Architecture and Perspective in the Set Drawings of the Galli Bibiena
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At the end of the seventeenth century, a revolutionary process in themes and techniques involves painting. The perspective’s rationality becomes the pretext for subverting the foundations and illusive dynamics of the architectural representation. In those years, quadratura painting and stage design become for the artists a common field of experimentation and spatial research. In this context, the artistic production of the Galli Bibiena both in scenographic and architectural field, it seems to have played a key role. This paper, after examining the relations between perspective painting and theatre scenes, and between built architecture and architectural imagery, focuses on a perspective analysis of the scene “drawing” of the Galli Bibiena. The aim has been to use perspective drawings as real project prefigurations, giving back through strict photogrammetry procedures, a great practicality and virtual materiality to the spaces and architectures simulated on the two-dimensions of the flat surface.
KeywordsEighteenth Century Seventeenth Century Architectural Element Theatre Scene Reverse Perspective
Theatrical representation between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as a privileged space for simulation, calls into play among other effects, a set of superb scenography, built on the visual reconstruction of space, capable of soliciting the evocative capacity of the viewer and, at the same time supplying brand-new spatial combinations. Such shapes, often generous or even bizarre, demonstrate the diffusion of these new models—real life formal prototypes whose transposition to stone would have come by osmosis with the new taste to which the drawn architecture itself gave a significant burst. In such a context, the artistic production, both in scenographic and architectural contexts, of the Galli Bibiena, a true dynasty of set-designers and architects, appeared as a leading player, both for the new formal innovation introduced and for having fed the interest on perspective architectural compositions (Andersen 2007).
This paper, after examining the relations between perspective painting and theatre scenes, and between built architecture and architectural imagery from the end of the seventeenth century, focuses on a perspective analysis of the scene “drawing” of the Galli Bibiena. Research on the work related to the Bibiena that has been produced up till now has focused more on the artistic value and overall impression of the drawings, and less on perspective drawing as a tool that holds metric elements capable of giving a design value to the representations. In this paper, the aim has been to use perspective drawings, generally used to satisfy sight, as real project prefigurations, giving back through strict photogrammetry procedures, a great practicality and virtual materiality to the spaces and architectures simulated on the two-dimensions of the flat surface. Therefore the objective pursued does not try to highlight or show symbolic values—as often turned out in past researches, especially regarding Renaissance perspective—but to rebuild the architecture of the Bibiena, recovering, thanks to perspective, original drawings through which the architectural grammar of the artists can be read. This work, placed side by side with the other research done over time on the Bibiena, enriches them with additional meanings through a geometric-projective approach; in fact, if in some cases the Bibiena’s architectural reconstructions were operated starting from autograph drawings in orthogonal projection, perspective drawings have been less frequently used for the same purpose, and not in a systematic way. Perspective’s math has allowed the addition to the Bibiena’s repertory the works that have been strictly kept in scenic imagery. The methods used highlight in particular the role and potential of the representation in terms of communication and documenting of the illusory spaces depicted in the Bibienas’ theatre sets. Through solids modeling, put to work on two-dimensional drawings obtained by perspective and properly re-elaborated, it has been possible to give a volume consistency that, tangible as far as the digital environment, gives back to those virtual models the dignity of built architecture, with their own spatial interiors.
The research has examined a significant number of drawings edited by several artists of the Bibiena dynasty, but only for some of them has it been possible to identify the geometric conditions for applying the reverse perspective process. Leaving aside the many stage sketches, attention has been directed only to those for which it was possible to find a rather rigorous perspective setting. As an example of the procedure and the results, a specific case study is presented here. Through this case study it is in fact possible to fully highlight the set of reconstructive-logical thread analysis and scientific thought on the themes of the reverse perspective representation. Through the definition of a digital model, the drawn space was made usable, freeing its spatial component, in a new mise en scène, from the boundary and firmness of a unique point of view.
This paper, therefore, while not claiming to be exhaustive, aims to contribute to a broader reflection on the communicative and documentary virtues of the representation, especially if it is directed only to drawn architectures, such as those outlined in the capriccios and fantastic compositions that connote the stage production of the Bibienas.
Perspective Painting and Theater Scene
The fulcrum of perspective composition loses its centrality to visibly move towards the periphery of the horizon line, often anchoring itself to the elements of real architecture or of the theatre’s set. In this way, the observer’s eyes is pointed towards lines that lead to focus points outside representation and, in a theatre, placed to the scene frames side. The result is a new visual composition capable of supplying brand new expressive possibilities. As mentioned by Povoledo “it’s a new and limitless dynamic in which each movement is reversible. And on each spatial line we see the continuous insertion of architectural elements that inscribe the vanishing points. And in this direction it proceeds, forking in two different directions, to the point that another and yet another “transparent” one repeat, infinitely extending the game” (Povoledo 1983: 272).
