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Burnacini, Lodovico [Ludovico] (Ottavio) locked

(b Mantua, 1636; d Vienna, 1707).
  • Carola Wenzel

Italian architect and stage designer, active in Austria. He went to Vienna in 1651 as the apprentice of his father, Giovanni Burnacini (d 1655), the Venetian theatre architect who introduced to Vienna the system of stage design developed by Giovanni Battista Aleotti and who produced stage sets in the Florentine–Venetian style of Giulio and Alfonso Parigi and Giacomo Torelli. Lodovico Burnacini was his father’s assistant until the latter’s death and succeeded him in the office of theatre architect and imperial court engineer to Emperor Leopold I. Although he participated in the construction of various imperial castles in the vicinity of Vienna, Burnacini was mainly engaged in theatre design, developing his father’s style of stage settings and becoming the founder of the Viennese style, which had considerable influence on German theatre. Designs for 115 compositions and plays have survived, and many of Burnacini’s designs were reproduced as engravings in luxury editions of the libretti. Holograph drawings are preserved (Vienna, Österreich. Nbib.). They include religious themes, physiognomic sketches, figurines and grotesques as well as narrative illustrations.

In 1665 Burnacini designed and built the first free-standing, combined opera and playhouse in the German-speaking region, the Comödihauss auf der Cortina (destr. 1683), a timber-framed building on a stone base on the site of the present Hofbibliothek. It was a square, four-storey galleried building; inside, three tiers without boxes provided 2000 seats, and there was also a raised upper circle reserved for the imperial family. The theatre was equipped with every imaginable technical refinement and extended the usual Italian sequence of proscenium, stage, pit and backdrop. The stage itself, measuring c. 65 m in total length, had a depth of c. 30 m, comprising proscenium, apron, pit and lowerable middle backdrop, ramped rear stage and closing backdrop with several workshops and green rooms behind. Machinery and five pairs of wings made it possible to have 50 different set changes during a single production, and there was room for up to 2000 performers on the stage. The theatre was built for the performance of Pietro Antonio Cesti’s opera Il pomo d’oro, which was the climax of a succession of festivities to mark the marriage of Leopold I with the Infanta Margherita of Spain, celebrated from 1666 to 1668. The stage settings were after Burnacini’s designs and required complicated technical apparatus for which none of the existing Viennese theatres was sufficiently equipped. The Italian libretto by Francesco Sbarra was published in Vienna (1668) and has 25 engravings after Burnacini’s designs, giving an impression of the theatre building and its sets. The illusionistically painted ceiling can also be seen, the first of its kind in Vienna. Burnacini liked investigating allegory and symbolism, and in Il pomo d’oro he reached the apogee of Baroque stage design.

From 1687 Burnacini was Senior Court Engineer, in which capacity he supervised the construction of the Trinity Column in Vienna, a memorial to victims of the plague. Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach was responsible for changes (1686) to the original design (1682) by Mathias Rauchmillar, and Burnacini executed Fischer von Erlach’s plans with considerable artistic intervention, seen in various preserved plans and designs (Vienna, Österreich. Nbib.). Burnacini’s reputation, however, was primarily established through his theatre productions, and he was awarded numerous imperial honours.

Unpublished sources

Vienna, Österreich. Nbib. [drawings for set designs and plans for the Trinity Column, Cod. min. 29, fols 63a/3, 63a/2, 58a/2, 65b/1]


  • Burnacini, Lodovico
  • F. Sbarra: Il pomo d’oro (Vienna, 1668)


  • F. Biach-Schiffmann: Giovanni und Ludovico Burnacini: Theater und Feste am Wiener Hof (Vienna and Berlin, 1931)
  • G. Schikola: ‘Ludovico Burnacinis Entwürfe für die Wiener Pestsäule’, Wien. Jb. Kunstgesch., 25 (1972), pp. 247–58
  • S. Solf: Festdekoration und Groteske: Der Wiener Bühnenbildner Lodovico Ottavio Burnacini: Inszenierung barocker Kunstvorstellung, Stud. Dt. Kstgesch., 355 (Baden-Baden, 1975)