Beyond Mere War – from Condottieri to Courtier: The Neapolitan Horse
By Rupert Isaacson
19th May 2021 6pm
How the Neapolitan horse served as a nexus for all the arts of the High Renaissance: da Vinci, Monteverdi, Uccello, the Gonzagas and the export of court culture to France, England and beyond
In 1443 the Kingdom of Naples was taken over by the Crown of Aragon in Spain. European culture was never the same again. The explosive mix of Iberian passion with Neapolitan art and aesthetics mobilized the High Renaissance into a truly international movement, carried on the backs of large numbers of high-quality Spanish horses into Naples. Within a generation a series of gentleman’s academies sprang up in that city, teaching riding, the arts and sciences and or martial arts. By the first half of the 16th century, these academies were attracting noblemen from all over Europe. The Grand Tour was born: young aristocrats travelling primarily to acquire Neapolitan breeding stock of these sought-after horses, to learn the arts of high horsemanship, and to take part on the spectacular ‘carousels’ – city-wide equestrian spectacles put on by the Neapolitan and Roman courts. All the while taking in as much classical culture as they could along the way, and then bringing it back – including the Neapolitan horses and horse trainers – to the courts and castles of Northern and Central Europe.
Our fascinating journey begins with Reconquista and early bullfights of late medieval Spain, takes us to the condottieri – the specialized mercenary cavalry of 15th century Italy, to three key Neapolitan equestrian academies – those of Grisone, Fiaschi and Pigniatelli. As well as the Renaissance luminaries, among them Paolo Uccello, Leonardo da Vinci, Claudio Monteverdi and others who were both directly and indirectly involved in the development and export of the Neapolitan horse and its training, first into Northern Italy (the Este, Gonzaga and Sforza families) and thence to France and the rest of Europe. By the early 17th century, it was no longer enough to be a mere warrior. To succeed in court politics, it was now imperative for young aristocrats anywhere in Europe to display an expert level of academic, or courtly riding, as well as a working knowledge of classics, sciences and music. Join us as we explore how early modern Europe was born.
Rupert is an accomplished horseman, author and documentary maker. As a journalist, he took an interest the Kalahari Bushmen after which he wrote a bestseller and helped to take their land rights all the way to the UN. When his son Rowan was diagnosed with autism, Rupert Isaacson feared he might never communicate with his child. But when he discovered Rowan responded to horses, they travelled to Mongolia – the spiritual home of the horse – where shaman healing hands banished the tantrums, the incontinence and the hopeless isolation.
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