Sea Scene

Early Illusionistic (16th Century)

A variety of sources describe the sea scene on illusionistic stage. The works of Sabbattini and Furttenbach include some of the earliest descriptions. Sabbattini includes the sea cloth, variations on the profile wave and the column wave. Furttenbach includes several profile waves: still, sliding and profiles on a shaft (a version of the column wave), and the unique upstanding wave. Some of these machines continued in use in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Furttenbach's Sliding Wave

Furttenbach described the easiest sea scene as leaning a board with profile wave against the rear wall.

Furttenbach Still Wave

Furttenbach's Sliding Wave

Furttenbach describes a technique for creating a more active sea by cutting profile of more billowy waves on a board and placing it in the groove for the upstage most set of shutters. By sliding the board back and forth a more active sea may be created.

Furttenbach Sliding Wave

Furttenbach's Violent Wave

Furtenbach suggests an active sea could be shown on the inner stage by mounting four profiles waves on a shaft. The peak of the wave on each profile should be offset from the adjacent wave. When several of the shafts were placed behind one other and rotated, the offset profiles would suggest the motion of the waves moving from one side to the other.

Furttenbach's Violent Wave

Furttenbach's Violent Wave on Stage

Sabbattini's Column Wave

Sabbattini's column wave ("Third Method of Showing A Sea") is similar to Furttenbach's "Violent Wave," but Sabbattini substituted a serpentine column for the shaft of profiles. This would give a more realistic effect. Indeed it was this type of wave that survived and can still be found in the eighteenth century Drottningholm Theatre and drawings in Diderot's Encyclopedia. The animation shows four columns turning out of sync.

Sabbattini Column Waves

Sabbattini Column Waves on Stage

Furttenbach's Upstanding Wave

Furttenbach described a unique wave machine to be used when the Children of Israel flee the Pharaoh in a play about the Exodus. The Red Sea must open for the Israelites to cross and then close when the Pharaoh tries to pursue them. The animation shows the sea opening and closing as the Pharaoh follows.

Furttenbach Upstanding Wave

Furttenbach Upstanding Wave on Stage

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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