Gaspare and Carlo Vigarani

Sorcerers of the Stage

Carlo Vigarini, Sets for Psyché, 1678

Gaspare Vigarani (1588-1663), from Reggio Emilia, was the 'Engineer and Chief Superintendant of the Workshops' for Duke Francesco I of Modena. Like every artist who worked for the Este, he had to do a little bit of everything, from building fortifications to reforming and embellishing the system of canals (the Canale del Naviglio)

Mostly his time was divided between architecture and creating the sets and the stage mechanisms—the macchine, such as floating clouds, wave machines, fireworks, sea monsters and sea battles, floating gods and goddesses—for the legendary stage productions staged by the dukes. At these he was the master of his day, earning him the nickname il Stregone, the 'great sorcerer'

As an architect, Vigarani designed the Palazzina in the Giardini Ducale in Modena (1632), as a centrepiece for what was then the dukes' gardens, and a setting for the court's summer theatre. In his remarkable church of San Giorgio, the interior itself becomes a kind of stage set. Other works include the richly decorated Sant'Agostino in Modena, and the ingenious SS Girolamo e Vitale in Reggio Emilia, where three oratories on three different levels are squeezed into a tiny space.

Sant'Agostino, Modena

As a great set designer, in an age passionately obsessed with operas and theatre, Vigarani was famous across Europe. In 1659 he and his son and assistant Carlo (1637-1713) were called to the greatest of all courts, that of Louis XIV, to oversee the celebrations for the King's marriage to Maria Teresa of Spain. The Vigaranis proved such a success that they were given permanent posts at Versailles as Intendants des Machines et Plaisirs du Roi. Here, with an almost unlimited budget, they staged the operas of Jean-Baptiste Lully and the plays of Molière and Racine.

The Vigaranis designed the famous stage machinery for the Théâtre des Tuileries (now lost), and they were able to translate many of their theatre tricks into landscape gardening, as assistants on the creation of the gardens at Versailles.

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