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Renaissance Fun: The machines behind the scenes

Steadman, J; (2021) Renaissance Fun: The machines behind the scenes. UCL Press: London, UK. Green open access

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Abstract

Renaissance Fun is about the technology of Renaissance entertainments in stage machinery and theatrical special effects; in gardens and fountains; and in the automata and self-playing musical instruments that were installed in garden grottoes. How did the machines behind these shows work? How exactly were chariots filled with singers let down onto the stage? How were flaming dragons made to fly across the sky? How were seas created on stage? How did mechanical birds imitate real birdsong? What was ‘artificial music’, three centuries before Edison and the phonograph? How could pipe organs be driven and made to play themselves by waterpower alone? And who were the architects, engineers, and craftsmen who created these wonders? All these questions are answered. At the end of the book we visit the lost ‘garden of marvels’ at Pratolino with its many grottoes, automata and water jokes; and we attend the performance of Mercury and Mars in Parma in 1628, with its spectacular stage effects and its music by Claudio Monteverdi – one of the places where opera was born. Renaissance Fun is offered as an entertainment in itself. But behind the show is a more serious scholarly argument, centred on the enormous influence of two ancient writers on these subjects, Vitruvius and Hero. Vitruvius’s Ten Books on Architecture were widely studied by Renaissance theatre designers. Hero of Alexandria wrote the Pneumatics, a collection of designs for surprising and entertaining devices that were the models for sixteenth and seventeenth century automata. A second book by Hero On Automata-Making – much less well known, then and now – describes two miniature theatres that presented plays without human intervention. One of these, it is argued, provided the model for the type of proscenium theatre introduced from the mid-sixteenth century, the generic design which is still built today. As the influence of Vitruvius waned, the influence of Hero grew.

Type: Book
Title: Renaissance Fun: The machines behind the scenes
ISBN-13: 9781787359154
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.14324/111.9781787359154
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.14324/111.9781787359154
Additional information: Text © Philip Steadman, 2021 Images © Philip Steadman and copyright holders named in captions, 2021 This book is published under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Non-derivative 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). This licence allows you to share, copy, distribute and transmit the work for personal and non-commercial use providing author and publisher attribution is clearly stated. Attribution should include the following information: Steadman, P. 2021. Renaissance Fun: The machines behind the scenes. London: UCL Press. https://doi.org/10.14324/111.9781787359154 Further details about Creative Commons licences are available at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/ Any third-party material in this book is published under the book’s Creative Commons licence unless indicated otherwise in the credit line to the material. If you would like to reuse any third-party material not covered by the book’s Creative Commons licence, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder.
Keywords: renaissance, art, history, theatre
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > Bartlett School Env, Energy and Resources
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10124541
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