Scene Change

Early Illusionistic (16th Century)

The early illusionistic scene consisted of side units (wings), rear closure (back drop) and heavens (sky borders). Due in part to the temporary nature of most sixteenth century theatres, the heavens did not change except for the addition of cloud units. A variety of techniques were (or may have been) used to change the wings and the rear of the scene.

The Standing Scene. Inigo Jones used (and may have invented) the standing scene in which the scene change took place only at the shutters while the side wings remained unchanged. Jones used this technique in Florimene. See the Florimene paper.

Florimene Scene Change

Wing Change - Periactol

The use of the periactoi (scena versatilis) was popular during the Renaissance because it had a precedent in the classical world. The Roman architect, Vitruvius, had described the three-sided units that could be revolved to present three differently decorated faces.

Danti's Periaktoi

In Ignazio Danti's edition of Vignola's Le Due regoli della prospettiva pratica (Rome, 1583) he indicated that the periactoi scene change was first used by Aristotile San Gallo in Castro in 1543. He also said he had seen it used in Florence in 1569; probably for Baldassare Lanci's settings for La Vedova.. Danti included a drawing of the periactoi stage.

The machinery consisted of five periactoi, two small periactoi on each side and a large periactoi to close off the rear of the stage. Several observations about this technique should be made:

this stage did not provide for side entrances between the periactoi
the stage floor may have been flat; a raked stage would have resulted in a gap between the stage floor and the downstage edge of each periactoi. This would be a very large gap for the large periactoi at the back
the backstage area would be revealed at some point of the scene change

Danti Plan Movie

Danti View Movie

Sabbattini's Periaktoi

Nicola Sabbattini described a variety of methods of changing the setting in his Pratica di Fabricar Scene e Machine ne' Teatri [Manual for Constructing Theatrical Scenes and Machines], Ravenna, 1638. He indicated the best method was the use of periactoi. His text and drawing suggest two different types of periactoi wings. The rear of the stage was closed with shutters that divided in the middle and pulled to the side.

A. The side wings consist series of equilateral periactoi on each side of the stage. Each periaktoi could be preset with three scenes. These periactoi could be operated by winches located under the stage floor. Sabbattini acknowledged that the backstage area might be revealed if the periactoi were not turned properly.

Since Sabbattini used a raked stage, there would have been a gap between the stage floor and the downstage edge of each periactoi. In his discussion of a type of hinged shutter, he noted that a piece of cloth painted like the rest of the scene could be attached to the bottom of the unit to hide the gap created by the slope of the stage floor.

Sabbattini Equilateral Periactoi Plan

Sabbattini Equilateral Periaktoi View

Furttenbach's Periaktoi

 Josef Furttenbach described a unique double periactoi system in his Architectura Recreationis, [Recreational Architecture], Augsburg, 1640. There are three wing units on each side of the stage: the first wing was a single periactoi and the second and third wings each consisted of two periactoi. Each periactoi had two decorated sides. The rear of the stage was closed with a set of shutters. Furttenbach's stage was raked which would create a gap between the stage floor and the downstage edge of each periactoi. Furttenbach "solved" this problem in the section of the stage by slanting the base of periactoi, but this was an error since a slanted base would have prohibited the periactoi from turning.

The periactoi were turned from below the stage by handles on the pivoting shafts that ran up through the periactoi. The periactoi could create a closed configuration, appearing like a Serlian style wing, and an open configuration.

In Newes Itinerarium Italiae (1627) Furttenbach refers to Giulio Parigi as his teacher and master and he describes the settings for Parigi's Il Giudizio di Paride produced at the Teatro Mediceo in 1608. Some scholars believe that since Furttenbach described only the double periactoi technique for changing scenery, he was taught that technique by Parigi.

The decoration of the wings in the animation is based upon illustrations in Furttenbach's Manhaffter Kunstspiegel, [Noble Mirror of Art], Augsburg, 1663.

Furttenbach Plan

Furttenbach View

Dubriel's Rotating Quads

 A drawing in Buonarroti's manuscript of Giudizio di Paride at the Teatro Mediceo designed by Guilio Parigi has wings that are shown as parallelograms or quadrilateral prisms. They could represent quadrilateral units much like those shown in Jean Dubreuil's La Perspective pratique published in Paris in 1642-49. It would be essentially two angle wings mounted on a pivot. Dubreuil's drawing places the quad units too far upstage. Rotating these units would interfer with the shutters as shown in the animations.

Dubreuil Plan

Dubreuil View

Sliding Wings

Sabbattini's Angle Wings

Sabbattini's Pratica illustrates two methods of changiing an angle wing (Serlian Wing).

A. Sabbattini's Angle (Serlian) Wings With Cloth Covers

Sabbattini's first method of changing the wings was very simple. It consisted of pulling a cloth cover over a three-dimensional angle wing (Serlian Wing).

B. Sabbattini's Sliding Angle (Serlian) Wings
Sabbattini's second method for changing the wings (Chapter II, 6) consists of the wings for the second setting hidden behind the wings for the first setting. they would be slid upstage to cover the next wing. The downstage wing would have to be covered by the cloth cover..

The QuickTime movies show both methods. See Medici Wings for another example.

Sabbattini Angle Wing Change Plan

Sabbattini Angle Wing Change View

Rear Closure Change

Danti's Large Periaktoi

Danti showed a large periaktoi to close the rear of the scene. This is shown in the QuickTime movie of Danti's scene change above.

Dubreuil's Multiple Periaktoi

Dubreuil showed a four periaktoi arrangement that could be used to close the rear of a scene. It should be noted that Dubreuil's drawings were published in the seventeenth century, although the technology seemed closer to that used in the sixteenth century.

Dubreuil 4 Periaktoi Plan

Dubreuil 4 Periaktoi View

Sabbattini's Sliding Shutters

Sabbattini's Pratica described several variations on the rear shutter change (Chapters II, 13-15). Most of the wing change movies show the sliding shutter

Sabbattini's Roller Curtain

Sabbattini described the use of the same technique he descibes for raising the front curtain (chapter I, 37as a technique for raising the rear closure drop (Chapter II, 16). The technique is similar to a window shade - rolling the drop onto an overhead roller. Sabbattini recommended using counterweights to assist the operation as opposed to the spring in a modern window shade. This technique was used as late as the ninetheenth century in the court theatre at Mnichovo Hradiste.

Sabbattini's Portculllis

Sabbattini described another method in Chapter II, 16, the portcullis, but does not illustrate it in the Pratica. There is an illustration or this device in Sabbattini's "notebook" at the Biblioteca Oliveriani in Pesaro (MS Oliveriani 321).

Sabbattini's Portcullis

the development of scenice spectacle


usittThis material is made possible, in part, by a grant from the New Initiatives Fund, United States Institute for Theatre Technology and by grants from the University Research Council, Cratis D. Williams Graduate School, Appalachian State University.


Dr. Frank Mohler
Department of Theatre & Dance
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC 28608

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