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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 18 (2012) No. 1

Published 2016

Venus in the House of Mars: Martial Imagery in Monteverdi’s Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi (1638)

Massimo Ossi*

1. The Poetic and Political Background of Monteverdi’s Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi

2. War as the Central Metaphor of the Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi

3. Changes in the Nature of War and Attitudes Toward It

4. Alternatives to Heroism

5. The Uneasy Alliance of Mars and Venus

6. Conclusion: The Final Word


  • Figure 1. Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), Charles I at the Hunt (1635; Paris, Louvre)
  • Figure 2. Titian (1488/90–1576), Charles V at Mühlberg (1548; Madrid, Prado)
  • Figure 3. Abraham Janssens (ca. 1573/1574–1632), Peace and Abundance binding the Arrows of War (1614; Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton Art Gallery)
  • Figure 4.  Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), Minerva Protects Peace from Mars (1629–30; London, National Gallery)
  • Figure 5. Peter Paul Rubens, The Horrors of War (1638; Florence, Pitti)
  • Figure 6. Peter Paul Rubens, Battle of the Amazons (1615; Munich, Alte Pinakothek)
  • Figure 7. Jacques Callot (1592–1635), The Miseries of War: The Hanging Tree (1633; Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales)
  • Figure 8. Diego Velazquez (1599–1660), The Surrender of Breda (1634–35; Madrid, Prado)
  • Figure 9. Fray Juan Bautista Mayno (1569–1649), The Recapture of Bahia (1634–35; Madrid, Prado)
  • Figure 10. Bernardo Castello (1557–1629), Illustration for Canto XII of Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata (1590)
  • Figure 11. Jacob (or Jacques) de Gheyn II (1565–1629), Mars Sleeping (1618; Washington, National Gallery)
  • Figure 12. Hendrick Terbruggen (1588–1629), Mars Asleep (1629; Utrecht, Centraal Museum)
  • Figure 13. Diego Velazquez, Mars Resting (1640; Madrid: Prado)
  • Figure 14. Paolo Veronese (Paolo Caliari; 1528–1588), Mars and Venus United by Love (1570s; New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art)
  • Figure 15. Antonio Tempesta (1555–1630), Martem Veneremque adulterantes Vulcanus Reti Suam Implicat (17th century; San Francisco, Fine Arts Museum)
  • Figure 16. Jacopo Tintoretto (1518–1594), Venus, Vulcan, and Mars (1559; Munich, Alte Pinakothek)
  • Figure 17. Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825), Venus Disarming Mars (1824; Bruxelles, Musée royaux des Beaux-Artes de Belgique)
  • Figure 18. Nicholas Poussin (1594–1665), Mars and Venus (1627–29; Boston, Museum of Fine Arts)
  • Figure 19. Nicholas Poussin, Mars and Venus (n.d.; Paris, Louvre)
  • Figure 20. Peter Paul Rubens, Venus Disarming Mars (1615–20; St. Petersburg, Hermitage Museum)
  • Figure 21. Sandro Botticelli (ca. 1445–1510), Venus and Mars (1483; London, National Gallery)
  • Figure 22. Peter Paul Rubens, Hero Being Crowned by Victory (1612–14; Munich, Alte Pinakothek)


1. The Poetic and Political Background of Monteverdi’s Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi

1.1 Monteverdi’s Canti guerrieri, the first part of his Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi of 1638, is not particularly warlike. This is not exactly news: the title itself makes obvious to even the most casual observer the central metaphor of the book, which equates the violent emotional conflicts experienced by lovers with the hardships and emotions of war. To educated seventeenth-century audiences, this was a familiar topic, known at least from Petrarch, and as Robert Holzer has argued, humanistically trained listeners would also have recognized its classical origins in the work of Latin poets.[1] Given Monteverdi’s longstanding association with Marino’s poetry, which relied heavily on intertextual dialogue with both Italian poetry and the classical tradition for its sophisticated interplay of literary conceits, the interweaving of the two themes—love in its many aspects and war—throughout his most complex and most ambitious madrigal book should come as no surprise.[2]

1.2 But in 1638 war was not merely a poet’s conceit. Europe had been embroiled for twenty years in the most widespread, brutal, and eventually defining conflict of the early modern era, the Thirty Years’ War, and both dedicatees of Monteverdi’s volume, the Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand II and, after his death in 1636, the newly crowned Ferdinand III, had been central to it from the very start—indeed, the conflict can be seen as essentially driven by Habsburg interests both political and religious.[3]

