In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, three generations of the Bibiena family dominated the world of European stagecraft: Giovanni Maria Galli da Bibiena (1618/1619-1665), Francesco Galli da Bibiena (1659-1739), Ferdinando Galli Bibiena (1657-1743), Alessandro Bibiena (1686-1748), Antonio Galli da Bibiena (1700-1774), Giuseppe Galli Bibiena (1696-1757), and Carlo Galli da Bibiena (1728-1787). The Galli Bibiena family served the monarchs of Europe, building opera houses, decorating palaces and producing scenery for numerous public and private royal events. Their many drawings, in pen and ink sometimes emphasised with washes and watercolour, shows the Bibienas’ extensive repertoire of the architectural motifs. Abandoning established stage design practices derived from the perspective renderings of the Renaissance, Ferdinando Galli Bibiena developed the scena par angolo, or the corner stage, in 1690. This revolutionary design gives the impression that the buildings or fragments of buildings in the scene extend into infinity.
A second “Bibiena era” could also be said to have existed in another time and place: the small circle of New York art historians, collectors, and directors of the 1950s and 1960s who revived Baroque stage design and made it a subject of study and collection 1. Interest in the Bibienas was sustained by individuals such as Donald Oenslager, equally comfortable in academia and on Broadway; Hyatt Major and Jacob Scholz of the Metropolitan Museum; and Richard Wunder at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum 2. Between 1962 and 1969, their enthusiasm resulted in about 15 major publications and exhibitions about Baroque stagecraft. This specific context led to the CCA’s acquisition of a corpus of Bibiena drawings in the early 1960s, as part of the original core of the Collection.
1 John Harris, “Reflections upon a European first,” Flights of Fantasy: An Exhibition of Architectural Capriccios, Imaginary Projects and Stage Designs: 5th November-19th December 1986, London, Clarendon Gallery, [ 1986 ], p. 11-13.
2 The sale (in Geneva, 1959) of the Edmond Fatio Collection of architectural and ornamental drawings, in which stage designs by the Bibienas were especially well represented, gave this enthusiasm momentum, because most of the drawings became part of American collections. See Richard P. Wunder, “Introduction,” Architectural and Ornament Drawings of the 16th to the Early 19th Centuries in the Collection of the University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan, 1965.