Objects on Show

The theatre is a site of illusion. For centuries, it has drawn on a range of tricks from lighting and sound to trap doors and cloud machines. In the creation of illusion, sets and scenery can have a crucial role to play. Through skilled rendering of architecture and perspective, the smallest stage can be converted into the most expansive of settings.

The 17th and 18th centuries witnessed the rise of the theatre as a vehicle for grand spectacle in Europe. Princes and noble families directed vast funds into the staging of courtly productions, well aware of their propaganda value. This patronage helped to create a climate in which generations of theatrical artists could build on the innovations of their predecessors. Architects and stage designers developed techniques for evoking the infinite, the heavenly or the sublime within a limited space.

This exhibition explores this fertile territory. It is organised in four sections: Capturing the Moment includes records of grand performances and festivals; Fantastic Inventions explores capriccios, in which artists integrate elements of real architecture into larger fantasy scenes;Building the Scene brings out the close links between the capriccio and the theatre, displaying designs for stage scenery. And, finally, The Illusion of Space presents ceiling designs which adopt similar visual strategies, to permanent effect, in real buildings.

This exhibition has been curated by the students of the new MA programme Curating the Art Museum. An integral part of the year’s course, it is a response to an open brief to explore and present works from the rich and diverse collections of The Courtauld Gallery.