Back in March, I was asked to help out with the reenactment of a XVIIth Century religious procession.
The thing is, in 1614 Gabriele Bertazzolo, architect for the Gonzaga family, tried to establish my village by the river Po as the place of the meeting of Attila the Hun and the pope who would become Saint Leo the Great. He may have been right, or perhaps not: the debate about the exact place is still quite lively, and historians still are at each other’s troath over it – but four hundred years ago Bertazzolo managed to secure a handful of relics, have a small church built, and the yearly procession established.
So someone decided it would be nice to celebrate the anniversary with a bit of reenactment, and it was the middle of March when they asked me to join in the fun. I said no, because I was up to my ears in work, and because two months are a ludicrously short time to put together a decent reenactment – and also because heading the effort were a few people I know and don’t work well with.
They didn’t seem to hold it against me. Could they please, they asked, use the costumes from that son-et-lumière I had directed back in 2010? After asking what remained of the S&L staff, I told them they were welcome to the costumes, but there was very little they could use: only one Seventeenth Century outfit, the rest being Medieval and Renaissance stuff.
They looked a tad chagrined, but said all right, and next I knew, they were hiring a team of seasoned reenactors from elsewhere – the expensive but sensible choice – and never thought of the matter again. That is, until I received a few frantic calls asking for advice about what would look like XVIIth Century.
“Aren’t you having the people from Palmanova?” I asked.
“Yes, but we’d like to… you know.”
And this was perhaps a couple of weeks ago – impossibly late, considering the whole thing is going to be next weekend. Still, and with some misgivings, I sent a few sketches and a few links – and never heard from them again, until yesterday, when a local teacher told me they were having a meeting to try on the son-et-lumière costumes.
“Are you sure they fit the time period?” she asked, and I told her I’m sure they don’t, and explained to her I had tried hard to dissuade our would-be reenactors from using them.
“They are a very generic Renaissance, made to be seen from a distance – more the suggestion of an outline than anything else. Even if they were the right period – and they are not! – They’ll look very bad next to the serious ones.”
My friend sighed, and told me there is worse: they are borrowing more costumes from a neighbouring village’s Medieval Fair, and more still from a parish group specializing in Bible plays. Because, they say, no need to nitpick, is there. Give or take a hundred years…
Or a thousand, it would seem.
“So you see, vague Renaissance is the least of their troubles.”
Indeed. And am I ever glad I gave the thing a wide berth! To think that Glaring Anachronism Day could be my headache now…
Davide Mana said:
There’s that wonderful phenomenon – well-known to historians (and indeed, to paleontologists) and much cherished by fantasy writers – called “folding spyglass effect”… the curious idea, entertained by an awful lot of people, that “give or take a few years” things don’t change that much.
Stuff like “ok, Triassic, Cretaceous… it’s all Mesozoic, right?”
Or “Yes, 1585… 1656… it’s not that different.”
“Nobody will notice, it’s a mere fifty years”
I normally point out the difference in fashion, technology, worldviews, culture, between, say, 1948 and 1968.
“Now imagine the difference between 1300 and 1600,” I say.
“Oh, that’s a whole different story,” they say. “In the past changes were slower!”