An important art center of the northern Italian region of Lombardy.
Located in the middle of the Po Valley and one of the most fortified strongholds of Lombardy at the time of Spanish rule in Italy, Sabbioneta is today an important art center of the northern Italian region of Lombardy. Not in the least the terracotta used in the construction of the idyllic city contributes to that fact.
Appointed dukedom in 1577, Vespasiano Gonzaga (1531-1591) built his “ideal Renaissance city” on the sandy deposits of the rivers Po and Oglio after the Roman model. His “Citta Ideale” or “Little Athens” formed a city fortified with six bastions, with beautiful buildings inside, such as the Teatro all’Antica, built from carved blocks of embossed natural stone and equipped with handmade terracotta floors and details.
The ‘Ducal Theater’ (Teatro Ducale), the very first building purposefully designed for the function of a permanent theater, is – in addition to the application of the Pythagorean proportions of the city pattern – the most spectacular part of this classic checkerboard patterned city.
The designer of the Teatro, Vincenzo Scamozzi (1548-1616) followed the Roman architectural traditions of the “Scaenae frons”, the richly decorated permanent architectural background of a theater stage and the “Trompe l’oeil”, the deliberately created optical illusion, as he had previously applied those principles in the construction of the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza. Using the linear perspective based on a strongly rising floor and sloping set buildings, the spectators were given the impression of looking into the axis of a long street, which greatly increased the quality of the play.
The design of the spectator space is also based on the Teatro Olimpico. The floor is covered with square (23x23cm) terracotta floor tiles, which form a beautiful contrast with the semicircular auditorium, the ditto wooden tribune and the semicircular Corinthian colonnade above it. In bringing together the various elements of the Teatro into a single whole, the chosen floor tile also proves its function that should not be underestimated: the columns, topped by the statues of the twelve Olympian gods, each representing one of the human emotions, rise as it were from the nutty-pink handmade terracotta floor.
As such, the experience of the theater, which hasn’t seen a whole lot of actual theater after Vespasiano’s death a year after construction was completed, is in itself a breathtaking experience!