Y is for York

Queen Elizabeth of York, painter unknown, which is typical. Photo from wikimedia.

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious by this summer sun of York…

Opening of Shakespeare’s Richard III

Meanwhile in the north… not all of the Renaissance happened in Italy.

Elizabeth of York was glorious summer, indeed. She was the daughter, sister, niece, wife, and mother to kings–and queens. As Alison Weir says, in her fabulous biography of this fascinating linchpin of history:

Elizabeth of York’s role in history was crucial, although in a less chauvinistic age, it would, by right, have been more so.

Alison Weir, Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World

In other words, if she’d been more of Penthesilea type, a bit more Eleanor of the Aquitaine and a bit less Jane Bennett, then maybe she’d have been Queen Elizabeth I. Or, maybe she’d have been thrown in the tower with her brothers. Hard to say.

Continue reading “Y is for York”

X is for X-Chair

It really was called an X-chair. It was also called the Dante or Dantesca chair, the Luther chair, and the Savonarola chair. The last name is the craziest; there really was a Savonarola, who played a pivotal part in the history of one city. But he had nothing to do with the chair. Imagine, if you will, the Rasputin spatula!

We’re nearing the end of the alphabet. Dots will be connected.

The Dante chair, photo from grandvoyageitaly.com.

Simple, But Unbending Design

The simple design of the folding camp chair had been discovered early on in civilization terms. The Egyptians had them, and the Romans used them extensively, especially in military campaigns. A simple-X design that folded in the middle, sometimes also called faldstools. Perfect for those Charlemagne-era banquets, where you have to feed all the thanes and earls after they pledge fealty and argue about how to fend off the thanes and earls of the ruler across the border. Also handy at Red Weddings.

Medieval faldstool, like your folding campstool only centuries old. Photo from wikipedia.

The Renaissance twist was to build the chairs from sturdier pieces of wood. However, these did not bend and instead sported elaborate carvings on the back, arms, and legs. The seat would be a sturdy piece of leather covered by a cushion. The place where the legs intersect was called a “boss.”

Continue reading “X is for X-Chair”

V is for Veronica Franco

Veronica Franco even had her own musical. Photo from USC Dormsife.

One of the most famous people in Renaissance Venice was not an artist, duke, noble, doge, pope or even wealthy merchant. But she did know all of them.

Veronica Franco, a poet, publisher, and high society intellect was also known cortigiana onesta: an honored courtesan. The famed artist Tintoretto painted her multiple times, sometimes etching her name on the back and sometimes not. Her notoriety led to multiple books, movies, and even a musical about her. She was the toast of the town in 1565, the Kim Khardashian of her day. Except that the Khardashians haven’t been called before the Inquisition. Yet.

Honored Courtesan, no Mere Prostitute

Cortigiana meant, for women, a position parallel to a male courtier, a word with connotations of splendor and high cultural accomplishments. Onesta can translate as “honest,” and biographers of her have used that adjective. But used with the courtier, it meant privileged, wealthy, recognized.

She was respected for her poetry as much as for her beauty. Some poems were sonnets, love poems, but others were early expression of feminist ideas:

When we women, too, have weapons and training,
we will be able to prove to all men
that we have hands and feet and hearts like yours;
and though we may be tender and delicate,
some men who are delicate are also strong,
and some, though coarse and rough, are cowards.

Franco: A Challenge to a Poet Who Has Defamed Her, from monstrousregimentofwomen.com
Continue reading “V is for Veronica Franco”
%d bloggers like this: