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Festival Books exhibition at Rutgers' Alexander Library

Pieter de Swart, Afbeelding van de zaal....Amsterdam, François Changuion, 1752.

"The Mask of Ceremony: Recently Acquired Festival Books," a new exhibition in Rutgers University's Alexander Library, reveals the elaborate festivals that monarchs, the church, and the new urban class in Renaissance Europe staged to proclaim their influence and power. These expansive grand coronations, weddings, and funerals were immortalized in festival books, often beautifully printed and illustrated with extravagant fold-out plates, as official record of the events of the day.

Rutgers' "Festival Books" exhibition, drawn from Rutgers University Libraries' rare book collection and curated by Karl Morrison, Lessing Professor of History and Poetics, examines how these elaborate festivals functioned as spectacle and propaganda.

Among the most spectacular festival books in the exhibition is Caspar Barlaeus' entry of Marie de Medicis into Amsterdam, published by Jean & Corneille Blaeu in 1638. Marie, who actually went to the Netherlands as an exile, is depicted approaching a large temporary structure erected on an artificial island in the Amstel River, built especially for the festival. Once she set foot on the floating island and entered the pavilion, she witnessed a series of dramatic tableaux in tribute to her. This use of artificial structures and dramatic presentations was quite characteristic of Renaissance festivals. Festivals also featured huge banquets and spectacular fireworks displays, which can be seen in the exhibition.

Renaissance festivals perhaps reached their apogee in the coronation of the doomed King Louis XVI of France in 1775. In spite of his unstable financial situation, the King insisted on a wildly expensive extravaganza, which took the royal workshops a year of preparation. Pichon's exquisite account of the coronation shows the temporary classical structure which was built to cover the no- longer fashionable Gothic interior of Rheims Cathedral where the coronation was held. After the French Revolution, festivals and the books, which commemorated them, declined, although the exhibition does include a book celebrating the marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise of Austria in 1810.

The exhibition includes over twenty festival books, as well as additional illustrations and related items. Most of these are from Rutgers University Libraries' Special Collections & University Archives. The collection, which includes several festival books not displayed, was begun in about 1990, under the guidance of Professor Morrison.

The exhibition will be on display in the lower level of the Alexander Library, 169 College Avenue in New Brunswick until November 19, 2004. Gallery hours are 9:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday and 1:00 to 5:00 on Saturday. For more information on the exhibition, please contact Fernanda Perrone, exhibitions program coordinator, at 732/932-7006 (x363) or hperrone@rci.rutgers.edu.

Posted October 19, 2004