Architecture and Architectural Imagination
From the point of view of architectural theories, eighteenth century Italy appears in a subordinated position compared to France and England. For what concerns optical geometry and the application of perspective, Italy plays a fundamental role in all Europe. While geometry and stereometry characterized Guarini’s work, with significant outcomes in the architectural theories of the Baroque, the problems regarding perspective representation had catalyzed, since the late seventeenth century, the interest towards architectural representation and optical effects.
As written by Kruft: “… architecture comes close to theatre scenography with a ‘scene’ effect. Correspondingly, the real architecture often has the appearance of a theatrical wing. We can recall for instance piazza S. Ignazio in Rome (1725–36) by Filippo Raguzzini” (Kruft 1988: 255). The profound interaction between reality and representation is clear to see, which is an intellectual message itself in the—almost design—articulations that highlight imaginary architectures of which the elegance, often extremely pushed, is graced by the graphic efficacy of perspective. This kind of work particularly is highlighted in the Galli Bibiena’s art, the famous family of scenographers and architects, whose artistic momentum spread fortunately not only in Italy but also in many and wide Mediterranean and Germanic European regions, up to Lorraine (Gallingani 2002).
The founder of the artists’ family was Giovanni Maria Galli (the elder) (1618/19–1665), painter, born in Bibbiena, a small town in Toscana. His children were the painter Maria Oriana (1656–1749) and the better known architects and scenographers Ferdinando (1657–1743) and Francesco (1659–1739) who actually gave birth to the dynasty.
While Maria Oriana, the father’s pupil, expressed herself as a mannerist painter, with no original contribution, the brothers Ferdinando and Francesco trained as architects, scenographers and painters, were the authors of the new points of view introduced in built architecture, in perspective drawing and in scenography, and, with regard to the latter, in particular, they theorized the revolutionary “angle view” as a substitute for the seventeenth century “telescope view” (Lenzi 1991; Mancini 1979, pp. 302–370; Matteucci 1982, pp. 129–131). Their fruitful activity, often collaborating in several parts of Europe, fed a renewed interest for architecture’s perspective view, especially in France, Austria and Spain.
Of Ferdinando’s offspring, his sons Alessandro (1686–1748), Giovanni Maria the young (1693–1777), Giuseppe (1696–1756) and Antonio Luigi (1697–1774) followed the father’s path, starting their careers in architecture, painting and theatre scenography and transmitting the family tradition to the following generation. Francesco’s son was Giovanni Carlo Sicinio (1717–1760), who was an architect himself.
The latest notable exponents of the family were Giuseppe’s sons, Carlo Bernardo Giuseppe (1721–1787), born in Wien, known for his collaborations with his father and for his formation as an architect, painter and scenographer, and Ferdinando Antonio (1727–unknown).
So with Ferdinando and Francesco we see a new orientation of perspective decoration, with a sensitization towards the taste for marvelous shows. If the visual source seems to be the one of Andrea Pozzo and Canaletto’s tradition, in the plan of architectural creation we can see a brand new thinking on the theme of space. Fredinando’s work Architettura civile, preparata su geometria e ridotta alla prospettiva from 1711, does not highlight the introduction of original and notable principles of architecture, but it introduces perspective diagrams that will leave a sign over the European scenography tradition, especially for changing significantly the relationship between representation and reality.
It is about the way of drawing scenes from an angle (modo per disegnare le scene vedute per angolo), a scenographic technique that breaks the central perspective point of view offering unusual lateral glances. The composition of the architectural scene was made in order to show the buildings angled from the spectators’ view to achieve diagonal points of observation.
The first experimentation with such structures can be seen in painting, when, in Parma, on Scipione Rossi’s duty, Ferdinando created, between 1685 and 1687, the fresco of the Serraglio oratory at San Secondo Parmense, of which he’d probably also done the architectural project. Here he paints perspective frescos on the walls and apses of the building, in the most ancient ‘angular’ point of view known (Galli Bibiena 1711, 1731), which is the creation of a perspective system that substituted diagonal perspective vanishing points for the known seventeenth century composition schemes, which broke the closed space. He paints this experimentation in scenography again, with totally innovative results.
With this scheme “he succeeded in conveying with the required grandeur and pomp the fantasy, mobility and the dynamism of fragmentary and intermediate spaces in the actual space of the stage and in its virtual extensions. Sinuous arcades held up by consoles, arrangements of grouped caryatids, wreathed columns decked with garlands or sculpted bosses of geometric ornaments alongside medallions, curvilinear pedestals and a profusion of balustrades. This elaborated decorative approach fixed the illusionary space of a vestibule, a huge stairwell or gallery leading out into a garden” (Rabreau 2001: 58).