1.3 Effects of the war were felt in every part of Europe, and although in 1638 Venice itself was enjoying an unprecedented period of peace that lasted from 1632 until 1644, it had not remained entirely outside the war’s reach. Because of its far-flung mercantile activity and the resulting openness of its borders to communities from all over Europe and the Mediterranean, the city was the theater of intense diplomatic activity, which at times threatened even its internal security, or at least was imagined to do so. Already in 1616–18 tensions with Spain had reached a high point when, shortly after the outbreak of the war in 1618, three Spanish agents were found guilty of plotting against the Signoria (The Spanish Conspiracy).[4] The three were executed and their corpses hanged by one leg, to signify treason, in the Piazzetta in front of the Ducal Palace (essentially at Monteverdi’s front door). In 1623, Venice had sided with France and Switzerland against the Spanish in the War of the Valtellina, which had been under Spanish threat since 1616 and which Spain had occupied in 1620. The war was fought in 1624, the Spanish were driven out, and a treaty was finally signed in 1626.[5]

1.4 As a result of these events, a high degree of nervousness pervaded the city, particularly surrounding religious issues. Relations between Venice and Rome, traditionally at odds, had been especially strained since the interdict of 1606–1607, when Venice found itself aligned with France, Holland, and England against Rome and Spain.[6] Paolo Sarpi, who had shaped the Venetian policy that eventually rendered the papal excommunication fruitless, was the object of several attempted assassinations, generally thought to originate in the Spanish embassy, and his writings, particularly those regarding the Vatican and its temporal powers, were gaining popularity in England where they fed anti-papist sentiments.[7] Not surprisingly, therefore, the state’s secret services, always hyperactive and now on high alert, suspected yet another conspiracy, this time centering on the dealings of the English Protestant Countess of Arundel with Venetian noblemen and resulting in the wrongful and eventually embarrassing conviction and execution of the nobleman Antonio Foscarini in 1622 (again in the Piazzetta).[8]

1.5 Finally, Mantua, where Monteverdi had been employed for over twenty years and with whose court he maintained close contact even after his move to San Marco in 1613, had been directly involved in one of the many side conflicts of the war, in 1630–31.[9] Venice and the French were once again allied against the Spanish in defense of the duchy, but were defeated in May, and Mantua was sacked on July 18, 1630. The Venetian plague of those years, which reduced the city’s population by as much as one-third, was collateral damage from the Mantuan conflict, the disease having been introduced by a Mantuan delegation that had arrived after the sack. The celebrations of thanksgiving for the end of the epidemic involved Monteverdi, and have been the subject of extensive scholarly inquiry.[10]

1.6 In the 1620s, Monteverdi’s own relations with Mantua and the Habsburg imperial house had brought him into closer contact with the political dealings and tensions of the day than he might, perhaps, have wished, at least once in ways that must not have been particularly welcome. In 1622 Eleonora Gonzaga, daughter of Duke Vincenzo I of Mantua, had married Emperor Ferdinand II, and Monteverdi had contributed music for the wedding. Beginning in 1627, Monteverdi had sought to exploit the Gonzaga-Habsburg connection in order to secure a canonry in Cremona. As Steven Saunders has shown, the emperor did in fact support his petition, but nothing came of it.[11] In 1633 Monteverdi once again asked his Mantuan connections for support with the empress, and Saunders has convincingly argued that his strategy included offering the emperor and empress madrigals that would eventually become part of the Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi. Moreover, Saunders makes it clear that Monteverdi’s “lengthy, outstanding service” to Eleonora was part of a larger movement of Mantuan musicians back and forth to Vienna that was most active at just the time when Monteverdi first began the campaign to secure the Cremonese canonry. In short, after his departure for Venice Monteverdi maintained a close working relationship with Mantua that by the late 1620s included the Mantuan contingent in Vienna, and it appears that he made no secret of his connections.

1.7 So much so, in fact, that he was the object of an anonymous accusation of treason: according to a document filed with the State Inquisitor’s office sometime after 1623 and apparently never pursued by the authorities, his accuser had cited Monteverdi’s wish to see Venice “for the health of its souls, subjugated to the King of Spain” and “to see the Imperial Eagle soar over the this Piazza S. Marco in place of the symbol of St. Mark.”[12] Regardless of its foundations in fact, the incident shows how closely the war could affect the daily life of private citizens even far from the sites of its actual military hostilities.

