Festivals, Pageants, Tournaments and Fireworks

The recognition of the deceptiveness and transitory character of all life on earth led to a fundamental existential anxiety, pessimism and constant threat of the "memento mori" as ever-present features of the baroque zeitgeist. In apparent contrast is the unparalleled opulence of the most lavish theatre and festival events as displayed during the period between the early seventeenth and the mid-eighteenth centuries. The societal circumstances of this period were decisive for the understanding of baroque feasts and their appearance that appealed to all senses.

After the decline of bourgeoisie and gentry, the baroque sovereign demanded absolute power bestowed by the grace of god. As part of a strong drive towards sensualisation (even of spirituality), he expects the confirmation and celebration of his being chosen by means of unparalleled display of magnificence and new festive highlights. In his person, the event organiser, object of veneration as well as the most high-ranking member of the audience are rolled into one. Therefore, particular events from the life of the ruler serve as the reason for baroque feasts. Birthdays, name days as well as the date of his death, baptisms, weddings, jubilees and victories or peace treaties offered occasions, to be celebrated in public.

The themes and narratives used for this purpose originated mostly in ancient mythology and in an imagery that spoke symbolically or allegorically about the princely person. The location of the diverse parts of a festival that often could take days or weeks was the living space of the prince himself: his castles, gardens, churches, the streets and squares of his residential city as well as his theatres and tournament halls. Such festivals ought, according to the baroque understanding of the arts, combine all single art forms, poetry, music, acting, dance, architecture and technique to an organic work of art. The recognition of deceptiveness and illusion is thereby a recurrent theme, since the greatest aim of this festival and theatre culture consists in the creation of perfect beguilement to be able to present oneself – at least for the limited duration of the festival – as the creative master of deception.

The print series and the single views of the baroque graphic portfolio on festivals, pageants, tournaments and fireworks had the task to record the process of the festival in its transition and movement. The oftentimes only temporary building components and splendidly dressed participants, their sequence and order as well as detailed general views were sometimes depicted schematically.

Departments in the collection of "The Portfolio of Prints and Drawings Referring to Baroque Theatre, Stage and Festival Culture" of the Deutsches Theatermuseum

>> This collection is part of the Portfolio of Prints and Drawings Referring to Baroque Theatre, Stage and Festival Culture in the Deutsche Theatermuseum (German Theatre Museum).