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The Art of Commedia

Internationale Forschungen zur
Allgemeinen und
Vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft

In Verbindung mit

Norbert Bachleitner (Universität Wien), Dietrich Briesemeister (Friedrich

Schiller-Universität Jena), Francis Claudon (Université Paris XII), Joachim Knape
(Universität Tübingen), Klaus Ley (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz),
John A. McCarthy (Vanderbilt University), Alfred Noe (Universität Wien),
Manfred Pfister (Freie Universität Berlin), Sven H. Rossel (Universität Wien)

herausgegeben von

Alberto Martino
(Universität Wien)

Redaktion: Ernst Grabovszki

Anschrift der Redaktion:

Institut für Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft, Berggasse 11/5, A-1090 Wien
The Art of Commedia
A Study in the
Commedia dell’Arte
1560-1620 with Special
Reference to the Visual Records

M A Katritzky

Amsterdam - New York, NY 2006

Cover illustration: “Lodewyk Toeput, ‘Winter landscape with carnival
procession’, oil on canvas, 84 x 134 cm. Courtesy Dorotheum, Wien”

Cover design: Pier Post

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Acknowledgements 11
Foreword 13
Introduction 17
i General introduction 17
ii The term commedia dell’arte 18
iii Documentary sources for the commedia dell’arte 20
iv Pictures and the commedia dell’arte 25
I The commedia dell’arte
I.i The rise and spread of professional acting and
commedia dell’arte troupes in sixteenth century Italy
I.i.a Introduction 31
I.i.b Venetian amateurs and buffoni 34
I.i.c The early troupes 37
I.i.d Professionalism and improvisation 39
I.ii A case study in early patronage and geographic
spread: the Munich wedding performance of 1568
I.ii.a Introduction 44
I.ii.b The Munich wedding of 1568 46
I.ii.c Ferdinand’s journey of 1565–6 59
I.ii.d Other influences on Bavaria 74
I.ii.e Rome 80
I.ii.f Summary 83
I.iii Stock types and players of the commedia dell’arte
I.iii.a Introduction 83
I.iii.b The inamorata 85
I.iii.c Zanni and Pantalone 92
I.iii.d Harlequin 102
I.iii.e Some other roles 104
II Art-historical analysis: some case studies
II.i The Recueil Fossard
II.i.a General introduction 107
II.i.b Some Recueil Fossard woodcuts 109
II.i.c Ambrogio Brambilla 114
II.i.d Ambrose I Francken 117
II.ii Inspiration and imitation. The progressive
stereotyping of shared artistic motifs: Antonio
Tempesta and some Flemish carnival paintings
II.ii.a Introduction 120
II.ii.b Direct copies after Tempesta’s Februaries 122
II.ii.c Jan I Bruegel 123
II.ii.d Tempesta’s Februaries and Flemish revellers 124
II.ii.e Louis de Caulery 126
II.ii.f Tempesta and Sebastian Vrancx 129
II.ii.g Vrancx and his circle 132
II.ii.h Summary 137
II.iii Sterling’s ‘Early paintings of the commedia dell’arte
in France’ reconsidered
II.iii.a Introduction 139
II.iii.b The Bayeux painting 140
II.iii.c Lucas van Valckenborch 142
II.iii.d The Carnavalet painting 150
II.iii.e Marten de Vos 155
II.iii.f Harlequin disguised 161
II.iii.g Lodewyk Toeput 165
III Theatrical interpretation: some case studies
III.i Scenery, settings and stages
III.i.a Introduction 177
III.i.b Cleared space staging 179
III.i.c Natural stages 180
III.i.d Unadorned raised stages 180
III.i.e Stages with curtain backdrops 181
III.i.f Architecturally enhanced curtain stages 182
III.i.g Perspective stages 182

III.ii Zanni and Pantalone
III.ii.a Introduction 187
III.ii.b Venetian servants and masters 188
III.ii.c Zanni costume 189
III.ii.d Zanni and Pantalone in the Land
of Cockayne 192
III.ii.e Zanni and Pantalone as mountebanks’
assistants 195
III.iii Some further comic types
III.iii.a Some female types 199
III.iii.b Male national types 213
III.iii.c Buffoni and matachins 220
III.iii.d Harlequin 226
III.iv Composite, multiple and serial images
III.iv.a Introduction 241
III.iv.b Stock types: Brambilla and Minaggio 244
III.iv.c Two composite prints compared 251
III.iv.d Female roles in serial images 256
Conclusion 259
Principal collections cited 265
Printed works 267
Index 301
Notes to plates 348
Plates 1–340 349

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The Open University provides an exceptionally supportive, caring and productive

academic environment, and for that I thank all my colleagues in the Department of
Literature and Arts Faculty. My special thanks go to Peter Elmer, Gill Perry and David
Mateer for reading sections of this volume in manuscript, to Clive Baldwin, Trish
Cashen, Cathy Sack and Gerald Schmidt for advising on editorial and technical mat-
ters, and to Bob Owens for unfailing encouragement and practical wisdom.
For financially supporting this research with scholarships, fellowships and awards,
I am deeply grateful to the Directors, Trustees and staff of the following institutions:
Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Arts and Humanities Research Council, British
Academy, Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, European Science Foundation,
Gladys Kreble Delmas Foundation, Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation, Herzog Au-
gust Library, Leverhulme Foundation, Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, The
Open University (Arts Faculty Research Fund), Society for Theatre Research (Kathleen
Barker Award), University of London (Scouloudi Foundation, Institute for Historical
Research), University of Southampton (Hartley Institute), Wimbledon School of Art.
Above all in this respect, I am grateful to the late Barbara Wilkes, and the Trustees of
the Wilkes Fellowship and of the Elizabeth Howe Fund, for founding and funding my
position as Wilkes Research Fellow, in the Department of Literature of the Arts Fac-
ulty, The Open University, Milton Keynes.
This study has benefited immeasurably from the outstanding research ethos and
resources of St Catherine’s College and the University of Oxford. I thank the Master
and Fellows of St Catherine’s College for their continuing great generosity in sharing
these with me, during my years as a graduate student, and, since 2001, as a Research
Associate of the College, R J W Evans and Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly for supervising
my doctoral thesis, and Richard Cooper and Michael Anderson for examining it.
My research depends on the documentary and human resources of libraries, ar-
chives, museums, salerooms and collections. For their invaluable assistance, and for
permission to consult and reproduce their materials, I thank Duke Albrecht of Bavaria
and the past and present Librarians, Curators, Archivists and private collectors who
have supported this study. Particular thanks to those in Amsterdam (Historisch Mu-
seum), Berlin (Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz), Copenhagen (Kongelige
Bibliotek), Florence (Archivio di Stato, Biblioteca Nazionale), Landshut (Schloss
Trausnitz), London (British Library, British Museum, Christies, Courtauld Institute,
Sotheby’s, University College, Warburg Institute), Milton Keynes (The Open Univer-
sity Library), Munich (Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek,
Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen), Nürnberg (Germanisches Nationalmuseum),
Oxford (Ashmolean Museum, Bodleian, Corpus Christi College, English, History and
Music Faculty Libraries, Sackler, St Catherine’s College, Taylorian), Sarasota (Ringling
Museum), Stockholm (Nationalmuseum), Stuttgart (Württembergisches

Landesbibliothek), Venice (Fondazione Cini, Marciana, Museo Correr), Weimar

(Stiftung Weimarer Klassik), Wien (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek), Windsor
(Royal Library), Wolfenbüttel (Herzog August Bibliothek).
I have benefited from the generous intellectual support of numerous individuals,
some in passing, others in many capacities over many years. My thanks and apprecia-
tion go to you all, and especially to Roger Ainsworth, Ines Aliverti, David Allen,
Michael Anderson, Sydney Anglo, Marion Arnold, John Astington, Chris Balme, Fran
Barasch, Hans-Peter Bayerdörfer, Jill Bepler, Margot Berthold, Sandra Billington,
Julian Brooks, Pam Brown, Kathy Brush, Christopher Cairns, Alba Ceccarelli
Pellegrino, Ulf Cederlof, Lois Chaber, Richard Cooper, Eileen Cottis, Gunilla Dahlberg,
David Ekserdjian, Eva Engel, Rob Erenstein, Bob Evans, Bernd Evers, Anat Feinberg,
Iain Fenlon, Siro Ferrone, Erika Fischer-Lichte, Tim Fitzpatrick, Thomas Fusenig,
Michael Gebhardt, Mark Geller, David Gentilcore, Elizabeth Goldring, Lisbet
Grandjean, Anthony Griffiths, Martine Grinberg, Marianne Grivel, Yvonne
Hackenbroch, Marianne Hallar, Natsu Hattori, Tom Heck, Rob Henke, Monika Holl,
Bent Holm, Colin Jones, Michiel Jonker, Sidney Jowers, Robert Jütte, Helena Kajander,
Ros Kerr, Mary Klinger-Lindberg, Michael Knoche, Andreas Kotte, Manfred
Krebernik, Ingeborg Krekler, Anne Laurence, Angelika Leik, Laura and Giulio Lepschy,
Hilda Lietzmann, Horst Leuchtmann, Kurt Löcher, Sara Mamone, Brigitte Marschall,
Jan McDonald, Margaret McGowan, Melissa McQuillan, Wolfgang Milde, Cesare
Molinari, Ronnie Mulryne, Viktoria Musvik, Klaus Neiiendam, Tom Nichols, Ulrike
Noë, Vivian Nutton, Irene Ogden, Helen Ostovich, Frank Peeters, Domenico
Pietropaolo, Milan Pelc, Margaret Pelling, Sandra Pietrini, Hans Puchta, Konrad
Renger, Kerstin Retemeyer, Martine de Rougement, Bärbel Rudin, Otto Schindler,
Reinhart Schleier, Claude Schumacher, Virginia Scott, Antonio Scuderi, Laurence
Senelick, Sieglinde Sepp, Margaret Shewring, Max Siller, Richard Shirley Smith,
Andrea Somer-Mathis, George Speaight, Alexander Stillmark, Beverly Straube, Barbro
Stribolt, Malgorzata Sugiera, Marianne Haraszti Takács, William Twining, Jane Tylus,
Piermario Vescovo, Daniele Vianello, Brigitte Volk-Knüttel, Lyckle de Vries, Mara
Wade, Mary Waldron, Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly, Shearer West, Catherine Whistler,
John White, Alexander Wied, David Wiles, Tim Wilson, John Woodhouse, Harald
Zielske, Marino Zorzi. And I will not forget those from whom I was privileged to learn
whom my thanks can no longer reach: Umberto Artioli, Geoffrey Ashton, Kathleen
Barker, Dorothy Bednarowska, Clara Cooper, Howard Mayer Brown, Ernst Gombrich,
Francis Haskell, Gunnel Kajander, Kathleen Lea, Monica Murray, David Trott.
Otherwise unattributed translations are mine, as are all errors. Of which there
would be very many more, were it not for the unstinting patience and professionalism
of my editors, for which I record my appreciation to: Marieke Schilling (Amsterdam),
Clare Butler (Milton Keynes), Sebastian Posth and Maria Baramova (Wolfenbüttel),
Norbert Bachleitner, Ernst Grabovszki and Alberto Martino (University of Vienna).


Italian comedians and the characters they inspired profoundly inform and influ-
ence European drama and culture. An understanding of the commedia dell’arte
and its iconography is essential for specialists, theatre practitioners, and schol-
ars and students of European spectacle, festival, music, literature and art history
from the early modern period onwards. Our knowledge of the commedia dell’arte
is based on the identification and interpretation of relevant historical documents,
visual as well as textual. This study, awarded a doctorate from Oxford Universi-
ty’s Faculty of History in 1995, seeks to contribute to the documentary basis on
which the commedia dell’arte and its European diffusion are interpreted, by
examining ways of researching commedia-related images in an interdiscipli-
nary context. It was written in conjunction with some dozen articles published
in widely scattered form during the decade 1987–97,1 in journals and confer-
ence proceedings specializing in art and theatre history, Italian, festival and
renaissance studies and musicology. Through their illustrations, numerous pic-
tures uncovered by these researches entered the mainstream of scholarly debate
even before 1995.2 There have been exciting breakthroughs and significant de-
velopments in the field during the past decade. As a product of its time, many of
this study’s assumptions and findings have been supplemented or superseded by
subsequent findings on aspects of the commedia dell’arte, theatre iconography,
and cultural interchanges between Italy, German-speaking Europe and Britain.
It is published as a contribution to the base of images available to scholarship,
and with the intention of furthering debate on issues surrounding the iconogra-
phy of Italian comedians, and European itinerant performers and carnival and
festival participants, in the earliest decades of the professional stage.3

See bibliography (Katritzky). Several of these articles develop themes peripheral to the
commedia dell’arte.
The plate captions to this study indicate the images included in my pre-1995 publications
(for key to abbreviations, see bibliography, pp.281–2).
The front matter of my 1995 thesis, required by Oxford DPhil regulations, is here replaced
with the present foreword, the original bibliography and indexes with revised end matter,
and the in-text references with footnotes, some reflecting developments postdating the
completion of my doctoral research. These include my own ongoing enquiries into itinerant
mountebanks and performers (see bibliography), which lead me to question some of the

Aspects of the writings of the comici continue to be uncovered and researched,

and a major focus of current scholarship is the relationship between the written
works and improvised stage practice of the comici, both male and female. The
documentation for the commedia dell’arte has a different emphasis to that for
scripted theatre, and requires different techniques for its interpretation. This is
firstly because, at least in its narrowest sense, the commedia dell’arte is an
improvised form lacking playscripts, and its plot summaries or scenarios only
rarely achieved publication; and secondly, because the commedia dell’arte gen-
erated surprisingly voluminous documentation, both textual and visual. The bib-
liography has been updated to include a selected overview of post-1995 litera-
ture directly concerned with iconographic issues. Apart from the realm of popu-
lar prints and portraiture, the Italian comici had a negligible impact on the pre-
1620 visual arts of their own country, despite creating early modern Europe’s
most visually distinctive form of theatre. As such, the commedia underpinned
an important category of genre painting in the Franco-Flemish regions, and pro-
vided a fertile source for frescoes, friendship album or alba amicorum illustra-
tions and grotesque ornamentation in German-speaking Europe. Outside thea-
tre-historical publications, overwhelmingly, only commedia-related images as-
sociated with artists within the mainstream of art-historical enquiry attract com-
ment. Many remain unacknowledged by any discipline; some few have achieved
a consensus of opinion; others are variously interpreted. The ongoing debate
attracted by the best known early commedia-related images demonstrates the
insecurely interpreted evidential base on which theatre iconography is grounded.
Many thousands of images relate to the earliest half-century of the commedia
dell’arte. Numerous pictures had to be excluded from the present study for
reasons of space, or because they fell outside the specified period of 1560–
1620, or did not directly relate to its main strands of enquiry. For others, the
expense, inaccessibility or unavailability of legible images prevented inclusion.4
This study and its plates are offered as an interim contribution to a debate whose
textually and visually evidence-based enquiry is gaining momentum, concern-
ing the very origins of modern mixed-gender professional acting. The conven-
tions which became established in the written documentation concerning the
commedia dell’arte and its stock roles are not precisely mirrored in the pictorial
traditions evolved by commedia images, which were founded in the dual sources

premises on which the commedia dell’arte and its iconographic record are traditionally
defined and assessed. Otherwise unattributed translations are mine.
Although the present whereabouts of many of the images reproduced here is unknown
(PWU), every effort has been made to obtain good reproductions.


of pictorial precedents and eyewitness observation of stage practice. Interpreta-

tion of the evidence concerning roles developed by Italian buffoni, charlatans
and comici, their occurrence in carnival and festival masquerades and the
commedia dell’arte, and their diffusion into European theatre and festival cul-
ture as a whole, involves a comparative approach that contextualizes the ico-
nography within diverging textual and pictorial traditions.
The commedia dell’arte proper has its origins in performing configurations
in which the stage dominance of buffoni, in largely all-male professional alli-
ances, is challenged, transmuted and eventually usurped, by women. Actresses
gave the commedia dell’arte its defining nucleus, which is to be sought less in
the servant–master duo promoted by traditional scholarship, than in the charac-
teristic Zanni–Pantalone–Inamorata trio central to so many of its most impor-
tant early images. The commedia’s strength and enduring appeal are grounded
in its immense international influence, not least through its systematic promo-
tion of women on the professional stage. From the start, the comici drew on and
inspired other performing traditions, at every level from court festival to street
mountebanks. Throughout Europe, amateur performers and masqueraders,
emerging professional theatre, and itinerant troupes drew heavily on the
commedia dell’arte for visual elements, and especially costume. The system-
atic base of identified and investigated images available to scholarship has gath-
ered substantial momentum since 1995. Researchers are now in an increasingly
informed position to assess the iconographic record: with respect to the activi-
ties of the early comici themselves, and from the wider perspective of the di-
verse manifestations of their cultural heritage, north of the Alps as well as within
Italy itself.

M A Katritzky
The Open University, Milton Keynes

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i General introduction
The focus of this study is the commedia dell’arte and its images in the period
predating 1620, which, as the approximate date of two works of art of central
importance to the commedia dell’arte, marks a watershed in the visual record.
One, Fetti’s painting of a man with a mask, variously identified as Giovanni
Gabrielli, Tristano Martinelli, or now, more generally, as Francesco Andreini, is
the earliest to depict a commedia dell’arte actor in a portrait rather than per-
formance context [plate 1].5 The other, Callot’s Balli di Sfessania suite of en-
gravings, is the most artistically influential set of images relating to this theatre
form ever produced [plates 2–5]. This enquiry aims to identify and interpret
performance events in pictures, including many whose documentary value for
theatre history may previously have been unrecognized or dismissed. Primarily
dependent on their pictorial content, the documentary value of images is strongly
affected by the extent to which they are art-historically classified and physically
accessible. Effective interpretation of commedia-related visual evidence is im-
measurably enhanced by reliable data concerning its place and date of produc-
tion, artist and patron.

Giuseppe Fiocco, Venetian painting of the seicento and the settecento (Firenze: Pantheon &
Paris: Pegasus, 1929), p.17; Pamela Askew, ‘Fetti’s “Portrait of an actor” reconsidered’,
Burlington Magazine, 120 (1978), 59–65; Siro Ferrone, Attori mercanti corsari: la
commedia dell’arte in Europa tra cinque e seicento (Torino: Einaudi, 1993), plate 38;
idem, ‘La parola e l’immagine: Lelio bandito e santo’, in Il valore del falso: errori, inganni,
equivoci sulle scene europee in epoca barocca, ed. Silvia Carandini (Roma: Bulzoni,
1994), 105–19, p.118; Angelika Leik, Frühe Darstellungen der Commedia dell’arte. Eine
Theaterform als Bildmotiv (Neuried: ars una, 1996), pp.231–2, 356–7; Sara Mamone, ‘Arte
e spettacolo: la partita senza fine’, in Iconographie et arts du spectacle. Actes du Séminaire
CNRS (G.D.R.712) (Paris, 1992), eds Jérôme de La Gorce and Catherine Monbeig Goguel
(Paris: Klincksieck, 1996), 59–112, p.83; Stefano Mazzoni, ‘Genealogia e vicende della
famiglia Andreini’, in: XIX convegno internazionale. Origini della commedia improvvisa o
dell’arte, Roma 12–14 Ottobre 1995, Anagni 15 Ottobre 1995, eds M Chiabò and F Doglio
(Roma: Torre d’Orfeo, 1996), 107–52, p.119.

There is a vast literature concerning the commedia dell’arte, but accounts of

the origins and early history of its stock types, costumes and performance prac-
tice are far from comprehensive. The highly selective approach taken to the
early iconography by traditional scholarship largely excludes pictures not de-
picting commedia dell’arte stock types in recognizable performance situations,
preferring to focus predominantly on on-stage depictions of actors. The art his-
torian Charles Sterling published the first art-historical analysis of early commedia
dell’arte pictures.6 His brief article heralded a new awareness among theatre
historians that the artists of such pictures are influenced not only by what they
see on stage, but by what their patron wishes them to depict, and by artistic
conventions and precedents. A major aim of the present study is to extend Ster-
ling’s methods to pictures previously excluded from such analysis, because of
their peripheral subject matter or inaccessibility. Rather than considering only
pictures with definite and obvious connections to the commedia dell’arte, this
approach includes a wide range of pictures of possible relevance to the theme.
Carnival scenes featuring stock comic types in non-stage settings, for example,
can convey a great deal of information about late renaissance entertainers and
their costumes, as can depictions of non-Italian or amateur actors.
This approach has three main steps. These are firstly, the identification of a
representative selection of relevant pictures, on the basis of a detailed under-
standing of the early history of the commedia dell’arte; secondly, their classifi-
cation according to art-historical methods; thirdly, interpretation of their theat-
rical content.7 Each of the three stages of this approach groups the pictorial
record differently. Relevant pictures forming coherent groups for art-historical
analysis are rarely identical to the groups of pictures which lend themselves to
coherent theatrical interpretation. This study aims to contribute to the provision
of an overall framework integrating art and theatre history, in order to facilitate
a more detailed understanding of the history of the commedia dell’arte in the
opening decades of its existence, 1560–1620, by using early modern pictures as
a documentary source.

ii The term commedia dell’arte

Definition of the commedia dell’arte, beset with challenges and controversy, is
made more elusive by the fluidity of its boundaries, and the complexity of its

Charles Sterling, ‘Early paintings of the commedia dell’arte in France’, Bulletin of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.s.2 (1943), 11–32.
As broadly reflected in the three sections of this study.


continuing interchanges with other cultural phenomena. Its masks drew on a

wide variety of sources, including mystery and mummers’ plays, carnival masks,
street theatre and court entertainment, popular farces and commedia erudita.
They have transcended the confines of the theatrical stage to play key roles in
music, dance, art and literature. Every cultural manifestation featuring charac-
ters representing, or deriving from, its stock types, as well as the full range of
theatrical practices offered by the very versatile early comici d’arte, are relevant
to commedia studies. But it is evident that the term commedia dell’arte itself
cannot accommodate them all without becoming virtually meaningless.
There is an uneasy fit between modern usage of the term, which explicitly
acknowledges its origins in the broad spectrum of performance activities staged
by the early modern mixed-gender troupes who pioneered organized profes-
sional theatre, and its meaning when it was coined in the eighteenth century. For
the London-based theatre critic Joseph Baretti and his contemporaries, the term
defines a very specific type of acting. Baretti, himself one of the first to adopt
the term, implicitly cites Goldoni and Riccoboni in his account of the ‘masked
actors of the commedie dell’arte (a cant name for those burlesque plays substi-
tuted to the commedie antiche)’. He notes that it is built up around stock roles,
originally intended as a kind of characteristical representative of some particular Italian
district or town. Thus Pantalone was a Venetian merchant, Dottore a Bolognese physi-
cian, Spaviento a Neapolitan bragadocio, Pullicinella a wag of Apulia, Giangurgolo and
Coviello two clowns of Calabria, Gelsomino a Roman beau, Beltrame a Milanese simple-
ton, Brighella a Ferrarese pimp, and Arlecchino a blundering servant of Bergamo. Each
of these personages was clad in a peculiar dress; each had his peculiar mask; and each
spoke the dialect of the place he represented. Besides these and a few other such person-
ages, of which at least four were introduced in each play, there were the Amoroso’s or
Innamorato’s; that is, some men and women who acted serious parts; with Smeraldina,
Colombina, Spilletta and other females who played the parts of servetta’s, or waiting-
maids. All these spoke Tuscan or Roman, and wore no masks. Not many of the composi-
tions, in which these masked personages with the innamorato’s and servetta’s were intro-
duced, are to be found printed, because they were seldom written. Their authors only
wrote in a very compendious way the business of each scene in a progressive order; and
sticking two copies of the scenario (so this kind of dramatic skeleton is called) in two
lateral back parts of the stage before the entertainment began, each actor caught the sub-
ject of each scene with a glance whenever called forth by his cue, and either singly or
colloquially spoke extempore to the subject.8

Joseph Baretti, An Account of the Manners and Customs of Italy, with Observations on the
Mistakes of Some Travellers, with Regard to that Country, 2 vols (London: Davies, Davis &
Rymers, 1768), I, pp.172–4.


