December 2011

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21 Dec Christmas with the Second Duchess

A tiny snippet with mouthwatering details of a Renaissance Christmas celebration in Ferrara. Note also the hints of intrigue swirling around Duchess Barbara and her new husband’s opulent court:

        On Christmas Eve we fasted: we ate no meat, but our supper was made up of dozens of different fish dishes, rice with nuts and spices, sweet pastas, fruits, and a fabulous subtlety in the form of St. George’s dragon breathing fire, the delicate curling melted-sugar flames painted with cinnamon and saffron and gilt. On Christmas Day we went to Mass; the rest of the day was given up to the performance of a magnificent chivalric fete entitled Il Tempio d’Amore, which featured even more elaborate machinery than La Festival delle Stelle, as well as dazzling verse, music and dancing, and an astonishing pyrotechnical conclusion.


        The second day of Christmastide, St. Stephen’s Day, there were tennis matches—the duke was one of the best tennis-players in Europe, and even in the winter sometimes arranged matches in the large courtyard of the Castello. After supper we gathered to hear Torquato Tasso recite excerpts from his romantical work Rinaldo. Crezia was everywhere, whispering with everyone, dancing with her handsome lover, and celebrating the season with a fine goodwill. Nora was present as well, as she had been for all the Christmastide events; apparently she was back in her brother’s favor for the moment at least. She seemed subdued, and she made it a point to avoid me; I wondered if she regretted her visit to me. I did not see her exchange so much as a word with Tasso. Had they quarreled? Tasso was the center of attention, his fine long-legged figure clad in amethyst satin, the color of poets; once again I was struck by the almost visible aura of brilliance and magnetism that surrounded him…

The Second Duchess makes a delicious and atmospheric last-minute Christmas gift to the readers on your list. Check Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, Books-a-Million, and of course your favorite indie bookstore. Go here for The Second Duchess on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch with iBooks, or on your computer with iTunes.