While it recalls the sixteenth century practice of creating the multiple vanishing point theatre scene, usage of this kind of view can be considered a true innovation by Ferdinando Bibiena; scenic architectures, in fact, appear to cross the stage diagonally and, in hiding from the viewer part of the space represented, it excites the evocative capability. In this regard, Martin Kemp notes that the advantage of the technique had a double turnout: it was suitable for the creation of dramatic effect and architectures with different degrees of depth; and it was less vulnerable to the distortion effect given by the spectators’ positions. Of course the use of volumes diagonally arranged was not, in itself, a new idea—an example in this sense is the Brunelleschi tablet with the Signoria palace, based on a similar scheme—and already set designers had previously used diagonal elements; but Ferdinando Galli Bibiena was the first to employ the “angle view” in a dominating and totally compelling way (Kemp 1994: 160).
As written by Rabreau “… all of the Bibiena family enchanted Europe and their designs, which were sometimes engraved, bear witness to a civilisation that was in love with the theatre” (Rabreau 2001: 58). Amongst Ferdinando’s sons Giuseppe was the one to give an essential contribution to the graphic work of the time, operating in several European courts. An excellent painter, with a solid theoretical preparation, he is fascinating because of his incredible versatility (Galli Bibiena 1740). He produces drawings that, even though oriented to scenography, often surpass its boundary, proposing a repertoire of images that impresses for its originality. In fact Giuseppe was able to create original compositions, notwithstanding Ferdinando’s repertory, with its luxurious decorations and the charming angular scenography, which started the fashion and somehow concluded the innovative effect of the scenographic or architectural illusionist perspective drawing effects.
From Image to Space
The relationship between imagined and real architecture is brilliantly witnessed in all the drawings of the Bibiena, which therefore build up significant sources for the historical investigation of cities and architecture. On such figurative documents, a study approach based uniquely on the traditional iconographic model, which is a descriptive reading of the architectural shape and its parts to rebuild the relationship between the artwork and the historical-cultural context that has produced it, would be partial and unsatisfactory. In fact, since in the Bibiena drawings the perspective representation of architecture is made by architects, this method would not be totally exhaustive.
So, it was felt useful to investigate this particular type of image by heading for a reading that could be intimately related to the knowledge of cultural codes that are the basis of the work.
This paper illustrates the method through which the strengthening of the figurative interpretation of these works was achieved, and to the comprehension of the relationship between built architecture and its possible real structure that is a specific research field of the geometric representation of the architecture, to which this paper is aimed.
The Bibienas’ drawings, whose atelier production means that the original products are not always able to be identified, have a very rich series of architectural scenarios, some realized as sketches for theatre, others with a didactic inclination within treatises, or as actual projects for decorative apparatuses, architectures or architectural elements. Most are drawn using perspective. This method gives the opportunity to propose for such drawings a different and more significant reading. In other words, it is possible to highlight in a more complete way the set of architectural shapes and urban spaces that have often been thought through, of which it would be hard to have a clear idea with any other interpretative analysis. Investigating with operations of reverse perspective, possible thanks to a strict methodical setting, we can see in their wholeness the spatial and metrical qualities of those acrobatic buildings, enclosed in the fixity of an image.
This research is even more significant if we consider that the architectures we have in the representations are pure fantasy, but at the same time the result of the architect-artist’s inventiveness.1 So it is interesting to supply an articulate view of those drawings, identifying, in the variety of the images seen, the examples that can exemplify the characters of architecture that had clear reflection on the planning activity.
Amongst the several scenes in the Bibienas’ repertory, just some of the most significant have been chosen for the first phase of this research. These are the ones that have three clear main figurative themes that in a certain way are the leitmotiv of scenic invention: first, the exteriors or porticos; second, winding stairs; and third the perspective view of interiors. In this paper, as an example of the method used, the work on a Design for a Stage Set with a Monumental Arcaded Courtyard is shown. It is attributed to Giuseppe Galli Bibiena and preserved in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Before passing to a rigorous analysis of the perspective structure, it is interesting to start with a pre-iconographic description. This means to define the elements of the image’s structure and to give a reading of the composition.
The drawing shows a wide covered path, probably just a passage, arranged in an angled perspective that allows a glance, through wide arches, to an open air patio, placed on a slightly taller elevation, beyond which there are, repeatedly according to a strict modular scheme, the architectural elements of the type in which the represented architecture is articulated.
