Scene Illusion

2018 marks 200th foundation anniversary of the Gonzaga Theatre in Arkhangelskoye in Krasnogorsky District of Moscow region of Russia. Pietro Gonzaga (1751-1831) was an Italian theatre set designer who established scenic design into an art “in its own right”. He worked as a stage designer in La Scale and other theatres in Milan, Genoa, Rome and Venice, but he spent most of his life in Russia since 1792 when he was invited to become the Chief Stage Designer by prince Nikolay Yusupov who was the Chief Manager of Emperor’s Theatres at that time.
Gonzaga theatre in Arkhangelskoye is one of the seven “baroque” theatres in the world that remained untouched by late restoration. The theatre was reopened in 2004 both as museum and theatre. It fully retains its original wooden construction, interior and machinery. And it is the only place which preserved original stage curtain and four complete backdrops painted by Gonzaga.


Gonzaga designed performances without actors. Scenery paintings played the primary role in performance along with the music. He created 12 sets which changed during the performance, displaying narration of deceptively realistic atmospheres of each particular space. Gonzaga called his productions “music for eyes”. He compared space and colour to musical accents and tones and proposed using “spatial rhythm and colour modulations” for making visual music.

Four preserved sceneries “Temple”, “Prison”, “Tavern” and “Marble Gallery” create an optical illusion and present fascinating perspective, extending the visual perception beyond the physical limit of walls. The relationship between architecture and scenography is not only figurative but also real. Gonzaga was not only a set designer, but he contributed as an architect to construction of the theatre. Architecture and scenography are interdependent and cross-correlated fields both incorporating space design.
Gonzaga has also transferred art of scenography into landscape architecture. Pavlovsky Park (located 27km south of St.Petersburg) and represents one of the finest examples of landscape-style parks in the world. In forming the landscape scenes Gonzaga also utilized his method of “music for the eyes” creating magnificent panoramas, long deep views, emotion transitions with the means of different planting material and combination of groups or solo trees in the wide open space. The landscape opens a permanently changing scenery for a spectator with every new step.


200 years Gonzaga became the forerunner of space and visual experiments of contemporary theatre and showed the overlapping boundaries of reality and illusion. His approach influenced different forms of art, including scenography, architecture and landscape design. Today the idea of audio-visual unity was reinvented in the modern visual art exhibitions and 3-D installations. The interception of architecture and set design was realized two centuries ago is preserved today, when architects become set designers and vice versa.


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