2. War as the Central Metaphor of the Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi

2.1 This political backdrop to the Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi invites reconsideration of the work’s central metaphor and its implications, for to speak of war at such a time and to such a patron could hardly be considered a neutral artistic and literary act. The preface sets the tone: looking for a text that might demonstrate the expressive power of his newly developed genere concitato (the heightened, excited style), Monteverdi turned to Tasso for his ability to represent emotions with naturalezza and proprietà and there found the contrary passions he was looking for—”Guerra, cioè preghiera e morte” (war, that is, prayer and death). This is not a casual description of war: it focuses on its least heroic aspects (prayer, supplication, and death).[13]

2.2 Indeed the emphasis in Tasso’s Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda is on loss, not victory; whenever the narrator mentions Tancredi’s victory, it is with the clear message that it will be hollow and will bring Tancredi pain rather than honor:

Misero, di che godi? O quanti mesti Wretched man, what pleases you? Oh, how sad
Fiano i trionfi ed infelice il vanto! will be your triumphs and unlucky your boast!
Gli occhi tuoi pagheran, se in vita resti, If you remain alive, your eyes will pay
Di quel sangue ogni stilla un mar di pianto. a sea of tears for every drop of that blood.

The struggle between the two combatants is not elegant: they beat each other with the pommels of their swords, they wrestle, bleed, stagger around, run out of breath, and are driven to fight again by their hatred. Night robs the fight of its technical refinements, and ultimately even of the glory the combatants might have enjoyed in the light of day. The narrator rescues what he can for posterity, but even he notes that what he delivers falls short of the honor Tancredi and Clorinda would have deserved. When it is all said and done, both are found unconscious; Tancredi recovers only slowly, and all that is left for him for the rest of the poem is loss, lamentation, and grief. War is not merely a metaphor for the lover’s emotional state: it is the very antithesis, the negation, of love. It would be unfair to say that the Combattimento falls short of its topic: unheroic it might be, but decidedly not un-warlike. It comes as close to realism as Monteverdi ever does, with no varnish applied to its subject.

2.3 War, of course, was both Ferdinands’ business: the encomiastic poems make the requisite point of praising Ferdinand III’s military successes:

Altri canti d’Amor
Tu cui tessuta han di cesareo alloro You for whom an immortal wreath of imperial laurel
La corona immortal Marte e Bellona has been woven by Mars and Bellona
Gradisci il verde ancor novo lavoro, accept this fresh, still new work,
Che mentre guerre canta e guerre sona, for while war is the theme of the singers and musicians,
Oh Gran Fernando, l’orgoglioso coro O great Ferdinand, this proud chorus
Del tuo sommo valor canta e ragiona. is singing and discoursing of your matchless valor.
Ogni amante è guerrier
Quel gran re ch’or su la sacra testa That great king who now upon his sacred head
Posa il splendor del diadema augusto; wears the splendor of the imperial diadem;
Di quell gran re ch’alle corone, ai lauri, that great king, destined by heaven
Alle spoglie, ai trionfi il ciel destina. for crowns, laurels, spoils, and triumph.
O sempre glorioso, sempre invitto, O ever-glorious, ever-unconquerable one,
Segui felice e fortunate a pieno follow in the fullness of joy and fortune
L’alte vittorie e gloriose imprese those lofty victories and glorious enterprises.
Introduzione al ballo
Rimbombi il mondo Let the world resound
L’opre di Ferdinando eccelse e belle. with Ferdinand’s lofty and beautiful deeds.

This praise, however, is not without its undermining subtexts: already in no. 6, “Ogni amante è guerrier,” the opening lines make it clear that other armies compete for Mars’s honor, and that both warriors and lovers peak at the same age:

Armato il cor
Armato il cor d’adamantina fede, My heart armed with adamantine faith,
Nell’amoroso regno in the kingdom of love
A militar ne vegno. I come to give battle.
Ogni amante è guerrier
Ogni amante è guerrier: nel suo gran regno Every lover is a warrior: without doubt, in his great kingdom
Ha ben Amore la sua milizia anch’egli Love, too, has his own army.

