Making a Play for God: The Sacre Rappresentazioni of Renaissance Florence

By Nerida Newbigin - ES48

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Playful pleasure or devout piety? Why did Florentines invest so much effort in the performance of sacre rappresentazioni, their dramatizations of the life of Christ and the saints, the history of Man’s Salvation from the Creation to the Last Judgement, Old and New Testament stories, and miracles of the Virgin?

Drawing on manuscript and printed plays, confraternal and communal archives, chronicles and letters, this study explores in fine detail and with careful attention to chronology the performance groups and their motives, and the financing, staging, and reception of their plays. Woven into this exploration is an account of the transmission of the plays first in manuscript and later in print, with woodcuts that have guaranteed their survival to the present day.

Nerida Newbigin is an Emeritus Professor in Italian Studies at the University of Sydney. Since retirement, she has published, with Barbara Wisch, Acting on Faith: The Confraternity of the Gonfalone in Renaissance Rome (2013) and, with Kathleen Olive, a critical edition of the Codice Rustici (2015).

1039 pp. + 194 ill.
ISBN: 978-0-7727-2493-9 softcover, 2 vols. set
Published: 2021


Volume 1

Transcriptions and Other Essentials

1. The Manuscript Evidence of Florentine Sacre Rappresentazioni
2. Plays in Churches
3. Youth Confraternities and Their Plays
4. Edifici for the Feast of St. John the Baptist
5. Playing Outdoors
6. Antonia Pulci, Antonio Miscomini, and the Transition to Print

Volume 2

7. Defying Anonymity: Belcari, Poliziano, Bellincioni, and Lorenzo de’ Medici
8. Bartolomeo de’ Libri, Antonio Miscomini, and the Illustrated Editions
9. Savonarola and Beyond: Castellano Castellani
10. The Afterlife of the Plays

1 Rappresentazioni and Frottole in Manuscript
2 Printed Rappresentazioni
3 Major Collectors and Sales
Cited Works


Winner of the 2022 David Bevington Award from the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society for best new book in early drama studies.

“This volume is the summa studiorum of Italian sacred theatre. Newbigin has assembled a vast array of sources (archival, textual, and iconographic) that allow the reader to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the sacre rappresentazioni of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Florence.” — Gianni Cicali, Georgetown University

Making a Play for God is an innovative study that offers the most comprehensive treatment of all the known Florentine mystery and miracle plays and playwrights, the performances, and their reception and editorial history. The research is impec- cable, much is new, and it is a pleasure to read. The author’s knowledge of the field is unmatched, her accomplishment unrivaled.” — Elissa Weaver, University of Chicago


"The two-volume set is encyclopedic, in many ways definitive, and consequently of broad interest not only to theater historians, but also to scholars of premodern religious art, literary studies, and codicology in manuscript and early print, as well as gender, patronage, and political economy. This review cannot do justice to the riches of the volumes, which include a comprehensive set of supplementary tables."  — Alison Frazier, University of Texas at Austin, in Church History (92, Issue 2).