Lighting of the Baroque Theatres

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Lighting of the Baroque TheatresJennifer MacGregor Lighting specifically for the theatre came into effect in the Renaissance and was later refined during the Baroque era. There are many documents and pictures left behind that help piece together what the theatre going audience of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries observed, however some of them are partial and do not help to properly portray the whole picture. The purpose of this paper is, through research and experiments, to shed some light on what it meant to illuminate the stages of the Baroque era. The Baroque era, like all other time periods, does not have exact, defined dates. Generally it can be said to encompass the 17th and 18th centuries for most of Europe. One aspect of the Baroque era that differs from the Renaissance is that most of the major European countries were brought into the same orbit [and] . . . there was less cleavage of the sort which, during the sixteenth century, separated the English and Spanish and French playhouses from those of the Italian courts. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the work that characterizes the Baroque period has the desire to evoke emotional states by appealing to the senses, often in dramatic ways. Nicoll states that the two endeavours which provided the foundation for the Baroque theatre were music and perspective. This endeavour into music started with a group of artists and noblemen who formed a society known as the Florentine Carmerata around the late 1500's. They focused their attention toward the musical element of Greek tragedies, and producing them with this element played a central role in the creation of a new type of spectacular performance. It was this experimentation along with the intermezzis that were the parents of opera. Nicoll also states that Guido Ubaldus work Perspectivae libri sex, published in 1600, was the first basic investigation into the laws of perspective that suggested a scenic method and opened up a new world of wonders. These two new aspects of the Baroque ushered in a new theatre intent on spectacle and music, one that appealed to the senses of an audience that was no longer limited to the upper class. More public playhouses were built and the Baroque era saw how the prominent and powerful middle class came to play a role in art patronage. In Paris alone the number of theatres grew from three at the beginning of the 1700's to 51 by 1791. The new emphasis on spectacle had its influence on theatre buildings built in the Baroque era. The new Baroque stages became much deeper than they were wide to allow scenes of infinite perspective. Many stages had some way of dividing the stage into two parts to create a separate front stage and an inner stage. More room was now made available in the heavens, beside the wings and under the stages for all of the stage machinery. A new system for changing the scenery, the chariot and pole system (brought in by Giacomo Torelli), allowed the increased number of wing flats to be changed into an entirely new scene in a matter of seconds. Because of the swiftness and ease of theses scene changes, fifteen to twenty scene changes could occur in one performance and provide the spectacle Italian opera required. Gone were the limiting three classical scenes recreated by Serlio for tragedy, comedy and satire. To this new kind of theatre came hells and heavens, caves, groves, forests, harbours and streets. And with them came many a wonderful spectacle of hell fires blazing, lightning and thunder, and glory machines with the Gods descending from the heavens. Although evidence of similar spectacles can be found in Renaissance and even Medieval plays, it was the Baroque that encompassed and refined them. The Baroque had the ability and advanced machinery to make the spectacles happen. They became something of a requirement of shows: the spectacle . . . dominated over all other considerations of the performance. The lighting of the Baroque era became more refined as well. In the words of Bergman, It was only in the early 17th century that a normalization of lighting technique began and they arrived at a system which would be normative for several centuries. New inventions and innovations were introduced into the theatre to create more control over the lighting . The innovations which Bergman cites in his book Lighting in the Theatre as coming into play are: turnable poles for the side lighting which make variations in the intensity possible, foot lights that can be raised or lowered to vary light intensity and detachable light boards that can be attached to wing trolleys or set pieces to make the lighting system flexible. This allowed for a change from light to dark to happen on stage with a distinct ease. According to Bergman it was [the] changes between illuminated, brilliant scenes and terrifying scenes with dimmed light in dusk or darkness belonged to the dramaturgy of the 17th century opera. In his book he also shares a lighting change viewed by Nicodemus Tessin the Younger as described in his travel account of 1687 - 88. Tessin describes a scene he witnessed at the San Giovanni Grisostomo Theatre (Venice) where the quite illuminated enchanted room was converted into a terrible cave, which was quite wonderful because of the extremes of two such different sets. Tessin describes the use of turnable poles and the vertical movement of footlights at San Giovanni Grisostomo. We also have earlier descriptions of the dimming of lights from The Dialogues of Leone di Somi. In his dialogues (dated 1556) the character Veridico describes when he had to produce a tragedy that starts off on a happy strain and then ends with death and disasters. He explains how [during] all the time when the episodes were happy in mood I had the stage brightly illuminated, but so soon as the first unhappy incident occurred . . . I contrived (by prearrangement, of course) that at that very instant most of the stage lights not used for the perspective were darkened or extinguished. Unfortunately di Somi does not give too much detail of what his prearrangement entailed, one might surmise that either the lights were extinguished or cylinders were dropped over the lamps to cover their light. It also might have been a combination of both. The dropping of cylinders or boxes of tin or black metal over lamps is described as a technique in Sabbattinis Practica di Fabricar Scene e Machine neTeari (1638) and Furttenbachs Mannhaffter Kunstspiegel (1663). The exact origins of the turnable poles are not mentioned by Bergman in his book but there is also reference in Book One of Nicola Sabbattinis work of poles that were in the side wings specifically for lighting. Their purpose was to create a placement for the lamps that would not touch the stage. This would keep the lamps firm and steady even when the dancing and tumbling made the stage shake. Perhaps someone saw that the idea of turning the poles was a much easier and less awkward way to vary the light intensity. The ease of these new systems is apparent: the changes in the stage lighting were now swifter and could happen during the action of a performance without closing the curtain. With this new ability to easily change from light to dark there is no mention of specific control over different areas. There are only reports of a difference between the inner stage and the front stage to show things like a hell mouth. Bergman makes the statement that light was not synchronized with any movement of natures own light (sun or moon) and that graduation of the intensity of light was the only thing possible. However, we do have Sabbattini to inform us that illumination that falls from one side of the scene will have a finer appearance than by any of the other methods. He then states that the way of presenting illumination from one side is through [the] painting of the scene and placing of the light. It is not known if only illuminating the scene from one side was ever actually practiced but it may have been experimented with. I would be inclined to say that they did try out altering the idea; the period was known for its experimentation of the arts. The opinion of dimming the auditorium lights was varied throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The concept of the darkened auditorium was held as sacred in Italy whereas France and England kept there auditoriums brightly lit. The best argument for the darkened auditoriums is given by the character Veridico in di Somis dialogues. One of the other characters points out that in Veridicos auditorium there are only 12 standing candelabra when he recalls as many as 250 torches in the same hall. Veridico responds that it is a natural fact that a man who stands in the shade sees an illuminated, distant object much more clearly due to the fact that the sight can proceed more directly toward the object. Veridicos companions agree with his logic and also point out two other advantages to the darkened auditorium: lower amounts of smoke and lesser expenses. From the works of Angelo Ingegneri we also have another advocate for the dimming of the auditorium lights, though he actually suggests dimming them before the curtain drops: [the] darker the auditorium, the more luminous seems the stage. We can see this convention of the darkened auditorium in Furttenbachs account of a religious spectacle with he viewed at the Medici palace in 1608. There he talks about the beautiful perspective scene that took place in a great hall completely closed and made dark. The convention of the darkened auditorium is a tradition that we still carry over into todays theatres. The advocates for the lightened auditorium felt the way they did because the theatre events were as much for the audience to see as to be seen; the auditorium lights were also thought to cast a festive radiance on the stage of the Paris Opera. Though there is mention by Tessin of the two foremost chandeliers in the auditorium being hoisted up