This coincidence gives rise to a series of comparisons between the two pursuits—in both, one keeps vigil through the night; in both one must traverse difficult terrain, and neither stormy seas nor blowing winds can keep one from appointed encounters. The lover-warrior parallel is explored in the bass solo, Io che nell’otio nacqui, where the protagonist compares his own prowling for amorous assignations with a long, explicit list of military campaigns undertaken by the emperor. This long passage fully develops the figure of the “amoroso guerrier,” which is then used to address the emperor directly in the next section as the “ardito amante” in whose heart “Amor e Marte / è quasi in cor gentil cortese affetto.”

2.4 The transformation of Ferdinand from the monarch whose crown was woven with “Caesar’s laurels” by Mars and Bellona into the collection’s idealized, “daring” lover feeds into the closing images of the Canti guerrieri. In the introduction to the closing ballo, “Volgendo il ciel,” the bard who had opened the book promising to sing of bold battles with his “warlike and fierce song,” now calls for a deep cup of Iberian wine, and for garlands to be woven into his hair by nymphs while beautiful ladies dance, as he sings of the Holy Roman Emperor’s “century of peace.” This is not a particularly novel image—royal weddings and coronations are often accompanied by prognostications that the new regime will introduce an unprecedented era of prosperity and peace—but in the context of the Thirty Years’ War it takes on a special quality, both hopeful and pleading.[14]

3. Changes in the Nature of War and Attitudes Toward It

3.1 The conflict, because it dragged on for such a long time and involved every important continental state in a series of simultaneous military campaigns, seems to have generated throughout Europe strong pacifist sentiments that found their expression in the visual arts, literature, music, philosophy, and religious thought.[15] Moreover, the nature of war itself was changing from a largely individualistic endeavor in which personal courage and heroic action were highly prized (still attainable ideals until the first half of the sixteenth century), into a bloody affair in which firearms of all sizes dictated new tactics that made possible the mass destruction of anonymous troops, reducing military leadership largely to the sidelines of the action.[16] As a result, in the first half of the seventeenth century the very concept of “military heroism” underwent a thorough re-evaluation (it became “virtually useless” according to the historian Theodor Rabb[17]) that is especially evident in the public images by which monarchs sought to represent themselves before their subjects. Seen in the larger context of these artistic, intellectual, and political attitudes, the particular mix of martial, sensual, and pastoral imagery of the Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi takes on a new and pointed significance.

4. Alternatives to Heroism

4.1 Perhaps the most general indicator of the change in attitude toward militarism comes from royal portraits of the early seventeenth century. James I of England (VI of Scotland) was perhaps the most obvious among his peers in emphasizing his own aversion to war. James was explicit in seeing his own mission as that of a peacemaker; as he put it to Parliament in 1604, “the first blessing which God hath jointly in my person sent unto you is outward Peace: that is, peace abroad with all forreine neighbours.”[18] James’s son, Charles I, shared his father’s aversion to war and had himself depicted in obviously domestic situations with his wife, queen Henrietta Maria. Portraits of the royal couple, with deliberately unproblematic symbolism, bridged the Venus-Mars polarity that we see in other paintings from this time.[19] Charles also had himself painted as a country gentleman, with cape and walking cane, on foot next to a horse, but never as a condottiere mounted on one; indeed, in van Dyck’s Charles I at the Hunt of 1635 (Figure 1), he does not even carry a gun. Portrayed as St. George (again by Van Dyck), he is not shown killing the dragon; not for him the paradigmatic “victorious knight in armor with lance” portraits exemplified by Titian’s Charles V at Mühlberg of 1548 (Figure 2).

4.2 Domesticity, which implied peace and was opposed to war in a number of paintings, including Rubens’s Minerva Protects Peace from Mars (in the National Gallery in London; also known as “Peace and War”) and Abraham Janssens’s The Allegory of Peace (of which survive a number of versions, including Peace and Abundance Binding the Arrows of War [Figure 3]). Janssens’s allegory is largely self-explanatory: the binding of the arrows signifies the banishment of war by its enemies, Peace and Prosperity, the latter figure characterized by the cornucopia it holds upright.[20] The imagery of Rubens’s painting (Figure 4) is more complex, particularly as regards the identity of some of the female figures, but its general outline is clear enough: Mars, in armor, is being led away by Alecto, the war fury, to a stormy distant battle, as Minerva, goddess of wisdom, stands between him and the central naked woman, who presides serenely over a cornucopia, a group of children being gathered together by their governess (or mother), and a child who clings to her skirt and appears to be fed by the stream of milk emanating from her breast. The characters to the left of this central figure, one bearing a basket of riches and the other a tambourine, as well as the satyr and the leopard playfully pawing at edge of the cornucopia, represent the bounty of arts and pleasures that tames even wild nature (including the satyr) in times of peace. The central woman may be Venus, or Peace, or Ceres, the Roman fertility goddess, or as has been suggested most convincingly, an indefinite figure that embodies the characteristics of each and whose promise is the nurturing of humanitas, that amalgam of goodness, charity, and learning that war threatens to extinguish.[21]

