Splendour displayed: state barges, embroideries and power in Renaissance Ferrara

  • Beatrice Mezzogori

Student thesis: Phd


In most Renaissance courts particular kinds of vessels or galleys used for state ceremonies and prepared with appropriate lavishness for this purpose were usually called bucintori. The primary function of these boats was to celebrate the owner in public, to display the 'public body' of princes with appropriate magnificence and to receive visitors, ambassadors or brides in the most sumptuous manner possible, as well as for luxurious hunting and fishing trips, concerts and theatrical representations. For this reason, the entire bucintoro was gilded or painted; balustrades, columns, vases and statues decorated its hull; embroidered pennons, flags and upholstery enriched the mast, the lateen and the seats; and, finally, the deck of the bucintori were fitted with a room that functioned as a private stateroom or Hall of State, usually decorated with embroidered and painted panels. In this work I propose to analyse the particular case of the Estense bucintori between 1438 and 1598, through original documents which have not previously been studied, to show the important role they played in the political strategies of the Estense duchy and to exemplify how these boats were seen by observers from other Italian Renaissance courts. For this reason, I shall consider several interesting ceremonies occurred in Ferrara in which bucintori played an important role, also explaining the complex and variegated meanings of the different embroidered symbols that decorated the staterooms of these barges. I will also examine the particular painters and embroiderers who carried out the heraldic panels and, by means of these analyses, it will become apparent that among the workers there were different levels of experience and specialisation and, moreover, that there were obvious differences between professional and amateur embroiderers, men and women, court professionals and 'superstars'.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorSuzanne Butters (Supervisor) & Cordelia Warr (Supervisor)


  • Embroidery
  • Renaissance
  • State barges

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