Perhaps the earliest use of the term is in Goldoni’s play of 1750, Il Teatro
Comico, in a scene featuring rehearsals of a play within a play critical of actors’
improvised embellishments to his playscripts, including those of the Medebach
troupe, who staged this play’s first production, under his direction.9 Goldoni
(1707–93), who was so critical of improvisation that some theatre historians
identify his plays as a ‘death blow’ to the commedia dell’arte, also uses the term
in his autobiography. Here too, he refers to the stereotypical performance type
his contemporaries understood by the term, namely improvised Italian plays
staged by mixed-gender professionals based on the use of distinctive masked
and unmasked stock characters, and lazzi, or stage routines.10 These typical
aspects, all taken very much for granted in the eighteenth century, were novel
innovations that had to compete for attention on the sixteenth century stage. The
two-century gap between the origins and naming of the commedia dell’arte
gives the term inherent difficulties and ambiguities. It embraces a number of
quite distinct and valid meanings, and there is no simple way of reconciling
them, or of retracing its origins as a distinct performative entity. The early his-
tory of the commedia dell’arte is inseparable from the rise of professional mixed-
gender Italian troupes and the repertoires of these early comici as a whole.

iii Documentary sources for the commedia dell’arte

The performing arts of the pre-photographic era, unlike the literary and fine
arts, which can be directly studied via physical objects such as manuscripts,
published books, paintings and sculpture, do not survive in any tangible form.
After the curtain falls or the lights go out, only secondary documentation re-
mains. The improvised performances of the commedia dell’arte are even more
transitory than plays which survive as playscripts. Even so, traditionally, spe-
cialists for whom commedia performances are their actual object of study have
turned to textual documentation.11 The most important written sources for the

Placida, the prima donna of Il Teatro Comico, is given the line ‘Se facciamo le commedie
dell’arte vogliamo star freschi’. Quoted by Cesare Molinari, who notes that the term is
unknown on playbills before 1796 (La commedia dell’arte (Milano: Mondadori, 1985), p.67).
‘Sujets en canevas de pièces italiennes, que l’on appelle comédies de l’art’ (Carlo Goldoni,
Mémoires de Goldoni, pour servir à l’histoire de sa vie et a celle de son théâtre, 3 vols (Paris:
Duchesne, 1787), II, p.24).
On the use of textual documents as historical evidence for non-text based performance, see
Claire Sponsler, ‘Writing the unwritten: morris dance and the study of medieval theatre’,
Theatre Survey, 38 (1997), 73–95.


commedia dell’arte are the scenarios, or plot outlines.12 The only published
collection that predates 1700, Scala’s fifty scenarios of 1611, includes comic,
pastoral, magical, allegorical and tragi-comic plots, and reflects a broad spec-
trum of theatrical activity, from tragedy to farce, originating in the sixteenth
century. Royal, ducal, civic, ecclesiastical, legal and private archives in Italy
and elsewhere offer rich collections of relevant manuscripts. These include of-
ficial records concerning the licensing of performances and control of perform-
ers, censorship, legal disputes and contracts between actors, as well as theatre-
related passages in diaries, diplomatic dispatches, and other correspondence.
Other significant written sources include literary works by performers, non-
performers, and critics, and the actors’ zibaldoni, or handbooks of reference
material. Some intended for publication, others only for private use, zibaldoni
may contain set prologues, speeches, usciti or pre-arranged exit cues, and lazzi,
pre-rehearsed acrobatic or verbal comic set pieces and improvised routines de-
signed for re-use in different plots, and capable of being lengthened or cut ac-
cording to the response received from a particular audience. Actors’ published
plays often draw heavily on material developed in improvised performances,
and some of their prologues comment on performance practice.
The documentary sources cited by studies of the commedia dell’arte, once
overwhelmingly text-based, are increasingly reflecting the impact of visual
records. Images known only through written documents include many noted in
unillustrated modern art market catalogue entries. More intriguingly, they also
include early modern references, such as one to ‘seis quadricos de Ganassa de
figuras diferentes de ganasa y arliquines’, linked by a Madrid archival inventory
entry of 1625 to a performance at a wedding in Guadalajara in 1582, by Naselli’s
troupe.13 The iconography of the performing arts generally can be broadly di-
vided into three categories. These are visual documents created directly in the
course of preparing a specific production, such as designs for settings or cos-

Vito Pandolfi, La commedia dell’arte. Storia e testo, 6 vols (Firenze: Sansoni, 1957–61), II,
pp.166–244, V, pp.213–380, reprints nine of Scala’s scenarios and gives cast lists and plot
summaries for most of the important early scenarios; Thomas F Heck (Commedia dell’Arte:
A Guide to the Primary and Secondary Literature (New York & London: Garland, 1988),
pp.14–45, 332–56) summarizes the main scenario collections, with an overview of the
secondary literature and an alphabetical title index to 820 scenarios.
Carmen Sanz Ayán and Bernardo José García García, ‘El “oficio de representar” en España
y la influencia de la comedia dell’arte (1567–1587)’, Cuadernos de historia moderna, 16
(1995), 475–500, p.484. See also N D Shergold, ‘Ganassa and the “commedia dell’arte” in
sixteenth-century Spain’, Modern Language Review, 51 (1956), 359–68, p.361.


tumes, which pre-date the actual specific performance or intended performance

itself; secondly, those which post-date a specific identifiable performance; and
thirdly, illustrations which cannot be related to a specific performance, such as
portraits of actors in non-theatrical contexts, theatrical book illustrations and views
of performing spaces. Unlike historians of art, theatre historians study pictures not
as the primary object of their research, but as evidence that points to it.
The present study is written from the perspective of theatre iconography. This
highly problematic field, in effect the study of theatrically relevant images as his-
torical documents, perches precariously across the disciplinary boundaries of
modern academia.14 Theatre historians view the visual record as historical docu-
ments, a repository of evidence concerning the stage and its performers. For art
historians, by contrast, the stage is a potential source of subjects for artists, who
can draw on it to develop images based on iconographic conventions, often with
little or no connection to contemporary performance. Theatre iconography recog-
nises that visual images can be approached not only as aesthetic works of art in
their own right, but also as historical documents which encode valuable evidence
concerning past events. Its major challenge is to identify effective strategies for
facilitating deconstruction of the artistic conventions of the images concerned
sufficiently to enable their reading as evidence for the stage practice of their time.
Investigations focusing on specific images or groups of images have contributed
significantly to theatre history since its beginnings as an independent discipline.
Aby Warburg’s 1895 study of images associated with the Florentine intermedi of
1589 pioneered the comparative use of theatrical images as extra-textual docu-
mentation, and has strong claims to being the first significant exercise in theatre
iconography.15 Max Herrmann published one of the earliest monograph-length
applications of art historical methods in the service of theatre historical concerns
in 1914, and further contributions to the field soon followed.16
However, theoretical issues surrounding the iconography of the performing
arts have only been foregrounded more recently. There were advancements in the

On the use of images as historical evidence, see Francis Haskell, History and its Images:
Art and the Interpretation of the Past (New Haven: Yale, 1993); Peter Burke,
Eyewitnessing. The Uses of Images as Historical Evidence (London: Reaktion, 2001).
Aby Warburg, ‘I costumi teatrali per gli intermezzi del 1589. I disegni di Bernardo
Buontalenti e il libro di conti di Emilio de’ Cavalieri (1895)’ in Gesammelte Schriften, ed.
Gertrud Bing, 2 vols (Leipzig & Berlin: Teubner, 1932), I, 259–300, 394–438.
Max Herrmann, ‘Dramenillustrationen des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts’, in idem,
Forschungen zur deutschen Theatergeschichte des Mittelalters und der Renaissance
(Berlin: Weidmann, 1914), 273–500; see also, for example, Oskar Fischel, ‘Art and the
theatre – II’, Burlington Magazine, 66 (1935), 54–66.


cataloguing of music iconography in the 1970s,17 and in engagement with meth-

odological issues in the 1980s.18 This decade saw two publications which gave
commedia-related iconography studies, in particular, a major impetus: Aliverti’s
exemplary summary of the challenges of the field and Heck’s invaluable commedia
dell’arte bibliography.19 Around 1990, Davidson reviewed early English theatre
iconography, Aliverti and West redefined approaches to eighteenth century ac-
tors’ portraits, and Guardenti and Holm addressed aspects of seventeenth and
eighteenth century commedia iconography.20 Since 1990, several major collabo-
rative ventures have approached the visual record from a theatre-historical per-
spective. The proceedings of several theatre-iconographical conferences were
published, and the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study Theatre Iconogra-
phy Research Group 1994–95 was formed.21 Theatre iconography, more even

Howard Mayer Brown and Joan Lascelle, Musical Iconography: A Manual for Cataloguing
Musical Subjects in Western Art before 1800 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
1972); Imago Musicae: International Yearbook of Musical Iconography (ed. Tilman
Seebass) was founded in 1984.
Tadeusz Kowzan, ‘Iconographie-iconologie théâtrale: le signe iconique et son référent’,
Diogenes, 130 (1985), 51–68; Theodore K Rabb and Jonathan Brown, ‘The evidence of art:
images and meaning in history’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 17 (1986), 1–6;
Sharon Fermor, ‘On the question of pictorial “evidence” for fifteenth-century dance
technique’, Dance Research, 5 (1987), 18–32.
Maria Ines Aliverti, ‘Per una iconografia della commedia dell’arte: a proposito di alcuni
recenti studi’, Teatro e storia, 4 (1989), 71–88; Heck, Commedia dell’Arte: A Guide
(reprinted 2000; a valuable update is provided by Philiep Bossier, ‘Bibliografia ragionata
internazionale’, in: XIX convegno internazionale. Origini della commedia improvvisa o
dell’arte, Roma 12–14 Ottobre 1995, Anagni 15 Ottobre 1995, eds M Chiabò and F Doglio
(Roma: Torre d’Orfeo, 1996), 433–541).
Clifford Davidson, Illustrations of the Stage and Acting in England to 1580 (Kalamazoo:
Western Michigan University for the Medieval Institute, ‘Early drama, art and music
monograph series’, 16, 1991); Maria Ines Aliverti, Il ritratto d’attore nel settecento
francese e inglese (Pisa: Ets, 1986); Shearer West, The Image of the Actor: Verbal and
Visual Representation in the Age of Garrick and Kemble (London: Pinter, 1991); Renzo
Guardenti, Gli Italiani a Parigi. La Comédie Italienne (1660–1697). Storia, pratica
scenica, iconografia, 2 vols (Roma: Bulzoni, 1990); Bent Holm, Solkonge og Månekejser.
Ikonografiske studier i François Fossards Cabinet (København: Gyldendal, 1991).
Cesare Molinari, ‘Presentazione [Arti figurative e arti dello spettacolo]’, Biblioteca
teatrale, 19/20 (1990), 1–4; Iconographie et arts du spectacle. Actes du Séminaire CNRS
(G.D.R.712) (Paris, 1992), eds Jérôme de La Gorce and Catherine Monbeig Goguel (Paris:
Klincksieck, 1996); Giovanna Botti, ‘Presentazione’, in ‘Immagini di teatro’, ed. G Botti,
Biblioteca teatrale, 36/37 (1996), 13–17. The NIAS group published its conference
proceedings in 1997 (‘Theatre and iconography’, eds Robert L Erenstein and Laurence
Senelick, Theatre Research International, 22 (1997)) and a collaborative book in 1999


than the study of theatre architecture, realia (such as costumes or props),

scenography, or performance art, risks being lured into the treacherous Bermuda
triangle at the conjunction of the academic disciplines of art history, theatre and
literature. Bridging their histories – transmuting methodological differences from
barriers to serious academic enquiry into positive strengths – remains a major
challenge. Effective strategies are increasingly being identified and addressed,
but still far from being resolved.22 This disciplinary frontier is central to an un-
derstanding of commedia-related images, because they are as profoundly shaped
by iconographic and cultural influences as they are by the stage itself. Early
modern artists looked not only to their subject, but habitually also to the cultural
discourse surrounding it, in conjunction with earlier art, to inspire them. Their

(Thomas F Heck, Robert Erenstein, M A Katritzky, Frank Peeters, A William Smith, Lyckle
de Vries, Picturing Performance, the Iconography of the Performing Arts in Concept and
Practice, ed. T F Heck (Rochester: University of Rochester, 1999), and extended its work
through the European Science Foundation Theatre Iconography Network. Formed at my
initiative, with the support of Erika Fischer-Lichte, and led by Cesare Molinari, the
network’s proceedings were published in 2002 (European Theatre Iconography. Proceed-
ings of the European Science Foundation Network. Mainz, 22–26 July 1998, Wassenaar
21–25 July 1999, Poggio a Caiano, 20–23 July 2000, ed. Christopher Balme, R L
Erenstein, and Cesare Molinari (Roma: Bulzoni, 2002).
Mamone, ‘Arte e spettacolo’; Cesare Molinari, ‘Sull’iconografia come fonte della storia del
teatro’, Biblioteca teatrale, 36/37 (1996), 19–40; Ferdinando Taviani, ‘Immagini rivoltate’,
Biblioteca teatrale, 36/37 (1996), 41–59; Christopher Balme, ‘Interpreting the pictorial
record: theatre iconography and the referential dilemma’, Theatre Research International,
22 (1997), 190–201; Robert L Erenstein, ‘Theatre iconography: an introduction’, Theatre
Research International, 22 (1997), 185–9; W M H Hummelen, ‘Doubtful images’, Theatre
Research International, 22 (1997), 202–18; Juan Villegas, ‘The state of writing histories of
theater’, Degrés (special issue: ‘La théâtrologie: questions de méthode, ed. Patrice Pavis’)
29 (2001), c1–c17; Renzo Guardenti, ‘The iconography of the commedia dell’arte:
figurative recurrences and the organisation of the repertory’, in European Theatre
Iconography, ed. Balme, Erenstein and Molinari, 197–206. Few would disagree with
Harald Zielske that the ‘longstanding customary complaints concerning the absence of a
scholarly basis for theatre iconography now hardly seem appropriate any more’ (‘Dokument
oder Allegorie? Zu der Figurenserie “Les trois Pantalons” von Jacques Callot’, Maske und
Kothurn, 48 (2002), 143–53, p.143). Even so, such key milestones as the first monograph
devoted to the subject; its integration within a mainstream theatre studies undergraduate
textbook, and even the ‘first bibliography and iconography of performance costume’ are
only now being achieved, and the field is still far from solidly established. (Picturing
Performance, ed. Heck; Christopher Balme, Einführung in die Theaterwissenschaft (Berlin:
Erich Schmidt, 1999), pp.159–62; Sidney Jowers and John Cavanagh, Theatrical Costume,
Masks, Make-Up, and Wigs: A Bibliography and Iconography (London & Romsey:
Routledge & Motley, 2000), p.7.


works reflect and inform, in ways that merit detailed interdisciplinary scrutiny,
ongoing borrowings and interchanges between the visual arts, popular tradi-
tions, social attitudes, and performance practice.

iv Pictures and the commedia dell’arte

The rich visual evidence relating to the early commedia dell’arte which sur-
vives in many images is receiving increasing recognition as a resource for the
study of late renaissance theatre. But these largely undated and anonymous
sources have to be interpreted with extreme caution. Even after their connection
with the commedia dell’arte has been demonstrated, it is clear that such images
cannot be accepted as factually accurate ‘snapshots’, or even compendia, of
exactly what a particular artist saw on a specific occasion. Every pictorial record
is – to a greater or lesser extent – affected by artistic precedents and traditions
and commissioning pressures as well as direct visual input. Its individual com-
ponents may be taken from one source, or conversely, they may be based on a
selection combined from all or any of a wide variety of visual and literary sources.
These influences may include real-life events or theatrical performances which
the artist has seen, in the recent or more distant past, earlier sketches or pictures
by the artist or by other artists, allegorical and popular sources, and the artist’s
own imagination.
One of the first writers on the commedia dell’arte to show a historian’s con-
cern for the pictorial evidence was Luigi Riccoboni, better known by his stage
name, ‘Lelio’. François Joullain, commissioned to illustrate Riccoboni’s Histoire
du théâtre italien of 1730, produced a series of engravings depicting the comic
actors as they were to be seen in Riccoboni’s own troupe on the Paris stage of
his day. Such series were typical of the output of Parisian printers of the time,
but Joullain’s eighteen engravings differed in that they also depicted some of
the comedians’ counterparts of a century or more earlier. Thus, for example,
Habit de pantalone moderne is paired with Habit de Pentalon ancien, based
directly on the Pantalone in Jacques Callot’s series of engravings Les trois
Pantalons of c.1618. Joullain’s much-copied studies provided the inspiration
for that most influential nineteenth century series of commedia characters, the
fifty portraits of stock roles of the commedia dell’arte and Comédie Italienne in
Maurice Dudevant’s book Masques et bouffons, published in 1860 under the
surname of his mother, George Sand. He lent these attractive coloured engrav-
ings a spurious historical authenticity by labelling them with dates. Their accu-
racy may be judged by the fact that Pantalone (1550) is none other than a re-


vamped twin to Joullain’s Pentalon ancien, and thus ultimately based not on a
model of 1550, but on Callot’s picture of c.1618.23 Lack of historical rigour
notwithstanding, the enthusiasm of George Sand’s circle for the Italian comedi-
ans was influential in encouraging a new curiosity in the historical development
of the commedia dell’arte. This grew alongside the increasing interest taken by
painters, poets and performers in the commedia and its characters as a source
for their art. Again and again, it was Maurice Sand’s comedians to which they
looked. For example, a larger than life-size painted double of Sand’s Coviello
(1550) dominates the main scene of Gino Severini’s Montegufoni commedia
frescoes of 1921, the year too of Picasso’s The three musicians, masterpiece of
a dazzling early twentieth century explosion of commedia-inspired characters
rampaging across canvas, stage and paper.
The increasing demand for scholarly information on the commedia at this
time stimulated interest in its iconography. Rasi’s monumental dictionary of
Italian actors, and catalogue of his distinguished personal collection of dramatic
images, now part of Rome’s Biblioteca Teatrale il Burcado, pioneered a more
scholarly approach to the visual material.24 The most important single icono-
graphic discovery was a bound volume, containing sixteenth and seventeenth
century engravings of commedia actors and performances, found by Agne Beijer
in the reserve collections of the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, in the 1920s.
Recognising that these prints, which include a section of the scattered and largely
lost Recueil Fossard, offer a uniquely detailed picture of the early commedia
dell’arte, he published them in 1928, with Pierre Louis Duchartre, already the
author of a substantial milestone in the field of commedia dell’arte iconogra-
phy. Duchartre’s La comédie italienne, published in several French and English

Maurice Sand, Masques et Bouffons (comédie italienne): texte et dessins, 2 vols (Paris:
Lévy, 1860). Sand’s initiative gave rise to a surprisingly persistent line of less artistically
gifted followers (for a prolific late flowering of the genre, see Alessandro Cervellati, Storia
delle maschere, illustrazioni dell’autore ricavate da incisioni, disegni, pitture e fotografie
originali (Bologna: Poligrafici il resto del Carlino, 1954). On this theatre-iconographic
strategy for overcoming the limitations of nineteenth century book technology, see M A
Katritzky, ‘What did Vigil Raber’s stage really look like? Questions of authenticity and
integrity in medieval theatre iconography’, in Vigil Raber, Zur 450. Wiederkehr seines
Todesjahres. Akten des 4. Symposiums der Sterzinger Osterspiele (25.–27.3.2002), eds
Michael Gebhardt and Max Siller (Innsbruck: Universitätsverlag, Schlern-Schriften 326,
2004), 85–116, p.86.
Luigi Rasi, I comici italiani: biografia, bibliografia, iconografia, 2 vols (Firenze: Bocca &
Paris: Klincksieck, 1897 & 1905); idem, Catalogo generale della raccolta drammatica
italiana di Luigi Rasi (Firenze: Landi, 1912).


editions during the 1920s, is as much maligned as it is highly illustrated, despite

offering a less unrigorous approach to reproducing visual records than the cava-
lier borrowings of Sand’s pastiches.25 Rightly criticized for his disregard for
art-historical issues and unscholarly theatrical evaluation of the pictorial record,
Duchartre is, less fairly, not accorded due credit for bringing to the attention of
a wide readership hundreds of commedia dell’arte-related images, many brought
to light by his own tireless researches.
McDowell’s unpublished doctoral thesis, although largely along theatre-his-
torical lines, is based on an exhaustive ‘Catalogue raisonné of the iconographi-
cal material bearing on the commedia dell’arte’, listing some 500 works of
art.26 But his pioneering analysis of pre-1650 images is considerably devalued
by the extreme sparseness of its illustrations and references. The war years pro-
duced two exemplary publications.27 Gudlaugsson’s Komedianten bij Jan Steen
en zijn tijdgenooten of 1945, republished in English translation four years after
his death, deploys, with particular reference to the commedia dell’arte, a height-
ened sensitivity to the interpretation of later seventeenth century Dutch theatri-
cal scenes, not as simple performance records but as complex iconological re-
positories. The importance of Sterling’s brief article of 1943 for the field cannot
be overstated. Among the first investigations concerned either with interpreting
commedia-related pictures on art-historical principles, or investigating the comici
as the subject of art, it is a major focus of the present study. Sterling heralded a
significant new awareness of the importance of pictures as primary documen-
tary material for investigating the costumes, gestures, posture and physical rep-
ertoire of the early comedians.28

Agne Beijer and Pierre Louis Duchartre, Recueil de plusieurs fragments des premières
comédies italiennes qui on été représentées en France sous le règne de Henri III. Recueil,
dit de Fossard, conservé au musée national de Stockholm (Paris: Duchartre &
Buggenhoudt, 1928). Pierre Louis Duchartre, The Italian Comedy (New York: Dover, 1966)
is a reprint of the 1929 revised translation of the 1924 French first edition, with a picture
supplement reproducing Compositions de Rhetorique and Stockholm Recueil Fossard
John Huber McDowell, An Iconographical Study of the Early Commedia dell’Arte (1560–
1650) (University of Yale: Phil. Diss, 1937), 33 figures. My thanks to David Allen for
making this available to me.
S J Gudlaugsson, The Comedians in the Work of Jan Steen and his Contemporaries (Soest:
Davaco, 1975); Sterling, ‘Early paintings’.
Elena Povoledo, ‘Le bouffon et la commedia dell’arte dans la fête vénitienne au XVIe
siècle’, in Les Fêtes de la renaissance III, ed. Jean Jacquot and Elie Konigson (Paris:
CNRS, 1975), 253–66; Marianne Hallar, Teaterspil og tegnsprog. Ikonografiske studier i


Despite its focus on seventeenth and eighteenth century images, of greater

significance to a study of the early images than the incomplete ‘standard’
iconographies of the commedia dell’arte of the 1960s is Hansen’s habilitation
research, completed in manuscript only days before his premature death in 1968.29
Specialists owe Helmut Asper a major debt of gratitude for guiding the work to
publication in 1984. Inevitably, the resulting monograph is a flawed hybrid, bear-
ing the unavoidable marks of long-delayed posthumous publication, but its en-
gagement with central issues makes it an indispensable classic. It provides an
overview of the development and spread of iconographic conventions, touring
troupes and other intercultural borrowings, and is methodologically groundbreaking
in pointing a way forward to genuine interdisciplinarity, and away from the disci-
pline-bound approaches which limit even the best older scholarship.
Aliverti’s message follows a similar path. She identifies two independent
traditions in the use of pictorial material relating to the commedia dell’arte. In

commedia dell’arte (København: Akademisk, 1977); Ulrike Noë, Illustrationen zur

Commedia dell’arte (Köln, Universität: Magisterarbeit, 1985); Ferdinando Taviani, ‘Un
vivo contrasto: seminario su attrici e attori della commedia dell’arte’, Teatro e storia, 1
(1986), 25–75. Leik’s Frühe Darstellungen, an outstanding treatment of the then-known
early modern visual record within its wider art-historical context, is concerned with the
artistic impact and significance of the commedia dell’arte. Eckhard Leuschner’s authorita-
tive overview of the depiction of face masks does not specifically focus on the theatre
(Persona, Larva, Maske, ikonologische Studien zum 16. bis frühen 18. Jahrhundert
(Frankfurt-a-M: Lang, 1997). Lynne Lawner’s and Thomas Kellein’s admirably illustrated
surveys of commedia-related iconography, extending from its beginnings to modern
derivatives, touch on early modern examples. The latter is the catalogue of one of several
major exhibitions addressing or touching on significant aspects of commedia-related
iconography, albeit largely post-1620 (Lawner, Harlequin on the Moon. Commedia
dell’Arte and the Visual Arts (New York: Abrams, 1998); Kellein, Pierrot: Melancholie und
Maske (München: Prestel, 1995); Jean Clair, ‘Picasso Trismegistus. Notes on the iconogra-
phy of Harlequin’, in Picasso: The Italian Journey 1917–1924, eds Jean Clair and Odile
Michel (London: Thames & Hudson, 1998), 15–30; The Great Parade: Portrait of the
Artist as Clown, ed. Jean Clair (New Haven & London: Yale, 2004); Meredith Chilton,
Harlequin Unmasked, the Commedia dell’Arte and Porcelain Sculpture (New Haven &
London: Yale & Gardiner Museum, 2001); Commedia dell’arte: Fest der Komödianten;
keramische Kostbarkeiten aus den Museen der Welt, 3 vols, ed. Reinhard Jansen (Stuttgart:
Arnoldsche, 2001); Julian Brooks and Catherine Whistler, Graceful and True. Drawing in
Florence c.1600 (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003)).
Pandolfi, La commedia dell’arte, II, 333–6; Daniel Ternois, ‘Représentations figurées des
fêtes et de la commedia dell’arte’, in idem, L’Art de Jacques Callot (Paris: Nobele, 1962),
233–5; Günther Hansen, Formen der commedia dell’arte in Deutschland, ed. Helmut G
Asper (Emsdetten: Lechte, 1984).


the dominant one, such pictures are used to demonstrate the general characteris-
tics, evolution and duration of specific stock types.30 The second approach analy-
ses such pictures in iconographically related groups in order to date and at-
tribute them, and to trace their artistic borrowings.31 The first technique is fa-
voured by theatre historians, the second by art historians. Aliverti indicates that,
independently and in their separate ways, the most recent work in each under-
mines the relative emphasis given to the three cornerstones of the commedia
dell’arte as it is traditionally understood, that is, professionalism, the stock types
and the traditional repertoire, and supports the presence of a far greater diver-
sity of performance type and style than is allowed in long-accepted models. In
order for further progress to be made in analysing the iconography, she feels
that the two approaches should merge their insights, problems and aims into a
single interdisciplinary line of enquiry.

