Dance in the 15th century

15th Century Italian manuscripts

The earliest known tracts concerning the art of the dance come from Italy, mainly northern Italy. The most important of the ca. 12 surviving mss. begin with a theoretical part, in which the basic principles of dancing are explained. After this come descriptions of the choreographies and the associated music. Two dancing masters, Domenico da Piacenza and Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro, are mentioned as choreographers of practically all these dances.

Domenico da Piacenza

It is assumed that he was engaged as dancing master in Ferrara at the court of the Este family. His name appear there on payment lists between 1439 and 1475. An anonymous ms. with the title, "On the Art of Choreographing and Dancing", was probably written about 1455 and contains only dances by Domenico.
Both Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro and Cornanzo call him their teacher, and a shining example to them, which implies that Domenico is probably the originator of this style.

Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro

He was born around 1420 in Pesaro as the son of Moses-from-Sicily, a dancing master at the local court. He is of Jewish background, 'Ebreo' being of course Italian for 'Hebrew'. His career as dancing master began in 1433, first with the Sforza's in Milan and later with the Montefeltro's in Urbino. His tract, "The Practise, or Art of Dancing" was completed in 1463 and handed over to Galeazzo Maria Sforza, who became the duke of Milan in 1466. He becomes a Christian some time between 1463 and '65, his godfather and mother being none less than the duke and duchess of Milan themselves. He then writes a second tract under his Christian name, Giovanni Ambrosio, to which he adds a short autobiographical description of events at which he was present and of dances which he provided, sometimes together with Domenico da Piacenza.
title page of ebreo manuscript

Antonio Cornanzano

He was a humanist and poet, and is the author of a fourth important tract: his "Book on the Art of Dance" was a gift to Hyppolita Sforza, the daughter of the duke of Milan, for her engagement in 1455 with the duke of Calabria. This tract comprises 11 dances by Domenico along with three tenor melodies for the bassa danza.

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