Friday, 22 April 2016


Queen Christina of Sweden, whose death was
commemorated on the 19th of April, on the 327th
annual observance of the late Monarch.
This month’s Patron Profile goes to Queen Christina of Sweden, who ruled from 6 November 1632 – 6 June 1654, with only four of her 22 years as Monarch without Regency (Christina was crowned in 1632 at the tender age of five following the death of her father and reigning king Gustavus Adolphus, who had been slain in battle during the Thirty Years' War).

The Queen was shrouded in mystery, and, unsurprisingly for her sex, controversy and rumors of carnal sin seemed to precede the young Monarch at every turn. At best, Christina was a tomboy who shunned the “tight fitting” and “fussy clothes” of feminine dress in favor of swordplay, riding, studying the heavens (then seen as men’s work) and at worst, a hermaphrodite and the King’s worst kept secret.

These scandalous rumors were not helped by King Gustavus, who had announced to the citizens of his nation the birth of a son when Christina was born, and who encouraged from an early age a masculine deportment in his daughter by donning her in exclusively male attire and teaching her the standard education of Kings: history, warfare, languages, literature, statecraft and politics.

In fact, for most of her reign as Monarch of Sweden, Christina would be the subject one fiasco after another: if she wasn’t denouncing rumors of lesbianism (due to her continuing to don male attire even after her father’s death, and close relationship to a certain lady-in-waiting) or attending to the never-ending dispute over her correct gender, Christina was finding herself championing her right to defend the faith of her choosing in a period where much of Europe was or had recently been engaged in war over religion and it’s placehold in matters of state. Fully aware that converting from Lutheranism (then the official religion of Sweden) to her desired faith of Roman Catholicism would be illegal and therefore require the Queen to abdicate, Christina chose to follow her heart, and at once set off for Rome via Denmark, where the Queen would assume the identity of one Count Christophe Delphicus zu Dohna, a companion of the now ex-monarch, donning herself in male attire: ditching her dresses for trousers (complete with a sword sheathed at her waist), and by cutting off her hair to fully assume the role.

Giacomo Carissimi. The ex-Queen Christina was this Italian
composers most generous patron. Carissimi would serve
as Kapellmeister under the former monarch following her
abdication to Rome
It would be in Rome where our most beneficent patron of the arts would find herself most welcomed: after having been received on arrival by the Pope, the ex-Queen would become one of the first females in history to be made allowed to spend the night within the precincts of the Vatican. So valued a convert was Christina, she would be immediately set up in the most luxurious of lodgings: The Palazzo Farnese – one of the most extravagant palaces in Rome, complete with a gallery painted in imitation of the ceiling of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. (Michelangelo himself was an early architect of the palazzo). 
 Here, Christina could shift her focus from defending her sex to continuing her studies, to which she had added astronomy and music theory. She would go on to become one of the most important figures in the legacy of the Italian baroque, employing and patronizing many of the period’s most influential composers in their musical endeavors - not the least of whom were Giacomo Carissimi (who recently had a birthday on Monday April 18), known by prosperity as a pioneer of the Latin oratorio, the Chamber cantata and the recitative; Alessandro Scarlatti – founder of the Neapolitan School of Opera (an academy for notable and influential composers of Naples) and Arcangelo Corelli,[1] renowned as one of the greatest - if not the greatest – violinists and composers for violin to have ever walked the face of the earth, and who pioneered both the sonata and concerto grosso genres to the musical masses.

Many compositions authored by the above mentioned composers (and by many other contemporary musicians) were in fact written for the Queen, with Carissimi creating several secular arias in her honor.

Christina would take her patronage one step further by founding an academy for the leading musicians and other intelligentsia to congregate to discuss matters of science, history, arts, politics and music known as the Arcadian Academy. It is said that at the conclusion of each meeting, a live musical performance would take place.

Following the completion of construction at the Academy, the ex-queen would found the Tor di Nona Theater, which doubled as an opera house (making it one of the premier opera houses to have been constructed in Rome) where a defiant Christina would allow her favorite actors and musicians to grace the stage and the orchestra pit.[2] In an age where actors and singers alike were viewed as prostitutes and gigolos, the former monarch was, in effect, forcing the hand of the Roman potentate to usher into Rome a more liberal way of life. The ruling Pope, Clement X and his successor Innocent XI were outraged, with Pope Innocent demanding the women off of the stage, and forbidding them from acting, singing and wearing low-cut dresses. Christina, however, was unmoved by the demands of the Holy See, and not only allowed the performances to continue from the private confines of the Palazzo Farnese, but publicly abandoned her male dress for very décolletage-friendly female attire.

A cross-section of the Teatro Tor di Nona, from a blueprint of the theater.
The Tor di Nona itself would see several shifts in management; almost immediately after banning Christina from hosting the facility as a mecca for the sinful arts of music and stage play, Pope Innocent XI would turn the theater into a storage hold for grain. The Tor di Nona would soon, however, become ravaged by fire and excessive restructuring before being rebuilt sometime in the 18th century and rebranded as the Teatro Apollo – a truly oxymoronic name, perhaps in a nod to Christina herself (the “teatro” or “theater” being representative of something sinful, ugly incarnate and a scourge on society itself, and “Apollo” being a glorious god). The building (as the Apollo) would see the Roman premieres of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore and Un Ballo a Maschera in 1853, and in 1859, respectively.

Today neither Queen nor theater remain, yet the legacy of both remain in abundance: by single-handedly forcing Papal rule into the future by patronizing and encouraging members of the arts (and by defying the status quo relating to gender and it's assumed roles and interests), the former Queen Christina would usher into Rome a new age of artistic expression and liberty, and promulgate the finer arts onto generations of the Roman public. 

Even in spite of the Pope converting the Teatro into a storage hold, the Tor di Nona was not built in vain: in it, contemporary and future generations would be made aware of the majestic beauty of our ancestral classical masters of music and stage, and it's very presence on European soil would be a stepping stone – no matter how small, or how distant, or interrupted – in the chain of women’s rights and commercialism. The era would see the birth of the public concert and the vindication of the middle and lower classes, who, for so long had been shunned by Papal rule or by their respective monarchs from enjoying or learning the art of music and stage. 
 Each effort made toward exposing to the public this hidden world of beauty would be yet another link on that chain, banding together to create an impenetrable force of artistic liberty and expression. 

Today, we can enjoy a good Broadway stage play or musical without obstruction or conflict, and we can continue to indulge in the majestic works of Scarlatti, Carissimi, Corelli (and even Verdi) thanks to those fearless, most generous and impassioned patrons like Queen Christina who helped clear the pathway toward artistic enlightenment.

Enjoy below a soprano favorite aria, Carissimi's Vittoria, Mio Core! (Victorious is my heart!)


[1]Corelli served as Kapellmeister under Christina and would publish his first opus under her patronage in 1681: 12 Trio sonatas, Opus 1.
[2]The first opera to be performed at the Teatro Tor di Nona was composer Francesco Cavalli’s “Scipione Affricano.”


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