Achieving a Synthesis of Architecture, Painting, & Scenography

ARCHITECTURE. THEATER DESIGN. Galli Bibiena, Giuseppe (1696-1757)

Architetture, e prospettive dedicate alla maesta di Carlo Sesto.

Augsburg: Andreas Pfeffel, 1740


Folio: 39.5 x 30 cm. 5 folding lvs. (1 letterpress leaf, 4 engraved lvs. (title, dedication, frontis., and portrait), 50 engraved plates divided into 5 series of 10 plates each.


Bound in contemporary German quarter vellum with label (“Kupferbuch”). The binding has minor wear and there is evidence that these 5 suites of plates were once bound with another work. This is a fine, complete copy with only very minor cosmetic blemishes: some light dust soiling to the folds of a few plates, scattered finger-soiling to some plate margins, blank versos of some plates dusty, a few minor marginal tears or marginal creases, not affecting the images. Very nice.

First edition of this important architectural work, richly illustrated, by Giuseppe Galli da Bibiena. First edition of this richly illustrated work on architecture and perspective. The finely engraved plates show brilliant baroque compositions for catafalques, theatrical scenes, a series for the Passion of Christ in elaborate architectural settings, and the decoration of the Riding School at Vienna for the marriage of the Archduchess Mariana with Prince Charles of Lorraine.

The publication of “Architetture, e prospettive” made a major contribution to the modernization of the theater, establishing the so-called ‘scena ad angolo’, curved backdrops, on Europe’s stages.

The second son of the Italian architect Ferdinando Galli Bibiena, Giuseppe Galli da  Bibiena was to become a distinguished artist and designer of elaborate festivals, parties, funerals, open-air theatrical performances, and all manner of ceremony for the Habsburg rulers. He proved himself an excellent illusionistic painter with a deep theoretical understanding of perspective. These attributes, coupled with an extraordinary imagination, allowed Giuseppe to produce innovative, often fantastic imagery.

Among his early independent works were decorations for the festivities celebrating the birth of Archduke Leopold of Austria (1716) and an imperial wedding in Munich (1722). In 1727 Emperor Charles V appointed Giuseppe to be “His Majesty's First Theatrical Engineer. Galli Bibiena also designed altars and pulpits for churches, constructed a decorative arch in Prague, and with his younger brother Antonio, designed decorations for theaters. After Charles V’s death Giuseppe served the late monarch’s daughter, Maria Theresia. Among his notable achievements in this period, Giuseppe transformed the stables at the Hofburg in Vienna into a ballroom for the wedding of Charles Alexander of Lorraine to Marianna of Austria. In 1747, he was commissioned to design Margrave Frederick of Bayreuth’s opera house, considered his magnum opus. At the time of his death, at Berlin in 1757, Galli Bibiena was in the employ of Peter the Great.

“Architetture, e prospettive”, dedicated to and with a portrait of Charles V, was printed in the year of Emperor’s death and at the height of Galli Bibiena’s career. The work is comprised of five series of plates with ten plates each, depicting funerary apparatus, religious scenery (“teatri sacri”), and fantastic architectural views.

“The range of motifs and views embraces topics that were of great interest at the end of the baroque era, such as fantasy-laden reconstructions of classical ruins. In his designs, the artist made use of various methods to make the architecture monumental, working above all with views from below and cropped sections. In many designs he used the ‘scena ad angolo’ technique and in others (in particular for the depiction of festive decorations for imperial ceremonies) he used a central perspective as a dignified form…

“[One of the sets of engravings shows] the decoration of the Cavallerizia, the riding arena, which was transformed in 1744 into a ballroom. The plates were made by Lorenzo Zucchi, the engraver at the court of the Elector of Saxony in Dresden. The ‘theatro sacro’ and the stage decorations for the theater festival to mark the marriage of the future Elector of Saxon, Frederick Augustus II, are also his work. However, most of the copperplates are by the imperial printer Andreas Pfeffel (d. 1748)…

“The fusion of architecture and decoration in the two-dimensional medium of drawing is characteristic of Giuseppe Galli Bibiena’s designs… Giuseppe’s father, Ferdinando, in his book on architecture had also made an attempt to unite painting and architecture from the point of view of perspective, using the special art form of scenography. In ‘Architettura e Prospettive’, Galli Bibiena elevated this synthesis of painting, architecture, and scenography to a form of art in its own right, which had its greatest effect in the ‘staging’ of architecture in the service of absolutist power.” (Biermann, Grönert, Jobst, and Stewering, “Giuseppe Galli Bibiena” in “Architectural Theory from the Renaissance to the Present”, p. 156 ff.)

Fowler, 136; Kat. Berlin, 4152; not in Millard; not in Vagnetti