Monday, 15 November 2010

Coryat's Crudities

Coryat's crudities
hastily gobled up in five moneths travells in France, Savoy, Italy, Rhetia commonly called the Grisons country, Helvetia alias Switzerland, some parts of high Germany and the Netherlands : newly digested in the hungry aire of Odcombe in the county of Somerset, and now dispersed to the nourishment of the travelling members of this kingdome 
by Thomas Coryat.

Thomas Coryat (also Coryate) (c. 1577 – 1617) was an English traveller and writer of the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean age. He is often credited with introducing the table fork to England, and his description of how the Italians shielded themselves from the sun resulted in the word "umbrella" being introduced into English.

He was born in Crewkerne, Somerset, and lived most of his life in the Somerset village of Odcombe. He was educated at Winchester College and Gloucester Hall, Oxford, and later was employed by Prince Henry, eldest son of James I as a sort of "court jester". In 1608 he undertook a tour of Europe, travelling to Venice and back, somewhat less than half of which he walked, and published his memoirs of the events in a volume entitled Coryat's Crudities hastily gobbled up in Five Months Travels in France, Italy, &c' (1611).

Giovanni Antonio Canaletto (1697-1768), La Festa di San Rocco
National Gallery, London
This volume gives a vivid picture of life in Europe during the time; it is particularly important to music historians for giving extraordinary details of the activities of the Venetian School, one of the most famous and progressive contemporary musical movements in Europe, including an elaborate description of the festivities at the church of San Rocco in Venice, with polychoral and instrumental music by Giovanni Gabrieli, Bartolomeo Barbarino, and others. Coryat's writings were hugely popular at the time. His accounts of inscriptions, many of which are now lost, were valuable; and his accounts of Italian customs and manners—including the use of the table fork—were influential in England at a time when other aspects of Italian culture, such as the madrigal, had already been in vogue for more than twenty years.

Online publication of the 1905 edition by J. MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow

Downloadable versions:

"When I came to the foresaid Lucie Fesina, I saw Venice,and not before, which yeeldeth the most glorious and heavenly shew upon the water that ever any mortal eye beheld, such a shew as did even ravish me both with delight and admiration." 

Impressions of Venice from Coryat's Crudities:

Francesco Guardi (1712-1793), Piazza San Marco towards the Basilica
National Gallery, London
"The fairest place of all the citie (which is indeed of that admirable and incomparable beauty, that I thinke no place whatsoever, eyther in Christendome or Paganisme may compare with it) is the Piazza, that is, the Market place of S. Marke, in Latin Forum or Platea Di. Marci. Truely such is the stupendious glory of it, that at my first entrance thereof it did even amaze or rather ravish my senses. For here is the greatest magnificence of architecture to be seene, that any place under the sunne doth yeelde. Here you may both see all manner of fashions of attire, and heare all the languages of Christendome, besides those that are spoken by the barbarous Ethnickes; the frequencie of people being so great twise a day, betwixt sixe of the clocke in the morning and eleven, and againe betwixt five in the afternoon and eight, that (as an elegant writer saith of it) a man may very properly call it rather Orbis than Urbis forum, that is, a market place of the world, not of the citie... There you may see many Polonians,Slavonians, Persians, Grecians, Turks, Jewes, Christians of all the famousest regions of Christendome, and each nation distinguished from another by their proper and peculiar habits. A singular shew, and by many degrees the worthiest of all the Europaean Countries."

Giovanni Antonio Canaletto, Riva degli Schiavoni looking East
Private Collection
"The Palace of the Duke which was built by Angelus The Participatius a Duke of Venice in the yeare 809. is absolutely the fairest building that ever I saw, exceeding all the King of Frances Palaces that I could see, yea his most delectable Paradise at Fountaine Beleau. Which Palace indeed for delicate walkes, springs, rivers, and gardens, excelleth this, but not for sumptuousnesse of building, this surpasseth the best or his three Palaces that I saw,namely the Loure, the Tuillerie, and Fountaine Beleau."

"... the Arsenall which is so called, quasi ars A navalis, because there is exercised the Art of making tackling, and all other necessary things for shipping. Certainely I take it to be the richest and best furnished storehouse for all manner of munition both by Sea and Land not only of all Christendome, but also of all the world, in so much that all strangers whatsoever are moved with great admiration when they contemplate the situation, the greatnesse, the strength, and incredible store of provision thereof ; yea I have often read that when as in the time of Charles the fifth a certaine great Prince that hapned to lie in Venice, one Albertus Marquesse of Guasto the Emperours Generall of his forces in Italy, came into this Arsenall : he was so desirous to survay all the particular furnitures and tacklings thereof, that hee spent a whole day in viewing the same, and in the evening when he went forth, being rapt with admiration, he called it the eighth miracle of the world, and said, that were he put to his choice to be lord either of foure of the strongest cities of Italy or of the Arsenall, he would preferre the Arsenall, before them."

