Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Theatre and Performance


Marvin Carlson

Committee Members

Peter Eckersall

Jean Graham-Jones

Subject Categories

Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture | Other Theatre and Performance Studies | Theatre and Performance Studies | Theatre History


Scenic design, costume design, court theatre, Spain, Florence, Early Modern


This dissertation examines the life and work of seventeenth-century artist and architect, Baccio del Bianco, to imagine alternative research strategies for histories of theatre. Traditional scholarship of theatre design is rooted in art historical practices, which has limited the consideration of influences beyond visual culture. It has also posited Italian theatre culture as the driver of innovations in Early Modern theatre design. In this project, I argue for and engage in a practice of scenic design historiography that replaces Italy as the dominant actor in the theatrical scene of this period with a more nuanced approach that places emphasis on the contexts of artistic production.

Baccio del Bianco was born and trained in Florence, and he later worked in Italy and the Holy Roman Empire, before taking up the post of court theatre designer for King Philip IV of Spain in Madrid. There is a large amount of extant documentation relating to his life and work, including a presentation copy of a play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca containing eleven signed, hand drawn illustrations. This manuscript is central to this project, though I also draw upon selected other works from Baccio’s oeuvre. These include many with no direct relation to theatre or performance, such as his work on military fortifications and civic waterways, and his designs for ornamental glassware.

The research and writing of this dissertation were influenced by a cultural history approach to design, as well as Actor-network-theory. The former is based on the work of theatre scholar Christin Essin and, in part, posits theatre design as a creative practice in conversation with cultural, social, and economic flows outside the realms of theatre and performance. Actor-network-theory, promulgated by sociologist Bruno Latour, provides strategies for analyzing networks composed of both human and non-human actors. It offers approaches to archival research that draw attention not just to the connections between people but also to those created by material elements in archival collections. Together these methodologies encourage robust engagement with primary and secondary sources, objects, and felicitous encounters (both literal and imaginative) to build a fuller image of past events and practices. My project is in-and-of-itself an argument for this kind of engagement with the history of theatre design.