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Ancient Theatre

Vincenzo Scamozzi

alias Teatro all’antica
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1590 | Opening
Built between 1588 and 1590
(detail)1920 | Restauration
Facade and ceilings,
(detail)50. 's 20. century | Restauration
1950 :Loggia, 1957: Reconstruction of the stage,
(detail)1966 | Restauration
Restoration of th coffered ceiling,
(detail)1973 | Restauration
Renewal of the stairs leadfing to the loggia.



Sabbioneta, the ideal city, grew from nothing between 1556 and 1591, conceived by the duke Vespasiano Gonzaga Colonna. Together with Mantua it is today a Unesco World Heritage. Here stands the Teatro all’Antica (The Ancient Theatre), built between 1588 and 1590 by the architect Vincenzo Scamozzi. It is the first theatre in modern times that was conceived from the start as theatre building, without adapting a pre-existing building. The wonderful frescos inside were created by artists from Venice, part of Paolo Veronese’s school, as is evident in the painted spectators above the loggia. Other frescos and sculptures refer to ancient Rome. The loggia, an early example of a Royal Box, is adorned with twelve elegant columns that support the same number of statues of Olympic gods. The layout of the room is reminiscent of a classical theatre: a semicircle with steps for the audience, a rectangular orchestra and a raised stage with a permanent, three-dimensional stage set – and still without a portal. Other important buildings in the city: the Garden Palace (Palazzo del Giardino), the Gallery of Antiquities (Galleria degli Antichi), the Duke’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale), the synagogue.


Visits: November – March Tue – Sun 9:30 –13:00 and 14:30 –17:00 /18:00 (Sun and holidays), April – October Tue – Sun 9:30 –13:00 and 14:30 –18:30 / 19:00 (Sun and holidays)

Tel: +39 0375 221044 · E-mail: ufficio.turismo@comune.sabbioneta.mn.it




The "theatre in the classical style" was the first building designated exclusively for theatre performances. It was a building intentionally created for theatre and anticipated the fact that performances carried out on courtyards, gardens or in large palace halls adapted for the needs of theatre would no longer be common. The stage did not have a portal as yet and instead used a corner scene, being in similar fashion as Teatro Olimpico somewhat non-modern.


"In May 1588, V. Scamozzi was commissioned by Vespasiano Gonzaga, the ruler of Mantua, to build a theatre at his new model town of Sabbioneta.  Scamozzi's design relies heavily on that of his master (Palladio) but it had to be adapted to a completely different shape. The theatre at Vicenza is wide and shallow, at Sabbioneta narrow and deep. Consequently the semi-circle of seats has to be pinched in until it is almost a horseshoe. It is even smaller in scale, with only five rows of seats, but still manages to retain something of the dignity of its Palladian model. At the back of the seats is the same colonnade linked by a balustrade and surmounted by statues, and on the walls are excellent frescoes by the school of Veronese showing architectural motifs, Roman emperors and painted spectators leaning over an upper balustrade enjoying the play with the audience.
Scamozzi's stage was later demolished but can be (and is being) reconstructed from drawings. It was a curious compromise. He gave up the scaenae frons and made one single arch (or rather a flat frame) embrace the whole stage. It was not yet a proscenium arch in the modern sense, however, since behind it he built a perspective even more elaborate than the one at Vicenza. It represented a piazza with a 'strada nobile' leading off into the distance, lined by palaces and rich houses and again rising and diminishing in scale as it receded. It was larger than the Vicenza perspective, but was still so much wasted space as far as the actors were concerned, since they had to remain most of the time in front of it. Evidently it proved too hampering for later producers and an open space with movable flats was substituted.
Unlike the Vicenza theatre, which is hemmed in on all sides by other buildings, that of Sabbioneta is almost free-standing and Scamozzi could give it three imposing facades, severe enough in style to be called Palladian: a plain ground floor with rusticated quoins, doorways and windows, and a  piano nobile with coupled pilasters and niches. There are three bays on the two short sides, nine on the long. It is at first rather misleading to find that the doorway in the centre "of the' long side leads straight into the space between the stage and the auditorium. The main entrance, through a vestibule, is by one of the narrow sides. "


In: TIDWORTH, Simon. Theatres: An Illustrated History. London: Pall Mall, 1973. p. 55 - 56



Author: Simon Tidworth

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