4.3 A similar, but more extreme, view of war appears in The Horrors of War, also by Rubens, of 1638 (Figure 5). Here, as in the previous example, Alecto pulls Mars off to the right of the painting toward a stormy war scene. Venus clings to him as he moves away from her, and several offspring (one would imagine) cling to her; behind her, the figure of Europa clad in black and wearing her characteristic crown (her globe is also present in the hands of the child behind her), appears to throw her arms up in desperation. Mars’s victims are already falling to his sword (note its phallic placement), and as he proceeds he also tramples a book, symbolic of learning and the arts (Rubens himself describes the act as “he tramples ‘la letteratura e altre simili galanterie'”).[22]

4.4 Like Charles I (for whom he painted Peace and War), Rubens was an outspoken pacifist and was involved as both diplomat and artist in advancing his own agenda. In The Horrors of War and in other paintings from this period, such as The Battle of the Amazons (Figure 6), he intentionally set out to remove any appearance of heroism or glory from his depictions of war and battle, representing instead a confused mass of fighting bodies in which no one stands out and death is represented without embellishment. In this regard he was not different from the efforts of less distinguished but no less influential artists. Jacques Callot’s collection of engravings, The Miseries of War, was published in 1633 and circulated widely throughout Europe; it includes scenes of plunder, torture, and revolt, representing war from the bystander’s point of view.[23] Its best-known image shows the hanging of plundering soldiers (Figure 7) and is inescapably loaded with symbolism. From the cross-shaped tree to the lone priest holding up a crucifix, it speaks as much to the role of religion in the war as it does to the brutality of the soldiers, whose pile of crutches in the foreground suggests that they themselves were as much victims as perpetrators.[24]

4.5 Even scenes of victory do not emphasize triumph as much as they do the need to heal war’s wounds. Velazquez’s Surrender of Breda (Figure 8) focuses on compassion and magnanimity, showing the Spanish general Spinola greeting his vanquished foe with a comforting gesture.[25] Similarly, in the foreground of Juan Bautista Mayno’s Recapture of Bahia (Figure 9) we see not victory but gestures of compassion and mourning.[26] And, to return to Monteverdi’s Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, much of the iconography that illustrates this particular canto focuses not on the battle and its heroism but on the baptism of the dying Clorinda, Monteverdi’s “preghiera e morte,” as in the engraving by Bernardo Castello for an edition of the epic published in Genoa in 1590 (Figure 10).[27]

4.6 Finally, Mars himself falls victim to anti-war sentiments: in a number of paintings, whose imagery probably can be traced to an engraving of 1620 by Jacques de Gheyn the Younger (Figure 11), he appears spent, asleep, his helmet replaced by a plumed hat, his weapons laid aside all around him. The theme is taken up by Hendrick Terbrugghen ca. 1629, who shows him in armor, head resting on his hand, and the sword almost slipping out of his fingers (Figure 12), and in 1640 by Velazquez (Figure 13), who shows him naked and pensive.[28]

