We all know that Romeo and Juliet married in secret because their feuding families made it impossible for them to publicly profess their love, but would it have been like if they were able to have a proper Italian Renaissance Wedding? As opposed to the small, intimate wedding that you see in the 2013 clip above, a wedding in 1590s Italy was a much more involved, lavish, and expensive affair.
During the Renaissance period marriages, (which were also mergers), were potentially explosive moments, and lavish festivities may have diffused some of the tensions that might arise between families over dowry arrangements and other touchy subjects. The bridal procession might even face dangers from hostile mobs or individuals, as suggested by a Florentine statute from 1415, which forbade the throwing of stones or garbage at the home of the couple. Wedding processions were often compared to ancient triumphal processions. The idea of the wedding as a triumph is reflected in the imagery on cassoni (marriage chests) panels such as Apollonio di Giovanni’s Triumph of Scipio Africanus, known in several versions.
Deborah L. Krohn
The Bard Graduate Center
An Italian wedding had four rituals that were highly elaborate and each required a lot of food, drink, special clothes, and music. Part of the reason for this verbose process was the belief that marriage was simultaneously an economic arrangement, a formal promise of fidelity and affection, and a sacrament blessed by the church. In the article, “The Arnolfini Betrothal,” from the University of California, Hall traces the evolution of these ideas from pre-Christian Roman marriage traditions, and 17th century, Roman-catholic Italian tradition:
European ideas about marriage were profoundly influenced by ancient Roman precedent. Because intent was the most basic principle of Roman law, the great jurisconsults of the second and third centuries logically held that marriage was concluded by the consent of the parties, and Ulpian’s concise expression of this view, “Not cohabitation but consent makes a marriage,” came to be included among the legal maxims of the final section of the Digest in Justinian’s codification of the Roman law. Roman lawyers termed this matrimonial consent affectio maritalis, or “conjugal affection,” by which they meant, not some momentary expression of assent as part of a marriage rite, but rather a continuing mental state, shared by the partners. From a juridical point of view, this permanent emotive condition constituted the marriage. The Digest also envisioned marriage in ideal terms as a lifelong association of husband and wife for the procreation of legitimate children. But if affectio maritalis ceased to exist, the requisite legal consent no longer prevailed, and a divorce could easily be arranged.
- The Impalmamento– The joining of hands, a sort of ritual engagement
- The Sponsalia- The formal betrothal ceremony (a promise of marriage)
- The Matrimonium– The wedding contract and procession
- The Nozze- The church ceremony and feast!
One of the best ways I can illustrate that a wedding in Italian Renaissance Italy was essentially a socio-economic merging of families is to look at the custom of the cassone- an ornately carved box that the groom gave to the bride to keep her needlework and other possessions. It symbolized the transition from living in her parent’s house to her new husband’s house, and how essentially, she was a possession that was bought by the groom and taken to his home. To see more examples of a cassone, visit this website:
If Juliet had chosen to marry Paris instead of Romeo, the cassone would’ve made it abundantly clear to her that, just as Paris says: “Thy face is mine,” he feels he has bought her, money, body, and soul, and taken her and this elaborate casket to his home, till death do they part.
The verb impalmare is equivalent to pledging one’s troth and originates from an old custom according to which the groom, as a confirmatory token of his marriage promise, grasped, touched, or poked the right hand or palm
of his future wife. Impalmamento signifies an engagement, a promise of marriage, specifically, as a confirmation of prior agreements, it signifies the early phase of the
long process of the marriage arrangement.
Much like how in Britain, handfasting rituals served as a serious promise or engagement of marriage, the Sponsalia was a formal promise of marriage before the actual ceremony. Incidently, according to “A History Of Matrimonial Institutions by George Elliott Howard, Romeo and Juliet’s marriage went this far, but no farther. This kind of promise of marriage had legal authority but was not recognized officially by the church. It also didn’t require witnesses or parental consent (Howard 339). A Sponsalia marriage could also only be dissolved if the bride or groom became a priest or nun, which is exactly what Friar Laurence offers to do for Juliet once Romeo dies:
Come, I’ll dispose of thee
Among a sisterhood of holy nuns:
Stay not to question, for the watch is coming;
Come, go, good Juliet,
I dare no longer stay.
— Romeo and Juliet, Act V, Scene 3
Today, this would be the equivalent of getting a marriage license at city hall, rather than having a marriage ceremony.
Li emergenti bisogni matrimoniali – namely, the urgent necessity at the outset of marriage to adorn brides with extravagant clothing and jewelry, to decorate the nuptial chamber, and to arrange wedding festivities – entailed sizable expenditures of capital on the part of new husbands and their kin in Renaissance Florence. In a legal opinion written in 1400, the Florentine jurist Philippus de Corsinis observed that “even before sexual intercourse, it is necessary for the husband to shoulder the expenses for his wife’s clothing and other accessories, as well as other expenses related to the wedding.”2 In another opinion, Paulus de Castro, who taught and practiced law in early-fifteenth-century Florence, emphasized that in both Florence and Bologna the outfitting of the bride and expenses for the wed-ding consumed the whole dowry even before the couple had exchanged marriage vows and rings.-
Source: Kirshner, Julius. “2. Li Emergenti Bisogni Matrimoniali In Renaissance Florence”. Marriage, Dowry, and Citizenship in Late Medieval and Renaissance Italy, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018, pp. 55-73. https://doi.org/10.3138/9781442664517-005
Wedding dress and bridegroom dress
The wedding feast
Since marriages were affairs for two families, their friends, etc. A wedding feast was a very involved and elaborate affair. On the Dutch Cooking site, ” Coquinaria” I found a reproduction of a summer wedding feast from 1546:
The menu for Wednesday 18 August 1546, on a meat day during Summer
Antipasti – Melloni (watermelons), cascio vecchio Parmigiano (old Parmesan cheese), quaglie arroste (grilled quails), vua moscatella (muscadines), crostate di piccioni (pie with pigeons), capretto (kid), limoni trinciati (cut lemons).
Alesso – Anadrine (duck?), capretto (again kid, or a mistake), pollastri stuffati con presciutto (stuffed chicken with ham), agresto (verjuice), sauor di verzure(sauce with greens?).
Frutte – Visciole con le suppe (morellos in soup -with bread), cascio marzolino (cheese from March?), pere (pears), persiche in vino (peaches in wine), nocchie (hazelnuts), finocchio (fennel).
Below is a recipe card I made with one of the recipes I found on the site:
2. MARRIAGE: ITALIAN RENAISSANCE STYLE by Donna Russo-Morin http://donnarussomorin.blogspot.com/2012/08/marriage-italian-renaissance-style.html#:~:text=An%20Italian%20Renaissance%20wedding%20ceremony,the%20matrimonium%2C%20and%20the%20nozze. Published Monday, August 27, 2012
3. Krohn, Deborah L. “Weddings in the Italian Renaissance.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/wedd/hd_wedd.htm (November 2008)
4. Hall, Edwin. The Arnolfini Betrothal: Medieval Marriage and the Enigma of Van Eyck’s Double Portrait. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1994 1994. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft1d5nb0d9/
6. Kirshner, Julius. “2. Li Emergenti Bisogni Matrimoniali In Renaissance Florence”. Marriage, Dowry, and Citizenship in Late Medieval and Renaissance Italy, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018, pp. 55-73. https://doi.org/10.3138/9781442664517-005
7. Muusers, Christianne: A Recipe for Italian Crostini from the 16th Century: . Published online January 28th, 2005. https://coquinaria.nl/en/panunto/