During the Renaissance, transformations in art and architectural theory, and more specifically their concepts about the theatre, already reflect a different understanding of the Greco-Roman notion of place/space, Renaissance artists, as is well known, developed an interest in geometrical perspective, or perspectiva artificialis. In painting, the visible rendering of reality soon represented geometric space to display the mathematical structure of depth. This ontological disclosure was invariably given with a "thickness" resistant to monocular vision and homogenization. There is no point at "infinity" in Renaissance painting. For architects, on the other hand, scenographia or perspectiva artificialis concerned specifically the design of theatrical space, stages for urban celebrations and the recreated skene of theatre buildings. This is demonstrated most explicitly in Daniele Barbaro's La Prattica della Perspettiva (Venice, 1569).


Other Renaissance architects such as his close friend Palladio and Sebastiano Serlio, believed that the theatre had a particular revelatory power. This is also substantiated by Barbaro's own discussion of the issue in his edition of Vitruvius and by Cesariano's eloquent plate in the 1521 edition of Vitruvius, where the theatre is represented as the cosmic building "par excellence." It is also clear from my previous research that Renaissance architects never conceived "space" as a purely geometric entity. The perceptually exciting depth of the painting or the stage, never subjected to one viewing point, was incomplete without the storia, the eloquent poetic narrative of which Alberti speaks in Della Pittura.


In opposition to Renaissance attitude toward art, architecture, and the theatre, Baroque architects radically transformed their relationship to the world, and accomplished an exciting synthesis of the qualities of natural space and the geometrical reality of architectural space. The potential to transform the totality of the human world into a self-referential cultural entity appeared for the first time. Yet, given the overwhelming presence of a natural ground of meaning, a distinction was established among the points of epiphany, the perspective vanishing points in theaters and churches, and the rest of experience. It was in these theatrical points that the sacred or profane representation attained its supreme coherence and meaning. Much less ambiguously than in the Renaissance, it was then man who contemplated the space of God, re-presented exclusively as a geometric entity. The transformation of the world into a picture took on another dimension. To experience this perspectival epiphany, human beings must assimilate themselves with the geometric vanishing point - now truly a "point at infinity." In Baroque institutions, however, this epiphany still could be considered part of an embodied ritual, both in politics and religion, without being in blatant contradiction with the obsession to "build" an "infinite" or at least "indefinite" human space (to observe René Descartes's distinction).


In the eighteenth century, the conditions for an association between architecture and theatre were set. This association occurred through the naturalization of perspective, and the whole world soon became conceived as a stage. Analogies between architecture and theatre became literal. In Vicenzo Dal Re's Teatro San Carlo for example, the theatre clearly emulates the city when the balustrades become balconies. The proscenium arch separating the stage from the space of real experience seemed to disappear in Ferdinando Galli-Bibiena's Architettura Civile, while the scena per angolo extended its walls to embrace the audience. The eye was intentionally led to a multitude of directions so that the space of the stage could be extended indefinitely into conjectural spaces that would draw the spectators into them. Galli-Bibiena's perspectiva per angolo democratized the theatre allowing every individual to occupy a place in geometric space, and the space of man became fully a construction. As opposed to the seventeenth century theatre where only the king occupied the central point of epiphany, the eighteenth century spectator already inhabited the perspectival world. As Richard Sennett has shown, the social conventions for public interaction in the large European cities of the eighteenth century also betrayed the theatricality of everyday life. In the churches, frames of frescoes tended to disintegrate, while Rococo architects collapsed the traditional Renaissance categories of ornament and structure, transforming their work into a "subjective" formal game that no longer addressed the inveterate quest to erect structures as a frame for rituals that in turn demanded appropriate ornamentation. Inhabiting a now objectified space and a linear, progressive time, humanity was either on the verge of constructing paradise in a utopic future, following its old quest for transcendence now through technology; or else the vision of paradise in the present here-and-now, represented by traditional artistic endeavors, was possible only as a spectacle through an insurmountable gap, the aesthetic distance of the Fine Arts, the origin of the well-known paradigm of art for art's sake.


Newton's void was an all-pervasive cosmic space, invisible except for the manifestation of impersonal laws that take place "in" it. Human consciousness was expected to become a passive cybernetic receptor in order to do justice to the truths, which for Newton were still transcendental, implicit in the universal law of gravitation taking place in the vacuum. This was the price to pay for intellectual freedom and democracy: to inhabit an infinitely thin and ungraspable depth, a perspective depth that appears utterly prosaic once it is secularized, as if the truth of the world were indeed conveyed by something akin to documentary photographic images, where lines are believed to meet at infinity as a matter of fact and tactility is disregarded, where we can be seduced by the promise of cyberspace and cybersex.


Given that the paradigm of Renaissance illusionism became problematic once the eighteenth century started to "inhabit" homogeneous, geometric space, the arts of resistance all became imbued with the traditional concerns of architecture. Once symbolic representation was substituted by instrumental representation, the aesthetic distance could only be exacerbated. We need only remember Walter Benjamin's city of voyeurs. The danger for art and architecture is, indeed, irrelevancy through potential closure, the closure to participation implicit in instrumental (i.e., aesthetic) representation.


Philosophers of art have generally avoided speaking about architecture because of the complexities involved by questions of utility and program. Yet, it is our contention that architecture must be understood as the paradigmatic cultural product of representation after the demise of Renaissance illusionism. It is the fragmentary artifact par excellence that may allow us to identify our opaque nature under the linguistic "house of being," revealing the horizon of beings that we recognize (in our wholeness), while we acknowledge that it is never fully present.


To transcend aestheticism, reductive functionalism and either conventional or experimental formalism, architecture must consider seriously the potential of narrative as the structure of human life, a poetic vision realized in space-time. The architect, in a sense, now must also choreograph and write the script for his dramas. This is, indeed, a crucial part of his design activity, and also the vehicle for an ethical intention to inform the work. Only by accepting this responsibility will it be possible for his work to invite the radicalized "individual" of the late twentieth century to exercise, with his/her freedom, a reciprocal responsibility to "participate" in the re-creation of a work of art that is no longer a mimesis of a shared, socially validated or transcendental order nor the product of a Romantic imagination attempting a construction ex nihilo.


Locating the emergence of theatrical space in a historical context is obviously an important prerequisite of our research. The main objective, however, is to examine the transformation of theatrical space in the early modern era, in relation to the changing architectural theories, emphasizing the explicit and implicit relationship between theatrical space and architecture from the seventeenth century to the twentieth century. The intention is to underline the potential of narratives (that followed the transformation of dramatic space) as a temporal program for the architectural project.


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