5. The Uneasy Alliance of Mars and Venus

5.1 Venus and Mars appear, in the images I have discussed so far, to occupy opposite camps. The reality, however, is that those camps overlap, and when they do their interaction is often fraught with anxiety as seen in Paolo Veronese’s Venus and Mars (Figure 14). Theirs is not merely the adulterous relationship entrapped by Vulcan, much to the entertainment of the gods, but a more complex dynamic that was not lost on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century artists, such as Antonio Tempesta (Figure 15), Jacopo Tintoretto (Figure 16), and Johann Wilhelm Richter. Mars represented not merely war, but equally importantly the Christian Knight whose virtues included not only courage and physical prowess, but also self-control; the Knight, represented as being victorious over the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, receives his crown from Victory, often a nude woman with wings. Similarly, as we have seen, Venus represented Luxury and the temptations of the flesh, but also the civilizing influence of marriage, its fecundity, and the social benefits afforded by peace. For the Christian Knight, she represented not only danger, but also the rewards of success, that is, peace after defeating one’s enemies, not to mention the positive masculine value of virility.[29] In many images treating the Mars-Venus dalliance, Mars’s anxiety toward Venus is reflected in his body language: he often leans away from her even as he clearly participates in the seduction; equally often, his weapons are an integral part of the action, as they are taken away from him, leaving him defenseless. In a painting by Jean-Louis David, a nineteenth-century work that adheres to much of the seventeenth-century iconography, all these elements occur at the same time (Figure 17). Poussin shows him at once looking at her and turning away, his body awkwardly twisting toward and away from her, and also more explicitly being “disarmed” (Figures 18 and 19), as does Rubens in a recently rediscovered painting in the Hermitage (Figure 20).[30] Botticelli shows perhaps most obviously what happens when Venus wins out (Figure 21).

5.2 The political doctrine of self-restraint in the face of one’s passions was widely disseminated throughout Europe in the early seventeenth century in the writings of Justus Lipsius, the Neostoic teacher and philosopher whose followers included not only Rubens and his brother Philip, but also the Venetian intellectuals known as the Incogniti, who were central to Venetian public life from 1630 on and whose patronage lay behind Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea (1640), that classic tale of Love’s blinding power to corrupt all those he touches.[31] Triumphant Love bred fickleness, lust, deceit, and murder, traits the librettist, Francesco Busenello, lavished on all the opera’s characters but most especially on Nero, whose disregard for costanza and “reason of state” constitute the central political message of the opera.[32]

5.3 For the ideal “hero,” “conquering” Luxury meant at once having her, with all the emasculating consequences that implied, and remaining aloof from her, as Rubens showed in several paintings on this theme. In his Hero Being Crowned by Victory, the hero’s stance, leaning away from the fulsome, seductive figure of Victory, has him looking rather worried, even as his spear provides a dividing barrier between himself and the seated figure of Luxury, while Intemperance, in the guise of a fallen drunkard, lays under his foot (Figure 22).

5.4 The Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda illustrates the anxieties that could attend Love’s attacks: Tancredi, the quintessential Christian Knight of sixteenth-century epic, falls in love early in the story with Clorinda, who fights on the opposite side as one of Suleyman’s heroines. She is beautiful and unattainable, but desire for her torments him, and around her he cannot fight. Finally, he comes upon her in the dead of night: she is in disguise, and they fight to the death. Only when he has mortally wounded her is his opponent’s identity revealed to him, and in deep shock he baptizes her, triumphing over his lust (albeit unwillingly) and mastering his nearly overpowering grief. His possession of her is final and complete, but it leads to her dying conversion and words of forgiveness for him, not to love; chastity is preserved and in its place religion triumphs.[33]

5.5 The political overtones of the story were already evident in the post-Reformation sixteenth century; they remained entirely applicable to the imperial court in the midst of the Thirty Years’ War. Clorinda’s defeat and conversion at the hands of a Christian Knight aptly stood for the aspirations of the Catholic emperor fighting against rebellious Protestant subjects: by asking for baptism, Clorinda abandoned her adoptive faith and returned to the faith to which she had been born but never baptized, thereby embodying the hoped-for return of the Protestants to their “native” faith.[34]

5.6 The Combattimento, which reflects Viennese instrumental practices, as Margaret Mabbett and more recently Peter Holman have argued, may well have been among those works that Monteverdi sent to the imperial court during the early 1630s (it was composed and first performed in Venice in 1624).[35] If so, then its inclusion among the Madrigali guerrieri must have seemed a particularly appropriate gesture, especially for a newly crowned emperor inheriting a seemingly endless war. Ferdinand’s coronation had already included such pieces as La pace trionfante, a cantata by Antonio Bertali for cori spezzati of soldiers and “amoretti,” and the ballo Il vaticinio di Silvano, in which he was hailed as “bringer of peace, happiness, and stability.”[36] These were, of course, the kinds of gifts that only a lover-warrior, an “intrepido amante,” could bring under the influence of Venus.

