Visual Culture of Theatre

Details of my research on set design and the broader visual culture of theatre.

Current research projects

‘Cardinal Ottoboni, Opera and the Arcadian Academy’, Alla Corte della Cancelleria: Pietro Ottoboni e la politica delle arti nella Roma del Settecento, Karin Wolfe, Tommaso Manfredi (eds), Accademia di San Luca, In Press.

‘The city as stage in Medici Florence’, presentation for upcoming Early Royal Spectacle and Court Performance at the University of Adelaide, 21 September 2023.


‘The Princely Landscape as Stage: Early Modern Courts in Enchanted Gardens’, Landscape and Authority in the Early Modern World, edited by Stephen Whiteman, Pennsylvania University Press, 2023.
The designed landscape, or garden, stands in for the wider landscape: it is a microcosm of nature, intended to embody an ideal of nature held by the individual or group that created it. In the garden, art and nature work together to generate meaning, and in this they shape how the broader landscape is understood. For courts in Europe in the early modern period, the pleasure garden constructed around the villa or suburban palace was a midpoint between the organized but constrained urban world of the city and the disorganized, often threatening world of the wilderness.

‘To make them gaze in wonder’: emotional responses to stage scenery in seventeenth-century opera’, in Baroque to Neo-Baroque: Emotion and the Seduction of the Senses, edited by Lisa Beaven and Angela Ndalianis, Medieval Institute Publications Western Michigan University, 2018.
While the capacity of music to move the emotions has received a good deal of attention from musicologists, philosophers, and psychologists, the history of set design has not considered how these sets created immersive environments that induced an affective response. Instead, the attitudes expressed by Addison continue to cast a long shadow over research into music and the performing arts. Twentieth-century scholarship has often been dismissive of set design, regarding it as formulaic, unimportant, and a distraction from the serious poetry and sublime music. This dismissal of scenography has come about because set design has typically been studied only on the margins of musicology, art and architectural history, and theater studies. This is, in part, because there are virtually no opera sets that survive from the baroque period, requiring them to be reconstructed from drawings made as part of the design process and from engravings made after to commemorate the sets. These are typically monochrome and two dimensional, whereas in reality sets were vividly colored and three dimensional. In addition, much of the serious scholarship that has been done has concentrated on the progression of visual technologies.9 Studying the emotional effect of stage sets prompts us to look more closely at their reception, rather than at their construction.