12 June 2020
Part I: Vitruvius
De architectura/The Ten Books of Architecture
Book 5, Chapter 6, Part 9
Written in between 30 and 15 BC in Latin
Note: this is the very last part of a chapter detailing instructions for building a theater building
There are three sorts of scenes, the Tragic, the Comic, and the Satyric. The decorations of these are different from each other. The tragic scenes are ornamented with columns, pediments, statues, and other royal decorations. The comic scene represents private buildings and galleries, with windows similar to those in ordinary dwellings. The satyric scene is ornamented with trees, caves, hills, and other rural objects in imitation of nature.
There are three kinds of scenes, one called the tragic, second, the comic, third, the satyric. Their decorations are different and unlike each other in scheme. Tragic scenes are delineated with columns, pediments, statues, and other objects suited to kings; comic scenes exhibit private dwellings, with balconies and views representing rows of windows, after the manner of ordinary dwellings; satyric scenes are decorated with trees, caverns, mountains, and other rustic objects delineated in landscape style.
Part II: Serlio
Tutte l'opere d'architettura et prospetiva (All the Works of Architecture and Perspective)
Book 2, Chapter 3, Parts 24-26
Written c. 1545 in Italian
Note: this section immediately follows a lengthy section with instructions on the rules of perspective drawing
The following exceprts are taken from Nagler, A. M., (1959), A Source Book in Theatre History, found online here:
The Three Scene Types
This first [scene] shall be Comicall, whereas the houses must be slight for Citizens, but specially there must not want a brawthell or bawdy house, and a great Inne, and a Church; such things are of necessetie to be therein. How to rayse these houses from the ground is sufficiently expressed, and how you shall place the Horison: neverthelesse, that you may he the better instructed (touching the former of these houses) I have here set down a Figure, for satisfaction of those that take pleasure therein; but because this Figure is so small, therein I could not observe all the measures, but refer them to invention, that thereby you may chuse or make houses which shew well, as an open Gallery, or lodge through the which you may see an other house. The hangings over or shooting out, show well in shortening worke, and some Cornices cut out at the ends; accompanied with some others that are painted, show well in worke: so doe the houses which have great bearing out, like lodgings or Chambers for men, and especially above all things, you must set the smalest houses before, that you may see other houses over or above them, as you see it here above the bawdy house: for if you place the greatest before, and the rest behind still lessen, then the place of the Scene would not be so well filled, and although these things upon the one side be made all upon one floore: Neverthelesse, for that you place great part of the lights in the middle, hanging over the Scene or Scaffold, therefore it would stand better if the floore in the midst were taken away, and all the roundels and Quadrans which you see in the Buildings, they are artificiall lights cutting through, of divers colors.... The windowes which stand before, were good to be made of Glasse or Paper, with light behind them. . . .
Houses for Tragedies, must be made for great personages, for that actions of love, strange adventures, and cruell murthers (as you reade in ancient and moderne Tragedies) happen alwayes in the houses of great Lords, Dukes, Princes, and Kings. Therefore in such cases you must make none but stately houses. . . . I have made all my Scenes of laths, covered with linnen, yet sometime it is necessary to make some things rising or bossing out; which are to bee made of wood, like the houses on the left side, whereof the Pillars, although they shorten, stand all upon one base, with some stayres, all covered over with cloth, the Cornices bearing out, which you must observe to the middle part: But to give place to the Galleries, you must set the other shortening Cloth somewhat backwards, and make a cornice above it, as you see. . . . All that you make above the Roofe sticking out, as Chimneyes, Towers, Piramides, Oblisces, and other such like things or Images; you must make them all of thin bords, cut out round, and well colloured: But if you make any flat Buildings, they must stand somewhat farre inward, that you may not see them on the sides. In these Scenes, although some have painted personages therein like supporters, as in a Gallery, or doore, as a Dog, Cat, or any other beasts: I am not of that opinion, for that standeth too long without stirring or mooving; but if you make such a thing to lie sleeping, that I hold withall. You may also make Images, Histories, or Fables of Marble, or other matter against a wall; but to represent the life, they ought to stirre....
