Conspicuous by its absence (music & the Orsini Family Papers at UCLA)

I’ve been reading the Orsini Family papers held in UCLA Special Collections for a little while now (Finding Aid). Among other things, I’ve read inventories of various family palazzi, an inventory prepared after the death of Cardinal Flavio Orsini (not to be confused with Fulvio Orsini), and various inventories prepared after the death of Paolo Giordano Orsini, Duke of Bracciano, who was first married to the music-loving Isabella de’Medici, whom he murdered, and then to Vittoria Accoramboni, until his own untimely death (perhaps at the hands of relatives of his first wife). One inventory was made in Padua after Vittoria Accoramboni’s death (Paolo Giordano’s brother was convicted in Venice of her murder). So far, I have found absolutely no reference to any musical instruments, or music books, or even liveries for ducal musician servants. On the one hand, I am not surprised: while Isabella de’ Medici was an active music patron and an amateur musician, Paolo Giordano’s name rarely appears in music book dedications. On the other, I am a little surprised. Isabella and Paolo Giordano’s son, Virginio Orsini, housed the composer Luca Marenzio in Rome during the early 1590s and thus is generally presumed to have been quite a music lover. I assumed Virginio would have had music lessons as a child, and that there would be musical instruments or some evidence of musical activities in the household inventories. But I haven’t yet turned up anything, and I’ve been wondering why. Perhaps any musical instruments were Isabella’s, and perhaps they were returned to her family after her death (that’s a complete guess, and I haven’t reached the boxes of wills and testaments yet). It is highly possible that Isabella was the only one in her generation of the family to have maintained any particular interest in music. Perhaps Virginio’s interest in music came not from a love of playing or singing but from a need to be seen to be cultivated? Straying into pop psychology territory, was his patronage of Marenzio perhaps a way to differentiate himself from his father? (Note: this is very early stage research for me and I haven’t yet done much reading up on Virginio Orsini. Perhaps my questions have already been answered!) Of course, it is also possible that all the music records are in the portions of the archive in Rome.

I am beginning to build up some kind of a picture of the various extended family members. Cardinal Flavio Orsini (I believe he was the uncle of Paolo Giordano) was clearly extraordinarily wealthy, and well educated. His inventory took days to compile, and stretches to 49 folios. The first two pages are devoted to his jewels—ruby, diamond, emerald, and topaz rings, pearl earrings and so on—which, if I’ve understood correctly, he gives to one Joanna Caetana. I haven’t yet quite worked out who she is, but I imagine she’s the Giovanna Gaetana Orsini who is the dedicatee of a book of three-voice spiritual songs in 1585. (The dedication and other excerpts, are available via Gaspari, the online catalogue of the music library in Bologna). The inventory is pretty comprehensive, and includes clothing, furniture, livery, and armaments, as well as a number of paintings, globes, and numerous books in Latin, Italian, Spanish, and French, on topics such as astrology, the history of the Este family, India, France, noble Neapolitan families, architecture…. I could go on. (The books on France presumably helped him to prepare for his role there.)

[Update, 2 Nov. 2011: Giovanna Gaetana appears to be the wife of one of Flavio’s relatives.]

I suppose another reason I am surprised by the absence of music from this portion of the family’s archival records so far is probably because, back in 2009, I found so many references to music and musicians in the archives of the Colonna family. Among musicologists working on the sixteenth century, the Colonna family does not enjoy nearly the reputation of the Orsini when it comes to music patronage. Given that in only five days in the Colonna family I found payments to and letters from several musicians (including Giulio Cesare Brancaccio and Sebastian Raval, plus members of the dell’Arpa family and one Diego Ortiz who may or may not be the musician), I am somewhat disappointed by my lack of discoveries in the Orsini archives. My experience suggests that the Colonna were much more active in their support of music than musicologists have realised thus far. Perhaps they were more important than the Orsini. It seems that, for the simple reason that the family archive is located outside Rome and the family were not associated with any composers deemed historically significant (and I suspect there’s a very interesting historiography project there, in part to do with Spanish composers in Italy and how the ‘canon’ is formed), the Colonna have been somewhat overlooked. I am itching to get back to their archive near Rome!

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  1. Pingback: Tracing Music Patronage and Commissioning by Women in Early Modern Rome | Melanie L. Marshall

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