5.7 If the Canti guerrieri are not very warlike then, it is because Mars, in Ferdinand’s person, is bound not away from Venus’s bed, but toward it and the promises it holds. Or at least so Monteverdi wishes in the closing lines of “Ogni amante è guerrier:”

Ma per quel ampio Egeo spieghi le vele But you spread your sails over that broad Aegean
Sì dal porto lontano, ardito amante! so far from port, you bold lover!
Riedi, che meco il mio cortese amico Return, for I see with me my gracious friend
Veggio ch’a sì gran volo who, at such a long journey, such a long flight,
Di pallido timor dipinge il viso. becomes pale with fear.
Riedi, ch’al nostro ardor, al nostro canto, Return, for from our ardor and our song,
Ch’ora d’armi e d’amor confuso suona, which now confusedly treats of weapons and love,
Scorger ben pote’ omai ch’Amor e Marte I now can see that Love and Mars
È quasi in cor gentil cortese affetto. are, as it were, a noble and gracious
affect in the heart.

Getting there however is, as the saying goes, half the fun, and the lover’s progress is not entirely without derailments and backtracking—the “confuso suonare” of Monteverdi’s canto:

Organization of the Canti guerrieri
Altri canti d’Amor, tenero arciero
Hor che’l ciel e la terra e’l vento tace
Love’s armies:
Gira il nemico insidioso amore
Se vittorie si belle
Armato il cor
[Imperial encomium: a soldier in both armies:]
Ogni amante è guerrier
Comic interlude:
Ardo, avvampo, mi struggo: accorrete
[War as “prayer and death”—negation of Venus:]
Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda
[Imperial encomium: Celebration of the Hero]
Introduzione al ballo e ballo: Volgete al mio bel suon

The first and second pieces in the collection establish the confusion, the first by forging ahead with its tale of matchless valor and the second by plunging the listener into Petrarch’s nighttime conflicts. If their tone might be construed as lofty, that of the third is definitely comic; the mock battle over the heart’s defenses, however, betrays unmistakable ambivalence—it would not be comic otherwise—at what is to come at the assailant’s hands. The defeat—or was it a victory?—becomes the subject of the next two duets, pieces largely overlooked in Monteverdi’s output, as the military resolve of the opening work returns. But the “fearless warriors” who have just declared their willingness to die for “beautiful victories” are enlisted in Love’s militia, which is immediately mentioned as comparable to that of Mars in the opening lines of the next poem.

5.8 By this point, the subject is fully engaged and ready to be developed at length in Ogni amante è guerrier, with which we dealt earlier—here, praise for the patron is mixed, not without ambivalence, with the collection’s topic. As if to relieve the equivocal tone of the book’s main encomium, Monteverdi returns to the openly comic tone of Gira il nemico in Ardo avvampo, again making a public and loud display of its underlying anxiety. After this, the Combattimento plunges the audience into utter seriousness, as if the action had suddenly shifted into those dark stormy peripheries of Rubens’s paintings toward which Mars hurries, fleeing Venus. From Tasso’s darkest night, Volgendo al mio bel suon opens with an image of light: “heaven turns the wheels of benign and serene light … the sun brings back an era of peace under the new king of the Roman Empire,” ending the Canti guerrieri with Venus’s victory.

6. Conclusion: The Final Word

6.1 As if to emphasize the triumph of Peace over Mars, the Canti amorosi begins with the dismissal of war as a topic worthy of the bard’s attention, and the only mention of the glories of the House of Habsburg comes in the final Ballo delle ingrate, in which it is the splendor of their palaces that is highlighted—one of Rubens’s galanterie that Mars would trample on his way to war. And what of the warrior? He is now a “gentil guerriero,” frustrated in his “barbara fierezza” to the point of tears by the resolve of chaste women not to give in to him; Cupid can’t even find an arrow in his quiver, let alone come to his troops’ rescue. Love’s pains have replaced war’s sufferings, and the book’s last word, its moral summation, belongs to Venus: it does not pay to defy love’s call, as the women who, in Pluto’s words, “ungratefully shunned every lover,” languish in hell’s darkest cave, lamenting their lack of wisdom. The ambivalent Christian Knight, then, fleeing Venus in search of chastity and heroism, is on the wrong path, and so by extension is Europe. In the end, the message of the Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi for Ferdinand III is clearly, and elegantly, delivered: make love, not war.

Correction: June 30, 2016
The original version of this article mistakenly gave the author of “Monteverdi’s Mass of Thanksgiving: Da Capo” as James H. Moore (reference 10).

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