The Medici theatrical mechanisms – Church of San Felice in Piazza

San Felice in Piazza

The “mechanism” in the Church of San Felice in Piazza

Interpretative model of the “mechanism” for the representation of the Annunciation to Mary, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and built in the Church of San Felice in Piazza in Florence 15th to 16th centuries.

Project by Ludovico Zorzi and Cesare Lisi, constructed by Cesare Lisi – 1975.

Scale 1:25

The dynamics of this spectacle has features that differ from those shown in the church of SS. Annunziata. The mechanism of San Felice set up in the little church, also on the theme of the Annunciation, presented a spectacle on a stage that was no longer horizontal but vertical.
The action began from a dome or a half sphere in wood positioned between two roof trusses at the centre of the nave and hidden from public view by a ceiling. At the beginning of the spectacle this opened into two parts on a system of rollers, causing a great roar of thunder to elicit the excitement of Heaven’s Gates opening, and represented the divine mystery of the Annunciation. The inside of a blue half sphere intensely lit by a constellation of flashing lights and rotating on itself would appear.
From the compartment of this dome, on the edge of which were twelve singing angels played by children, a second device detached itself, called ‘il mazzo’ or bundle, where there were eight other children of an age younger than the first group; finally, from the centre of the ‘mazzo’ that hovered in the air, a lit almond shape descended to the ground. Appearing from inside this was the archangel Gabriel played this time by a young man.
The choice of young people of three different ages allowed for the scaled distribution of their different heights, the middle ages higher up, the smallest in the middle between the dome and the stage, and the eldest near the eye of the viewer. This was effective on the dramatic level, emphasizing, in the harmony of the whole, a respect for the laws of the new science of perspective.
Once on the ground, the young person who played the archangel turned off the lights of the almond, which simultaneously darkened the illumination in the hollow via a spring device, and approached the shrine of the Virgin. Once he had acted the scene of the Annunciation, the actor resumed his place at the centre of the almond, and with a reverse manoeuvre made the rays of flaming lanterns inside the edges of it reappear; then the entire device operated by winches hidden behind the half-sphere began its ascent upward: the almond returned inside the ‘mazzo’, and the ‘mazzo’ inside the half sphere. The rumble of boards that closed over the mouth of the dome marked the end of the show.