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Vasari on Theatre. (Reviews).

Thomas A. Pallen. Vasari on Theatre

Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999. 159 Pp. $39.95. ISBN: 0-8093-2161-0.

In his Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Giorgio Vasari describes a number of pageants and theatrical performances worked on by artists whose biographies appear in his work. To make Vasari's references to theatrical practices available in English, Thomas A. Pallen has extracted and newly translated pertinent excerpts from the Lives. In addition to the translations, the book provides commentary on Renaissance performances and practices, including some omitted by Vasari, and adds several other documents pertaining to Renaissance theater history. An appendix of cross-references to artists in the DeVere and Milanesi editions of the Lives, a list of the artists' life spans, an informative introduction, and notes complete the volume. Renaissance historians will be interested in Pallen's focus on early theater, while the cultural context generated by Pallen's commentary advances development of the relatively new study of theater history.

Divided into four parts, the volume first reports on Triumphs and Pageantry in Florence, where semitheatrical processions and pageants played a role in civic life and politics. In a chapter on ingegni for mystery plays and festivals, Pallen reviews Vasari's descriptions of theatrical machinery designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and Cecca (Francesco d'Angelo) for Florentine celebrations of the Annunciation and the Ascension. Translated passages from Ludovico Zorzi's interpretations of these spectacles and related commentary on the theological and humanistic implications of the Florentine mystery plays argues that the plays were the work of intellectuals concerned with the humanist education of young men in Florence's confraternities. In a chapter on theatrical scenery, Pallen proposes an arc from the early work of Girolamo Genga extending through contributions by Baldassarre Peruzzi, Giulio Pippi, called Giulio Romano, Bastiano da San Gallo, called Aristotile, Battista Franco, Bronzino, and Vasari himself. Altho ugh Vasari omitted from the Lives any description of the scenery he designed for a Venetian production of Pietro Aretino's Talenta, deferring to commentary elsewhere, Pallen reviews interpretations of Vasari's scenic development of the "piazza and street" into an "infinite" street. Pallen notes that Vasari also omits reference to his innovative use of a painted sipario (curtain), decorations of the auditorium and stage, and interaction between the intermezzi and the action for a production of Cofaneria in Florence in 1565 with intermezzi designed by Buontalenti. Pallen's final chapter in Part One discusses the theatrical work of Fra Giocondo, Cesare Cesariano, and Palladio. Vasari's omissions of Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael as scenographers are lacunae here remedied by descriptions of their contributions to scenography.

In Part Two, excerpts from twenty of Vasari's biographies contrast markedly with the ten volumes in Gaston DeVere's English translation of the Lives, and that of course is Pallen's point: to make the information about theater in Vasari's monumental work accessible in English. Part Three contains supplemental documents including Baldassare Castiglione's Letter to Ludovico di Canossa describing the stage apparatus for the 1513 performance of Calandria in Urbino, and a description of the same event found in a manuscript in the Vatican. A Letter from Vasari to Ottaviano de'Medici describes the apparatus made in Venice for a performance of Pietro Aretino's Talenta. Vasari's description of the wedding festivities for Francesco de' Medici and Giovanna of Austria and his Letter to Raffael dal Borgo on the apparatus made in Florence for the entrance of Emperor Charles V complete the documents. Notes and a Bibliography bring into play recent studies on early theatrical scenery, interpretations of their relation to civi c life, and theoretical interests in the practical developments leading to modern theater. The English reader will be glad to know that Nino Pirrotta and Elena Povoledo's seminal Li due Orfei. Da Poliziano a Monteverdi (2nd ed., Torino: Einaudi, 1981), cited in Italian, was published as Music and Theatre from Poliziano to Monteverdi, translated by Karen Eales (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982). Overall, Pallen's bibliography is useful and his book gives English readers valuable new access to the study of early modern stagecraft and to theater and spectacle in Renaissance Florence.
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Author:Dersofi, Nancy
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2002
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