28 October 2020
Books One & Two from Nicola Sabbattini’s Pratica di fabricar scene e macchine ne’ teatri or Manual for Constructing Theatrical Scenes and Machines, 1638, published in:
Serlio, Sebastiano, Joseph Furttenbach, Nicola Sabbattini, and Barnard Hewitt. The Renaissance Stage: Documents of Serlio, Sabbattini and Furttenbach. Coral Gables, Fla: University of Miami Press, 1997.
Book One is an instruction manual for converting a large hall or assembly room into a performance space suitable for various late Renaissance-era spectacles and theatrical presentations. We are told how to erect a stage platform and, using a full-scale version of one-point perspective, lay out the various stage components such as side houses, balconies and “the heavens.” Carpentry, geometry, painting, and project management are given full due. The writing is focused on the practical aspects of the various tasks and does not explain the artistic theory or ideas behind them.
Book Two explains the stagecraft behind common Renaissance stage tricks and illusions. Again, the writing is focused on literal instruction. Wood, cloth, board, paint, lamps and cord are all ingredients that are frequently mentioned. Some example chapter titles:
- How to Show the Whole Scene in Flames
- How to Open and Close the Stage Traps
- How to Make A Hell Appear
- How to Make the Sea Rise, Swell, Get Tempestuous and Change Color
- How to Make A Rainbow or Arch Appear in the Sky
Both Books One and Two are illustrated with simple line drawings and diagrams to explain the techniques.
How does this relate to scenography?
This text is directly about late-Renaissance/early-Baroque stagecraft. It is relevant to anyone interested in stage design, theatrical engineering and stage production.
Book One, Chapter 16, How to Place the Highlights and Shadows in Painting the Scene, provides a clear and simple evaluation of front light versus back light versus side light and would be useful to students of stage lighting.
It is important to note that the stage structure proposed in Book One does not include a proscenium arch and is similar to what today is known as an “end-stage.”