Aliverti, ‘Per una iconografia’ (with reference to Ferdinando Taviani’s publications).
Ibid. (with reference to M A Katritzky, ‘Lodewyk Toeput: some pictures related to the
commedia dell’arte’, Renaissance Studies, 1 (1987), 71–125; eadem, ‘Italian comedians in
renaissance prints’, Print Quarterly, 4 (1987), 236–54; and articles on seventeenth and
eighteenth century theatre iconography by F Siguret and Armando Fabio Ivaldi).

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I The commedia dell’arte

I.i The rise and spread of professional acting and commedia

dell’arte troupes in sixteenth century Italy

I.i.a Introduction
The diversity of the commedia dell’arte has contributed to the controversy sur-
rounding its origins. Its dominant defining feature has been variously identified
as its commercialism, improvisation, professionalism, the use of face masks
and characteristic stock types, the introduction of actresses, and the formation
of troupes. Once fully developed, the commedia dell’arte was the product of
teamwork by professional actors and actresses associated in travelling troupes
who themselves provided the dialogues for performances improvised around
scenarios involving certain stock characters, situations and lazzi. They favoured
impressive stock costumes but minimal settings, scenery and props, and grafted
popular elements such as masks, dialect, mime, acrobatics, and musical enter-
tainment on to plots taken from commedia erudita (fully scripted plays in the
vernacular), while rejecting its five-act structure, Aristotelian unities and didac-
tic message in favour of audience entertainment and participation. In this way,
group-developed ‘flexible performances’ with unprecedented wideness of audi-
ence appeal were achieved.32
The prologue to La Strega by Grazzini (‘Il Lasca’), first published only in
1582 but written in mid-century, features a dialogue that sums up the changing
audience expectations which increasingly favoured commedia dell’arte over
erudite drama.33 An understanding of the sources and performative contexts of

Tim Fitzpatrick, The Relationship of Oral and Literate Performance Processes in the
Commedia dell’Arte: Beyond the Improvisation/Memorisation Divide (Lewiston,
Queenston, Lampeter: Mellen, 1995), p.48.
‘Prologo. – […] non sai tu che le commedie sono immagini di virtù, esempio di costumi e
specchio di vita. / Argomento. – Tu sei alla antica e tieni del Baroncio sconciamente: oggidì
non si va più a veder recitar le commedie per impa / rare a vivere, ma per piacere, per

its stock roles, especially the visually distinctive male stock roles, is fundamental
to the identification and interpretation of commedia-related images. Tomaso
Garzoni’s La piazza universale is the most comprehensive overview of contem-
porary attitudes to performers, and of the various contexts in which commedia-
related roles occurred – and hence in which their costumes may have been de-
picted – in mid-1580s Venice. Although its importance in this context is univer-
sally recognized, its full potential is not. La piazza divides organized labour into
155 occupational categories, of every social class, each discussed in a separate
‘Discorso’. Of the many concerned with or relevant to performers, four are typi-
cally cited by theatre historians: those on acrobats and dancers, professional ac-
tors, charlatans, and buffoni (professional comic or acrobatic entertainers).34 The
significant overlap between the commedia-related stage roles cited in these
‘Discorsi’ emphasizes the interdependence of Garzoni’s performing ‘professions’.35
As well as explicit allusions to the stage, these accounts give invaluable insights
into the genuine occupational groups on which various stock roles drew. Writing
at a time when stage costume was still developing the stereotypic stock outfits
that, by the opening decades of the seventeenth century, were losing all relevance
to contemporary clothes, Garzoni links several non-performing professionals to
their stage equivalents. The stock stage lawyer, Dottore Gratiano da Bologna, and
a stage physician, Mastro Grillo, are invoked in the warnings against unqualified
practitioners with which he ends his discussions of lawyers and medical doctors,
in his deeply critical discussion of diviners, and with regard to spice-merchants.36

spasso, per diletto, per passare malinconia e per rallegrarsi. / Prologo. – Si potrebbe anche
mandare a chiamare i Zanni. / Argomento. – Piacerebbe anche forse più lui e le sue
commedie giocose, piacevoli, che queste nostre dotte, savie e severe. / Prologo. – Il poeta
vuole introdurre buon costumi, e pigliare la gravità e lo insegnare per suo oggetto
principale, che così richiede l’arte. / Argomento. – Che arte o non arte? che ci avete stracco
con questa vostra arte ! l’arte vera è il piacere e ’l dilettare’ (Antonfrancesco Grazzini, La
Strega, édition critique avec introduction et notes, ed. Michel Plaisance (Abbeville:
Paillart, 1976), pp.55–6).
Tomaso Garzoni, La piazza universale di tutte le professioni del mondo, ed. Giovanni
Battista Bronzini (Firenze: Olschki, 1996): Discorsi XLV (De’ saltatori, e ballarini, e di
tutte le sorti di tripudianti, et de’ cursori); CIII (‘De’ comici, e tragedi, così auttori, come
recitatori, cioè degli histrioni’); CIV (‘De’ formatori di spettacoli in genere, et de’ ceretani,
o ciurmatori massime’); CXIX (‘De’ buffoni, o mimi, o histrioni’).
Ibid., CIII & CIV: Burattino, Zani; CIII & CXIX: Magnifico, Spagnuolo; XLV, CIV &
CXIX: Grillo; CIII, CIV & CXIX: Gratiano da Bologna.
Ibid., V (‘De’ dottori di legge civile’), p.138; XVII (‘De’ medici fisici’, pp.212–13); VIII
(‘De’ formatori de’ pronostichi’), p.157; LXXXIX (‘De’ speciari, overo aromatarii’), p.811.


Garzoni’s discussion of pimps and bawds notes that during the Venetian carnival,
they specially favoured disguising themselves as Zanni or Magnifico; and he al-
ludes to Vittoria, Flaminia, Isabella and other renowned stage inamoratas, as well
as historical and contemporary figures, in his treatment of lovers.37 His 114th
‘Discorso’ offers an account of the facchini, peasants who left their native Bergamo
and the alpine regions beyond, to seek work as Venetian porters. Describing in
detail their characteristic lazy gestures, gross posture, ignorant attitude, baboon-
like gait and impenetrable dialect, Garzoni explicitly notes that their costume and
traits served as a blueprint for the zanni who represented them on the commedia
Garzoni’s moralizing attitude too, is of relevance to interpretation of the picto-
rial record. La piazza is the indisputable culmination of a voluminous sixteenth
century literature on the professions, contrasting their various aims and achieve-
ments, and engaging in the theme of vocations honoured and betrayed. Its authors
drew on and fed into the textual and iconographic traditions of the Dance of Death
and northern ‘Narrenliteratur’, notably Sebastian Brandt’s Ship of Fools and its
derivatives. Garzoni, no less than others in this tradition, took a far from neutral
stance to the professions he describes. Concerning performers and their audi-
ences, he explicitly condemns the pleasures of the ‘piazza’ at the metaphorical
and literal centre of his discourse – eating, drinking, window shopping, gossiping,
and above all making, listening to, or watching music, dance, or other performa-
tive spectacle – as fundamentally sinful activities. For him, indulging in these
worldly diversions on a full-time basis is, of all the ‘professions’ he defines, ‘the
most vicious and detestable’.39 In a much-quoted passage, he singles out for warm
individual praise one male and four female comici: Fabio, the ‘gracious’ Isabella
Andreini, Vincenza Armani, Lidia and the ‘divine’ Vittoria Piisimi.40 He hints that
virtuous histrioni are exceptional, and makes it clear that, for him, the modern
acting profession is perverted by profani comici, who scandalize their audiences.41

Ibid., LXXV (‘De’ ruffiani, et delle ruffiane’), p.741; LXXXIV (‘De’ mascherari …’),
pp.790–1; XCVI (‘De’ galanti, o innamorati, o pennacchini, et de’ puttanieri’), p.855. He
also records, amongst Venetian carnival costumes popular with both men and women:
matachin, gypsy and charlatan outfits, and costumes of the commedia dell’arte masked
servant and master roles Pedrolino, Burattino and Gratian da Bologna (Discorsi LXXV,
p.741 & LXXXIV, p.790).
Ibid., CXIV (‘De’ fachini …’), p.976.
Ibid., CXVII (‘Degli otiosi di piazza …’), p.987.
Ibid., CIII, pp.901–2.
Ibid., CIII, p.902.


If he differentiated between acrobatic dancers, comici, charlatans and buffoni by

dedicating them separate ‘Discorsi’, he was also well aware of their extremely
close links. Actors stand shoulder to shoulder with charlatans and buffoni, whose
accounts are entirely undiluted by individual praise, in a warning to his readers.42
From Garzoni’s account it is clear that, together with carnival masks, the
main contexts in which commedia-related roles occurred in late sixteenth cen-
tury Venice are performances by acrobatic dancers, actors, charlatans and buffoni.
This is entirely compatible with the now widely accepted view that the Italian
professional stage was pioneered by mountebanks (itinerant charlatans who used
theatrical means to market medical or pseudo-medical products and services),
and buffoni. These latter were professional comic performers who played solo,
or banded together in predominantly male duos or troupes, to offer a repertoire
relying heavily on mime, acrobatic dance and visual humour, important ele-
ments on the commedia stage. Less clear, and much disputed, is the extent to
which, as the sixteenth century progressed, not just comici, but also charlatans
and buffoni, staged performances that fall within the definition of the commedia

I.i.b Venetian amateurs and buffoni

In Lea’s view, ‘almost all the material of the Commedia dell’arte might be re-
viewed in terms of its debt to the Commedia erudita’.44 Her closely argued
theory that the commedia dell’arte arose out of professional imitation of Italian
renaissance amateurs such as Cherea, Cimador, Menato, and especially Angelo
Beolco (‘Ruzante’) and Andrea Calmo has attracted much support. Lea postu-
lates that the first stable troupes of professional actors, motivated both by finan-
cial gain and by a sense of the theatrical, travestied the commedia erudita and
carnival entertainments of learned amateur renaissance playwrights, which in
turn imitated Plautus and Terence and plundered such sources as Boccaccio.
Commedia dell’arte elements developed, and gained ascendance in the reper-

Ibid., CXIX, p.997: ‘tre sorte di persone si dice communemente haver rubato tutto il buon
tempo, cioè comedianti, buffoni, et ceretani, i quali tutti eran paragonati dal Fasela al nodo
On charlatan, mountebank and toothdrawer performances and iconography, see Katritzky,
‘Vigil Raber’s stage’ and bibliography (Katritzky).
Kathleen M Lea, Italian Popular Comedy, a Study in the Commedia dell’Arte 1560–1620,
with Special Reference to the English Stage, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon, 1934), I, p.182.


toires of the professionals, only gradually, and borrowed from a wide variety of
sources over several decades. They favoured fast-moving action, crowd-pleas-
ing presentation and popular entertainment over the amateurs’ wordy dialogues
and their improvisation drew on material that came to hand. This included clas-
sical comedy, court festivals, folklore and carnival, the set pieces of charlatans
and travelling entertainers, contemporary Italian comedy and pastoral, novelle
and romantic poems, and incorporated similar stock situations, lazzi, collaps-
ible speeches, acrobatic routines and dances into different plots.
The terminology of this period records the constant struggle of early comici
to dissociate themselves from the stigma attached to buffoni, street players and
mountebanks. This was both a matter of pride, and also a tactic against ecclesi-
astical criticism and censorship, which severely restricted entertainments out-
side the carnival period. The comico and forestiero of the dialogue prologue to
Scala’s fully scripted comedy Il Finto Marito, of 1619, discuss the dispute be-
tween those who dismissed the performances of the professionals as zanata,
and their defenders, who would elevate them to the status of commedie.45 In La
Supplica of 1634, written to gain respect for the acting profession, and to raise
public estimation of the plays of the comici so that they were seen to equal the
productions of educated amateurs rather than the crude zanata of the street
buffoni, Nicolò Barbieri (‘Beltrame’), is even more explicit.46
The numerous theatrical episodes described in the voluminous diaries of the
Venetian Marin Sanudo, which span the period c.1499–1533, give a lively indi-
cation of the range and circumstances of entertainments, both professional and
amateur, available in Venice at that time.47 Sanudo’s diary stops short of the
period in which the commedia dell’arte came to the fore by several decades.
But by its very comprehensiveness, it gives valuable indications of the early
interactions between Venetian professional buffoni and amateur performers, and
of mechanisms by which the amateur stage advanced towards professionalism

Carmine Jannaco, ‘Stesura e tendenze letterarie della commedia improvvisa in due prologhi
di Flaminio Scala’, Studi secenteschi, 1 (1960), 195–207.
Nicolò Barbieri, La supplica, discorso famigliare a quelli che trattano de’ comici (Venetia,
1634), ed. Ferdinando Taviani (Milano: Il Polifilo, 1971), p.24: ‘il buffone è realmente
buffone, ma il comico che rappresenta la parte ridicola, finge il buffone, e perciò porta la
maschera al viso, o barba rimessa, o tintura alla faccia, per mostrar d’esser un’altra
Some 55 of which are published, some in translation, by Lea (Italian Popular Comedy, II,
pp.474–8). See also Daniele Vianello, ‘Tra inferno e paradiso: il ‘limbo’ dei buffoni’,
Biblioteca teatrale, 49–51 (1999), 13–80.


in the early sixteenth century. Sanudo records processions, masquerades, recita-

tions, pastorals, tragedies and comedies, organized by amateur companies, par-
ticularly the Eterni, Ortolani, Triumphanti, and those of Cherea and Ruzante,
both during the carnival season and at private functions such as weddings and
banquets. He also notes singing, dancing, acrobatics and clowning by profes-
sional buffoni, notably Domenego Tajacalze and Zan Polo.
By the second decade of the sixteenth century, Sanudo is recording definite
interaction between amateur entertainers and professional players. He notes that
in April 1513 the Eterni enlivened their procession by engaging Zan Polo, whom
he elsewhere describes as a ‘buffon’ skilled at jumping, dancing and singing.
First recorded by Sanudo as performing ‘in piaza’ as early as 1504, several
diary entries point to the success of Zan Polo’s collaborations with amateurs. In
February 1515 he provided intermedi involving singing and dancing to a per-
formance of Plautus’s Miles Gloriosus. In 1522, Zan Polo played the buffone at
a festival organized by another amateur company, the Triumphanti, and, with
other buffoni, provided the intermedi for Niccolò Machiavelli’s Mandragola,
performed by Cherea’s company. At a banquet given by the Doge in 1523, ‘Zuan
Polo buffon stravestito vene con do altri, et cantò una canzon in laude dil Doxe’.
In February 1524 Zan Polo was one of several primi buffoni for a masquerade
organized by the Ortolani. In May 1532 he performed at two banquets in Treviso
with a company of at least four other buffoni, and by 1533 he had been joined by
a son, in what may represent an early professional troupe.48 On 3 February
1530, Sanudo watched a ‘comedia a la Bergamasca’. He identifies the authors
as Andrea Razer and Zuan Maria, and the players as including a woman (‘la
Michiela’), and a vulgar bravo. Perhaps this Bergamasque comedy was similar

This or another son of Zan Polo is named by Sanudo as Cimador in 1526, and recorded by
Aretino (I ragionamenti, 1584, pp.67–8) as in turn playing all four parts of a one-man
playlet featuring a Zanni-type porter, an old master, his young wife, and their elderly maid.
See Kenneth Richards and Laura Richards, The Commedia dell’Arte. A Documentary
History (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), pp.24–5 (translation); Vianello, ‘Tra inferno e paradiso’,
pp.25–6; Robert Henke, Performance and Literature in the Commedia dell’Arte (Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp.61–2. Although Zan Polo’s dates are
incompatible with Lea’s suggestion that he may be identical with the buffone Benedetto
Cantinella, whose troupe played with much success in Rome in the 1540s, the dates of his
son are not (Lea, Italian Popular Comedy, I, pp.248–51). Maria Magni notes an edition of
Due canzonette nuove di un amante con la risposta dell’amata in lingua venetiana whose
frontispiece depicts the actor Piero Cantinella (‘Il Tipo dello Zanni nella Commedia
dell’arte in Italia nei secoli XVI e XVII’, Bergomvm, Bollettino della Civica Biblioteca, 20
(1926), 111–38, 163–84, p.171).


to the ‘buffoni alla veniziana e alla bergamasca, e contadini alla pavana’ seen at a
Ferrarese court banquet by Messisbugo in 1529.49 Whether or not these perform-
ances are direct forerunners of the commedia dell’arte, Sanudo’s diaries point to
increasingly successful collaboration between amateur and professional players,
collaboration that was instrumental in stimulating the rise of the first long-term
professional acting troupes.

I.i.c The early troupes

The activities of a few possibly long-term itinerant professional troupes are indi-
cated in records predating 1540. In 1538, the troupe of ‘Mutio, italiano de la
Comedia’ acted in Spain, and that of Pierre de la Oultre performed farces and
moralities in France.50 By the 1540s, some players were signing legal contracts to
form professional troupes and tour with their plays. Three Parisian contracts record
the activities of Giovanni-Antonio Romano (‘Valfeniere’), whose troupe of six
Italian ‘joueurs’ took on three French players during a French tour of 1544.51 In
1545, identified as a date of almost mythical proportions for the commedia dell’arte,
the Paduan ‘Maphio ditto Zanini’ and seven other men contracted to form a ‘fra-
ternal company’ at the end of Lent, for the purpose of touring until the following
carnival season with their commedie for financial gain.52 In 1546 and 1549, Maphio
del Re reformed his company, again for the purpose of offering ‘comediis’, and in
1546 Benedetto Cantinella received payment for performing a comedy with his
company.53 In this year also, anonymous troupes were recorded in Geneva and
Norwich. Calvinist Geneva refused the application for a licence of ‘aulcungs joueurs
des antiques et puissance de Hercules […] jouer de bonne grâce la bataille des

Cristoforo da Messisbugo, banchetti composizioni di vivande e apparecchio generale, ed.
Fernando Bandini (Venezia: Neri Pozza, 1960), p.50.
John V Falconieri, ‘Historia de la commedia dell’arte en España’, Revista de Literatura, 11
(1957), 3–37 and 12 (1958), 69–90, p.11; Armand Baschet, Les comédiens italiens a la
cour de France sous Charles IX, Henri III, Henri IV et Louis XIII d’après les lettres
royales, la correspondance originale des comédiens, les registres de la trésorerie de
l’épargne et autres documents (Paris: Plon, 1882), pp.3–4.
Raymond Lebègue, ‘La Comédie Italienne en France au XVIe siècle’, Revue de littérature
comparée, 24 (1950), 5–24, p.11.
Ester Cocco, ‘Una compagnia comica nella prima metà del secolo XVI’, Giornale storico
della letteratura italiana, 65 (1915), 55–70; Molinari, La commedia dell’arte, pp.66, 70.
Cocco, ‘Una compagnia comica’, pp.60–1; Emilio Re, ‘Commedianti a Roma nel secolo
XVI’, Giornale storico della letteratura italiana, 63 (1914), 291–300, p.293.


Mores et puissance de Harodes et aultres antiques héros’, but in Norwich ‘certen

Spanyards & Ytalyans […] dawnsyd antycks & played dyvrse other feets’.54 In
1588, Bourgeville de Bras recalled the visit to Caen, in May 1549, of ‘jongleurs
dicts batteleurs, Italiens, lesquels faisoyent choses admirables en agilitez de corps’.55
Rabelais leaves no doubt over his displeasure and boredom at the ‘longueur &
mines Bergamasques assez fades, […] l’inuention bien froide, & argument triuial’
of a comedy he saw in 1549 at a Roman banquet, to which the demented fooling
of a company of ‘Matachins nouueaux’ was infinitely preferable.56 This mention
of Bergamasques indicates a possible connection with lazzi of the type the profes-
sional actors of the commedia dell’arte were to make their own. In 1549 too, five
Venetian ‘spilleuten’, and their interpreter Anthonien of Bolzano, performed in
Nördlingen, before travelling on to Nürnberg, where their petition to show scenes
from an old Roman history of Hercules, evidently the ‘Labours of Hercules’, was
turned down.57 Itinerancy is a consistent feature of professional troupes, and ama-
teurs too are known to have ventured abroad on occasion. In 1552, Calvete de
Estrella records that Italian academicians performed a sumptuous comedy by
Ariosto at Valladolid in 1548.58 On 27 September of that year, a company of
Italian actors and actresses, thought to have been amateurs, performed Bibbiena’s
La Calandria in Lyon before the French king and queen, Henri II and Caterina de’
Medici.59 This gesture by the Florentine nation made a great impression. Brantôme
suggests that before this time the entertainment available to French audiences
consisted largely of buffooneries and farces.60 In 1554, Firenzuola’s Lucidi was
played before the French king by Italian amateurs.61

E K Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), I, p.246;
Lea, Italian Popular Comedy, II, p.352.
Recherches et antiquitez de la province de Neustrie (1833, p.214, quoted in Lebègue, ‘La
Comédie Italienne’, pp.11–12).
François Rabelais, La Sciomachie & festins faits a Rome au Palais de mon seigneur
reuerendissime Cardinal du Bellay, pour l’heureuse naissance de mon seigneur d’Orleans
(Lyon: Sebastien Gryph, 1549), p.26.
Karl Trautmann, ‘Italienische Schauspieler am bayrischen Hofe’, Jahrbuch für Münchener
Geschichte, 1 (1887), 193–312, p.225.
Quoted by Falconieri (‘Commedia dell’arte en España’, pp.11–12).
Baschet, Les comédiens italiens, pp.6–10.
‘Car paradvant on ne parloit que des farceurs, des connardz de Rouan, des joueurs de la
Basoche, et autres sortes de badins et joueurs de badinages, farces, mommeries et sotteries’,
quoted by Alessandro D’Ancona, Origini del teatro italiano, 3 vols (Torino: Loescher,
1891), II, p.456).
Lebègue, ‘La Comédie Italienne’, p.11.


Discussion of the repertoire and performance technique of early troupes such

as Maphio’s is largely based on speculation, as the only substantial surviving
documents concerning them are legal contracts primarily concerned with finan-
cial and organizational aspects. Most of Maphio’s players were qualified in pro-
fessions unrelated to entertainment and acting. Stephanus was a stonemason,
Maestro Zuanne and Girolamo Bragati of Padua were ropemakers, Simon was a
soldier and Checo, who played the women’s parts, a smith, although Francesco,
perhaps Checo’s brother, is described as a lira player.62 A much later contract,
of 1581, specifically records that Ganassa’s troupe added two local musicians
to their numbers while in Spain, to play the guitar and sing in the Castilian
manner.63 The more successful early troupes built up wide repertoires capable
of offering full-length scripted comedies, pastorals and melodramas by play-
wrights, improvised plays, and intermedi, bufonarie and mumarie based on music
and mime. This broad appeal is also suggested by the pictorial record, which
depicts the early comici in a rich diversity both of performance types and places.

I.i.d Professionalism and improvisation

Readings of Sanudo’s theatrical episodes and Garzoni’s La piazza underlie many
models of professional theatrical development. The most widely accepted mod-
els were long dominated by a theory (let us call it the consecutive model), that,
although nominally superseded, still largely informs them. According to this,
charlatans and buffoni remained peripheral to the business of staging full-length
commedia dell’arte plays. During the course of the sixteenth century, the ability
to attract and train the most sought after professional actors was progressively
appropriated by the Gelosi, Confidenti and other well-known named and docu-
mented mixed-gender troupes, whose performance arena of choice was the in-
door stanze. They fused elements from the scripted commedia erudita of the
amateur court stage and the popular tradition of professional street entertainers,
and benefited from a lively negotiation between the traditions of this all-male
stage heritage and the new expectations and demands generated by the intro-
duction and increasing popularity of actresses. Thus, they developed what this
theory identifies as the three cornerstones of the commedia dell’arte proper: its

Cocco, ‘Una compagnia comica’, pp.57, 60–1, 65–70.
‘Servir de tañer con nuestras guitarras y cantar las tonadas á nuestro uso castellano’
(Falconieri, ‘Commedia dell’arte en España’, p.26). See also Shergold, ‘Ganassa and the
“commedia dell’arte”’, p.362.


year-round professionalism, distinctive stock roles, and repertoire based on

improvisational techniques and lazzi, retaining a virtual monopoly on deploy-
ing them in full-length plays.
An alternative model, which I propose to call the permeable pyramid model,
is gaining ground. According to this, buffoni and charlatans continued to coexist
and develop alongside the new mixed-gender acting troupes, in overlapping
spheres of theatrical activity that drew heavily on each others’ repertoires and
personnel. Here, street performers and comici represent, so to speak, the base
and peak of a pyramidal continuum, rather than discrete phases that more or less
chronologically succeeded each other as the main focus for the professional
performance of plays. The development and staging of commedia dell’arte plays
is not the sole preserve of the celebrated named troupes, or even of those troupes
who made their living primarily not by selling goods but by taking a fee for their
performances. And neither did these troupes confine their performative activi-
ties to traditionally defined commedia dell’arte. This model recognises that
buffoni and mountebank troupes, some of which opened their ranks to women
performers, continued to take an active part in developing, staging and diffusing
the Italian professional theatre alongside the comici, in plays as well as shorter
routines. These professionals interacted with and drew on a large pool of ama-
teur talent, which continued to stage and people the plays of the learned acad-
emies, schools, convents and monasteries, and also with mystery plays, carnival
masquerades and other festival-based private, church, court, guild, municipal
and parish spectacles. Together, the amateurs and lower ranks of professionals
offered a broad base of activities and performing skills, throughout the period in
which the great named troupes campaigned to establish the concept of year-
round professionalism for actors, with themselves at the pinnacle of theatrical
achievement. Individual performers of every level of competence, not just the
odd exceptional outstanding performer, moved between these spheres accord-
ing to their ability, and the opportunities that arose during the different stages of
their professional life. Perhaps there are elements of national pride in the older
Italian (and Italianist) scholarship’s defence of the comici/ buffoni split under-
pinning the consecutive model of commedia dell’arte development. But the
permeable pyramid model is gaining ground.
Supporters of the consecutive model of professional theatrical development
point to a certain category of publication as a significant contribution to their
model’s evidential basis. In this, comici sharply differentiate their activities from
those of the buffoni and charlatans, aligning themselves not with mercenary,
often illiterate, professionals, but with playwrights, and elite, educated amateur


stage practitioners. Those who incline towards the permeable pyramid model
see such publications as being motivated less by the wish to accurately reflect
existing hierarchies than by the desire of certain ambitious comici to protect
their own interests. They promoted their status as stage celebrities, and used
their writings as a strategic two-pronged defence against church opposition to
continuous theatrical activity, both as the means to elevate their activities to the
relatively respected social status of art, and as powerful counter-attacks in an
ongoing propaganda war. Very much in the way that sedentary physicians had
already been going into print for some time to warn their readers against the
medical activities of itinerant quacks, the comici now too used their publica-
tions to distance their professional identities from those of these same mounte-
banks. They aimed to further exclude their marketplace rivals from respected
membership of their shared profession, by establishing – and dominating – a
more rigid moral and economic hierarchy of stage practitioners.
From around 1570, the comici enjoyed enormous success. Grazzini, per-
haps writing at around this time, describes how other performers began to be
ousted by the professionals.64 Medieval European drama was firmly controlled
by the church, which sanctioned amateur guild and school performances prima-
rily determined by seasonal factors. The carnival season remained the most popu-
lar playing period for the professionals, when the nobility often had difficulty in
persuading their favourite troupes to serve them.65 However, a year-round liv-
ing as a performer could only be secured at the cost of breaking through the
strictly defined chronological limits of the church-tolerated ‘festival-based’ pat-
tern. The immense popularity of the comici allowed them to do this, and to
continue to perform outside the sanctioned playing season, at court, in private
houses, in the stanze they rented for semi-public performances, and in the new

‘Tutti i comici nostri Fiorentini / son per questa cagione addolorati […] / ma il popol poi
veggendo manifesto / l’onor de’ Zanni in fino al cielo alzato, / senza più altro intendere o
sapere, / altre commedie non vuol più vedere. […] / onde assai più di lor fieno i Gelosi / nei
secoli avvenir sempre famosi’ (Le Rime Burlesche edite e inedite di Antonfrancesco
Grazzini detto il Lasca, ed. Carlo Verzone (Firenze: Sansoni, 1882), pp.430–1).
Letters from Canigiani to the Duke of Florence relate the difficulties experienced by
Alfonso d’Este in luring Gelosi players back from the Venice carnival season of 1576 to
provide entertainment at two family weddings. Letters to Alfonso d’Este from Pedrolino and
Vittoria Piisimi apologize that the Confidenti cannot play at Vincenzo Gonzaga’s wedding
to Margherita Farnese in 1581, as they will be at the Venice carnival (Angelo Solerti and
Domenico Lanza, ‘Il teatro ferrarese nella seconda metà del secolo XVI’, Giornale storico
della letteratura italiana, 18 (1891), 148–85, pp.165, 168; D’Ancona, Origini del teatro
italiano, II, pp.479–80).


theatres being built for them.66 This activity, interpreted as dangerous erosion of
the church’s power over dramatic activity, attracted vehement opposition.
In 1565, Cardinal (later San Carlo) Borromeo condemned fortune telling,
begging, and acting, and decreed the banishment of ‘histriones et mimos,
coeterosque circulatores (professional actors and itinerant street entertainers)’
from his territory, views evidently shared in the highest ecclesiastical circles.67
Borromeo’s plans to drive actors out of his territories proved more difficult to
implement than he had anticipated, as he wrote in a letter of July 1578, describ-
ing the professionals’ comedies as pernicious and lascivious, to Cardinal Gabriello
Paleotti of Bologna, who that same year had condemned this theatrical innova-
tion.68 Those innovations which were to become the most typical characteristics
of the commedia dell’arte – the introduction of women on to the stage, acting
for financial gain, and the use of improvisation – are singled out for particular
condemnation by theologians. The illiteracy of some actors, and the need to
communicate the same plot-lines effectively to audiences of different social lev-
els and nationalities, were certainly factors in the professionals’ growing reli-
ance on improvisation. But the role played by the increasingly repressive eccle-
siastical censorship of the 1560s and 70s cannot be discounted.69

Barbieri, whose own acting career started in 1596 as an itinerant mountebank’s assistant, is
quite clear that the prime motivation of the professionals was economic: ‘noi recitiamo per
guadagnarsi il vivere, non avendo altr’oggetto che ne inviti che la sola necessità’ (La
supplica, pp.120–1).
De histrionibus, Cingaris, Tabernis meritoriis et aleatoribus, in La commedia dell’arte e la
societa’ barocca. La fascinazione del teatro, ed. Ferdinando Taviani (Roma: Bulzoni,
1969), p.11. ‘Con l’occasione di una comedia fattasi in Roma, assai disonesta, nel quale fu
detto, erano alcuni dei cardinali, Sua Santità [Gregory XIII, who succeeded Pius V in 1572]
ha proibito non se ne faccia più e proibito li comedianti, etiam nelle case private, ne’ collegi
e seminari’ (letter of January 1574, written during the Roman carnival, from monsignor
Carniglia to Borromeo, quoted in Anton Giulio Bragaglia, Storia del teatro popolare
romano (Roma: Colombo, 1958), p.64).
‘Più perniciose ai costumi ed alle anime, che non sono quelli seminarii di tanti mali, i balli,
le feste e simili spettacoli, perché le parole, atti e gesti disonesti e lascivi che intervengono
in simili commedie come sono più latenti’; ‘queste commedie, da pochi anni in qua
introdotte’ (La fascinazione del teatro, ed. Taviani, pp.23, 39).
As Paleotti wrote in 1578, the comici: ‘sempre vi aggiungono parole o motti che non sono
scritti, anzi non mettono essi in iscritto se non il sommario o l’argomento, e il resto fanno
tutto all’improvviso, e il volerli poi condannare per quelli ha del difficile. Di poi fanno atti e
movimenti lascivissimi e inonestissimi che non si scrivono, introducono femmine publiche
e piene di ogni inverecondia, fanno nascere all’improvviso’ (La fascinazione del teatro, ed.


In the 1550s, Piccolomini, a member of the Intronati academy, planned to

compose about 500 stock scenes and speeches which could be used in more
than one play, but abandoned this work when his notebook, containing rough
drafts of three hundred, was stolen. Recognized as a significant link between
commedia erudita and the commedia dell’arte, the project may perhaps be re-
garded as a forerunner of the zibaldone, the commonplace book in which comici
noted material on which they drew for their improvised speeches.70 By the 1580s,
professional improvisation was accepted as a familiar stock-in-trade of the comici
as far afield as England. In 1581, Thomas Alfield, referring to the acting tech-
nique of Anthony Munday, deliberately chose to ‘omite to declare howe this
scholler new come out of Italy did play extempore’.71 A year later, George
Whetstone remarked on: ‘certayne Comedians of Rauenna […] who are not
tide to a written deuice, as our English Players are, but hauing certayne groundes
or principles of their owne, will, Extempore, make a pleasaunt showe of other
mens fantasies [… and …] patched a Comedie together’.72 In 1568, when Mu-
nich courtiers staged the masked Italian comedy which the professional singer
Massimo Troiano described as ‘una Comedia all’improuiso alla Italiana’, an
extremely rare expression before the 1620s, the commedia dell’arte, and its
improvisatory techniques, were still largely confined to Italy itself.73

Taviani, 39–40). On improvisation, see Max J Wolff, ‘Die Commedia dell’arte’,

Germanisches Romanisches Monatsschrift, 20/21 (1933), 307–18; Kathleen McGill,
‘Women and performance: the development of improvisation by the sixteenth-century
commedia dell’arte’, Theatre Journal, 43 (1991), 59–69; Michael Anderson, ‘The law of
writ and the liberty’, Theatre Research International, 20 (1995), 189–99; Fitzpatrick, Oral
and Literate Performance Processes; Henke, Performance and Literature.
Daniele Seragnoli, ‘La struttura del personaggio nel teatro del Cinquecento: il progetto di
Alessandro Piccolomini’, Biblioteca teatrale, 6/7 (1973), 54–64, p.59.
Thomas Alfield, A true reporte of the death & martyrdome of M Campion Iesuite and
preiste, & M Sherwin, & M Bryan preistes, at Tiborne the first of December 1581 (London,
1582), f.E1r.
George Whetstone, An Heptameron of Ciuill Discourses. Containing: The Christmasse
Exercise of sundrie well Courted Gentlemen and Gentlewomen (London: Richard Iones,
1582), ff.Rii.r, Riii.v.
Massimo Troiano, Dialoghi di Massimo Troiano: Ne’ quali si narrano le cose piu notabili
fatte nelle Nozze dello Illustriss. & Eccell. Prencipe Gvglielmo VI. Conte Palatino del
Reno, e Duca di Bauiera; e dell’Illustriss. & Eccell. Madama Renata di Loreno […]
(Venetia: Zaltieri, 1569), f.146v. This second, bilingual edition of Troiano’s festival book,
with Italian versos and Catalan rectos, is here cited as Dialoghi.


I.ii A case study in early patronage and geographic spread:

the Munich wedding performance of 1568

I.ii.a Introduction
The way in which the commedia dell’arte first reached much of Europe is un-
complicated. From the 1570s onwards, it was introduced to foreign courts by
travelling troupes of professional Italian actors, whose members, activities and
travels are, at least in part, documented. Such troupes reached Spain by 1574,74
the Netherlands by 1576,75 and England by 1578.76 From as early as 1571,
prestigious named troupes regularly visited France, which accorded them, and
particularly their actresses, great success, and has been identified as ‘the true
home of the commedia dell’arte outside of Italy’.77
In France in March 1571, Lord Buckhurst enjoyed ‘a Comedie of Italians
that for the good mirth and handling therof deserved singular comendacion’,
and in May Charles-Henry de Clermont saw the Gelosi troupe perform for the
French king at Nogent-le-Roi.78 In October, Ganassa’s troupe petitioned to per-
form ‘tragedies et commedies’ in Paris, and in December ‘des Italiens joueurs
de comedie’ performed at Lyon.79 In March 1572, the French king rewarded the
Florentine Soldino’s troupe of eleven players for ‘comédies e plaisants jeux’
and ‘commedies et saults’, and the ten-strong troupe of the Venetian ‘Anthoine
Marie, commedien italien’ for ‘joué plusieurs commedies devant Sa Majesté’.80
In June, the Earl of Lincoln saw ‘an Italian playe, and dyvars vautars and leapers
of dyvars sortes, wearie exelent’, and a ‘pastyme showed him by Italians play-
ers’, at the French court, which also paid ‘Albert Ganasse, joueur de commedies’

Shergold, ‘Ganassa and the “commedia dell’arte”’, p.359.
Willem Schrickx, ‘Commedia dell’arte Players in Antwerp in 1576: Drusiano and Tristano
Martinelli’, Theatre Research International, 1 (1976), 79–86. On the fourteen-month visit
to Antwerp in 1576–7 of a troupe of eight men and three women, including Tristano
Martinelli, creator of the role of Harlequin, led by his brother Drusiano, see also pp.103ff.
Lea, Italian Popular Comedy, II, p.356.
Baschet, Les comédiens italiens, pp.14ff.; Allardyce Nicoll, The World of Harlequin, a
Critical Study of the Commedia dell’Arte (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963),
Baschet, Les comédiens italiens, pp.16ff.
Ibid., pp. 24–5.
This latter troupe ‘jouent encore ordinairement’, i.e. they gave public as well as private
performances. Ibid., pp.35–7.


and his troupe for ‘plusieurs commedies quilz ont representées par diverses fois
devant sa dicte Majesté’.81 Some idea of the size of these early foreign and do-
mestic audiences is given by the fact that, on their return to Italy, the Gelosi com-
pany complained that the stanze in Genoa could only seat 150.82
The way in which the commedia dell’arte reached Bavaria is less clear. Records
including several festival books suggest that, less than a decade after the first
definite records of professional commedia dell’arte performances in Italy itself, it
was an established and popular feature at the Bavarian court.83 When Crown Prince
Wilhelm of Bavaria married Princess Renée of Lorraine in Munich in February
1568, it contributed to the festivities in three contexts. Some of its costumes were
used in masquerades; the commedia’s stock comic pair, the Venetian Magnifico
and his servant Zanni, entertained together on several occasions as masked clowns;
and on 8 March 1568 there was a full-length play. Massimo Troiano’s account of
this play is generally acknowledged to be ‘an early (so far the earliest known)
description of an improvised Italian comedy, or CdA-style entertainment’.84 Its

Ibid., pp.41–2.
D’Ancona, Origini del teatro italiano, II, p.499.
Hans Wagner, Kurtze doch gegründte beschreibung des Durchleuchtigen Hochgebornnen
Fursten unnd Herren / Herren Wilhalmen / Pfaltzgrauen bey Rhein / Hertzogen inn Obern
und Nidern Bairen / etc. Und derselben geliebsten Gemahel / der Durchleuchtigisten
Hochgebornnen Fürstin / Frewlein ‘Renata’ […] (München: Adam Berg, 1568); Heinrich
Wirre, Ordentliche Beschreybung der Fürstlichen Hochzeyt […] (Augsburg: Philipp Ulhart,
1568); Troiano, Dialoghi. This last (in the bilingual edition of 1569, and Troiano’s Italian
only first edition of 1568), records the festival in the form of a dialogue between two
fictitious characters, Marinio and Fortunio. Horst Leuchtmann reprints the Italian verso
sides of Dialoghi, but replaces the Catalan of its recto sides with a modern German
translation. (Die Münchner Fürstenhochzeit von 1568. Massimo Troiano: Dialoge
italienisch/ deutsch (München: Katzbichler, 1980). Leuchtmann’s extensive footnotes and
bibliography detail a wealth of related archival material. Further sources include a
manuscript version of Wirre’s festival book commissioned by Emperor Maximilian II
(Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, BStB cod.germ.1957), an informal account of the
public festivities of 24 February to 2 March 1568 (BStB cod.germ.929, ff.56r–61v, extract
quoted below, p.49), documentation concerning the ecclesiastical arrangements for 1–3
February (BStB cod.germ.2614, ff.29r–35r), a manuscript version of tournament rules for
24 February quoted in the festival books (Munich, Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv,
BHStAGHA KA 593/I, ff.239r–240v), and a commemorative roll commissioned by
Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol (noted as being at Schloss Ambras by Elisabeth Scheicher,
Höfische Feste, Ausstellung Kunsthistorisches Museum Schloß Ambras 2. Mai – 30.
September 1984 (Innsbruck: Rauchdruck, 1984), pp.8, 19). See also plate 25.
Troiano, Dialoghi, ff.146v–153r, quoted at the end of this section (and edition of 1568,
pp.183–8); Heck, Commedia dell’Arte: A Guide, p.37.


precedence is challenged by a German travel diary whose description of a Florentine

play of the commedia dell’arte type predates Troiano’s by over two years.85 The
diary offers new evidence regarding the rise of the commedia dell’arte and its
central character Zanni in Italy, and links a range of commedia-related entertain-
ments at court festivals in Florence and Ferrara, and elsewhere in Italy, during the
period 1565–66, to those at the 1568 Munich wedding.

