San Felice in Piazza

In the Codex Atlanticus (f. 699b-v), between 1506 and 1508, Leonardo recalls an «ocel della commedia», the automaton of a bird appearing in a theatrical performance. This brings to mind the ancient engineer Architas of Taranto, sometimes called the "Greek Leonardo" (428 - 347 B.C.), and Villard de Honnecourt (13th century), as well as the "dove", an element in that complex pyrotechnic pageant of Renaissance origin held every Easter in Florence, in Piazza del Duomo. Other famous figures in the Florentine Renaissance were also interested in the problems of theatrical set design. Memorable, in fact, were the theatrical/technical sets designed by Brunelleschi for the churches of Santissima Annunziata, Santa Maria del Carmine and San Felice in Piazza.
Undoubtedly, Leonardo had in mind these elaborate theatrical sets when he designed the complex mechanical devices for the staging of Bernardo Bellincioni's Paradise Festival, presented in Milan in 1490. Sophisticated mechanisms operated by counter-weights were used instead for Poliziano's Orpheus, whose stage sets included a "mountain that opens" from which emerged Pluto. The direct influence of the mandorla [almond], designed by Brunelleschi to allow an announcing angel to appear in a corner of the church of San Felice in Piazza, seems to be at the origin of the scenography for Baldassarre Taccone's Danae, mention of which is found on a folio in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, dating from around 1496.

Texts by
Alessandro Vezzosi, in collaboration with Agnese Sabato / English translation by Catherine Frost