Designs for Stage Decorations and Scene Settings

The depictions of stage designs and scene settings in the graphic collection of the Deutsche Theatermuseum (German Theatre Museum) report about the places of performances, the appearance and the opulent diversity of costumes and decoration as well as about the theatrical themes and pieces performed on stage. In addition, they also provide information on societal and artistic conditions and conventions typical of the times, which have always influenced theatre. As regards the diagnostic value, it is essential to distinguish between those sheets created as designs for a future performance and those made after the event to keep records and supply documentation. The temporary design idea for a stage setting or costume or the depicted recording of a past performance deliver diverse information on theatrical reality.

Unique handmade drawings as well as elaborate prints that were made to an extent as a substantial sequence of engravings, attest to the societal mission, for example the entertainment, education or representation of theatre and of the court opera during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The picture library of stage settings mirrors the development of stage decoration and scene painting since the seventeenth century. Early examples of depictions in the graphic collection of the Deutsche Theatermuseum document the deployment and order of decorative elements in seventeenth-century theatres, which most likely were still telari, i.e. decorative elements built as rotating prisms or rather as staggered canvas screens. As early as in 1618/19, Giovanni Battista Aleotti (1546–1636) had invented a more modern and variable form of stage decoration in Italy, which consisted of flat, painted screens, the so-called scenery, that could be shifted back and forth on carts. This decoration comprised interchangeable scenery arranged on both sides at staggered intervals. By means of the depictions on its flat surface, the audience gained the impression of a stage setting that led deeply into a central-perspectival space, closed off at the back by a large backdrop. Originating at the Italian theatres, the perspectival scenery as well as the typical seventeenth- and eighteenth-century baroque theatre machinery spread across Europe and was able to flourish. Artists of many talents, who were architects, builders, draughtsmen and painters, for example Ludovico Burnacini (1636–1707) or the members of the Galli-Bibiena family took on a central creative function during this era of universal theatrical art.

For example, the stage designs of the Galli-Bibiena, as well as those of their contemporaries and students, indicate diverse types of decorative motifs (e.g. forest, square, seashore, harbour etc.) as well as diverse types of perspectival painting (e.g. central perspective vs. diagonal perspective) and elements of stage machinery (e.g. flying carts), which allow for a better understanding of baroque performative practices. They also bear witness to the sophistication of illusionistic draughtsmanship and art of construction and, at the same time, underpin the "rappresentatio majestatis" as the most important function of baroque theatre.

Departments in the collection "The Portfolio of Prints and Drawings Referring to Baroque Theatre, Stage and Festival Culture" of the Deutsches Theatermuseum

>> This collection is part of the Portfolio of Prints and Drawings Referring to Baroque Theatre, Stage and Festival Culture in the Deutsche Theatermuseum (German Theatre Museum).