I.ii.b The Munich wedding of 1568

The 1568 Munich wedding rivalled the great Italian court festivals in the splen-
dour of its festivities, the fullness of its documentation, and the lavishness of its
cost.86 Important factors in evaluating the published festival books, and their con-
trasting treatment of the wedding’s commedia-related entertainments, are their
authors’ motives for writing their accounts, and the personal biases they brought
to them.87 The difficulty of ‘drawing a line between factual reportage and fanciful
embroidery’ in festival books has long been acknowledged, and the Munich wed-
ding clearly demonstrates how such accounts, despite following well-recognized
conventions, reflect the interests of their authors and patrons.88 Heinrich Wirre
emphasizes the contribution to the festivities of his patron, Archduke Ferdinand
of Tyrol. Massimo Troiano’s extensive Italian language account reflects his par-
ticular interest in musical events. In contrast to Hans Wagner, whose official ac-

Known to theatre historians through extensive citations of a manuscript officially missing
from the Munich state archives since at least 1959 (BHStA FüSa T.XXVI, ff.1–84: partially
published by M v Freyberg, Sammlung historischer Schriften und Urkunden, geschöpft aus
Handschriften, 5 vols (Stuttgart & Tübingen: Cotta, 1834), IV, 277–362; cited by Trautmann,
‘Italienische Schauspieler’, pp.234–5; D’Ancona, Origini del teatro italiano, II, p.470; Adolf
Sandberger, Beiträge zur Geschichte der bayerischen Hofkapelle unter Orlando di Lasso in
drei Büchern, 2 vols [I & IIIi only published] (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Haertel, 1894–5), III.i,
1895, pp.349–54. The diary survives in a second, slightly longer version in Munich’s
Geheimes Haus Archiv: BHStAGHA KA 924, ff.33r–121v, here cited as Diary. It is cited in I
Gonzaga e l’Impero: Itinerari dello spettacolo. Con una selezione di materiali dall’Archivio
informatico Herla (1560-1630), eds Umberto Artioli and Cristina Grazioli (Firenze: La lettere,
2005, in preparation), and an edition is in preparation by Hilda Lietzmann.
Munich, BHStA HZR 13(1568), f.180r: 125,604 florins.
Troiano, Dialoghi (and first, 1568, edition); Wagner, Kurtze doch gegründte beschreibung;
Wirre, Ordentliche Beschreybung.
Mary Ann Fruth, ‘Research with French festival books: an introduction’, Theatre Studies, 18
(1971), 7–12, p.8; Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly, ‘Festival books in Europe from Renaissance to
Rococo’, The Seventeenth Century, 3 (1988), 181–201, p.196.


count concentrates on chivalrous preoccupations, Troiano gives only minimal

coverage to the associated tournaments. As a highly ambitious recently appointed
courtier, Troiano was concerned to exploit the propaganda element of such festi-
val accounts for personal advancement, with regard to his employer, Duke Albrecht
IV, his fellow musicians, and their leader, Orlando di Lasso.89 These biases colour
Troiano’s glowing description of his own and Lasso’s skills as comic actors, their
consummate mastery of the difficult art of improvisation (cultivated at court as
well as by professional actors), and the great success of their performance.
All three festival chroniclers note the Italian comedians in the final group of a
costumed running at the ring of 24 February.90 Wirre describes them as ‘lewd […]

See Leuchtmann, Orlando di Lasso. Born c.1531 at Mons in Hainaut, in French-speaking
Flanders, Lasso (also known as Orlandus Lassus) entered the service of a Mantuan general,
Ferrante Gonzaga, in 1544, and travelled with him, via Fontainebleau, to Mantua, then
Palermo, in 1545, Milan (1547–9), Naples (1549–51) and Rome (1551). Family illness
brought him back to Flanders in 1554. Following a possible visit to England and France, and
two years in Antwerp, in 1557 he accepted a position as a tenor at the Bavarian court
orchestra, which he led from 1563 until his death in 1594.
Two of the six mounted knights featured in the thirteenth (Troiano) or fourteenth (Wagner)
group of this costumed tournament masquerade were Eitelfriedrich and Karl II von
Hohenzollern. Their father Karl I (1516–76), as the Spanish envoy, was an honoured guest,
invited to take part in the ceremonial dances and masquerades, seated near to the head of high
table at the wedding banquets, and permitted the exceptional distinction of eating with his
head covered (Troiano, Dialoghi, ff.52v, 57v–8v, 74v, 89v, 93v). His sons were among the
young noblemen chosen to wait at high table. Eitelfriedrich (1545-1605) was one of four
carvers, Karl II (1547–1606), who had probably been at the Munich court since at least
November 1565, when a Zollern Duke accompanied Ferdinand to Italy, was Albrecht’s trusted
personal cup-bearer (Troiano, Dialoghi, ff.59v, 137v; Munich, BHStAGHA KA 924, f.1r).
With the groom Prince Wilhelm, and his brother Ferdinand, Eitelfriedrich and Karl II, who
respectively lost and won their rounds of the contest, paraded on richly covered horses, in a
party of six, all costumed in moorish fashion (‘Morischer gestalt’), in cloth of gold and silver,
with feather bushes on their ceremonial helmets, accompanied by seconds, pages and
trumpeters in matching costumes (Troiano, Dialoghi, f.88v; Wagner, Kurtze doch gegründte
beschreibung, f.43r, f.41v). Three decades later, letters of September and October 1598 to
Eitelfriedrich from Karl II, who was to lead a group dressed in commedia-related costumes at
the 1598 Hechingen wedding of Eitelfriedrich’s son Johann Georg, assure him that he is
having his masquerade and tournament costumes designed and made in Munich. That of Zan
Fritada was to be worn in Hechingen by Frobenius Truchseß, both Maximilian of Bavaria’s
official representative at the 1598 wedding, and one of six maternal cousins, including Karl II
himself, among the twelve members of Karl II’s commedia-inspired group (see below,
pp.96ff). It seems probable that the impetus for all this group’s costumes was Karl II himself,
drawing, to whatever extent, on his Munich experiences, and notably the 1565 journey to Italy
with Ferdinand, and the 1568 wedding.


Magnifici, each wearing a wide blue beret on his head’.91 According to Troiano,
they were six zanni in Bergamasque clothes, accompanied by a Venetian
Magnifico, and their antics stole the show.92 Wagner records:
zum sechtzehenden / etliche in langen ro- sixteenth came several in long red cloaks
ten Röcken / wie die Magnifici zugehn pfle- such as those worn by Magnifici, in big blue
gen / hetten braite blawe Paret auff / neben skullcaps, beside them ran four zanni dressed
inen loffen vier Zani auff Bergamatisch in the Bergamasque fashion.

Wagner notes that the group included the tournament’s Mantenadores, the groom’s
uncle, Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol, and his chamberlain, Giulio de Rivo. They
had also led the opening masked procession, entering on a triumphal wagon, in
long red damask robes, red caps and full-face masks complete with long grey wigs
and false beards, surrounded by five music-playing goddesses or muses. This
triumphal wagon was led by four riders, described by Troiano as:
quattro giudici mascarati, uestiti tutti da four masked leaders, dressed completely as
uecchi, con giubbe longhe, di scarlato, a due vecchi, with long scarlet coats, two by two,
a due, con quattro lanze in mano, a cauallo with four spears in their hands, on horse-
a quattro bianchissimi caualli; in torno al back on four of the whitest horses. Along-
carro erano quattro palafrenieri, uestiti di side the carriage went four footmen, dressed
rosso94 in red.

The wagons depicted in the richly illustrated festival books of Wagner and Wirre
show how close the costumes of these riders and footmen are to those of the
commedia dell’arte servant–master pair [plates 18–19]. This is supported by
Wagner’s text, which describes them as:
vier auff weissen Hispanischen Pferden / in four [Patrini] on white Spanish horses in
langen roten Scharlachen Röcken / in lan- long red scarlet cloaks, with long hair and
gen haaren und grawen Bärten / mit grey beards, with red Venetian caps, like
Venetianischen roten Hüetlen / wie die Magnifici […] next to the wagon went four
Magnifici […] Neben dem Wagen sein vier in red satin jackets and caps, and Moorish
in rot Atlasen Röcklein und Hüetlein / und masks
Morischen Schönparten gangen95

Wirre, Ordentliche Beschreybung, f.40v: ‘Nit anderst wurdend Sy gnandt do / Wie ich wol
hort Magnifico. / Blawe paret gar groß und brait / Ain yeder auff seim haupt hat trait’.
‘sei zanni uestiti alla bergamasca, & uno magnifico, alla Venetiana: e tante cose ridiculose
fecero, che per mirarle non posi piu cura alle altre sontuose mascarate, che dapoi giunsero’
(Troiano, Dialoghi, f.88v).
Wagner, Kurtze doch gegründte Beschreibung, f.41v.
Troiano, Dialoghi, f.85v.
Wagner, Kurtze doch gegründte beschreibung, f.40v. Another of Nicholas Solis’ prints for
this volume, depicting a court dance by torchlight, features two zanni in the right-hand


The concluding group was perhaps drawn from those surrounding this first wagon.
It is clear from passages in Wirre’s account, such as one describing a dwarf in
armour who jumped out of a pie to greet the noble guests at one of the wedding
banquets, that Archduke Ferdinand brought entertainers with him to Munich.96
If his tournament group provided the zanni and Magnifici who entertained at
table, then, because they spoke Italian, it seems more likely that they were mem-
bers of a professional Italian troupe engaged by Ferdinand for the Munich wed-
ding rather than Innsbruck courtiers performing as amateurs. An eyewitness
account in private correspondence, perhaps by Anna Reitmorin, gives consider-
able detail where the ground is familiar. Its failure to identify the costumes of
the initial group as commedia dell’arte types, and complete omission of the
concluding group, support the possibility that Magnifico and Zanni were still
very much a novelty in Munich in 1568.97 Wagner and Wirre’s prints of these

middle ground. In some hand-coloured impressions, the right-hand one wears a brown
cloak, and both are dressed in white, with faun beards and, like the torch-bearing women,
pale flesh-coloured face masks. The print following this, of a tournament, features a
bagpiper and trumpeter to the left, leading nine men in zanni-like costume.
Wirre, Ordentliche Beschreybung, f.54v: ‘Von Schaw Essen muß ich sagen. / Ain Pasteten
ward da gebacht / Ain lebendigen Zwerg drein gmacht. / Inn ain Küriß muß ich sagen /
Hinauff für die Fürsten tragen / Wie man Sy nun hat auffgethon / Hat sich der Zwerg wol
sehen lon. / Gantz mundter frölich gsund und frisch / Auß der Pasteten auff den Tisch. /
Gegangen und mit Reuerentz / Sich gegen allen Fürsten bhentz. / Erzaigt wie sich dann hat
gebirt / Wiewol mans gleich nit glauben wirt. / Da leyt mir warlich wenig an / Dann ich es
wol beweysen kan. / Darmit man mich besser verstand / So hat in Ertzhertzog Ferdinand. /
Mit jr Durchleücht bracht auß Tyrol’.
Munich, BStB cod.germ.929, f.56r: ‘Auff dem 24 february Anno 1568 ist das Rennen zum
Ringl auff dem platz zue minchen gehaltten worden. Unnd sind erstlich auff die pan
khomen Beide Ertzhertzörgen von Osterreich Ferdinand unnd Karl gebrued Inn langen Rott
samattinen Röckhen, darundter weyss fuetter mit zipfelein. Ire Ertzhertzoge heübl
auffhabent, Seind inn ainem khostlichen Triumphwagen gefaren. Darinn sind 4 weyss
pferdt mit rotten zeugen gangen. Deren pfert yedes ain auffgemachte person inn gestalt
ainer Iunckhfrauen bey dem biss an d. handt gefüert. Aller dings wie man die gattinin
malet. Seind hinder Beiden fürsten sondere Session gewest, aine hoch die ander nider.
Darinn sind gesessen Inn seyden fliegenden khlaydern, ettlich die haben geigt pfiffen unnd
lautten geschlagen. Vor dem Wagen sind geritten vier herren inn langen roth scharlachen
manttlen mit weyss attles durch auss underzogen. Sonst haben sy weyss attles wames unnd
weys zart hosen (die gesehen haben als ob der bloss leyb herauss scheine) angehebt, dryber
rott Carmasin attlesen leybröckhl ire rotte scharlach heubl unnd lange weysse har, wie man
die altten malt mit in sind geloffen vier mannen inn lautter weyss mitt gefalttetten Rott
Charmasinen attlesen altt frenckhischen Röckhlein Rotte heubl auffhabent ist gar zierlich
unnd lustig zue sechen gewest’.


disguisings are the only depictions of commedia-related costumes directly and

exclusively of the Munich wedding.
Any direct connection between the festivities of 1568 and the frescoes at
Castle Trausnitz, Landshut, the summer residence of the Bavarian court, can be
ruled out. Quite apart from the fact that a billet-doux on wall 25E of the stair
frescoes is addressed to Filomena, a name not found in Troiano’s cast list for the
1568 performance, construction of the castle’s Italian wing, where they were
painted, only started in 1575, seven years after the Munich wedding [plates 20–
23].98 There are two separate series relating to the commedia dell’arte. One, a
sixteen-scene series painted on canvas before being mounted on to the ceiling
frieze of Prince Wilhelm’s private bedroom, was completely destroyed by fire
in 1961 [plates 22–23]. The other series is of continuous scenes featuring al-
most life-size characters, painted in true fresco directly on to the thirty walls of
a spiral staircase now known as the ‘Narrentreppe’, or Fool’s Staircase [plates
20–21]. Undoubtedly the earliest extensive painted iconographic records of the
commedia dell’arte, they are still frequently linked with Troiano’s account of

On the Landshut frescoes, see Karl Trautmann, ‘Italienische Komödianten in Landshut’,
Niederbayerische Monatsschrift, 3 (1914), 82–7, p.86 (describes the frescoes as ‘heavily
damaged and ruined by overpainting’); Artur Kutscher, Die Comédia dell Arte und
Deutschland (Emsdetten: Lechte, Die Schaubühne, 43, 1955); Günter Schöne, ‘Die
Commedia dell’arte – Bilder auf Burg Trausnitz in Bayern’, Maske und Kothurn, 5 (1959),
74–7, 179–81; Margot Berthold, ‘Das Feuer verschonte die Narren: Burg Trausnitz, ein
bayerischer Schauplatz der Commedia dell’arte’, Die Kunst und das schöne Heim, 5
(1962), 182–7; Franz Rauhut, ‘La commedia dell’arte italiana in Baviera: teatro, pittura,
musica, scultura’, in Studi sul teatro veneto fra rinascimento ed età barocca, ed. Maria
Teresa Muraro (Firenze: Olschki, 1971), 241–71, pp.254–61; Molinari, La commedia
dell’arte, pp.51–64; Lucia Corrain, ‘La commedia dell’ arte nelle corti tedesche’, in Venezia
e la Germania (Milano: Electa, 1986), 159–70; Laura Falavolti, Attore. Alle origini di un
mestiere (Roma: Lavoro, 1988); Herbert Brunner and Elmar D Schmid, Landshut Burg
Trausnitz (München: Bayerische Verwaltung der staatlichen Schlösser, Gärten und Seen,
1988), p.63; Kellein, Pierrot, pp.18–19; Leik, Frühe Darstellungen (see esp. pp.40–78,
251); Lawner, Harlequin on the Moon, pp.48–9, 106; Vianello, ‘Tra inferno e paradiso’,
pp.27–8 (and idem doctoral thesis, ‘La scala dei buffoni. Ricerche e contributi su buffoni e
vita teatrale tra Italia e Baviera nel XVI secolo’, University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’, 2001,
restricted access, not seen); Philiep Bossier, ‘Ambasciatore della risa’, la commedia
dell’arte nel secondo cinquecento (1545–1590) (Firenze: Cesati, 2004), pp.72–6. Much
reproduced copies are by Rudolph Gehring (lithographs of the ceiling frieze, published in
1884) and Max Hailer (watercolours of the stair frescoes, dated 1841 and destroyed, as was
a 3-D model of the staircase based on them, in WWII; see also plate 21a).


1568.99 Friedrich Sustris, Italian-born son of the Flemish artist Lambert Sustris,
oversaw the construction and decoration of the new ‘Italian’ wing at Trausnitz,
and the wall and ceiling frescoes, including those of the ‘Narrentreppe’ stair-
case, were painted c.1577–80 to his detailed designs.100 The team of artists
under his direction included his brother-in-law Alessandro Paduano, who painted
the staircase frescoes, Antonio Ponzano and Carlo Pallago, but also German
artists such as Hans Thonauer, Sustris’ future son-in-law Hans Krummper, and

Counterparts of the Landshut frescoes north of the Alps include two partially preserved
grotesque ceiling friezes painted on wood, incorporating commedia motifs. One of c.1600 is
in situ at Castle Tausendlust, Hitzendorf (Graz/Steiermark); the other, from a Nürnberg
patrician’s house, of which fragments are on display at the Stadtmuseum, perhaps dates to
around 1617 (Carsten-Peter Warncke, Die ornamentale Groteske in Deutschland 1500–
1650, 2 vols (Berlin: Volker Spiess, Quellen und Schriften zur bildenden Kunst, 6, 1979), I,
pp.64–5, figs.348–67). Italian counterparts include two late sixteenth century grotesque
friezes uncovered during restoration work in Mantua’s Palazzi Berla and Aldegatti in the
late 1990s. Some of the scenes with commedia dell’arte motifs, in various states of
preservation, are perhaps inspired by the prints of Ambrogio Brambilla. Umberto Artioli,
whom I thank for showing me the Palazzo Berla frescoes, first recognized their theatre-
historical significance (‘A Palazzo Berla, la casa delle maschere’, Quadrante padano:
cultura, arte, storia e attualità, 19 (1998), 47–50; ‘La commedia dell’arte: le grottesche di
Palazzo Berla’, Prima fila. Mensile di teatro e di spettacolo dal vivo, 52 (1999), 20–5). The
audience looking down from the painted windows and balustrades above the stage of
Sabbioneta’s 1590 Teatro all’Antica includes a figure variously identified as Zanni,
Pantalone or Magnifico, and grotesque frescoes (c.1555–63) of a Palladian villa at Poiana
Maggiore, and of c.1563 at the Villa Moneta, at Belfiore, near Verona, include isolated
small-scale commedia dell’arte figures (Stanley V Longman, ‘A renaissance anomaly: a
commedia dell’arte troupe in residence at the court theatre at Sabbioneta’, Theatre
Symposium, 1 (1993), 57–65, p.59; Leik, Frühe Darstellungen, pp.40, 96–8, 103, 243–8).
Karl Trautmann, ‘Herzog Wilhelm V. von Bayern als Kunstfreund’, in Lesebuch zur
Geschichte Bayerns, ed. Otto Kronseder (München: Oldenbourg, 1906), 173–90, pp.178–9,
184; Georg Lill, Hans Fugger (1531–1598) und die Kunst (Leipzig, Duncker & Humblot,
1908); Berndt Baader, Der bayerische Renaissancehof Herzog Wilhelms V. (1568–1579)
(Leipzig & Strassburg: Heitz, 1943), p.291, cites a letter from Sustris, 24.10.1579:
‘Alessandro a fatto in bonissime la camera di vestra eccelma et bozato tutte le istorie secondo
li disegni che li lasiato mentre io veni a monacho’; Brigitte Volk-Knüttel, ‘Der Maler
Alessandro Paduano: die “rechte Hand” von Friedrich Sustris’, Münchner Jahrbuch der
bildenden Kunst, 3rd ser. 49 (1998), 47–92, see esp. pp.54–5. Volk-Knüttel (pp.47–55)
establishes that Sustris, who worked under the direction of Vasari for the 1565 Medici
wedding, married Alessandro’s sister Brigida Paduano in Florence in 1562. The older
literature often erroneously conflates Paduano with Alessandro Scalzi of Rome, an artist
who briefly joined Sustris in Augsburg, after he was brought to Germany by the Fugger
family c.1568. In 1573, Sustris, Antonio Ponzano and Carlo Pallago entered Bavarian court
employment, where they were joined by Paduano c.1576.


Christoph Schwarz, a follower of Hans Mielich. A manuscript inventory of 1761

even suggests that Schwarz signed the commedia dell’arte ceiling frieze. Inscrip-
tions its author would have been able to decipher on the original ceiling frieze,
although they are not legible on the surviving photographs, named its artist as
Schwarz, and dated it to 1576.101 This corresponds to the date given by some later
writers, to whom the inscription might still have been accessible, although they do
not note it.102 The staircase, finished around the time of the death of Duke Albrecht
in 1579, when Wilhelm moved from Landshut back to Munich to succeed him,
within a few years became generally known as the ‘Narrnstieg (Fool’s Staircase)’.103
Relevant to assessing the significance of the Landshut frescoes is Wilhelm’s
soubriquet ‘der Fromme (the pious)’, earned through an extreme religious melan-
cholia. This led him to abdicate as soon as his son Maximilian was mature enough
to rule, in 1597, in order to retire to nearly three decades of reclusive contempla-
tion at Schleissheim. A marked change in mood from secular to religious preoccu-
pations affected the Bavarian court from around the mid-1570s.104 By 1582, only
three years after he succeeded his father and when still a relatively young man,
Wilhelm notes:
ich nitt wie ettwan andre meines gleich zu unlike others of my type, I take no pleasure
Jägen, geselschafftt, Spilen, Turnieren, in hunting, socializing, gambling, tourna-
Dantzen, und was dgleich Khurzweil, lust ments, dances or suchlike diversions […]
hab […] (nach glegenhait Meiner Malinco- because of my melancholy temperament.
lisch nattur).105

Munich, BHStA HR I Fasz.279/17a, ff.1, 5–6: ‘Beschreibung deren in dem Churfürstlichen
Residenz-Schlos zu Trausnitz ob Landtshut verhandenen Gemählden und Plafonds, dan
Fresco Gemahlten Zimmern, wie solche Anno 1761 befunden worden seind. […] In dem
daranstossenden Schlafzimmer: in der Oberdecke, welche ao. 1576 von Christoph Schwarz
und seinen Scholaren gemahlen worden […] an denen Ramen deren vorbeschribenen
fillungen, ist die ganze Bourlesque, von dem Pantalone, Arlequino, Columbina, und
Scaramuzio in kleinen figuren recht schon und sinnreich gemahlen. Und die 4. Wände
dieses Zimmers bestehen in lauter Ornamenten und grotesquen, dan darunter vermischten
Amorinnen, in fresco gemahlen […] Die sogenante Narren Stiegen. An deren Wanden dieser
Stiegen von oben biß zu deren Ende nächst der Turnitz, ist die ganze welsche Bourlesque
von dem Pantalone in grossen figuren fresco an die Mauer gemahlen.’
Trautmann, ‘Italienische Komödianten’, p.247.
Munich, BHStA HZR 30(1584) f.374v.
Adolf Sandberger, ‘Roland Lassus’ Beziehungen zur italienischen Literatur’, Altbayerische
Monatsschrift, 1 (1899), 65–97, p.95; idem, Orlando di Lasso und die geistigen
Strömungen seiner Zeit (München: Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1926),
Munich, BHStA FüSa 418/II f.260v.