Calle del Gheto Vechio, Venice
"I was at a place where the whole fraternity of the Jews dwelleth together, which is called the Ghetto, being an island : for it is inclosed round about with water. It is thought there are of them in all betwixt five and sixe thousand. They are distinguished and discerned from the Christians by their habites on their heads ; for some of them doe weare hats and those redde, onely those Jewes that are borne in the Westerne parts of the world, as in Italy, &c. but the easterne Jewes being otherwise called the Levantine Jewes, which are borne in Hierusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople, &c. weare Turbents upon their heads as the Turkes do : but the difference is this : the Turkes weare white, the Jewes yellow. By that word Turbent I understand a rowle of fine linnen wrapped together upon their heads, which serveth them in stead of hats, whereof many have bin often worne by the Turkes in London. They have divers Synagogues Divine in their Ghetto, at the least seven, where all of them, both men, women and children doe meete together upon their Sabboth, which is Saturday, to the end to doe their devotion, and serve God in their kinde, each company having a several Synagogue. I observed some fewe of those Jewes especially some of the Levantines to bee such goodly and proper men, that then I said to my selfe our English proverbe : To looke like a Jewe (whereby is meant sometimes a weather beaten warp-faced fellow, sometimes a phrenticke and lunaticke person, sometimes one discontented) is not true. For indeed I noted some of them to be most elegant and sweet featured persons, which gave me occasion the more to lament their religion. For if they were Christians, then could I better apply unto them that excellent verse of the Poet, then I can now. Gratior est pulchro veniens e corpore virtus. In the roome wherin they celebrate their divine service, no women sit, but have a loft or gallery proper to themselves only, where I saw many Jewish women, hereof some were as beautiful as ever I saw, and so gorgeous in their apparel, jewels, chaines of gold, and rings adorned with precious stones, that some of our English Countesses do scarce exceede them, having marvailous long traines like Princesses that are borne up by waiting women serving for the same purpose."

Giovanni Antonio Canaletto, Campo San Rocco
Private Collection
"The third feast was upon Saint Roches day being Saturday and the sixth day of August, where I heard the best musicke that ever I did in all my life both in the morning and the afternoone, so good that I would willingly goe an hundred miles afoote at any time to heare the like. The place where it was, is neare to Saint Roches Church, a very sumptuous and magnificent building that belongeth to one of the sixe Companies of the citie. This feast consisted principally of Musicke, which was both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so superexcellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like. But how others were affected with it I know not ; for mine owne part I can say this, that I was for the time even rapt up with Saint Paul into the third heaven. Sometimes there sung sixeteene or twenty men together, having their master or moderator to keepe them in order ; and when they sung, the instrumental musitians played also. Sometimes sixeteene played together upon their instruments, ten Sagbuts, foure Cornets, and two Violdegambaes of an extraordinary greatness ; sometimes tenne, sixe Sagbuts and foure Beautiful Cornets ; sometimes two, a Cornet and a treble violl. Of those treble viols I heard three severall there, whereof each was so good, especially one that I observed above the rest, that I never heard the like before. Those that played upon the treble viols, sung and played together, and sometimes two singular fellowes played together upon Theorboes, to which they sung also, who yeelded admirable sweet musicke, but so still that they could scarce be heard but by those that were very neare them. These two Theorbists concluded that nights musicke, which continued three whole howers at the least. For they beganne about five of the clocke, and ended not before eight. Also it continued as long in the morning : at every time that every severall musicke played, the Organs, whereof there are seven faire paire in that room, standing al in a rowe together, plaied with them."

"Of the singers there were three or foure so excellent that I thinke few or none in Christendome do excell them, especially one, who had such a peerelesse and (as I may in a maner say) such a supernaturall voice, for the sweetnesse of his voice, as that I think there was never a better singer in all the world, insomuch that he did not onely give the most pleasant contentment that could be imagined, to all the hearers, but also did as it were astonish and amaze them. I alwaies thought that he was an Eunuch, which if he had beene, it had taken away some part of my admiration, because they do most commonly sing passing wel; but he was not, therefore it was much the more admirable. Againe it was the more worthy of admiration, because he was a middle-aged man, as about forty yeares old. For nature doth more commonly bestowe such a singularitie of voice upon boyes and striplings, then upon men of such yeares. Besides it was farre the more excellent, because it was nothing forced, strained, or affected, but came from him with the greatest facilitie that ever I heard. To conclude, I attribute so much to this rare fellow for his singing, that I thinke the country where he was borne, may be as proude for breeding so singular a person as Smyrna was of her Homer, Verona of her Catullus, or Mantua of Virgil : But exceeding happy may that Citie, or towne, or person bee that possesseth this miracle of nature."

Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-1594), Portrait of a Woman Revealing her Breasts
Museo del Prado, Madrid
"Most of the women when they walke abroad, especially to Church, are vailed with long vailes, whereof some doe reache almost to the ground behinde. These vailes are eyther blacke, or white, or yellowish. The blacke eyther wives or widowes do weare : the white maides, and so the yellowish also ; but they weare more white then yellowish. It is the custome of these maydes when they walke in the streetes, to cover their faces with their vailes, verecundiae causa, the stuffe being so thin and slight, that they may easily looke through it. For it is made of a pretty slender silke, and very finely curled : so that because she thus hoodwinketh her selfe, you can very seldome see her face at full when she walketh abroad, though perhaps you earnestly desire it, but only a little glimpse thereof. Now whereas I said before that onely maydes doe weare white vailes, and none else, I meane these white silke curled vayles, which (as they tolde me) none doe weare but maydes. But other white vayles wives doe much wives weare, such as are made of holland, whereof the greatest part is handsomely edged with great and very faire bone-lace. Almost all the wives, widowes and mayds do walke abroad with their breastes all naked, and many of them have their backes also naked even almost to the middle, which some do cover with a slight linnen, as cobwebbe lawne, or such other thinne stuffe : a fashion me thinkes very uncivill and unseemely, especially if the beholder might plainly see them. For I beleeve unto many that have prurientem libidinem, they would minister a great incentive & fomentation of luxurious desires."

Tiziano Vecellio (Titian), Flora
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
"But since I have taken occasion to mention some notable particulars of their women, I will insist farther upon that matter, and make relation of their Cortezans also, as being a thing incident and very proper to this discourse, especially because the name of a Cortezan of Venice is famoused over all Christendome... The woman that professeth this trade is called in the Italian tongue Cortezana, which word is derived from the Italian word cortesia that signifieth courtesie. Because these kinde of women are said to receive courtesies of their favourites... As for the number of these Venetian Cortezans it is very great... For it is thought there are of them in the whole City and other adjacent places, as Murano, Malomocco, &c. at the least twenty thousand, whereof many are esteemed so loose, that they are said to open their quivers to every arrow... For so infinite are the allurements of these amorous Calypsoes, that the fame of them hath drawen many to Venice from some of the remotest parts of Christendome, to contemplate their beauties, and enjoy their pleasing dalliances. And indeede such is the variety of the delicious objects they minister to their lovers, that they want nothing tending to delight. For when you come into one of their Palaces (as indeed some few of the principallest of them live in very magnificent and portly buildings fit for the entertainement of a great Prince) you seeme to enter into the Paradise of Venus. For their roomes are most glorious and glittering to behold, the walles round about being adorned with most sumptuous tapistry and gilt leather... As for her selfe shee comes to thee decked like the Queene and Goddesse of love, in so much that thou wilt thinke she made a late transmigration from Paphos, Cnidos, or the auncient habitations of Dame Venus. For her face is adorned with the quintessence of beauty. In her cheekes thou shalt see the Lilly and the Rose strive for the supremacy, and the silver tramels of her haire displayed in that curious manner besides her two frisled peakes standing up like prety Pyramides, that they give thee the true Cos amoris... Also the ornaments of her body are so rich, that except thou dost even geld thy affections (a thing hardly to be done) or carry with thee Ulysses hearbe called Moly which is mentioned by Homer, that is, some antidote against those Venereous titillations, shee wil very neare benumme and captivate thy senses, and make reason vale bonnet to affection. For thou shalt see her decked with many chaines of gold and orient pearle like a second Cleopatra, divers gold rings beautified with diamonds and other costly stones, jewels in both her eares of great worth. A gowne of damaske either decked with a deep gold fringe or laced with five or sixe gold laces each two inches broade. Her petticoate of red chamlet edged with rich gold fringe, stockings of carnasion silke, her breath and her whole body, the more to enamour thee, most fragrantly perfumed... "

Tiziano Vecellio (1490-1576), Portrait of a Young Woman
Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
"Moreover shee will endevour to enchaunt thee partly with her melodious notes that she warbles out upon her lute, which shee fingers with as laudable a stroake as many men that are excellent professors in the noble science of Musicke ; and partly with that heart-tempting harmony of her voice. Also thou wilt finde the Venetian Cortezan (if she be a selected woman indeede) a good Rhetorician, and a most elegant discourser, so that if she cannot move thee with all these foresaid delights, shee will assay thy constancy with her Rhetoricall tongue. And to the end shee may minister unto thee the stronger temptations to come to her lure, shee will shew thee her chamber of recreation, where thou shalt see all manner of pleasing objects, as many faire painted coffers wherewith it is garnished round about, a curious milke-white canopy of needle worke, a silke quilt embrodered with gold : and generally all her bedding sweetly perfumed. And amongst other amiable ornaments shee will shew thee one thing only in her chamber tending to mortification, a matter strange amongst so many irritamenta malorum; even the picture of our Lady by her bedde side, with Christ in her armes, placed within a cristall glasse. Amongst other things that I heard of these kinde of women in Venice, one is this, that when their Cos amoris beginneth to decay, when their youthfull vigor is spent, then they consecrate the dregs of their olde age to God by going into a Nunnery, having before dedicated the flower of their youth to the divell; some of them also having scraped together so much by their sordid facultie as doth maintaine them well in their old age : For many of them are as rich as ever was Rhodope in Egypt, Flora in Rome, or Lais in Corinth."

No comments:

Post a Comment