Architecture, Theater, and Fantasy is a captivating study of the impact of the Bibiena family on set design

A main thrill for the theater or film viewer is the closure of the outside world by the suspension of disbelief. Flight to imaginary realms often depends on atmospheric immersion; ranging from spooky CGI to the extravagant historicist ornament of the cinema palace, or the creation of space-defying sets. At the heart of the development of this artistic mode were the advances established in the Baroque period, which extended from roughly the early 17th century to the mid-18th century, which incorporated elaborate new machinery, the adoption of the proscenium arc and innovation in perspective-oriented decors. . Now on display in a new exhibit at the Morgan Library & Museum, Architecture, theater and fantasy: Bibiena drawings from the Jules Fisher collection offers an immersive journey through this era through one of its main protagonists, the prodigious Bibiena family.

For three generations, the Bibiena family has made Europe a kind of rockstars in the world of baroque theatrical design. From their native Tuscany, the family established a formidable presence in the many princely states that would later constitute Italy and beyond to the royal courts of Vienna, Prague, Stockholm, St. Petersburg and Lisbon.

The courtyard of a princely palace, Giuseppe Galli Bibiena, ca. 1719. Pen and brown ink, gray wash and blue watercolor. (Courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum, photography by Janny Chiu)

“The Bibiena have since their own time been credited with the invention of scena sets by angolo, those whose architecture is represented using two points of view on the sides of the stage,” noted John Marciari, curator Charles W. Engelhard and Head of Department. of drawings and prints à la Morgan. “This completely changed the relationship between design and actors and audience and allowed for sets of unprecedented grandeur, and its use made Bibiena famous across Europe. Changed the history of design theater thereafter.

The exhibit is a gift from the personal collection of the famous Broadway lighting designer Jules Fisher and consists of 25 works located in the museum’s intimate Thaw Gallery, a three-walled space often used for exhibitions of similar drawings.

The rooms are more or less organized into three thematic groups: the left wall houses drawings related to the Bibienas’ beginnings as squaring artists and sketches that give insight into their design processes, such as the pen and brown ink and gray wash Interior of the palace with stairs to the right. Those hanging on the central wall are the finished works presented to clients or producers and they reveal the enchanting impact of the two-point perspective rendered in exquisite detail, as in the Courtyard of the Prince’s Palace where Corinthian colonnades and coffered arches seem to extend to infinity. The drawings on the right wall similarly document the family’s use of scene by angolo techniques applied to sets outside their usual palace and courtyard scenes, such as a naval scene and a prison.

Drawing of the design process of the Bibiena family
Scenography: Interior of the palace with staircase on the right, Atelier Bibiena, ca. 1700. Pen and brown ink and gray wash. (Courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum, photography by Janny Chiu)

It is perhaps the impermanence of their main medium, the scenography, which diminished the fame of the Bibienas compared to their more vaunted Baroque peers. However, their legacy lives on through the substantial collection and preservation of their well-preserved designs.

“Although the Bibiena were once relatively popular in American museums, this is the first exhibition dedicated to them in 30 years, so we hope this will bring their work to the attention of a new generation of visitors. museums, ”Marciari continued. “Even more than for architects, Jules Fisher hopes (and ours) that the exhibition and donation of these drawings will interest and inspire a new generation of students and theater professionals.

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