On Cloud Machinery
Alessandra Buccheri in “The Spectacle of Clouds” traces the interlinked history of cloud paintings in renaissance chapels and ceilings and the use of cloud machinery in theatre stages. Buccheri notes that the more elaborate and ubiquitous uses of clouds in renaissance painting was deeply influenced by the tradition of moving clouds as stage props in the religious spectacle of late medieval times – claiming that it was “stagecraft that exerted a greater influence on painting, and not the other way around”.
This is an interesting example of cross-medial influence between performative and pictorial arts. Buccheri underlines the fact that the theatrical context in which these cloud machinery was developed was ubiquitous in early renaissance, as well as the use of “lighting, chanting, music” which enhanced the intensity of the illusion. This prompted the fact that “religious theatre, from the fourteenth century onwards, became a useful model to look at for painters who wanted to represent a seemingly real three-dimensional heaven”.
In Florentine art, there is a recurrent use of cloud in a theatrical fashion in the case of sculptures and paintings portraying the Annunciation, the Assumption and Ascension, which can possibly be traced to the particularly significant development of the cloud machinery. This phenomenon started to be much more striking from the fourteenth century onwards, when Florentine art moved from a symbolic to a more overtly narrative approach. According to some historians, it was because of this new narrative approach that artists, searching for a new language, turned to theatre to find new ideas and spatial solutions. 1