fairs was forbidden and in 1707, all speech was banned. No wonder these artists became experts in silent pantomime. They remained immensely popular with the lower classes because their plays provided a reversal of worlds in which the people of the lowest stations (servants and actors) exercise the greatest power and wit.

    Figure 102
    figure 102: Commedia figures

    The Decline of the Court Ballet:

    Due to Louis’s fascination with the theater and his talent as a musician and dancer the ballet continued to fulfill its political function for a period of thirty years. Louis XIV like no other king before him brought glamour to his long reign. When Louis retired from dancing in 1670 his courtiers lost interest and dance began to lose its power and efficacy at court. In addition, with the emergence of professional men and women, amateur courtiers were no longer the principle source of talent for the stage entertainments. The philosophy of ‘seeing is believing’ gradually gives way to the Age of Enlightenment. Dance had mirrored the ordered movement of the earth-centered cosmos for two centuries but now ballet ceases to be ritual confined to the court and becomes merely entertainment in a public theater.

    By 1680, the grandiose Baroque style of dance with its ornamentation and elaborate costumes and scenery began to crumble away. The vast sums lavished on these transitory spectacles were more and more difficult to procure. France was still prosperous but not rich enough to support the lavish expenditures of the Sun King and fight wars at the same time. The expense of keeping all of the nobles, who were now entirely dependent on Louis’s largesse at Versailles and other palaces would cripple the monarchy and crush the peasants. In addition to the Commedia players, artists, writers and critics who dared to contradict the glorified imagery of the aristocracy did it in some varied and amusing ways. One such artist, Joseph Werner, who was Swiss, etched the King as a lascivious satyr dining together with his immoral mistress. The habit is hard to break and the excessively decadent life-style of the wealthy is to continue under the rule of Louis XV as we enter the Rococo Period, edging ever closer to the French Revolution.

    Figure 103
    figure 103: Louis as Satyr with his mistress.

    Notes: Chapter 5

    Works Cited

    1. John Ardagh, Cultural Atlas of France, (Oxfordshire: Andromeda Oxford Ltd., 1991), 55.

    2. Ibid., 54-55.

    3. Enzo Orlandi, ed., text by Alfredo Panicucci; translator, C.J. Richards: The Life and Times of Louis XIV (New York, Curtis Publishing Co.,1967), 17.

    4.Orlandi, 19

    5. William Beik, Louis XIV and Absolutism: A Brief Study with Documents, (New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000), 166.

    6. Collin Jones, Madame de Pompadour: Images of a Mistress, (London: National Gallery, 2002), 10.

    7. Beik, 221.

    8. Orlandi, 48.

    9. Ibid., 51.

    10. Ibid., 51.

    11. Ardagh, 5.

    12. Orlandi, 28.

    13. Beik, 52.

    14. Ardagh, 54.

    15. Orlandi, 19.

    16. Ibid., 60.

    17. Atlas of France, pg. 54,55

    18. Orlandi, 25.

    19. The Larousse Encyclopedia of Music, Ed. Geoffrey Hindley (The World Publishing Co.: New York and Cleveland, 1971), 169.

    20. Ibid. 173.

    21. Ibid. 221.

    22. Ibid. 221.

    23. Frederic V. Grunfeld, et. al. The Story of Great Music: The Baroque Era, (Time Inc., 1966), 21.

    24. Hindley, ed., 171.

    25. Grunfeld, et. al., 7.

    26. Margaret M. McGowan, The Court Ballet of Louis XIII, (London: Victoria and Albert Museum in association with Hobhouse Ltd. and Morton Morris & Co. Ltd.,1986), Introduction, 2.

    27. Ibid., 2.

    28. Hindley, ed.,170.

    29. Laurie Schneider Adams, Key Monuments of the Baroque, (Boulder: Westview Press, 2000), 73.

    30. Ibid., 74.

    31. Ibid., 94.

    32. Denis Stevens, et. al., The Story of Great Music from The Renaissance, (New York: Time, Inc., 1967), 50.

    33. Hindley, ed., 222.

    34. Stevens, et. al., 49.

    35. Ibid. 50.

    36. Ibid. 50.

    37. Lincoln Kirstein, Four Centuries of Ballet: Fifty Masterworks, (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1984), 75.

