Architecture, Theater, and Fantasy

Carlo Galli Bibiena, A Colonnaded Stage, ca. 1750. © Morgan Library & Museum/ Photography by Janny Chiu.

From May 28 through September 12, 2021, The Morgan Library & Museum features Architecture, Theater, and Fantasy: Bibiena Drawings from the Jules Fisher Collection. The exhibition explores the elaborate stage design drawings produced by the Bibiena family and collected by the internationally acclaimed lighting designer Jules Fisher. It marks the first exhibition dedicated to Bibiena drawings in the United States in more than thirty years.

For nearly a century, members of three generations of the Bibiena family were the most highly sought theater designers in Europe. Their revolutionary stage designs were used for operas, festivals, and courtly performances across Europe: from their native Italy to cities as far afield as Vienna, Prague, Stockholm, Saint Petersburg, and Lisbon. While some of these productions are recorded in engravings, the Bibiena style survives above all in the family’s extraordinary drawings, which demonstrate the range of their output—from energetic sketches to highly finished watercolors. With representations of imagined palace interiors and lavish illusionistic architecture, this group of drawings highlights the visual splendor of the Baroque stage. Many demonstrate the family’s signature invention: the scena per angolo, or “scene viewed at an angle.” Replacing the static symmetry of earlier theater designs, the scena per angolo used multiple vanishing points to imagine sets of unprecedented monumentality, with a complexity of space never previously seen on the stage.

The Bibiena family of artists traces its origins to Giovanni Maria Galli (1618–1665), who was born in the Tuscan town of Bibbiena but moved to Bologna, where he worked under the painter Francesco Albani. Following a common practice of the time, he came to be known in his adopted city by a toponymic surname, Galli da Bibiena (with “Bibbiena” shortened to “Bibiena”). His children and descendants, though born in Bologna and elsewhere, continued to use “Galli Bibiena,” or simply “Bibiena,” as the family name. Architecture, Theater, and Fantasy celebrates the promised gift to the Morgan of twenty-five drawings by members of the Bibiena family from the collection of Jules Fisher.

During a career spanning more than sixty years, Fisher has designed the lighting for over three hundred Broadway and off-Broadway shows, including the original productions of Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago, and Angels in America, as well as for films, operas, ballets, concerts, and television. He has been honored with nine Tony Awards, more than any other lighting designer. Fisher’s long-standing fascination with the Bibienas was notably encouraged by his late brother Roy Fisher, a much-respected art historian and drawings expert who worked for Wildenstein & Company and the J. Paul Getty Museum, and as an independent dealer.

Architecture, Theater, and Fantasy: Bibiena Drawings from the Jules Fisher Collection
May 28 through September 12, 2021
The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street
New York, NY 10016


Other Things You Might Be Interested in:

Visit The Morgan Library & Museum online.

Also on at the Morgan Library& Museum this year, is an exhibition on artist Shazia Sikander, whose works are a fusion of traditional Persian miniature painting and contemporary art.

To see Es Devlin, one of the most successful contemporary stage designers, at work, I recommend the Netflix Documentary “Abstract: The Art of Design”.

If you miss going to the theater or the opera as much as I do, you can stream a number of great plays, ballets, and classical concerts on platforms like National Theater at Home and Digital Theater.