Floats have long been a traditional feature in parades for festivals or special days from those in New Orléans during Mardi Gras built and operated by their crews to the spectacular displays created for the Rose Bowl Parade and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
I was a bit surprised, though, to come across images of floats in a 15th century Italian festival book for a celebration dedicated to Grand-Duke Ferdinand II. It included the fold-out depicting a warship float accompanied by horsemen and torch bearers. I had no idea that “floats” had been used for so long.
Parade floats were first introduced in the Middle Ages when churches used pageant wagons as movable scenery for passion plays. Artisan guilds were responsible for building the pageant wagons for their specified craft.1
With a little further searching, I came across an oil painting of a procession with floats that was held in May 1615, titled (English) The Ommeganck2 in Brussels on 31 May 1615. The Triumph of Archduchess Isabella3 by Denys van Alsloot.
(Click on image for larger version – opens in new tab/window)
I wasn’t really looking through medieval books for any particular sort of research. Rather, I was looking for images or patterns that could be incorporated into 21st designs for products. For instance, the image below is from the cover of the book where I found the warship float. The image is rotated 90°.
I digitally processed the image to correct for fading and adjust saturation and contrast.
Funny, isn’t it, what you can come across online without really looking for it.
1 Float (parade)e– Wikipedia
2 Ommegang or Ommeganck (Dutch: “walk around” (the church, village or city) is the generic name for various medieval pageants celebrated in what is now Belgium, in the Netherlands, and in northern France. – Wikipedia
3 The Ommeganck in Brussels on 31 May 1615: The Triumph of Archduchess Isabella – Victoria and Albert Museum