The two cycles of Landshut commedia dell’arte frescoes do not simply cel-
ebrate Prince Wilhelm’s love of Italian comedy, or unclouded memories of a
light-hearted episode towards the end of his wedding celebrations. Commis-
sioned in the 1570s, they require assessment in the context of their symbolic
significance within a complex programme of frescoes for Landshut’s Italian
wing, and Wilhelm’s mature attitude to religion, music, theatre and art, repres-
sion of carnival zanni, and sponsorship of Jesuit theatre.
A second iconographic group traditionally linked to the 1568 wedding con-
sists of jewelled pendants, with commedia motifs [plate 24]. The debate sur-
rounding these so-called ‘gondola jewels’ is further enriched by their discussion
in relation to an elaborate jewelled automaton featuring commedia figures.106
This automaton and two gondola jewels were preserved in Vienna’s Hofmuseum,
as former treasures of the fifth and fifteenth chests of the Ambras Castle collec-
tions of Ferdinand of Tyrol, until 1919, when the Ambras gondola jewels, now
in Florence (Palazzo Pitti, Museo degli Argenti), were ‘repatriated’ to Italy.107
Related to a third gondola jewel at Waddesdon Manor, two more in New York
private collections (now in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Lugano and the
Metropolitan Museum), and a sixth in France, they achieved their prominent stand-
ing in early commedia iconography through an attribution to Giovanni Battista
Scolari, and a dating to c.1570.108 Active at the Bavarian court from 1567 to 1583
as both goldsmith and comic performer, Scolari took the major part of Zanni to
Lasso’s Magnifico, in the 1568 commedia dell’arte performance.109 A dated por-
trait of 1589 in a Munich private collection, in which a daughter of Wilhelm V,
the fifteen-year-old Maria Anna, is depicted wearing a gondola pendant closely
resembling the one now in France, has been cited in support of the association

Hilda Lietzmann, ‘Die Geschichte zweier Automaten. Ein weiterer Beitrag zum Werk des
Valentin Drausch’, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 57 (1994), 390–402.
Julius von Schlosser, Die Kunst- und Wunderkammern der Spätrenaissance (Leipzig:
Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1908), pp.55, 65–6, 74, figs.34, 59.
Yvonne Hackenbroch, ‘Jewels by Giovanni Battista Scolari’, The Connoisseur, 159 (1965),
200–5. In a private communication (24.9.1992), Hackenbroch questions the authenticity of
these last two: ‘the “Gondola Jewel” I had published (fig.379) is now in the Metropolitan
Museum, but turns out not to be old. The other, formerly in the Cluny … may possibly also
not be old’. For a reproduction of this last, now in the Musée National de la Renaissance,
Chateau d’Ecouen, see: Paola Venturelli, ‘Un pendente a forma di gondola: alcune
osservazioni’, Critica d’arte. Rivista trimestrale dell’Università Internazionale dell’arte di
Firenze, 62 (1999), 54–61, p.58.
Troiano, Dialoghi, f.147v; Hackenbroch, ‘Jewels’, p.204.


with Munich, but a later dating.110 Commedia dell’arte gondola jewels are inven-
toried as being in the possession of Maria Anna’s aunt and future mother-in-law,
Wilhelm’s sister Maria, in 1577 and 1589.111 This group of jewels has also been
attributed to Milanese workmanship of around 1590, and linked to the Gelosi’s
performances at the 1589 Medici wedding.112
In January 1579, Wilhelm’s uncle, Ferdinand of Tyrol, led a small incognito
group, including Wilhelm’s younger brother Ferdinand of Bavaria, to Italy, where
their carnival celebrations culminated in several greatly appreciated performances
in Venice, by the greatest of all early commedia troupes, the Gelosi.113 This jour-
ney has been invoked with reference to an automaton commissioned in 1582 by
Wilhelm V and his brother as a present for their uncle, from the Strasbourg gold-
smith Valentin Drausch, then based at Wilhelm’s country seat, Landshut. Drausch
may already have been involved in the commissioning and production of jewels
featuring the two central commedia dell’arte characters, Zanni and Magnifico, for
Wilhelm V, from two Augsburg goldsmiths during the 1570s.114 Rather than rep-
resenting a widespread fashion, the gondola jewels are more likely to have origi-
nated from the workshop of one court, possibly even drawing on specific per-
formers. However, despite their evident connections to Bavaria, like the Trausnitz
frescoes they sufficiently post-date the Munich wedding performance of 1568 to
disqualify it as their main compositional inspiration.
In addition to the full-length play, and the zanni and Magnifico at the running
at the ring of 24 February, the festival books note at least two further appearances
of the comic Zanni–master duo during the 1568 celebrations. During a banquet on
the wedding day itself, 22 February 1568, a Magnifico and Zanni entered, and had

Bernd Roeck, Johannes Erichsen et al, ‘Maximilian und seine Geschwister’, in Um
Glauben und Reich. Kurfürst Maximilian I, ed. Hubert Glaser, 2 vols (München: Hirmer,
1980), II/2, 132–147, p.135; Kirsten Aschengreen Piacenti, ‘Un gioiello di Maria Anna di
Baviera’, Antichità Viva, 24–25 (1985–6), p.199.
By Hackenbroch, ‘Jewels’, p.204. Maria of Bavaria (1551–1608) married her maternal
uncle, Archduke Karl of Styria, in 1571. In 1600, Maria Anna (1574–1616) married their
son, Ferdinand II (1578–1637), at the court of Bavaria 1588–95. See also plate 25.
Venturelli, ‘Un pendente’.
Recorded in Ferdinand of Bavaria’s travel diary of 1579, quoted below (pp.94–5), and
published in a modern edition by Peter Diemer, ‘Vergnügungsfahrt mit Hindernissen,
Erzherzog Ferdinands Reise nach Venedig, Ferrara und Mantua im Frühjahr 1579’, Archiv
für Kulturgeschichte, 66 (1984), 249–314.
Lietzmann, ‘Die Geschichte zweier Automaten’, p.393; Leik, Frühe Darstellungen, pp.99–
100 n.265. Perhaps also relevant in this context is a previously unnoted Bavarian court
payment of 26 florins to Drausch in c.1574 (Munich, BHStA FüSa 418/I, f.30v).


the noble company in fits of laughter for a good while.115 A Jesuit drama on Friday
27 February was followed by a banquet at which the ridiculous behaviour of three
commedia dell’arte masks made the whole audience laugh.116 The full-length
commedia play, performed towards the very end of the festivities, on Monday 8
March (five days after Ash Wednesday), is not noted by Wirre. Wagner allows it
three lines, merely noting in passing that an amusing and diverting comedy was
staged, in the Italian language, after which everyone went to bed.117 The final
dialogue of Troiano’s account, the second of the third book, includes a detailed
description of the preparation, contents, presentation, and reception of this im-
promptu comedy.118 Troiano and Orlando di Lasso together ‘invented the plot,
and between them composed the speeches’, and acted several of its main parts.119
The prologue, given by Troiano in the guise of a Neapolitan peasant, was fol-
lowed by an unspecified five-voice madrigal composed by Lasso. In the first act
Troiano, now as the nobleman Polidoro, takes leave of his mistress Camilla. She
is joined by another admirer, the Venetian merchant Pantalone, played by Lasso.
Accompanying himself on the lute, he sings ‘How fortunate is he who travels this
road without sighing’, in a comic serenade typical of the early commedia dell’arte
[plates 24, 48]. Pantalone’s former servant, Zanni, finds him and volunteers to
help him win Camilla, but she falls for Zanni instead. The second act, in which
Camilla is wooed by both Pantalone, disguised as Zanni, and a Spanish captain,
Troiano’s third character, is preceded and followed by musical interludes.120 In
the third act, Polidoro returns. There is much interchange with Pantalone, Zanni
and the Spaniard, including a comic battle, a favourite commedia dell’arte lazzi.
Polidoro rejects Camilla in Zanni’s favour. The comedy, distinguished by an abun-
dance of music, and of the acrobatic horseplay which was a trademark of the
commedia dell’arte, concludes with Italian dancing to celebrate Zanni’s wedding.

Troiano, Dialoghi, f.68v: ‘ui nenne [sic: venne] un Magnifico & un Zanne, che per bona
pezza intertennero in gran risa li sublimi personaggi’.
‘Alla fine uenne un magnifico alla Venetiana, con due Zanni, che non solo cui l’intendeua
smascellare dalle risa faceuano, ma anco quelli che parola non intendeuano, a ueder gli atti
e gratia, accompagnate, con le uaghe, e ridicolose parole’ (ibid., f.122v).
Wagner, Kurtze doch gegründte Beschreibung, f.65r: ‘Welsche Comedj. Nach welchem ain
lustige und kurtzweilige Comedj / in Italianischer sprach gehalten worden ist / Und darnach
hat sich jederman zu rhue gethon’.
Troiano, Dialoghi, ff.148v–152v, quoted at the end of this section (see below, pp.56–8).
Ibid., f.148v (see below, p.56).
Ibid., f.149v, quoted at the end of this section (p.57). The villota alla Padoana ‘Chi passa per
questa strada e non sospira beato sè’, published in Venice in 1557, features in a serenata of
1560 by Alessandro Striggio (Leuchtmann, Die Münchner Fürstenhochzeit von 1568, p.415).


Troiano’s account offers unprecedented detail for such an early date. He dem-
onstrates conclusively that the necessary masks, costumes, props, scenery and
experienced actors were all on hand to satisfy, at a day’s notice, Prince Wilhelm’s
whim for an impromptu commedia dell’arte performance at his wedding, and
thus that by early 1568, this type of entertainment had an established tradition at
the Bavarian court. Yet there is a continuing lack of evidence concerning this
tradition, and its origins. This Italian comedy of 1568 was performed outside
Italy, and involved an all-male cast of courtiers, rather than one of the mixed-
gender itinerant troupes of professional actors commonly associated with commedia
dell’arte performances. To some, the appearance of commedia masks at a Ger-
man festival as early as the 1560s seems no more unusual than their presence in
the 1580s, by which time they were common all over Europe. They interpret the
influence of the Italian comedy, and the Italian stage in general, on early modern
German festivals, as being purely literary.121 Despite such reservations, there are
quantifiable Italian influences on the appearance of the commedia dell’arte masks
at the Munich festival. Here, the focus is on one aspect of this question, through
detailed examination of a document recording such influences, the 1565–6 travel
diary of Ferdinand of Bavaria.

Note 118
Troiano, Dialoghi, ff.146v–152v: ‘ FOR[tunio …] la sera dopo cena si fece una Comedia all’improuiso
alla Italiana, in presenza di tutte le serenissime Dame, quantunque le piu che ui erano non intendeuano,
cio che di uisaino li recitanti, pure il uero uirtuosissimo Orlando Lasso fece tanto bene e con tanta
gratia il Magnifico Venetiano, e similmente il suo Zanne, che con gli atti a tutti fecero smascellare
delle risa. MAR [inio] Come è possibile che Orlando habbia fatto il Venetiano se lui è fiamengo?
FOR. Taci che ancora il Zanne, fa tanto agratiato, e saputo, che par che sia stato allo studio cinqua[n]ta
anni alla ualle di Bergamo. E non solo è prattico della fauella Italiana, ma anco de la Franzese, e della
Tedesca tanto quanto de la sua propria. MAR. Siatemi cortese à dirmi il suggetto di quella? FOR. Vn
giorno auanti che si rappresentasse uenne in fantasia all’Illustris. Duca Guglielmo di Bauiera, di
sentir una comedia il di segue[n]te, & fece chiamare Orlando Lasso, ch’ad ogni cosa lo conoscea
atto, & le comandò con gran preghiere, e non potendo uenir meno e benigno signore, trouò per sorte
Massimo Troiano, nel la auanti camera della Illustrissima Sposa che staua ragionando delle cose di
Spagna co[n] il Signor Lodouico Vuelsero, il quale era stato per Ambasciatore dell’Illustrissimo
Alberto quinto Duca di Bauiera alla Maestà di Spagna à conuitarlo per le nozze, e disse tutto quello
che era passato con il Signor Duca Guglielmo, e cosi trouato il suggetto, e tra ambidue composero le
parole, e la comedia fu questa, in primo usci a fare il prologo un uillano alla cauaiola, tanto goffamennte
uestito che parea l’ambasciatore delle risa. MAR. Ditemi quanti personaggi furono? FOR. Dieci, e la

Paule Guiomar, ‘Les influences italiennes dans les fêtes princières en Allemagne aux XVIe
et XVIIe siècles’, in Le théâtre italien et l’Europe (XVIIe – XVIIIe siècles) Actes du 2e
Congrès International Paris–Fontainebleau, 14–17 octobre 1982, eds Christian Bec and
Irène Mamczarz, (Firenze: Olschki, 1985), 143–57, pp.147, 153, 157.


comedia fu di tre atti. MAR. Hauria molto a caro di sapere il nome di tutti i recitanti? FOR. L’eccel-
lente Orlando Lasso, fece il Magnifico sotto il nome di messer Pantalone di bisognosi, messer Giouan
Battista Scolari, di Trento, fu il Zanne, Massimo Troiano fece tre personaggi, l’uno fu il prologo
uestito da goffo uillano, l’altro l’innamorato sotto il nome di Polidoro, e l’altro lo Spagnuolo dispera-
to chiamato Don Diego de Mendoza, il seruitore di Polidoro fu Don Carlo Liuizzano, il seruitor del
Spagnuolo fu Giorgio d’Ori da Trento, la Cortegiana innamorata di Polidoro chiamata Camilla fu il
Marchese di Malaspina e la sua serua Ercule terzo, & un seruo franzese; hor per tornare alli atti della
comedia, dopo che fu detto il prologo, Orlando Lasso fece cantare uno suo dolcissimo Madrigale a
cinque uoci, & in questo mezo, Massimo Troiano che hauea fatto il uillano, si sgombrò delle ueste
rustiche, e si uesti tutto di uelluto cremesino, e con larghi passamani d’oro, alto e basso; e con uno
capotto di uelluto negro fodrato di bellissimi Zebellini, & usci nella scena col suo seruitore, lodando
la fortuna, e gloriandosi che nel regno amoroso uiuea lieto e contento; quando ecco il Franzese
seruitor di Fabritio suo fratello inuiato da la uilla, e li presentò una littera piena di malissime noue, la
quale Polidoro la lesse ad alta noce; finita la littera con un gran sospiro fece chiamar la sua cara
Camilla, e dopo che le hebbe detto la forza, & il bisogno della sua partita, baciandola prese combiato,
e si parti. Da l’altra parte de la scena usci Orlando Lasso uestito da Magnifico con uno giubbone di
raso cremesino, con calze di scarlato fatte alla Venetiana, & una uesta nera lunga insino a’piedi, e con
una maschera che in uederla forzaua le genti a ridere; con un liuto alle mani sonando e cantando , Chi
passa per questa strada e non sospira beato sè; e dopò che l’hebbe replicato due uolte; lassò il lauto e
cominciò a lamentarsi dell’amore, & a dire, o pouero Pantalon, che per questa strada non puol passa-
re senza mandar sospiri all’aria, e lagrime al suolo de la terra, tutti a chi piu poteua, incominciarono
a mostrare i denti delle risa; & infino che Pantalone fu in scena non si facea altro che ridere; e tanto
piu Marinio mio, che subito che Pantalone hebbe finito un lungo ragionamento, che fece hor solo
sospirando, & hora con la Camilla lamentandosi dell’amore, uscì il Zanne che hanea molti anni che
non hauea uisto, il suo Pantalone, e non conoscendolo, caminando spenzaratamente, dette uno gran-
de urtone al pouero Pantalone; & contrastando l’uno contra l’altro, alla fine si conoscerono, & iui per
la grande allegrezza, il Zanne pigliò in spalla il suo patrone, e uoltizandolo a guisa di rota di molino,
lo portò per tutto il solaro della scena, e lo medesimo fece Pantalone al Zanne; & alla fine ambidue
andarouo per terra; e dopoi alzati che furono, fecero un ridicoloso ragionamento in ricordo delle cose
antiche, e Zanne adimandò al patrone, come staua la sua patrona moglie di Pantalone, e li diede noua
che era gia morta; e subito si misero ad urlar; come a lupi, il Zanne spargea lagrime pensando a
maccaroni, e raffioli che per lo adietro gli hauea fatto mangiare; pure lassarono il pianto e ritornarono
in allegrezza, messer Pantalone si accordò col Zanne, che fusse andato a portar pollastri alla sua
amata Camilla, e Zanne li promette di parlar per lui, e fece tutto il contrario, e cosi el Pantalone si
partì da la scena, & il Zanne tutto pauroso andò a casa di Camilla, e lei si innamora di Zanne, e lo fece
intrare in casa; (e questo non è di marauiglia, che spesse uolte le donne lassano il buono, & al peggior
si appigliano; ) e qui si fece una dolcissima musica, con cinque uiole d’arco, & altre tante uoci, hor
pensate se questo fu atto ridicoloso o nò, che per dio ui giuro che a quante comedie io sono stato, risi
mai tanto di core quanto in questa. MAR. Certo è da considerar che ella fu di gran passa tempo e
sollazzo, passate pure auanti, ch’io mirabilmente la gusto. FOR. Nel secondo usci Pantalone
marauigliandosi che Zanne hauea tardato tanto, a darle la risposta, & in questo comparse il Zanne,
con una littera di Camilla, la qual dicea, che se uole ua il frutto dell’amor suo, che si strauestisse di
quella manera che Zanne li dicea; e con questa allegrezza si partirono, & andarono a mutarsi di
drappi. e qui uscì lo Spagnuolo col cor sommerso nel pelago della rabia detta gelosia; & iui narra al
suo seruitore quante grandezze e prodezze hauea fatto, e quanti a cento a cento con le sue mani
hauea inuiati alla barca di Caronte; & hora una uil donna l’hauea priuato del suo ualoroso core, &
al fin forzato dall’amore andò a trouare la sua cara Camilla, e la prega che lo uoglia fare intrare in


casa; la Camilla co[n] losingheuole parole li caua dalle mani una collana d’oro, e li promette di
dormir con lui la notte seguente, e con questa speranza si partì tutto contento, & uscì il Pantalone
uestito con li drappi di Zanne, e Zanne con quelli del Pantalon, e si intertennero cosi un gran pezzo
con imparare al magnifico Zanne come douea dire, per potere intrare in casa di Camilla, alla fine
tutti due intrarono, e qui si fece una musica di quattro uoci con due liuti, un clauicimbalo, un
pifaro, & un basso de uiola d’arco. Nel terzo & ultimo atto, torna da la uilla il Polidoro, che
manteneua la Camilla, e uà in casa, e troua il Pantalon uestito, con habiti grossi, & adimandò a
Camilla chi era quello, egli rispose ch’era un facchino, dal quale uoleua far portare un forciero di
robba che tenea di sore Doralice, di santo Cataldo; Polidoro lo crede e dice al facchino che la
douesse pottar subito, che l’haria ben pagato; il pouero Pantalone che per esser uecchio e non uso
al mestiero, contrastò un pezzo, & alla fine disse che non lo uoleua portare, e che era gentilhuomo
tanto quanto il Polidoro; e Polidoro sdegnato di questo pigliò un bastone, e tante ne gli diede (al
suon delle grassose risa, che faceano gli ascoltanti), ch’io credo, che lui piu di me se ne deue
ricordare; fuggendo il male arriuato Pantalone, Polidoro torna, & entra in casa in colera con la
Camilla, e Zanne che hauea udito le bastonate trouò a forte un sacco e ui si pose dentro, e la serua
di Camilla lo ligò ben forte, & in mezo della scena lo pose, come se fusse morto, & in questo uenne
lo Spagnuolo che era giu[n]ta l’hora che l’haue detto la Camila, & andò a batter la porta, e la serua
li rispose, e le disse, che Polidoro era ritornato dalla uilla, lo Spagnuolo adirato de la noua, si parte
dalla porta di Camilla, e con uno focosissimo sospiro alzò gli occhi al cielo e disse; ahi amargo de
mi, & intoppa nel sacco doue staua dentro il misero Zanne, e lui & il suo seruitore cascarono in
terra uno sopra l’altro, & alzatosi co[n] grandissima ira, dislegò il sacco, e cacciò fuora il Zanne, e
con un bastone le conciò molto ben le ossa fuggendo il Zanne, lo Spagnuolo, & il suo seruitore di
dietro dandole si partirono de la scena, & uscì Polidoro, col suo seruitore, e la Camilla con la sua
serua, discendole che si risoluesse di maritarsi, che lui per alcuni degni rispetti non la uolea piu
tenere; e dopo di hauerlo negato piu uolte. si risolse di fare tutto quello che Polidoro li comandaua;
e cosi fu d’accordo di torre il Zanne per suo ligitimo Sposo, tra questo ragionare, usci Pantalone
tutto armato d’arme bianche, senza fibiarle, & il Zanne con due arcobugi in spalla, & otto pugnali
nella centura, & una targa & una spada in mano, e con uno elmo tutto ruginoso in testa; li quali
andauano cercando, quello che le hauea dato le bastonate; e dopo che hebbero fatto molti colpi,
con liquali si dauano a credere, che con quelli ammazzariano i loro inimici, in questo la Camilla
diede animo à Polidoro ch’andasse a parlare con Pantalone, del che accortosi il uecchio, lo mostrò
a Zanne, & il Zanne tutto impaurito tremando fece atto al patrone che debba essere il primo, a dare
l’assalto, & il Pantalone dicea il medesimo a Zanne, e Polidoro accortosi della tema, che l’uno e
l’altro tenea, lo chiamò per nome, e disse, o signor Pantalone, & esso rispose, a ser Spagnuolo,
hora mi chiami signore ah? e posero mano alle spade, & il Zanne non sapea a qual’arme porre
mano, e con questo fecero una ridicolosa scaramuzza, la quale durò un pezzo alla fine Camilla
tenne il Pantalone, e la serua il Zanne, e cosi fecero pace, fu data la Camilla per moglie al Zanne,
e per honore di queste nozze, fecero un ballo alla Italiana, e Massimo da parte di Orlando fece la
scusa che se la ditta comedia non fu quale in uero quelli serenissimi Prencipi meritauano, che gli
hauesse per scusati, che la fretta l’hauea causato, e con ogni debita riuerenza, diede la bona notte.
MAR. Certo in udire il suggetto di questa diletteuole opera, non posso se non giudicare, ch’ella fu
molto ridicolosa, e di grandissima sodisfattione.’122

See also first edition of Troiano’s account (1568, pp.183–8, in Pandolfi, La commedia
dell’arte, II, pp.79–83) and English translations (Lea, Italian Popular Comedy, I, pp.7–11;
Richards and Richards, The Commedia dell’Arte, pp.48–52).


I.ii.c Ferdinand’s journey of 1565–6

On 20 November 1565, over two years before Wilhelm’s wedding, his younger
brother Ferdinand led a party from Munich to Florence.123 Travelling by horse,
sledge, boat and carriage, they re-entered Munich on the afternoon of 2 Febru-
ary 1566.124 Ferdinand arrived in Florence in December 1565 to represent his
parents, Albrecht and Anna of Bavaria, at the wedding of Anna’s sister, Johanna
of Austria, to Duke Francesco de’ Medici, and also visited two further sisters of
Anna and Johanna. They were Eleanor, who had married Guglielmo Gonzaga,
Duke of Mantua, in 1561, and Barbara, who married the widowed ruling duke,
Alfonso II d’Este, in Ferrara on 5 December 1565. The marriage contracts of
Barbara and Johanna were finalized in 1564, the year Maximilian II succeeded
his father Ferdinand I as Holy Roman Emperor. Johanna and Barbara received
identical dowries, half contributed by their brother Emperor Maximilian II, and
the remainder equally by their brothers Archdukes Karl of Styria and Ferdinand
of Tyrol.125 Originally a double wedding was planned, in Trent. The precedence
issue between the houses of Medici and Este (resolved in 1569) threatened the
proceedings to such an extent that the Emperor decreed that the two weddings
should take place separately, in the home states of the two grooms.126 The brides
left Innsbruck in November 1565, and travelled together as far as Mantua.
Johanna, whose marriage was one of more than usually cynical political expedi-
ency, made her formal entry into Florence on 16 December 1565. Her only role
was to produce heirs to reinforce Medici dynastic claims and ambitions; Bianca
Cappello, the mistress Francesco was to marry in 1579, a year after the death of

The party included dukes Leostain and Zollern, the latter almost certainly Karl II von
Hohenzollern, who was to organize a commmedia dell’arte-inspired masquerade at the
1598 ‘Hechingen’ wedding of his nephew, see below, pp.96ff. On Ferdinand (1550–1608),
see Max Lossen, ‘Die Ehe des Herzogs Ferdinand von Bayern mit Maria Pettenpeck’,
Jahrbuch für Münchener Geschichte, 1 (1887), 328–56.
Diary, f.120v; plates 25–6.
Heinrich Modern, ‘Das Schreibzeug einer Erzherzogin aus der Renaissancezeit’, Kunst und
Kunsthandwerk, 1 (1898), 177–181, p.179; Karl Vocelka, Habsburgische Hochzeiten
1550–1600. Kulturgeschichtliche Studien zum manieristischen repräsentationsfest (Wien:
Böhlau, 1976), p.126.
Cecily Booth, Cosimo I Duke of Florence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1921),
pp.231–3, 216; Vocelka, Habsburgische Hochzeiten, p.13. Several lengthy passages in
Ferdinand’s travel diary note the persistent attempts of a Ferrarese courtier to persuade the
prestigious foreign party to stop off in Ferrara on their way to Florence, and attend the
wedding festivities of the d’Este rather than those of the Medici (Diary, ff.43r–v, 48r–49r,


his thirty-year-old wife, was well established in Florence by 1565.127 The politi-
cally motivated union of 1565 was marked by extravagant festivities, which
cost the groom’s father, Duke Cosimo, in the region of 60,000 ducats, and have
been recognized as a turning point in Italian festivals.128 Thorough historical
researches enabled their organizer Vincenzo Borghini to devise a series of events
which became the accepted model for such festivities. Their published accounts
stabilized both the form in which they were celebrated and the form in which
they were recorded, in festival books that became ‘not so much a report of the
festival but simply another aspect of it’.129
An exchange of correspondence between Albrecht and his brother-in-law,
Maximilian II, illuminates Albrecht’s decision to let his fifteen-year-old second
son Ferdinand, rather than his heir Wilhelm, represent him at this important
event, as well as his choice of accompanying courtiers.130 In a letter dated as
late as 1 November 1565, Maximilian, perhaps not unmotivated by the fact that
he was hosting no less than three separate cavalcades of Florentines who had
journeyed to Vienna in October to greet Johanna, indicated a desire to accom-
modate the wish of the groom’s father, Duke Cosimo, that Albrecht’s two eldest
sons should attend the Medici wedding.131 Albrecht’s reply of 19 November
1565, a day before Ferdinand’s party left for Florence, notes in characteristi-
cally blunt Bavarian manner the impossibility of providing a fitting retinue for
his heir at such short notice. He had already contributed a large contingent of
noblemen to the bridal retinue, and was surprised that his sons had not been
invited to join the imperial party. Maximilian’s reply of 27 November 1565
expresses warm approval of Albrecht’s decision to send Ferdinand.132 Any mis-
givings concerning the expense of the enterprise which may have influenced
Albrecht’s decision not to send his heir were well founded. The Bavarian court
accounts record the cost of this journey at 6509 florins.133

Leo Schrade, ‘Les fêtes du mariage de Francesco dei Medici et de Bianca Cappello’, Les
fêtes de la renaissance, ed. Jean Jacquot, 3 vols (Paris: CNRS, 1956–75), I, 107–31;
Fabrizio Winspeare, Isabella Orsini e la corte medicea del suo tempo (Firenze: Olschki,
1961), p.69.
Vocelka, Habsburgische Hochzeiten, pp.12–14.
Watanabe-O’Kelly, ‘Festival books’, p.197.
Freyberg, Schriften, IV, pp.146–50.
Il carteggio di Giorgio Vasari, eds Karl Frey and Herman-Walther Frey, 2 vols (München,
1923 & 1930), II, p.210.
Freyberg, Schriften, IV, pp.147–8.
Munich, BHStA HZR 11(1566), f.146v.


