F. Gagliardi, Caroselli nel cortile di palazzo Barberini in
onore di Cristina di Svezia, 1656, olio su tela - Roma
AT THE SABLON
each camp quadrilles, consisting of an even number of riders led by a higher-ranking
nobleman or qualified equerry, were formed. A carrousel traditionally consisted
of an even number of quadrilles, at least four and no more than twelve.
These were alternately performed by the separate camps or by the two camps
at the same time.
In between the quadrilles a kind of man-to-man battle between riders of the rivalling camps could take place. There was for example a "courses de têtes" (a joust with a fake head as a target) and the "courses de bagues" (tilt at the ring), which gave the riders the opportunity to show their equestrian skills as well as their ability at handling spears, swords and guns.
The most important scene of the spectacle, which was often considered its apotheosis, was an equestrian ballet called "La Foule" -the crowd- performed, to the strains of music, by the best troop captains of each camp. The horses performing in this part were especially trained to perfectly perform haute école figures.
This is but one, though very important, part of the carrousels of the baroque period. They present the feats of arms typical of a certain theme. The story is being performed by the artists on foot. Outstanding actors and actresses or famous opera singers would play the leading roles, accompanied by orchestras and choirs as well as numerous extras.
The libretti of the prestigious royal carrousels of Versailles and the grandiose imperial carrousels of Vienna were written by the best librettists of their time and entrusted to the best directors; famous composers wrote the orchestral and choral parts, outstanding equerries work together with famous choreographers for the quadrilles, battle games and equestrian ballets, which were meant to be led by the emperors, kings or princes. For an equerry or courtier, it was a great honour to take part in the carrousel.
During the golden age of the carrousel female riders could also participate, provided the theme allowed it. Some quadrilles were entirely performed by amazons. An example could be "The Carrousel of the Ladies", performed in the imperial horse school in Vienna on 2 February 1743 to celebrate the recent victory of the Austrian troops over the French army.
Austrian painter Martin von Meytens immortalised this carrousel with his
painting "Das Damenkarussel", showing the future empress Maria-Theresia
leading a quadrille of eight women. They were all riding astride, even though
they were dressed in an elaborate gown, probably made especially for the
occasion. All the women are carrying a sword and a couple of saddlebow guns
in the holsters of their saddle to perform the "course de têtes".
On the background of the painting, we recognise a quadrille of eight chariots
and an even number of horses mounted by women. The archduchess Mariana,
the younger sister of Maria-Theresia leads this quadrille.
Besides the numerous nobles of the Court, on foot, we recognise guards, footmen and others.
Furthermore there are two figures with bare legs and stripped to the waist. One is carrying a bludgeon, the other one something that looks like a lamb or a kid. A jester is walking next to the chariot and a black man wearing a turban seems to beat the rhythm. Against the wall, fixed on a pillar, there is a fake Turk’s head, the target for the "course de têtes".
Alain Piron Picolet d’Hermillon