    38. Ibid. 75.

    39. Arnoldo Mondadori, Ed., The Simon and Schuster Book of Ballets, (New York: Simon and Schuster), 60-62.

    40. Ibid. 62.

    41. Ibid. 62.

    42. Ibid. 62

    43. Kirstein, 62.

    44. Ibid. 62.

    45. Ibid. 62.

    46. Ibid. 62.

    51. Mondadori, ed., 64.

    52. Ibid., 56.

    53. Cohen, ed., International Encyclopedia of Dance , vol. 4, 313.

    54. Ibid. 314.

    55. Ibid. 315.

    56. Rygg, 100.

    58. Ibid., vol. 3, 381.

    59. Ibid., vol. 3, 381.

    60. Selma Jean Cohen, Dance as a Theater Art, (New Jersey: Princeton Book Co., 1992), 32.

    61. Ibid., 33-36.

    62. Kirstein, 74.

    63. Cohen, ed., International Encyclopedia of Dance , vol. 1, 397.

    64. Kirstein, 34.

    65. Valerie Steele, The Corset: A Cultural History, ( New Haven and London : Yale University Press, 2001), 13.

    67. Albert Racinet, The Historical Encyclopedia of Costume, (London: Studio Editions, Ltd., 1988)

    68. De Mille, 80.

    69. McGowan, Introduction.

    71. Lynne Lawner, Harlequin on the Moon: Commedia dell'Arte and the Visual Arts,

    (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1998), 17.

    72. Ibid., 17.

    73. Ibid., 22, 23.

    74. Ibid., 83, 87.

    75. Ibid., 22.

    76. Ibid., 90.

    List of Illustrations

    68 - A. and B. Thomas de Leu, Portrait of Hanri IV and Marie de Medici, Engravings as reproduced in The French Renaissance in Prints , Karen Jacobson, ed., (Los Angeles: University of California, 1994), Plates 169 and 170.

    69. Mattheaus Merian the Elder, Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, c. 1616, Etching, as reproduced in The French Renaissance in Prints , Karen Jacobson, ed., (Los Angeles: University of California, 1994), Plate 178.

    70. Hyacinthe Riguad, oil on canvas, c. 1701, Musée du Louvre, Paris: Portrait of Louis XIV as reproduced in Key Monuments of the Baroque , Laurie Schneider Adams, ( Boulder : Westview Press, 2000), p. 82.

    71. Engraving, Cardinal Richelieu, as reproduced in La Gravure: de Portraits et d' Allégories en France au XVII e Siècle, E. Bouvy , ed. (Paris et Bruxelles: Les Editions G. Van Oest, 1929), Plate 14.

    72. Engraving: Robert Nanteuil et Pierre Van Schuppen, Le Cardinal Mazarin as reproduced in Louis XIV, Ian Dunlop, (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000), p. 108.

    74. Portrait of Louise de la Vallière as reproduced in The Life and Times of Louis XIV, Enzo Orlandi, ed., (New York, Curtis Publishing Co., 1967), p. 50.

    75. Portrait of the Marquise de Montespan as reproduced in Versailles and the Court Under Louis XIV, James E. Farmer, (New York: The Century Co., 1905) p. 232.

    76. Pierre Patel, Versailles Palace , 1668, as reproduced in The Sun King: Louis XIV at Versailles , Nancy Mitford, (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1966), between pages 20 and 21.

    77. C. Le Brun and J. B. Tuby, The Gilded Basin of Apollo as reproduced in Versailles: The History of the Gardens and Their Sculpture , Stéphane Pincas, translated by Fiona Cowell, (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996) p. 153.

    78. Representation of Molière's play in the garden of Versailles palace in 1664 as reproduced in Nouvelle Histoire de France, Vol. 16, M. Julien Cain, ed., (Paris: Librairie Tallandier, 1968) p. 1947.

    79. Portrait of Jean Batiste Colbert as reproduced in La Gravure: de Portraits et d' Allégories en France au XVII e Siècle, E. Bouvy , ed. (Paris et Bruxelles: Les Editions G. Van Oest, 1929) Plate 43.

    80. Italian Baroque Opera House as reproduced in The Larousse Encyclopedia of Music , Ed. Geoffrey Hindley (The World Publishing Co.: New York and Cleveland, 1971) Color Plate 30.

    81. Two musicians in costume for a carrousel, 1662, in celebration of an heir to Louis XIV as reproduced in The Story of Great Music From The Renaissance , Denis Stevens, ed., (New York: Time Inc., 1967) p. 19.

