Meissen Comedy Figure of Harlequin

Meissen Commedia Figure

Meissen Comedy Figure of Harlequin from an extremely rare and early series of Characters from the Commedia dell’ arte. He stands astride with a ringed tree support behind him. Dressed in a cape, frilled lace collar over a pied buttoned waistcoat and pantaloons his one arm outstretched, raised up on a bevelled rectangular architectural plinth with traces of Augsburg gilding.

Hard-paste porcelain with traces of gilding.

Germany, Meissen, c. 1725, decoration in Dresden or Augsburg.

Mark: Crossed swords in underglaze blue.

Left foot restored and slight chipping to the base rim.

This unique porcelain figure is a hitherto unknown model which almost certainly depicts the rascal Harlequin, one of the central figures of the Commedia dell’Arte. Not only is the model of exceptional rarity, but the pose of the figure is also most unusual. Could his confrontational pose show Harlequin in the midst of an argument about money or music? Does his clenched left fist and the whistle or pan-pipes held in his right hand mean he is threatening someone to “whistle down the wind” for payment?

The Harlequin is most likely part of a group of 161 small plaster models of dwarves of various nationalities, chess pieces and other sculptures, that were acquired by Meissen from Augsburg in 1725. They were made by a variety of different artists, whose names are unknown; some were inspired by engravings by Jacques Callot and Caspar Luyken, while the sources of others, such as this Harlequin, are still unknown. Our Harlequin may belong to a small sub-group of these Augsburg models, all marked with crossed swords and poised on similar pedestals, which include a figure of a Dutchman and a Pole from the Spitzner Collection, as well as a Janissary and a Shepherd, once in the collection of Siegfried Salz.

This charming and previously unknown Meissen Commedia figure is among the earliest depictions of this genre in porcelain.

Meredith Chilton Independent Art Historian and Author of ‘Harlequin Unmasked: The Commedia dell’ Arte and Porcelain Sculpture’ (Yale University Press and Gardiner Museum: 2001).

Height: 6 ins. (15 cms.)

Item No. 1552

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