Duke Vespasiano Gonzaga – founder of the small “ideal city” of Sabbioneta, near Mantua – summoned Vincenzo Scamozzi (1548-1616) from Vicenza to ask him to build what would become the Teatro all’Antica; he had perhaps noticed Scamozzi thanks to the onstage scenery he had created earlier for the beautiful and famous Olympic Theater in his hometown.
One of Scamozzi’s contemporary biographers, based on the architect’s notes, stated, “He left Venice on May 1, 1588, and arrived in Sabbioneta on the third day of the month, welcomed by the ministers with great honors. He saw the location and started to draw…”
Scamozzi envisioned a theater that could “hold a large number of people”, with “a few rooms, from one end to the other, furnished for different uses; and with an orchestra and tiered seating. The proscenium and the buildings of the onset scenery represent a large square, with a very refined street cutting through it, and then a number of various buildings made to look real.”
Scamozzi stayed in Sabbioneta for eight days. Then, he handed his designs over to the authorities, and received in payment some generous words of respect, thirty bars of Spanish gold and, of course, reimbursement for his travel expenses.
The Teatro all’Antica in Sabbioneta was one of the first structures built to be exclusively a theater, and featured a wide range of innovations – from entrance systems to the profile of the seating area, from actors’ and musicians’ dressing rooms behind the stage to many other functional details. It is a masterpiece in its own right.
Duke Vespasiano Gonzaga was so happy with it he gave Scamozzi “a necklace, and forever held him in the highest esteem and kept him under his protection”.