The diary and associated papers relating to this journey provide sources for
several key events associated with Italian renaissance festivals. These include
Johanna’s royal entry into Florence, two performances of La Cofanaria and its
intermedi (including the famous one recorded in several Italian festival books, for
which it provides a further source), a Ferrarese running at the quintain, and a
Mantuan comedy with intermedi in honour of Eleanor, Barbara and Johanna, the
three Habsburg sisters of Ferdinand’s mother who married Italian dukes.134 These
accounts bear witness to the effective way in which the Florentines emphasized
the power, wealth and cultural superiority of their ruling dynasty to visitors through
the sumptuous festivities associated with the Medici wedding festival of 1565,
whose intermedi were the most spectacular theatrical event witnessed by the
It has been suggested that Ferdinand was motivated to write his diaries not by
a spontaneous desire to record his experiences, but by the wish of his father, Duke
Albrecht, to discipline a worldly and unruly second son through compulsory writ-
ten exercises.135 The mature style of the diary, exhibited in, for example, the con-
fident musical taste and dry humour of certain passages, rules out the possibility
that it is the unaided work of the fifteen-year-old Ferdinand. Unlike the diary of
his 1579 journey to Venice, it is written in the third person, and although the
Prince may have played some part in its composition, it surely reflects consider-
able input from a trusted and cultured courtier close to Duke Albrecht. The evi-
dence points to Hanns Jacob Fugger (1516–1575), chief counsellor of the ex-
chequer to Albrecht, who appointed him to the senior role of Ferdinand’s steward
on this journey, and whose son had the office of Ferdinand’s cupbearer. Fugger’s
entourage included a scribe, and it was a scribe in the employment of the Fuggers
who received payment for writing out the diary.136 Furthermore, Fugger seems to
have been the only Bavarian courtier present at some of the events described.
As befits a document recording the experiences of a son of Duke Albrecht,
whose court orchestra, under the leadership of Orlando di Lasso, became the

On Johanna’s entry and the Florentine intermedi, see M A Katritzky, ‘The Florentine
Entrata of Joanna of Austria, and other entrate described in a German diary’, Journal of
the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 59 (1996), 148–73; eadem, ‘A German description
of the Florentine intermedi of 1565’, Italian Studies, 52 (1997), 63–93. The description of
the Mantuan intermedi is quoted below (p.70).
Diemer, ‘Vergnügungsfahrt’, pp.262–3.
Munich, BHStAGHA, KA 924, f.6r; BHStA HZR 11(1566), f. 294r. Troiano, who turned to
Fugger for financial support in publishing his festival account, describes him as the ‘core &
anima, dell’Illustrissimo Duca Alberto’ (Dialoghi, f.22v; BHStAGHA KA 608/XIII, ff.1–2:
letter from Venice, 6.11.1568 from Troiano to Fugger).


most renowned in Europe at that time, a substantial and informed focus of inter-
est is on events in which music played a major part. The diary’s accounts of
courtly and popular diversions offer a vivid picture of the role played by music
and spectacle in northern Italian court and urban life at the time of Ferdinand’s
visit, and substantiate the evidence of contemporary iconographic records indi-
cating that commedia-related costumes were a popular feature of both private
and public Italian carnival celebrations.137 It describes a performance of the
commedia dell’arte type which predates the Munich wedding performance of
1568 by over two years, and gives a comprehensive overview of north Italian
princely and popular diversions experienced by members of the Bavarian court
in the crucial period immediately preceding 1568. These afford valuable insights
into the influence of specific Italian entertainments, at public carnival celebra-
tions, court festivals and elsewhere, on the commedia-related entertainments of
the Munich wedding. They prove the Bavarian court’s familiarity with the per-
formances of entertainers related to the commedia dell’arte. During this jour-
ney they witnessed acrobats and the two characters at the heart of the Italian
comedy, Zanni and Magnifico, in the same three contexts in which they were to
feature at Prince Wilhelm’s wedding: a complete performance, the otherwise
unaccompanied comic servant–master duo, and separate masquerade costumes.
The diary’s references to acrobats are especially relevant to the early
commedia dell’arte. Acrobatic skills feature strongly in some of the earliest
troupes of professional touring entertainers. A combination of dancing, musical,
acrobatic and acting skills is routinely reflected in the iconographic record. The
terms ‘Geyger (fiddler)’, ‘Springer (acrobat)’ and ‘Instrumentist (musician)’ often
indicated multi-talented performers with a range of skills. Small professional
troupes, variously described as ‘comedianten’, ‘spilleuten’ and ‘certen strange
players’, continued to tour north of the Alps throughout the 1560s and ’70s,
offering a wide range of entertainments for which insufficient documentation is
available to establish conclusively whether they involved the participation of
stock commedia dell’arte characters.138
The stage names of some of the salaried acrobats at Wilhelm’s Landshut
court are suggestive of the commedia dell’arte, a link confirmed by the chance
survival of his handwritten command of 29 September 1573 to his steward
Christoff von Rainsdorff. In this, he sends for his servant Alexander Visconnten,
two of his court ‘springer’, elsewhere identified as Caspar Venturino and ‘Zani

See, for example, plates 16, 27–36.
Trautmann, ‘Italienische Schauspieler’, pp.211, 222; Lea, Italian Popular Comedy, II, p.357.


springer’, his leopard keeper Bärtl and leopard, and Baptista the goldsmith (the
Zanni of the wedding performance of 1568).139 The note instructs Rainsdorff to
ensure that they bring: ‘not only their things, but also the zanni costumes, masks,
their wind instruments, fiddles, and suchlike, that they require for their acrobat-
ics and other activities’.140 The suggestion is that these salaried Landshut court
acrobats routinely staged masked commedia dell’arte type performances. The
following year, Lasso was sent to Italy to find and engage new players, both
male and female. His travelling companions included Venturino, who enter-
tained them with numerous diversions, including nightly self-composed one-
man playlets starring the central commedia trio, ‘il magnifico, Zannj,
Franceschina’, and thus demonstrating his ability to play women’s parts.141
Ferdinand’s diary records acrobats in Trent, Bologna and Florence, each
time before a private audience. On 29 November, while Ferdinand and his reti-
nue were resting in Trent, several acrobats requested permission to demonstrate
their skills. The diarist’s description suggests that these acrobats, evidently a
mixed-gender professional troupe, may have been buffoni whose repertoire in-
cluded improvised plays:
Umb 4 Uhr zue Triendt ein khommen. Alda At 4 o’clock arrived at Triendt, where my
M. gnr. herr mit denen vom Adl Jm Neuen gracious master and the nobility were ac-
Schloß Jnn die Obern schönen Zimmer commodated in the beautiful upper rooms
glosiert worden. […] Nach dem Nachtmal of the new castle […] After the evening
haben sich etlich Springer lassen anzaigen, meal, several acrobats let themselves be an-
die wir auff den andern tag b[e]schiden. Sie nounced whom we wished to put off until
aber begert denselben Abendt nur ain muster the next day. But they requested to show at
jrer kunst zue sehen. Welches M. herr least a sample of their skills that same
bewilligt. Darauff sich Jre 4 Nemblich drej evening, which my noble Lord granted.
Jung Manspersonen und ain diernlin von 11 Whereupon four of them, that is to say three

A list of sacked Bavarian courtiers of 20 February 1575 records four acrobats: ‘Spring.
[Gasparino] Venturin, Johan Mario [of Rome], Alexand. [Barbeta], Silvester [of Treviso]’
(Munich, BHStA FüSa 364/II, f.160v). It seems that both Venturino’s Florentine wife, and
Johan Mario’s Flemish wife also had performing skills. In November 1573, an otherwise
unidentified Bavarian court ‘Springer’ was murdered.
Munich, BHStA FüSa 772n, f.1r: ‘[nit allain Ire sachen sondern auch die /deleted] Zanj
Claider, schönpärt, Jre [pfeiffen / deleted] Geigen und annders, so sy zum sprinngen unnd
sonnst zu Jrem thuen gebrauchen’.
Letter to Wilhelm of 16 February 1574 sent from ‘two miles before prichs [Brixen/
Bressanone]’ by Lasso, whose group was away from Munich 12 February to 4 May 1564
(Sandberger, Geschichte der bayerischen Hofkapelle, pp.253–4; Leuchtmann, Orlando di
Lasso, II (Briefe), p.70). These performances are reminiscent of the one-man play described
by Aretino in 1584 noted above (p.36).


Jnn 12 Jarn sehen lassen, dermassen das Ich young men and a little girl of eleven or
nit glaub dergleichen Je gesehen worden. twelve years, performed such that I do not
Dieweil sie aber furgeben, sie wölln auff believe that anything like it has ever been
Wien zueziehen, zue der Kay. Mt. so acht seen. But because they gave us to under-
Jch sie werden auff den Reichstag auch stand that they wished to travel to Vienna,
khommen. Allda sie sich auch werden se- to his Majesty the Emperor, so I assume that
hen lassen, derwegen Jch dester minder they will also come to the ‘Reichstag’. Be-
daruon melden thue. […] Nach dem cause they will perform there as well, I re-
morgenmal, haben die vorgemelten springer port less of them here. […] After breakfast,
wider Jr kunst erzaigt, und sich bej ainer the aforementioned acrobats again showed
stund sehen lassen.142 their skills, and performed for an hour.

On 11 December, after a morning banquet in a private house in Bologna, the

host, Camillo Fantuzzi ‘let several be called who vaulted with great agility on
the horse, and danced’. Acrobats also followed a commedia-related play and
banquet in the house of Paulo Giordano Orsini, on 30 December: ‘after the
evening meal the aforesaid S. Paul let his acrobat, who is very good, be seen,
who performed fine acrobatics. After which the dancing started’.143 The diarist
also reveals previous familiarity with the repertoire of ‘gaugkler’, or acrobatic
street performers, perhaps gained from visits to Bavaria of touring Italian troupes,
in his description of the matachin, or armed acrobatic moresco dance, with which,
according to Grazzini’s account,144 exotically costumed furies ended the fourth
intermedio of La Cofanaria: 145
Zum 3ten Act sein etlich Kriegsleuth mit For the third act, several soldiers with a
ainem fenderich auch under dem Erdtrich standard bearer also ascended from below
herauff khommen, dann die scena ist ettwas the earth’s surface, as this scena was some-
erhocht gwest, unnd die fallen darnach what raised, and the traps constructed in
gmacht, das sie sich fein auff, unnd glatt such a way that they opened easily and
wider zue gethan. Dise Kriegsleuth haben closed smoothly again afterwards. These
erstens auch ain Music gehalten /f.90v / mit soldiers firstly also made music with sing-
singen, Pusaunen, Zinkh, unnd grossen ing, trombones, cornetti, and large flutes.

Diary, ff.42v–43r. On this troupe, see also Otto G Schindler, ‘Zan Tabarino, “Spielmann des
Kaisers”. Italienische Komödianten des cinquecento zwischen den Höfen von Wien und
Paris’, Römische Historische Mitteilungen, 43 (2001), 411–544, p.422.
Diary, ff.69r: ‘hat […] lassen etlich khommen, die gar hurtig auffs Roßs gesprungen, und
gedantzt haben’, 94r: ‘Nach dem Nachtmal hat gedachter S. Paul sein springer der seer guet
ist, lassen sehen, der hat schone spring than. Nach welchem man hat anfahen zue tantzen’.
Antonfrancesco Grazzini (= Il Lasca), ‘Descrizione degl’Intermedii’ (seperately paginated
appendix to playtext), in La Cofanaria, comedia di Francesco d’Ambra con gl’Intermedij
di Giouan Batista Cini (Firenze, 1566), p.11: ‘vna nuoua, e strauagante Moresca’.
Diary, ff.90r–v. Paulo Giordano Orsini, husband of Francesco de’ Medici’s (1541–87) sister
Isabella (1542–76), is named in full on f.83v (see also plate 25).


fleütten. Nachmaln sein Ire 4 mit plossen Following this, four of them came together
wehrn zuesamen tretten, und ain gefecht with drawn weapons, and fenced in the man-
gmacht, wie die gaugkler pflegen zuethuen, ner of street performers, that is, they sprang
das sie hin und wider gesprungen, und to and fro, and clashed weapons with each
hinden und vornen ain ander an die wehrn other in front and behind. After which one
gschlag. Inn welchem Ir ainer ain Trumbl of them took a drum, striking it noisily, and
geriert, Unnd Lerm an geschlagen, seind sie they ran away again to both sides and left
zue baiden seitten wider darvon geloffen. the stage.
Und sich hinweckh gethan.

It is not clear whether the Trent mixed gender troupe also presented improvised
plays or whether Orsini’s acrobat had also taken part in the commedia dell’arte
performance. But these accounts do indicate that some acrobats were single
performers attached to a particular nobleman, while others travelled in large
independent troupes with ambitious itineraries and repertoires, and relied, at
least for part of their income, on the patronage of visiting dignitaries such as
Ferdinand and his party.
Zanni and Magnifico, who joined forces to become the central masked serv-
ant–master pair of the commedia dell’arte, are noted in Florence, Verona and
Ferrara. Magnifici feature without zanni in a Florentine mascara. On the evening
of 26 December 1565, after the Medici and their private guests had enjoyed the
performance and intermedi of La Cofanaria and a late supper:146
alls dann ist man erst wider zum Tantz dar- they only came in again to dance at almost
ein khommen, so vast auff der Teutschen one past midnight German time. They were,
Uhr umb ains nach mittnacht gwest. Alda firstly, the old Duke [Cosimo] with three or
sein erstlich der Allt hertzog mit 3 oder 4 four of his valets in a precious Mascara of
seiner Camerer Inn ainer Costlichen Mas- gold cloth and velvet, and after them the
cara vonn guld[en] stuckh unnd samet Prince [Ferdinand], our gracious master, and
khommen. Und nach Im der Printz, unnser one of the Prince’s valets, dressed in wom-
gner herr, und dess Printzen Camerer ainer, en’s clothes of the Venetian fashion, and
Inn Weibs klaidern auff Venedigisch each had a Venetian Magnifico with them,
angethan. Unnd jede ain mag[nifi] co in their long cloaks of velvet.
Venediger mit Ir gehabt, Inn seinem langen
After this came Don Luis with eight or ten,
klaidt vonn samet. Nachmaln ist Don Luis
in a special mascara of silk and velvet, but
auch selb 8 od[er] 10, inn ainer sondern
not one dressed like the other. Meanwhile
Mascara vonn seiden und samat khommen,
the old Duke had disrobed, and one of his
aber kainer wie der ander angethan gwest.
valets, there for that purpose, helped him into
Inn dem hat sich der allt hertzog außgedreet.
his clothes, and with another four valets, he
Unnd ainem seiner Camerer, so darzue be-
came to the dance disguised in taffeta clothes,
stellt gwest, sein klaidt angelegt. Und hat
such that he was not recognized.
er sich mit anndern 4 Cämerling[e] Inn

Diary, f.92r.


daffetin klaidern verklaidt. Und zum Tantz And thus all the Mascara, except for the
khommen, das man In nit khendt hat. Unnd Venetian women who had soon re-dressed,
sein allso die Mascara alle, ohne die stayed to the end of the dance, which ended
Venedische Weiber, so sich zeitlich wider only after seven in the morning German
außgethan, bis zue endt deß Tantz pliben, time.
welcher erst zue Morgens auff der
Teutsch[en] Uhr nach 7 ain endt gnommen.

The possibility that Italian masquerade costumes seen by Ferdinand in 1565–66

influenced those of his brother’s wedding is one explanation for the comparable
use of the Magnifico costume during the 1568 Munich wedding festivities. A
dated print of 1588 may illustrate a later use of commedia-related costumes in a
Munich court masquerade [plate 30].147
The entry for 4 December 1565 describes a Magnifico and Zanni perform-
ing as an unaccompanied stage duo at the White Horse Inn, Verona, where
Ferdinand and his party lodged as common paying guests:
So sein auch allerlay Musicj khommen, All sorts of musicians came here, albeit
gleichwol nix sonders furtreffenlichs, allain nothing especially good, except that among
ist under andern auff 4 diß zu Abents ain others at 4 on this evening a Venetian came
Venediger mit sein Knecht /f.50r/ Zane with his servant Zanni, by which time Zima
khommen, dabej der Zima und all and and the others had gone to bed, but those
schlaffen gen. Dan wer sie gehort, vermaint, who heard them thought they could not have
man khindts nit Pesser noch werckhlich[er] imagined it better or more realistic.
gedenkh[en]. 148

Evidently professionals, the diarist’s emphasis suggests that the main appeal of
this pair was not physical but verbal, and thus that their presentation was not just
acrobatic but some form of rudimentary play. No doubt surprised by the lack of
recognition accorded to his status in Verona, then under Venetian jurisdiction,
on his journey to Florence, the Prince and his party avoided the city on the way

On this print and related images, see Georg Poensgen, ‘Ein nächtliches Zechgelage des
Jodocus a Winghe’, Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, 59 (1925/26), 324–30; K G Boon, ed,
Le siècle de Bruegel, la peinture en Belgique au XVIe siècle (Bruxelles: Musées Royaux des
Beaux-Arts, 1963), p.168, cat.240; Konrad Renger, ‘Joos van Winghes “Nachtbancket met
een Mascarade” und verwandte Darstellungen’, Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, 14 (1972),
161–93; Martha Wolff in John Oliver Hand et al, The age of Bruegel: Netherlandish
drawings in the sixteenth century (Washington: NGA & Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1986), pp.308–10.
Diary, ff.49v–50r.


back, even though the local officials had, for the purpose of welcoming him,
already made major preparations for a comedy in his honour.149
In Ferrara, Ferdinand was the guest of Alfonso II and his new wife Barbara,
at the Castello Estense. On several occasions, Alfonso arranged for Ferdinand
and members of his party to go into Ferrara to join the zanni street revels. On
the evening of his arrival, 12 January 1566, Alfonso asked Ferdinand:

ob er wöll spiln, Tantzen, oder sonst was if he wished to play, dance or engage in any
anfachen, Vnnd alls Jr gn. geantwurt sie such activity, and when his grace replied
khinde nit wol spiln, so khindt sie das that he could not play well, neither could
dantzen auch nit wol, sie wöll aber gern he dance well, but he would be glad to look
zuesechen, welches Jr gn. gfellig sey anzu- on at whatever the Dukes might be kind
richten […] damit aber unnser gner. herr sech enough to arrange for him … and so that
was alhie der brauch wer, so hett er Inn der our gracious master could see what the cus-
Statt außgeschickht und erfarn, das man an tom was in these parts, he arranged for en-
ain Ortt ain fesst hielt, und dantzet. Allso quiries to be made in the city, and ascer-
het er klaider verordnet, wie hie gebruechig tained that there would be a festival at a
wer und die Zane giengen. Wollt er und der particular place, and dancing, so he called
Don Alfonso mit Ir g. geen. Und sie mocht for costumes, such as were the custom here,
auch ain od. zwen darzue nemen. Wolten and as worn by the zanni. He and Don
sie sich Inn ainer Camer anthuen. Und auff Alfonso wanted to accompany his grace, and
ain Gotschj an dasselb Ort farn, und sehen they could take one or two more with them,
wie man dantzet, und was fur Maskaren hin- they should dress themselves in a room, and
ein khomen. Allso hat unnser gner. herr den drive to that same place in a carriage, and
Hofmaister und sein Son den Schenckhen see how they dance, and what sort of masked
mit gnomen. Und haben sie fünff Sacktrager people go there, so his grace took the Stew-
klaider anglegt. Und schonpart furgethan, ard, and his son the cup-bearer, and they
und hindten durch ain gehaime Thür hinauß put on five dockers’ costumes, and donned
gangen und zum fesst gefarn. Allda bis Inn face masks, and left at the back through a
zwo stundt zue gesehen wie allerlay secret exit, and rode to the festival, where
Momereyen von Weib und Man hinein they watched for two hours as all manner of
khomen, unnd gedantzt haben. Unnd ist wol mummers, both women and men, came
zue sehen gewest 3 klaine und 2 grosse there and danced and thus three short and
Sacktrager Inn Schiffer hosen und leinratge two tall porters in sailors’ trousers and linen
Päckl, sampt Mäntln von grobem tuech und sacks, with coats of coarse material, and
kemetfeger huetlen daruber mit ainander chimneysweeps’ caps on top could be seen
daher ziehen. Alls sie nun wider anhaimbs making their way there together. And when
khommen, so vast umb 9 Uhr Inn die nacht they returned home, it was almost 9 at night.
gewest. 150

‘ain grosse Preparation gemacht Ir g. stattlich entgegen zue ziehen, dieselb auch zu vereren,
und Ir ain Comedj zuehalten’ (Diary, f.111v).
Diary, ff.105r–v.