The Satirical Scenes are to represent Satirs, wherein you must place all those things that bee rude and rusticall . . . for which cause Vitruvius speaking of Scenes, saith, they should be made with Trees, Rootes, Herbs, Hils and Flowres, and with some countrey houses.... And for that in our dayes these things were made in Winter, when there were but fewe greene Trees, Herbs and Flowres to be found; then you must make these things of Silke, which will be more commendable then the naturall things themselves: and as in other Scenes for Comedies or Tragedies, the houses or other artificiall things are painted, so you must make Trees, Hearbs, and other things in these; the more such things cost, the more they are esteemed, for they are things which stately and great persons doe, which are enemies to nigardlinesse. This have I seene in some Scenes made by Ieronimo Genga, for the pleasure and delight of his lord and patron Francisco Maria, Duke of Urbin: wherein I saw so great liberalitie used by the Prince, and so good a conceit in the workman, and so good Art and proportion in things therein represented, as ever I saw in all my life before. Oh good Lord, what magnificence was there to be seene, for the great number of Trees and Fruits, with sundry Herbes and Flowres, all made of fine Silke of divers collours. The water courses being adorned with Frogs, Snailes, Tortuses, Toads, Adders, Snakes, and other beasts: Rootes of Corrale, mother of Pearle, and other shels layd and thrust through betweene the stones, with so many severall and faire things, that if I should declare them all, I should not have time enough. I speake not of Satirs, Nimphes, Mermaids, divers monsters, and other Strange beastes, made so cunningly, that they seemed in shew as if they went and stirred, according to their manner. And if I were not desirous to be brief, I would speake of the costly apparel of some Shepheards made of cloth of gold, and of Silke, cunningly mingled with Imbrothery: I would also speake of some Fishermen, which were no lesse richly apparelled then the others, having Nets and Angling-rods, all gilt: I should speake of some Countrey mayds and Nimphes carelesly apparelled without pride, but I leave all these things to the discretion and consideration of the judicious workmen; which shall make all such things as their pattrons serve them, which they must worke after their owne devises, and never take care what it shall cost.
Animation of the Inanimate
The while that the Scene is emptie of personages, then the workman must have certaine Figures or formes ready of such greatnes as the place where they must stand, will afford them to be, which must be made of paste board, cut out round and paynted, signifiing such things as you will, which Figures must leane against a rule or lath of wood, crosse over the Scene where any gate, doore, or way is made, and there some one or other behind the doore must make the Figures passe along, sometime in forme of Musitians with instruments, and some like singers; and behind the Scene some must play on, upon certaine instruments and sing also: sometime you must make a number of footemen and horsemen, going about with Trumpets, Phifes and Drummes, at which time you must play with Drumbes, Trumpets and Phifes, etc. very softly behind, which will keepe the peoples eyes occupied, and content them well.
If it be requisite to make a Planet, or any other thing to passe along in the Ayre, it must be framed and cut out of paste-board; then in the hindermost and backe part of the houses of the Scene, there must be a piece of wire drawne above in the roofe of the house and made fast with certain rings behind to the paste-board painted with a Planet or any other thing that shal be drawne softly by a man with a black threed from one end to the other, but it must be farre from mens sight, that neither of the threeds may bee seene.
Thunder and Lightning
Sometime you shall have occasion to shew thunder and lightning as the play requireth, then you must make thunder in this manner: commonly all Scenes are made at the end of a great Hall, whereas usually there is a Chamber above it, wherein you must roule a great Bullet of a Cannon or some other great Ordinance, and then counterfeit Thunder. Lightning must be made in this manner, there must be a man placed behind the Scene or Scaffold in a high place with a boxe in his hand, the cover whereof must be full with holes, and in the middle of that place there shall be a burning candle placed, the boxe must be filled with powder of vernis [i.e., varnish, resin] or sulphire, and casting his hand with the boxe upwards the powder flying in the candle, will shew as if it were lightning. But touching the beames of the lightning, you must draw a piece of wyre over the Scene, which must hang downewards, whereon you must put a squib covered over with pure gold or shining lattin [sheet tin] which you will: and while the Bullet is rouling, you must shoote of some piece of Ordinance, and with the same giving fire to the squibs, it will worke the effect which is desired.
Part III: The Woodcuts
The following famous woodcut illustrations are from a 1611 English translation of a Dutch translation of Serlio's book :