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date: 21 September 2019

Sanquirico, Alessandro locked

  • Paul Sheren


(b Milan, July 27, 1777; d Milan, March 12, 1849). Italian scene painter and designer. He began his career designing scenery and decorating new theatres in conjunction with other leading artists such as Paolo Landriani, Giovanni Pedroni, Giovanni Perego and Giorgio Fuentes. From 1817 to 1832 he was sole designer and chief scene painter for La Scala. From this powerful position during a rich period of operatic output, he influenced design standards for the works of Bellini, Donizetti, Mozart, Meyerbeer, Rossini and many other later composers until well into the 20th century. Among the hundreds of operas and ballets he designed at La Scala were the premières of Rossini’s La gazza ladra (1817), Bellini’s Norma (1831) and Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia (1833).

Sanquirico’s designs were the foundation of the style commonly associated with 19th-century grand opera. They combined the restrained neo-classicism of his early training with the romantic trait of basing stage fantasy on historical accuracy and sensibility. Vast enough in scale to accommodate the epic quality of lyric drama, they were intimate enough and sufficiently ‘realistic’ to render human passions credible and reasonably natural. He tended to prefer spacious settings with single perspective, unlike the more intricate plans of the late Baroque period. A typical Sanquirico formula, widely copied and still theoretically valid, was to set a scene in a richly decorated architectural foreground which opened out on to a broad landscape view painted on a backdrop, profound in its simplicity (see overleaf). This solved many technical problems of scale and, at the same time, satisfied the aesthetic needs of romantic audiences for spectacle. The end of his career saw the introduction of gas lighting in theatres, and his painted scenery showed a sensitivity to the nuances of light which later scene painters lost because of advances in lighting control. One reason for Sanquirico’s international influence was that portfolios of hand-coloured engravings based on his theatrical and architectural drawings were published and extensively circulated and copied (...

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