The passage, characterized by a precise structural logic, is repeated according to a rhythmical sequence of double columns, of composite order, that build up the support for the monumental arches. The architectural space is closed on top by a coffered ceiling divided in wide frameworks whose order is regulated by the columns’ distance. The decorative interpretation is very variegated but at the same time moderate. So the large octagonal coffers are embellished with geometrical figures, the same as for the intrados of the arches; the mural hatches are adorned with raised pattern medallions and the arches’ keys enriched with projecting shields surmounted by moving patterns. The moldings, from the classical orders, are varied in the pedestals by unusual curved profiles. The first floor route crosses a bigger space that runs orthogonally, and exceptional solutions at the intersection of these spaces are adopted, to give the scene the character of elegant magnificence, such as the doubling of the thickness of the arches, or the insertion, in the angles, of niches with statues and busts.
As observed, the experiences in architectural painting between the seventeenth and eighteenth century highlight a significant connection between architecture and perspective, intended as a means to enlarge and deceptively iterate the real space. In its integration with real space, perspective-drawn architecture on walls or vaults loses trompe-l’oeil significance, rather gaining the status of simulated real spaces which enlarge or modify the qualities of the existing ones. This type of painting, for this reason defined as quadraturist, demonstrates a common denominator and a common research field with theatre scenography, that sees the birth of huge perspective architectural scenarios. In the theatre scenes it was the Bibienas, in Europe, who were the most important interpreters of architectural perspectivism and also important innovators of the perspective view who gave, with the angular setting, a new rigor that brought attention back to the values of drawn architecture. The Bibienas are both architects and scenographers. The scenes drawn by the artists of this family are, for this reason, precious documents not only in the field of scenic arts, but also in architecture. The contribution of their drawings, however, is often ascribed to the field of figurative arts, more than in architecture, and in this sense the architectural research on their family is nowadays led by historians.
This research, instead, wants to highlight how the perspective construction of the drawings, which is their realization according to a mathematical projection device, can offer the possibility of rigorously extracting, from perspectives, the traditional orthogonal projections, giving a stronger valence to sights that have been considered, till now, a purely artistic exercise. In the theatrical perspectives of the Bibienas, therefore, as in similar pictorial examples, “… the existence of a correct perspective construction assures us a documentary contribution…” fundamental to the interpretation of the represented architectural reality, of which “… we understand shapes and size… we can read links and suggestions often lost… and critically deduce useful elements to rebuild, metrically, the architectures that make up the fragment of the represented city” (Giordano 2014: 615).
The application of the photogrammetry procedure (or reverse perspective) to historical drawings, however, can’t be a mere mechanical application obtained by software. It has to be thought through and corrected where necessary, using an interpretation technique based on the study of the proportioning rules of orders and architectural space. Orders and proportions can be found in the theoretical work of Ferdinando Galli Bibiena, and it was the starting reference for the reconstruction and the graphic verification of the scenic architectures analyzed here. In this regard, the research has allowed us to verify that—only excluding some decorative details or marginal architectural elements with respect to the entire composition—the proportioning rules of the orders, contained in Ferdinando’s treaty, are mathematically applied in the drawings of the scenic images. Shapes and proportions of perspective architectures, conceived as theatrical wings, are fully corresponding to those theorized in the theoretical work of the Bibiena.
The potential of digital drawing and solid modeling allowed us to rebuild the architectures as virtual projects, that can be explored from different points of view, as shown in the illustrations. As already clarified, although the research has analyzed a great number of drawings, in this paper just one case has been presented as a sample of the methods applied. Indeed, we believe that, independently from the number of described examples, it is especially important to highlight the value of the graphic-geometrical approach, used as an investigation tool that can be added to the traditional ones, especially in relation to the Bibienas’ works, whose scenes can be read as documents of actual architecture. In other words, the stage drawings of the Galli Bibiena—by combining the geometric-projective interpretation offered by the reverse perspective (which is preliminary to the metric definition of the space) with the interpretation and verification of the proportioning rules theorized in the treaty of Ferdinando Galli Bibiena (useful for the complete definition of each composition’s element)—become a valuable documentary basis for reconstructing the architecture that is represented in them.
It has been demonstrated, through the connection with perspective, how drawn architecture can be re-read as a precious document that helps us understand the architectural grammar of the Bibiena.
It is recognized that this approach does not constitute, in itself, a novelty in methodological terms, having been repeatedly used to reconstruct the illusory space outlined in many and representative works of art history. However, this method has been applied almost exclusively to pictorial art production; less frequently to scenic composition, especially that of the Bibienas.
A different position of the ground line would not lead, anyway, to any metrical, geometrical and proportional change.
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