Through illusionistic confabulations of real and imagined spaces, skenographia played with the borders between reality and illusion, thus establishing the aesthetic—and thereby ideological—“frame” for this public language. Indeed, skenographia was directly and explicitly implicated in these aesthetico-political discourses by contemporaneous Roman commentators such as Vitruvius and Pliny the Elder. Theatrical skenographia is therefore a prime site for scholarly attention. But of the many temporary stages that, according to Vitruvius (5.5.7), were constructed each year at Rome, none survives; and the permanent stage facades (scaenarum frontes) that do remain contain no trace of their temporary skenographic elements.
This painting by Peake [currently in the Van Dyck show at the Tate] seems to use a theatrical schematic for a backdrop; it is like a series of flats, there is a discontinuity in the visual space, some inconsistency and overpainting in the 'seam' between background and middle ground. The painting is contemporaneous with Inigo Jones' masques, which use similarly staged perspectival space to frame tableaux. The painting itself is a charged network of symbolic representations of power, emblazoned and quite literally dazzling, the paint applied like enamelling in the costume and rainbow saddlery. Interestingly, Peake published the Mannerist architect Sebastiano Serlio's books on architecture in 1611- the first publication in English. The books follow the antique and illustrate theatrical spaces. Peake's preface dedicates the translation to Henry Prince of Wales - the subject of the painting above - the shortly to be dead hope of the Jacobean monarchy.
TO THE HIGH AND MIGHTIE PRINCE HENRY OF WALES
No vaine ambition of mine own Desire, much lesse presumption of my none Desert, incited me to present this Volume to your Princely view, but rather, the gracious Countenance, which [even from your Childehood] you have ever daigned to all good endeavours, invited Mee also [after so many others] to offer at the high-Altar of your Highnesse favour, this new-Naturalized Worke of a learned Stranger: Not with pretence of Profit to your Highnesse [who want not more exquisite Tutors in all excellent Sciences] but, under the Patronage of your powerfull Name, to benefit the Publicke; and convay unto my Countrymen [especially Architects and Artifcers of all sorts] there
Necessary, Certaine, and most ready Helps of Geometrie: The ignorance and want whereof, in times past [in most parts of this Kingdome] hath left us many lame Workes, which shame of many Workemen; which, for the future, the Knowledge and use of these Instructions shall happily prevent, if the event but answere [in any measure] to that Hope of mine, which alone both induced this Desire and produced this Designe: Wherein I must confesse my part but small, saving my great adventure in the Charge, and my great Good-will to doe Good. All which together with my best Services, I humbly prostrate at your Princely feete, as beseemes
most humble Servant