The Exercise of Fantasia
Venite, dicho, a Athene hoggi Milano,
Ov'e il vostro Parnaso Ludovico.
'Come, I say, to today's Athens in Milan, for here is the Ludovican Parnassus.' Not a few Renaissance cities had aspired to the image of a 'new Athens', and there was nothing essentially novel in Ludovico's ambition to create a metaphorical 'Parnassus', which the Muses would favour with their gifts. As a court poet Bellincioni could hardly be called an unbiased witness when he painted such a glowing picture of Ludovico's artistic beneficence, but his testimony does at least give some idea of the image that Il Moro wished to present to contemporaries and posterity.
The earlier Milanese regimes of the Visconti and Sforza had lacked nothing in grandeur and Galeazzo Sforza's court had been noted for its ostentatious magnificence. In 1471 when the Milanese court had paid a state visit to Lorenzo de' Medici's Florence, the residents were astonished and in some quarters not a little repelled by the blatant superbia of Duke Galeazzo and his brother, Ludovico, accompanied as they were by an entourage of thousands – and this in a city which was no novice in sumptuous pageants. What Ludovico did when he came to power in Milan was to succeed in shaping this magnificence according to the Renaissance style all'antica to a greater extent than his predecessors had done, bringing his court fully into fashionable line with the trendsetting regimes of North and Central Italy. His aspirations in this respect were not fundamentally different in kind from those of his Gonzaga and d'Este relations, though a certain individuality of style was apparent, as I hope to show. And in sheer scale Ludovico's court was unmatched.
Like other Renaissance tyrants Il Moro exploited festive celebrations of notable events, saturated in antique and religious imagery, as political vehicles to parade his magnificence as well as occasions for personal pleasure. Alongside annual festivals of a religious nature, which occurred in any city, there was a series of dauntingly impressive Sforza celebrations: in 1490 the