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Family of Baroque Stage Designers

Theatre set by Giovanni Bibiena

The Galli da Bibiena (or Bibbiena) family had its roots in the village of the same name, near Florence, and in the 17th century they became the greatest stage designers of Baroque Italy—perhaps the greatest of all time, in an age when rulers such as the Dukes of Parma ran themselves into debt creating lavish Baroque spectacles that would perish after a few performances. Of these only sketches survive.

Art historian Rudolf Wittkower considered state sets such as the Bibienas' as essentially part of the Bolognese tradition of quadratura painting; audiences liked sets that showed the same sort of illusion and perspective tricks that painters employed in trompe-l'oeil frescoes and church ceilings. Quadratura was 'a science concerned with the accurate rendering of the laws of vision', and an art in its own right.

Many of the Bibienas distinguished themselves as architects or painters besides, such as Giovanni Maria da Bibiena, the patriarch of the family, who was a student of Francesco Albani and spent much of his life in Bologna. He left paintings in the Certosa, as well as in the churches of the Padri Servi and Santa Maria della Caritá.

After Giovanni Maria eight more Bibienas made names for themselves. Some got as far as the courts of Vienna, Berlin and Lisbon as set designers and theatre architects, but most were connected in one way or another with Bologna. Antonio da Bibiena spent much of his life there. He designed the Teatro Comunale, and the dome for the church of Santa Maria della Vita.

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: Emanuele Ravelli