Natural Design: Teatro Olimpico cover

Natural Design: Teatro Olimpico

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Theatre design was a natural extension of Palladio’s interests in stage-like architecture, one-point perspective and classical antiquity, so when the officers of the Accademia Olimpica, a learned society based in Vicenza, of which he was a member, approached him in 1580 about building a theatre in Vicenza, he readily assented even though he was 72 years old at the time. He died shortly after the designs were approved, and it fell to his son, Silla, to carry out the construction of the theatre, which was built entirely of wood.





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Natural Design: Teatro Olimpico

Building a Theatre

Theatre design was a natural extension of Palladio’s interests in stage-like architecture, one-point perspective and classical antiquity.

When the officers of the Accademia Olimpica, a learned society based in Vicenza, of which he was a member, approached him in 1580 about building a theatre in Vicenza, he readily assented even though he was 72 years old at the time. Dramatic and musical performances requiring a stage were usually mounted on temporary platforms and backdrops in courtyards or public squares. The Teatro Olimpico was meant to be covered and permanent, allowing for the creation of more ambitious sets and better acoustics.

Teatro Olimpico

Teatro Olimpico

Angle View

Angle View

A Father’s Legacy

A Father’s Legacy

Derived directly from Vitruvius’ descriptions of ancient amphitheatres, the Teatro Olimpico would be Palladio’s most faithful adaptation of an ancient source.

He died shortly after the designs were approved, and it fell to his son, Silla, to carry out the construction of the theatre, which was built entirely of wood, not stone. The fixed perspectival architecture simulating a street behind the porta regia, or proscenium, and the oil-lamp lighting system were designed and built by Vincenzo Scammozzi. Both are still in use today.

Architectural Details 1

Architectural Details 1

Architectural Details 2

Architectural Details 2

Architectural Details 3

Architectural Details 3

Making Considerations

Making Considerations

The first production staged in the Teatro Olimpico in 1585 was Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.

The scenography called for the 7 roads of Thebes to be represented, which were laid out along the five aisles and two stage entrances to great effect. After a few productions, however, the theatre fell into disuse, the fixed, rigid backdrops and permanent stage architecture severely limiting the types of performances that could be mounted.

To the Other Side

To the Other Side

By placing archaeological exactitude above functional considerations,

Palladio had proved one could recreate entire ancient buildings from ancient texts, but in the process, inadvertently proved that the lives and architectural needs of cinquecento Italians had little in common with antiquity, effectively ending the humanist and antiquarian phase of the long Italian Renaissance.

Photo by Sailko.

(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Article courtesy of False Start

(CC BY 4.0)