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D. A. BEECHER Gianlorenzo Bernini's The Impresario: The Artist as the Supreme Trickster Perhaps the least known aspect of Gianlorenzo Bernini's artistic endeavours is his work as a scenographer and playwright. His contributions to the Barberini court spectacles have been the subject of several recent studies, many of them dealing with the tricky problem of distinguishing the work of Bernini from that of his contemporaries.1 That he was one of the most admired impresarios of his day is a received idea, but the ephemerality of the medium has deprived modern critics of actual works for study. John Evelyn, following 1--.is trip to Rome in 1644, celebrated Bernini's versatility in his Diary, stating that he gave a 'Publique Opera ... where in he painted the scenes, cut the Statues, invented the Engines, composed the Musique, writ the Comedy and built the Theatre all himselfe.'2 We know of some of his devices such as flooding the stage in the Inundation of the Tiber (1638), a trick in hydraulics he learned from Aleotti, and the pyrotechnics of The Fair (before 1645) in which a coachman 'accidentally' set fire to the stage, causing the audience to flee for their lives. Before they could get away, however, the fire was out, and the scene changed to a 'noble and beautiful' garden. We know, too, from contemporaryletters, journals, and two biographers , that Bernini also found the time to compose for a coterie audience of friends and associates as many as twenty plays, for performance by members ofhis family, at his own house and at his own expense, a feat of which he spoke with some pride in later years.3 Such plays, we gather, were quite opposite in spirit to the grand court spectacles. They were plays featuring a witty subject or a clever device requiring a minimum of props and machinery. They appealed to Bernini because of their play on ideas rather than spectacle, for which he was to express a certain dislike in his comments to Chantelou. But until very recently these few observations by contemporaries provided the only source of information on Bernini the playwright. The case was altered when, in the early 196os, a play in Bernini's secretary's hand was located in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris penned into the back of an account book on repairs to the Trevi fountain dated 1642, a three-act but apparently unfinished play which, for want of a name, we have called The Impresario.4 The Impresario is, in all likelihood, a carnival play. All the characters wear masks from the commedia dell'arte. The play opens with the UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 53, NUMBER J, SPRING 1984 BERNINI's Impresario 237 ubiquitous lover, here named Cinthio, abetted by his witty Neapolitan lackey, Coviello, whois in theprocess ofhatchinga scheme for getting the money necessary to make a show of affluence and so allow his master to win the consent of the girl's father. Bernini introduces a new twist by making the father a famous scenographer and impresario like himself. Coviello hits upon the idea of swindling this impresario (Gratiano) into producing one of his comedies by approaching him with feigned orders from the prince for a command performance.5 This is only the first step in procuring the money, however. Preparations for the production will provide Cinthio and Coviello with a chance to smuggle one ofGratiano's rivals into his household in orderfor this rival to see at first hand how the famous machines and effects are created, a trick which promises 1000 scudiin bribe money. Such is the intrigue, in outline, which provides the substructure of the play. Though we develop very little interest in the lovers or their plight, their cause creates the familiar skeleton of action which seeksa solutionin the tricking ofthe old man, throughthe officesof a zanni figure, Coviello, and in the expected union. The play is 'unfinished,' though whether by accident ordesign is difficult to say. The fact is, the play as we have it does not present the union of the lovers, though we still envision that possibility as the play breaks off. It would appear that by that point...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 236-247
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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