In the process of creating the massive work that eventually became Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, painter and scholar Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) spent much of the mid-sixteenth century traveling throughout Italy, meeting Renaissance artists and writing about their lives and works.
From this imposing source, Thomas A. Pallen has created a compendium of theatrical references augmented by related modern Italian scholarship. Vasari's Lives—daunting because of its sheer magnitude—has remained relatively obscure to English-speaking theatre historians. To introduce the numerous scenographic references of this great work to the English-speaking audience, Pallen provides new translations of all relevant passages, as well as a table of cross-references to the principal editions of Vasari in both English and Italian. And because Vasari often omitted important information, Pallen annotates the text, providing important names, places, and historical background.
Essentially, Pallen divides Vasari's work into four categories: triumphs and pageantry, ingegni for mystery plays and festivals, theatrical scenery, and miscellanea and lacunae. Although triumphs and pageantry were not directly theatrical, they were executed by many of the same artists who worked on theatrical productions and either used or introduced many Renaissance Italian theatrical techniques. The works described here range from tableaux vivants and other forms of street decoration to fireworks displays.
While Vasari did not personally know the work of either Filippo Brunelleschi or Francesco d'Angelo (called Cecca), he discusses their inventions for staging mystery plays and street festivals; indeed, Pallen shows how the work of these two artists paved the way for all later Renaissance scenography.
Pallen then deals with Vasari's references to and descriptions of the theatrical scenery and lighting effects of his time and the artists who created them. In accordance with the schema developed by Elena Povoledo, Pallen leads the reader through the evolution of scenographic thought and practice from the elementary work of Girolamo Genga to the advanced settings created by Vasari himself.