The Ballet of The Chestnuts

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Ballet of The Chestnuts

Pope Alexander VI hosted lavish Vatican parties, which by some accounts became increasingly more wild as time went on. They were costly, but the pope could afford the lifestyle of a Renaissance prince; as Vice Chancellor of the Roman Church he had amassed enormous wealth. One party, known to Romans as the "Ballet of the Chestnuts," was held on October 30, 1501. The indefatigable Johann Burchard describes it in his Diarium. After the banquet dishes had been cleared away, the city's fifty most beautiful courtesans danced with the guests, "first fully dressed, then naked." The dancing over, the "ballet" began, with the Pope and two of his children in the best seats.

Johann Burchard's account as recorded in his diary, At the Court of the Borgia:

"On Sunday evening, October 30th, Don Cesare Borgia gave a supper in his apartment in the apostolic palace, with fifty decent prostitutes or courtesans in attendance, who after the meal danced with the servants and others there, first fully dressed and then naked. Following the supper too, lampstands holding lighted candles were placed on the floor and chestnuts strewn about, which the prostitutes, naked on the floor and on their hands and knees, had to pick up as they crawled in and out amongst the lampstands. The pope, Don Cesare and Donna Lucrezia were all present to watch. Finally, prizes were offered--silken doublets, pairs of shoes, hats and other garments--for those men who were most successful with the prostitutes. This performance was carried out in the Sala Reale and those who attended said in fact the prizes were presented to those who won the contest."

Venus and Mars (Botticelli 1483)

At the Court of the Borgia: Being an Account of the Reign of Pope Alexander VI written by his Master of Ceremonies Johann Burchard, 1506. Folio Society, London 2002 (page 194).

The Spanish film Los Borgias (2006) includes this banquet among its scenes.

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