A Civic Utopia: Spectaculum

Spectaculum is concerned with the embellishment of the city as a place of pleasure, not just in the increase in the scale and range of its sites of social intercourse, but, in its newly ordered grace, as a spectacle and an architectural landscape of delight in its own right.

François-Joseph Bélanger, Design for theatre Comedie Italienne, 1779, DM 1008 IN SET – Drawing Matter

François-Joseph Bélanger (1744–1818), Theatre for the Comédie Italienne, section, 1779. Pen and black ink with grey and blue wash on paper, 376 × 514 mm. Drawing Matter Collections

Francois-Joseph Belanger, Théatre for the Comédie Italienne section, DM 1007 IN SET – Drawing Matter

François-Joseph Bélanger (1744–1818), Théatre for the Comédie Italienne: section, c. 1779. Pen and black ink with grey and blue wash, 340 × 660 mm. Drawing Matter Collections

In these magnificent drawings for a theatre to be built in Paris for the troupe of the Comédiens-Italiens, François-Joseph Bélanger, architect of the brother of the king, tried to design new solutions in terms of comfort for the spectators and easy circulation at a moment when fire hazards were numerous. Because the theatre's architect had already been chosen, this drawing was intended to serve as publicity for Bélanger, who until then had received only private commissions. – BB

Pierre-Louis Moreau, Palais-Royal facade, Paris, c. 1764, DM 2667 IN SET – Drawing Matter

Pierre-Louis Moreau (1727–1794), La facade du Palais-Royal, des arcades fermant l'vant-cour et de la facade du nouvel Opera, c. 1764. Pen, ink, pencil and wash on two joined sheets of paper, 400 × 1125 mm. Drawing Matter Collections

In 1764, Moreau, official architect of the city, was put in charge of rebuilding the Palais Royal opera, conceded to the Paris municipality by its owner, the duke d’Orléans. He took the opportunity to give the princely palace a new street façade with a larger public presence and largely inspired by the baroque Roman examples he admired while at the French Academy between 1754 and 1756. Here, embellishment derives from the repetition of motifs aptly interrupted by monumental sculptures. – BB

Saint-Felix Seheult, Theatre de verdure, 1813, DM 2476.2 IN SET – Drawing Matter

Saint-Félix Séheult (1793–1858), Théâtre de verdure: section, 1813. Pen, ink and wash on laid paper, 445 × 610 mm. Drawing Matter Collections

In this student project, Seheult proposes a théâtre de verdure, or open-air theatre, in which the enjoyment of what unfolds behind the stage – the blending of a huge monumental cascade and peristyle with a Rousseauian Romantic landscape – is as important as the music or masque performed upon it. – NO

A Civic Utopia: Architecture and the City in France, 1765–1837 was organised by Drawing Matter Trust in collaboration with the Courtauld Gallery of Art, as part of Somerset House's celebration of the 500th anniversary of Thomas More's Utopia.

To coincide with the exhibition we have published a large-format, finely illustrated book, A Civic Utopia: Architecture and the City in France, 1765–1837. It is available to purchase online at £20.


For an overview of A Civic Utopia


 and the other six concepts that were central to the Enlightenment view of an ordered, liberal community and around which the exhibition was organised; on Belanger's Maison Dervieux; on early eighteenth-century stage sets, Galliano da Bibiena; on a Future Scenario of Duilio Cambellotti’s 1924 stage set; and for other pieces by Nicholas Olsberg.