Life in frescoes

Teatro Bibiena

The decoration of the small boxes of the theatre is a sequence of painted scenes with an happy and free line. The frescoes are a work of a remarkable but unknown painter.

The back of the boxes
The supreme elegance of the theatre is visible also if we take a look inside the several orders of boxes and at the inside of the upper loggia. The dark wooden small rounded columns that delimit and support the boxes give rhythm to this section, intended for the eminent members of the audience, and turn the architectural elements into a musical score. Furthermore, each box is embellished, as is the lodge, with refined frescoes depicting  imaginary landscapes, buildings in part real and in part invented, pastoral scenes, mythological episodes.  
Unpredictable painting 
The paintings that decorate the boxes are monochrome: various shades of dark brown are painted with fast and sharp strokes. Some constructions are visible, a probable reference to some buildings in the city of Mantua. At a distance, in the background, it is possible to make out a mount, perhaps a section of the landscape visible from the road leading to the Garda Lake.

An amusing scene in which roughly sketched figures dance on the grounds of a villa.

Perhaps the view of the Lakes of Mantua, with a narrow wooden bridge.

Two figures by a well turn to a figure who seems to be blended into the stone.

Two soldiers, one riding a horse, the other turning to us and showing a shield.

A beautiful dame immersed in the architecture of a noble palace receives a gift from a figure whose features cannot be made out: perhaps a suitor?

Near the walls of a castle, under a cloudy sky, in front of a garden and a lake, two men seem to embrace each other, under the eyes of a dame who appears at the top of the walls.

The invention of power
Decorative art of the eighteenth century did not have fixed iconographical references. Indeed the pleasantness of the portrayed subject was more important that the meaning of the painting. For this reason the frescoes that adorn the theatre seem to accompany the viewer who is attending a performance or a meeting. Here two fishermen, obviously ordinary men, amuse themselves by the water. The first one, not yet fishing, seems to be almost a masque, delighted and content. The second man is painted with beautiful and sharp strokes; he has already set his hook.  

Three splendidly sketched figures on a bridge. On the right a man spurs a donkey that is perhaps pulling a cart, on the left a man crosses a woman carrying a basket on her head.

Inside a bay, a man with eastern features plays a wind instrument. On his left, a woman seems to be dancing.

A sturdy man, who is gesturing in a an alarming manner, reaches out to a woman, who is scared and runs away.

Inside a wood, a little child (Amore?) brushes against the hand of a figure that looks like the God Mercury. Maybe he wants to distracts him, maybe he wants to accompany him.

A lady sings, accompanying the music she plays with a lute. Another figure watches and seems to take part.

By an arch, we witness what is probably the fight between Jacob and the Angel. The frescoes depict gallant, mythological and biblical themes.

In a landscape that is both gentle and frightful, Hercules defeats the Lion of Nemea.

A soldier with spear and helmet seems to be lost in a wasteland. He is slightly leaning forward and points to something that we cannot identify.

This scene is hard to interpret. On the left, a female figure with a statuesque appearance, dressed with oriental garments, her breasts showing, approaches a pair of figures that seem to be embracing on the ground. The woman is holding something, but it is difficult to understand the meaning of the gesture. It might be a reference to the myth of Deucalion and Pyrrha.

Two figures, including a man with a plumed hat, are looking down towards a city that rises above a hill.

A figure under a huge arch greets another man who is standing on a bridge, while a woman besides him walks holding with her hand a basket on her head. Below, a second figure seems to be dozing on the bank.

Below a country house and at the bottom of high trees, a hunter points his rifle at an animal hiding in the vegetation.

The largest box
The largest box, also known as royal box, is located at the center of the first order. It offers a magnificent view of the theatre, which opens up in its distinctive bell shape. The frescoed ceiling of the box recalls the more general decoration of the hall.

The decoration of the royal box is more sober than that of the other boxes. Its key elements are the medallions painted on a golden background.

At the centre of this medallion is a feminine figure wearing a laurel wreath. Is it the personification of Wisdom or the idealized profile of the Empress?

Credits: Story

Ideato e promosso da / Founded and Promoted by:
Mattia Palazzi (Sindaco del Comune di Mantova)
con Lorenza Baroncelli (Assessore alla rigenerazione urbana e del territorio, marketing urbano, progetti e relazioni internazionali del Comune di Mantova)

Coordinamento Scientifico / Scientific Coordinator:
Sebastiano Sali

Curatore testi e immagini / Superintendent texts and images:
Giovanni Pasetti

Foto di / Photo by:
Gian Maria Pontiroli

Redazione/ Editors:
Erica Beccalossi
Sara Crimella
Carlotta Depalmas
Veronica Zirelli

Un ringraziamento speciale a / A special thanks to:
Emma Catherine Gainsforth
Chiara Pisani
Paola Somenzi
Custodi del Bibiena
Orchestra da Camera di Mantova - Ocm

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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