    82. Portrait of Jean Baptiste Lully, director of music for Louis XIV as reproduced in The Story of Great Music From The Renaissance , Denis Stevens, ed., (New York: Time Inc., 1967) p. 49.

    83. Heins: A Musical Party at Melton Constable as reproduced in The Great Story of Music: The Baroque Era, Frederic Grunfeld, ed., (New York: Time Inc., 1966) p. 24.

    84. Le Jouer de Luth, as reproduced at:, accessed on December 15, 2004

    85. Le Guerrier, as reproduced at:, accessed on December 15, 2004

    86. Apollon, as reproduced at:, accessed on December 15, 2004

    87. A stage performance of one of Lully's ballets at Versailles as reproduced in The Sun King and His Loves, Lucy Norton, (London: The Folio Society Ltd., 1982) Plate 40.

    88. Daniel Rabel, Music, a grotesque female figure drawing as reproduced in The Court Ballet of Louis XIII: A collection of working designs for costumes 1615-33 , Margaret M. McGowan, (England: Victoria and Albert Museum in association with Hobhouse Ltd. and Morton Morris & Co., Ltd., 1986) Plate 47.

    89. The Court Ballet of Louis XIII: A collection of working designs for costumes 1615-33 , Margaret M. McGowan, (England: Victoria and Albert Museum in association with Hobhouse Ltd. and Morton Morris & Co., Ltd., 1986) Color plate VI.

    90. Daniel Rabel, Pen and ink drawing of masked male dancers performing a finale or Final Grand Ballet, 1632, as reproduced in Le Ballet de Cour au XVII e Siecle, Marie-Françoise Christout, (Geneva: Editions Minkoff, 1987) p. 58.

    91. Workshop of Henry de Gissey, 1654, a duke dressed for the ballet of The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis as reproduced in The Ballet de Cour in the 17th Century, Marie-Françoise Christout, (Geneva: Editions Minkoff, 1987) p. 59.

    92. Jacques Bailly, Detail, Louis XIV as a Roman Emperor, 1670, as reproduced in Princely Feasts and Festivals, Bryan Holme, (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1998) p. 57.

    93. Fireworks display from Le Palais de Alcine, 1664 as reproduced in The Sun King and His Loves, Lucy Norton, ( London : The Folio Society Ltd.) p. 49.

    94. Portrait of Molière as reproduced in Cultural Atlas of France , John Ardagh with Colin Jones, (Oxfordshire: Andromeda Oxford Ltd., 1991) p. 135.

    95. Masquerade Ball at the Louvre as reproduced in The Sun King and His Loves, Lucy Norton, (London: The Folio Society Ltd., 1982) Plate 6.

    96. Inigo Jones, sketch of Tethys as reproduced in Renaissance Bodies: The Human Figure in English Culture, Lucy Gent and Nigel Llewellyn, eds., (London: Reaktion Books, 1990) p. 57.

    97. Astrologue (Astrologer) as reproduced in the Court Ballet of Louis XIII: A collection of working designs for costumes 1615-33, Margaret M. McGowan, (Victoria and Albert Museum in association with Hobhouse Ltd and Morton Morris &Co Ltd) Plate 106.

    98. Carrousel in honor of the alliance of France and Spain, 1612, as reproduced in L' Assassinat d'Henri IV , Roland Mousnier, (Editions Gallimard, 1964) Plate 29.

    99. Male court dancer as reproduced in The Book of the Dance , Agnes De Mille, (New York: Golden Press, 1963) p. 89.

    100. Noblewoman dancing the role of Venus as reproduced in The Book of the Dance , Agnes De Mille, (New York: Golden Press, 1963) p. 88.

    101. Workshop of Henri de Gissey, 1660's, professional artist as a Marine Deity as reproduced in Le Ballet de Cour au XVII e Siecle, Marie-Françoise Christout, (Geneva: Editions Minkoff, 1987) p. 34.

    102. Luca Carlevaris (1663-1731), Oil,: Performance of the Commedia Dell'Arte with acrobats as reproduced in The Commedia Dell' Arte , Winifred Smith, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1964) p. 319.

    103. Joseph Werner, ca. 1670, Painting of Louis XIV as a Satyr as reproduced in Louis XIV and Absolutism: A Brief Study with Documents, William Beik ( New York : Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000), Plate 6.