The ‘Mascara da zanni’ was evidently a success. Despite rain and snow and
other attractions (including a showy quintana with a tournament and sword danc-
ing), the Bavarians returned for at least four further visits, each time masked
and disguised in zanni costumes provided by Alfonso. On 13 January:
Auf dem Abent umb 4 Uhre, ist der herzog In the evening at 4 o’clock the Duke, with
mit unserm gn. Herrn, unnd merthail des- our gracious master and several of his young
selben Junckherrn sampt dem Don Alfonso noblemen, together with Don Alfonso, again
Inn der Mascaren da Zane wider außgefarn. drove out to the Mascaren da Zane, in or-
Inn der Statt herumbzusehen was für faß- der to look around the town and see what
nacht Butzen Inn der Statt umbher ziehen, sort of carnival masks were parading around
und alls sie wider haimb khommen, so gar the town, and when they came home again,
baldt geschehen, dann es den gantzen tag which happened quickly enough, as the
ungewitter gwest, geregnet und geschnien, weather was bad all day, raining and snow-
haben sie sich außgethan […] ing, they changed back into their clothes.
Den 14ten Januarii […] auff den Abent ha- [14th]: In the evening, they again disguised
ben sie sich wieder vermumbt, und Inn der themselves and rode around the town as was
Statt umbgeritten wie gebrüechig bis zum the custom, until supper.
Nachtmal. […] Den 15ten […] Auff den [15th]: In the evening the Duke himself went
Abent ist der Herzog selb zue unnserm gn. to our gracious master … then they went
Herrn khommen, […] Nachmaln sein sie Inn into the town for half an hour, and soon rode
der Statt bej ainer halben stundt umb und back’.
alßbaldt wider haimb geritten […] Den
16ten Januarij […] mit dem Hertzogen Inn [16th]: [Ferdinand] rode with the Duke to a
der Mascara auff ain fesst geritten. Alda se- festival at the Mascara, where they saw
hen Tantzen. Von welchem sie wider dancing, after which they went home again.
anhaimbs zogen. 151

It has been suggested that these zanni, known to scholars through a letter of
1566 to the Medici from their Ferrarese correspondent, Bernardo Canigiani, are
part of a professional troupe engaged by the Ferrarese court.152 My examination
of Canigiani’s correspondence appears to confirm the impression given by
Ferdinand’s diary, that they were not professionals, but locals and members of
the court in zanni costume who took to the streets to join in with traditional
carnival festivities. Canigiani’s letters establish the Ferrarese carnival as a period

Diary, ff.106r–107v. Numerous pictures may illustrate comparable late sixteenth century
zanni street revels [e.g. plates 27, 31–2].
Archivio di Stato Florence, ASF MdP 2889, f.169r (dated 18.1.1565 = 1566: Sabato ci
arrivo il Principe di Bauiera per il ritorno di cortj, a mezo giorno et ci s’è trattenuto à forza
di Zannj et di pallate di neue pur di mano di facchinj et nó di getildonne […] Duc hav sono
arrivò la di v. e. t. d. 15 et subito trouaj il S.or Dó Franco stracco ancora comé mè della uegli
di hiersera, pur era già in Zanatosi, il quale con ua Hylarita grandissa). See also Solerti and
Lanza, ‘Il teatro ferrarese’, pp.155–6.


of licensed revelry and masquerade which lasted from St Stephen’s Day (26
December) to Shrove Tuesday, during which typical disguise in all strata of
society was the wearing of heavy cloaks, or the costume of porters or zanni.153
Although nothing comparable is recorded at the Munich wedding of 1568, by
the 1580s Duke Wilhelm was making repeated strenuous efforts to restrict the
more exuberant excesses of this practice in decrees. Several dated January and
February 1583 offer detailed insights into late renaissance carnival practice,
and the extent to which Munich carnival customs had become Italianized.154 Of
particular relevance to the commedia dell’arte are Wilhelm’s observations con-
cerning the excesses of the zanni, and his consequent restrictions of zanni cloth-
ing to the nobility, the ban on cross-dressing and ecclesiastical costume, and the
restrictions on the wearing of masks in private houses. Late renaissance carnival
iconography has many examples of mummers bearing torches or lanterns, as
outlined in these decrees, and also of mummers behaving in the sort of uproari-
ous and socially unacceptable ways they tried to limit.155
Like Alfonso d’Este, Guglielmo Gonzaga was an early and enthusiastic sup-
porter of professional commedia dell’arte troupes. A letter of 1568 notes his
patronage of the companies of Pantalone, probably Giulio Pasquati of Padua,
and Zan Ganassa, the famous troupe leader Giovanni Alberto Naselli.156
Ferdinand had to be content with music and dancing during his visit to Mantua,
unlike Johanna and Barbara, whose stay at the Gonzaga court from 26 to 29
November 1565 had additionally been enlivened with a hunt and a comedy.157
This was embellished with intermedi which honour Eleanor, Barbara and
Johanna, the three Habsburg sisters who married the Dukes of Mantua, Ferrara

Florence, ASF MdP 2889, f.169r–v. The exact starting date for pre-Lenten carnival
celebrations varies regionally from as early as December, until after 6 January, the festival
of the Three Kings, although the main day of celebration is typically Shrove Tuesday and
the end-date always Ash Wednesday. The length of Lent is fixed at forty days, so depending
on when Easter falls, between its earliest and latest possible dates of 23 March and 24 April,
Ash Wednesday falls between 3 February and 10 March, and the carnival period is
correspondingly shorter or longer.
Munich, BHStA FüSa 772n, ff.8–9. Updated 1584, 1586 and 1588, when a further attempt
was made to ban such carnival practice altogether in Munich (FüSa 772m; FüSa 772n).
See, for example, plates 32–6. Only rarely, as in plate 36, are mummers depicted in church
D’Ancona, Origini del teatro italiano, II, p.455
Diary, ff.56v–57r. Johanna’s reception at Mantua, some two weeks before the visit of
Ferdinand, is described on a fold which appears not to have been part of Ferdinand’s
original diary (ff.59–62).


and Florence, in a way which (unlike the complicated symbolism of the Florentine
intermedi) could be easily understood even by foreigners:
ain schone Comedi gehalten. Zwischen dern a lovely comedy was performed. Between
Acten erstlich der fluss Mintz genandt so the acts firstly the river called Mincio, which
durch Mantua laufft, sampt dem fluss Pa flows through Mantua, together with the
so zue ferrar fur rent unnd der fluss Arno so River Po, which flows past Ferrara, and the
durch florentz rent, nach ainander herfür River Arno, which flows through Florence
khommen und ain jeder schone Reimen von came forward one after the other, and each
seiner hertzogin gsungen. Nachmaln ist der sang lovely verses about his duchess. After
Gott Jupiter vom Himel und der Gott Pluto this the God Jupiter came from heaven, and
vom der hellen, und der Gott Nepthunnus the God Pluto from hell, and the God Nep-
vom Mör khommen. Und haben den 3 tune from the sea, and presented the three
schwestern Ire Reich presentiert. Zum 3[ten] sisters with their kingdoms. Thirdly, 4 moors
sein 4 Moren und 4 Morinen herfur and 4 mooresses came forward and danced
khommen, so auff Ir art gedantzt und ge- and tumbled in their manner [i.e. performed
sprungen. Und hat die Comedj bis inn die a moresco]. And the comedy lasted until the
dritt stundt nach mitnacht gwerth. Nach third hour after midnight. After this every-
welcher jederman schlaff[en] gangen. 158 one went to bed.

Leone de’ Sommi, actor and author of one of the earliest treatises on the theatre
per se, perhaps written during the 1570s, promoted commedia dell’arte troupes
by staging their performances in a public hall he was licensed to open in Mantua
in 1567. By 1565, he may already have led the troupe of Jewish actors based at
the court of Mantua since around 1521, and it is possible that he directed these
The diary notes four occasions in Florence on which Ferdinand accompa-
nied members of the Medici family to comedies. Those of 21 and 27 December,
held at unspecified locations in the town, are not described, possibly because

Diary, f. 61v. A copy of this section of the diary includes this passage in virtually identical
form (Munich, BHStA KÄA 4577, ff.165r–167r: ‘Verzaichnis baider kuniginen Barbara
und Johanna einritt zue Mantua’).
On de’ Sommi, see Karl Trautmann, ‘Italienische Juden als Schauspieler am Hofe zu
Mantua (1579–1587), Aufführungen der Gelosi in Venedig (1579)’, Archiv für
Litteraturgeschichte, 13 (1885), 418–20; D’Ancona, Origini del teatro italiano, II,
pp.398ff.; David Kaufmann, ‘Leone de Sommi Portaleone (1527–92), dramatist and
founder of a synagogue at Mantua’, Jewish Quarterly Review, 10 (1898), 445–61, p.450;
Leone de’ Sommi, Quattro Dialoghi in Materia di Rappresentazioni Sceniche, ed. Ferruccio
Marotti (Milano: Polifilo, 1968); Robert L Erenstein, De Herder en de Hoveling
(Academisch Proefschrift), (Amsterdam: Universiteit van Amsterdam, 1978), pp.167–76;
Claudia Burattelli, Spettacoli di corte a Mantova tra cinque e seicento (Firenze: Le Lettere,
1999), pp.182–3.


his diarist was not invited.160 The entry for 26 December, concerning an impres-
sive five-act comedi sponsored by the Medici, with a prologue, and an intermedio
between each act, provides a significant non-Italian documentary source for the
performance of Francesco d’Ambra’s La Cofanaria held in the Palazzo Vecchio’s
Hall of the Five Hundred, known through extensive Italian sources.161 The play-
wright Giovan Battista Cini provided six intermedi based on Apuleius’ account
of the story of Psyche and Cupid, whose significance was all but lost on the
Bavarian chronicler, as shown by his unsuccessful attempts to identify the mytho-
logical figures. Psyche first appears only in the fifth intermedio, which shows
her punishment and rehabilitation by Venus:
Zum 4[ten] Act hat sich das Erdtrich groß For the fourth act the earth opened right up.
auff gethan. Und feur herauß geben, und It spewed out fire, and was made like Hell.
gemacht gwest wie die Hell. Sein Ire 4 Out of which suddenly sprang four who
gehlingen herauß gesprungen, mit ainem guarded another dressed in very tight red
auffschüßling, der Inn Rott hosen und hose and jacket. They stood there for a
wammes gar glatt angethan gwest. Und ain while. Meanwhile four holes opened up in
weil allso gestanden. Inn dem haben sich 4 the earth, and a half animal was pushed up
Löcher auffgethan Inn der Erden. Und hat out of each. One looked like a stork, the
man aim Jeden ain halb Thier herauff second like a raven, the third like an owl,
geraicht, das ain hat gsehen wie ain storgk, the fourth like an eagle, and in front, on their
das ander wie ain Rapp, das dritt wie ain chests, there were closed fastenings. Forth-
Eyl, das viert wie ain Adler. Und seind with they opened these same little buttons,
vornen an der brust zue kneiflet gwesen, and there were fiddles and scabelle beneath.
alßbaldt haben sie dieselbige knöpfflen They sat down and started to fiddle, to which
auffgethan, seind es geigen und scabell the boy in the red clothes with the powdered
darunder gwest. Hab[en] sie sich Nider ge- hair, who had a very good voice, sang. When
setzt, und anfahen zue geigen, darein Inen this had finished, a gilded barque rode up
der knab Im Rotten klaid, mit plodertem out of the hell, with a sailor, in which they
haar, so gar ain guette stimm ghabt, gesun- sat down and rode back down again.
gen. Unnd alls sollichs außgwest, ist ain
verguldte Barckhen auß der helln herauff
gefarn, mit ainem scheffman, darein sie ge-
sessen, und wider hinunder gfarn.162

This intermedio was distinguished by a moving performance of ‘Psyche’s La-

ment’ (Striggio’s demanding soprano solo-voice madrigal Fuggi, speme mia),
accompanied by a lira and four trombones off-stage and four on-stage string
instruments. Much of the music Striggio composed for the Medici was quite

Diary, ff.82v, 92v.
Diary, ff.88v–92r; see Katritzky, ‘The Florentine intermedi of 1565’.
Diary, f. 90v.


literally musica reservata, composed for, and reserved for, a small circle of
patrons.163 Even so, the music for Fuggi, speme mia achieved influence far
beyond the narrow Medici circles for which it was composed.164 There are sty-
listic similarities between ‘Psyche’s lament’ and Lasso’s eight-voice motet
Spectaculum of 1573, and Striggio’s composition was possibly recycled in alto-
gether humbler circumstances as late as 1650.165
The part of Psyche was sung by the fourteen-year-old Giulio Caccini, brought
from Rome in order to take part in the intermedi in November 1565, by Duke
Cosimo de’ Medici, who stressed his wish that for the part of Psyche ‘la voce
fusse naturale non falsetto’.166 He became one of the most innovative musicians
of his time in Florence, staying until his death in 1618, working closely (but not
always harmoniously) with leading composers such as Striggio, Vincenzo Galilei
and Jacopo Peri, and building up a reputation for excellence as a composer, solo
singer and choirmaster.167 Caccini contributed to all the important Medici wed-
ding entertainments, including those for Francesco’s second marriage, to Bianca
Cappello, in 1579, and, significantly for the commedia dell’arte, that of 1589.
Caccini’s lament foreshadows those of the great early seventeenth century
commedia prima donnas who made stage laments a central part of their reper-
toire, and Grazzini records its impact.168 Even more telling is the warmly posi-
tive endorsement of Caccini’s vocal, if not visual, success by the musically dis-
cerning Bavarian diarist, who was far from indiscriminate in his praise. His
description of Psyche’s impact, uncoloured by any need to flatter the Medici or
their courtiers, underlines the inadequacies of an all-male cast.

Warren Kirkendale, The Court Musicians in Florence during the Principate of the Medici
(Firenze: Olschki, 1993), pp.68–99.
Howard Mayer Brown, ‘Psyche’s lament. Some music for the Medici wedding in 1565’, in
Words and Music: The Scholar’s View, ed. Laurence Berman (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Department of Music, 1972), 1–27.
Wolfgang Osthoff, Theatergesang und darstellende Musik in der italienischen Renaissance
(15. und 16. Jahrhundert), 2 vols (Tutzing: Schneider, 1969), I, pp.354–5. Robert Bargrave
incorporated a composition entitled Fuggi, fuggi into his Masque for fower persons, written
for the planned Constantinople wedding celebrations of an english couple (cancelled before
the piece was performed): Michael Tilmouth, ‘Music on the travels of an English merchant:
Robert Bargrave (1628–61)’, Music and Letters, 53 (1972), 143–59, p.149.
Kirkendale, The Court Musicians, p.121.
Howard Mayer Brown, ‘The geography of Florentine monody: Caccini at home and
abroad’, Early Music, 9 (1981), 147–68.
‘Ella poi cantò con tanta grazia, che si vide trarre à piu d’uno le lagrime da gl’occhii’
(Grazzini, Descrizione degl’Intermedii, p.12).


The diarist is more at ease with the fourth Florentine play seen by the Bavar-
ians, a comedy held at twenty-three hours Italian time on 30 December, in the
private house of Paolo Giordano Orsini:
Nach sollichem ist man wider Inn der Statt After this they again walked around the
spaciern zogen, und umb 23 das ist auff town, and at 23 hrs, that is between 3 and 4
Teutsch zwischen 3 und 4 Uhr zum Paul o’clock German time, went to Paolo
Jordan Inn sein hauß khommen /f.94r/ alda Giordano’s house, where an entertaining
man ain Kurtzweilige Comedj gehalten. comedy was held, after which supper was
Nach wellicher man das nachtmal daselbs eaten there. And although this comedy could
eingnommen. Unnd obwol dise Comedj an not at all compare with the other in terms of
der Kostlichait oder den Jntermedys der an- its expense or intermedi, or in terms of its
dern gar nit gleich ist gewest, wie dan an presentation, it was nevertheless much more
der Zuerichtung auch nit, So ist sie dannocht entertaining and amusing than that in the
vil kurtzweiliger und lächerlich gewest, Palace. Its subject was two bachelors, who
weder die Im Palatz. Dan die materi ist were courting, and two Venetians with their
gewest von zwen Jung gsellen, so gebuelt zanni, who also wished to serve the prosti-
haben, und von zwaien Venedigern mit Irn tutes, and played very good tricks, until it
Zane so auch der metzen Knecht haben sein ended with the marriages of the two young
wolln, unnd gar guet bossen gerissen ha- men, and the two old men danced a Venetian
ben, bis es zue letzt mit baiden Jungen dance at the wedding. When the comedy
heurat abgeben, und die alten zwen auff der was finished, they went to the evening meal.
hochzeit auff Venedigisch gedantzt haben.
Nach volendung der Comedj ist man zum
nachtmal gangen. 169

This synopsis is that of a typical commedia dell’arte scenario. Two young

inamoratos succeed in marrying inamoratas of dubious virtue, but only after the
usual complications, involving two zanni who show off their tricks by playing
off their ageing Venetian masters against the girls. It may be some regular com-
edy ‘improved’ with song and dance interludes, either amateur or professional.
But its slight plot, the slickness of the zanni routines, and the wedding dance of
the two old Venetians indicate professional improvisation.
Although the diary’s description of the Florentine plot is short, some com-
parison with the Munich performance of 1568 is possible. The Florentine play
is based around eight parts: two Zanni–Magnifico pairs and two pairs of lovers.
The Munich play has only one of each of these pairs, but introduces six further
characters: a prologue, a servant for the inamorato, and the French servant of

Diary, ff.93v–94r. Twenty-three hours Italian time was one hour before the Italian twenty-
four hour clock started, generally at or around sunset (Michael Talbot, ‘Ore Italiane: The
reckoning of the time of day in pre-Napoleonic Italy’, Italian Studies, 40 (1985), 51–62).


his absent brother, a maid for the inamorata, and a Spanish captain and his
servant. In Florence, the lovers are paired off with each other; in Munich, Camilla
is left to marry Zanni. A similar occasion of around this time, also featuring
entertainers in commedia costume, may be depicted in a print after Stradanus, a
Medici-employed Flemish artist who was a prominent member of the Florentine
art historian and artist Giorgio Vasari’s artistic team for the 1565 Florentine
wedding [plate 29]. Here the seated diners are entertained by three masked players
in the right background, a dottore and fan-bearing courtesan flanking a masked
The diary’s description of this Florentine play offers the clearest documen-
tation of the content of pre-1568 commedia dell’arte performances. Clearly, it
is not itself the source for the Munich plot. But it can hardly be coincidental that
two years after Ferdinand witnessed an impromptu Italian comedy at a Medici
wedding festival, Wilhelm made a last-minute request for a similar entertain-
ment at his wedding. Ferdinand’s evident enjoyment of zanni comedies may
well have stimulated the Bavarian court’s interest, the adoption of zanni costumes
as a popular Bavarian carnival disguise, and perhaps even his older brother’s
desire to enjoy the Italian comedy at his own wedding.

I.ii.d Other influences on Bavaria

Valuable as the evidence in Ferdinand’s diary is, it is only one of a complex
group of relevant influences. Previously suggested reasons for the appearance
of the commedia dell’arte at the court of Munich in 1568 focus on three possi-
bilities. First, unspecified influences from the Italian and especially Venetian or
Neapolitan stage have been suggested.170 The second hypothesis is that it was
introduced as it was to be in France, England, and Spain in the following dec-
ade, namely by visiting troupes. The third area which has received attention is
the two ‘directors’ of the full-length Munich play of 1568, the court musicians
Massimo Troiano and Orlando di Lasso. The first of these possibilities is too
vague to be helpful. The second, that Wilhelm’s father invited a Venetian troupe
to perform at his son’s wedding, and that it was only as a result of the death of
one of their number in a duel that Munich courtiers took over some of the roles,
is contradicted by the evidence.171 Concerning the third possibility, Troiano’s
name features in the court accounts from the beginning of 1568, only weeks

Guiomar, ‘Les influences italiennes’, pp.146–7, 153, 157.
Suggested by Hackenbroch (‘Jewels’, p.204).


before Wilhelm’s wedding, and it seems unlikely that he had been in Munich
long enough to have played any significant role in establishing the commedia
dell’arte tradition there. A promising and ambitious tenor from Naples, he fled
Bavaria following his part in the murder of a fellow court musician, the Roman
violinist Giovanni Battista Tibertinus, on 25 April 1570. Honoured for his festi-
val account, this felony cut short a distinguished career as a composer, writer,
lutenist and actor as well as singer.172
The most popular theory is that Lasso brought the Italian comedy to Munich
from Naples, where he associated with amateur actors during his stay from 1549
to 1551, and which inspired him to compose moresche, some featuring commedia
dell’arte characters using Neapolitan dialect.173 There are two problems with
this view. By 1556, when Lasso arrived in Munich, there are only the sparsest
documentary hints concerning the commedia dell’arte and its stock characters.
And overwhelmingly, these relate not to Naples but to Rome, where Lasso was
from 1551–54. Sandberger identifies the texts of Lasso’s moresche as dramatic
dialogues inspired by the professional repertoire of Neapolitan street perform-
ers, and his musical settings as refined re-workings of their coarser popular
versions, suitable for court audiences. He makes strong links between such pieces
and stage comedies, and suggests a connection between some of Lasso’s dia-
logues and echoes, and the commedia dell’arte, as does Farahat. Her recon-
struction of the accompanying music to the performance of 1568 adds no less
than eight named pieces from Lasso’s Libro di Villanelle of 1581 to the music
specified by Troiano. For her, ‘it seems compelling that some of this music was
likely written for, or at least performed at, the commedia dell’arte entertainment

Munich, BHStA HZR 13 (1568), f.267; BHStA HR I Fasz.462/107; BHStA HR I Fasz.466/
397 (Wilhelm’s Italian letter of 27 April 1570 to Alfonso d’Este, and German letter to
Emperor Maximilian, requesting the arrest of Troiano). Troiano, Dialoghi, f.4v: ‘non molto
hà che in Germania ne’ seruiggi dell’illustrissimo Duca di Bauiera mi ritrouo’; Robert
Eitner, ‘Massimo Trojano als Flüchtling’, Monatshefte für Musikgeschichte, 23 (1891), 1–
4; idem, Biographisch-Bibliographisches Quellen-Lexikon der Musiker und
Musikgelehrten, 10 vols (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Haertel, 1900–1904), IX (1903), pp.459–60;
Leuchtmann, Die Münchner Fürstenhochzeit von 1568, pp.428–64.
Sandberger, Geschichte der bayerischen Hofkapelle, I, pp.90–5; idem, ‘Roland Lassus’
Beziehungen’, pp.67–8; Nino Pirrotta, ‘Tragédie et comédie dans la Camerata Fiorentina’,
in Musique et Poésie au XVIe siécle, Paris 30 Juin – 4 Juillet 1953 (Paris: CNRS, 1954),
287–97, p.291; Günter Schöne, ‘Les Fêtes de la Renaissance à la cour de Bavière’, in Le
Lieu Thèâtral à la Renaissance, ed. Jean Jacquot (Paris: CNRS, 1964), 171–82, p.175;
Liselotte de Ridder, Der Anteil der Commedia dell’arte an der Entstehungs- und
Entwicklungsgeschichte der komischen Oper (Köln: Universität, Phil.Diss, 1971), pp.56–7.


in Munich in 1568’. She concludes that ‘some of the music used by comedians,
and perhaps much of it, was of the sort to be found in Lasso’s collection of
villanelle, published in 1581 […] we should begin looking in the large villanella-
villanesca repertoire from 1537 and after, for other music appropriate to
commedia dell’arte entertainments’.174
Although it is clear from their dialect that the comic characters featured in
some of Lasso’s moresche are of Neapolitan inspiration, there is no reason to
suppose that they necessarily date to Lasso’s years in Naples.175 Sandberger
considers it very possible that Lasso first experienced moresche at the Gonzaga
court, during his time in Mantua, in the early 1540s,176 but identifies Lasso’s
own moresche as being of undoubtedly Neapolitan origins.177 The association
of moresche with commedia characters is emphasised in Callot’s Balli di
Sfessania engravings [plates 2–5], and the high theatrical content of the moresco,
and its evident close links with the early history of intermedi, underline the
relevance of Lasso’s moresche to the early history of the commedia dell’arte.178
The Munich wedding performance of 1568 starts with a Neapolitan farce, and
Lasso is known to have borrowed from Neapolitan poets, notably Luigi Tansillo
and Antonio Minturno.179 His moresche, villanelle, todesche and paduane draw
on the commedia dell’arte, and the type of improvised Italian street theatre
which preceded it.180
Lasso’s involvement is of unquestionable importance, but Troiano’s account
shows that Lasso must have kept closely in touch with the enormous strides
made by the comic Italian stage between mid-century and 1568, and was capa-
ble of playing both its central comic roles in the vernacular. As well as the part
of Pantalone, in which he received great acclaim in 1568, Lasso could play that

Sandberger, ‘Roland Lassus’ Beziehungen’, pp.71, 77–8, 94; Martha Farahat, ‘Villanescas
of the virtuosi: Lasso and the commedia dell’arte’, Performance Practice Review 3 (1990),
121–37, p.136.
Pace Ridder, Entwicklungsgeschichte der komischen Oper, p.56. On this point, see also
Sandberger, Geschichte der bayerischen Hofkapelle, I, p.95.
Sandberger, Orlando di Lasso, p.17 and n.21.
Idem, ‘Roland Lassus’ Beziehungen’, p.82.
Ibid., pp.75–7. The present study has identified a significant body of late renaissance
pictures in which commedia dell’arte characters are depicted in more or less close
proximity to matachins, or armed moresco dancers, indicating that some sort of collabora-
tion between commedia dell’arte troupes and troupes of professional dancers may not have
been uncommon (section III.iii.c, pp.220ff).
Ibid., pp.82–3.
Ibid., pp.71–8.


of Zanni ‘as sympathetically and knowledgeably as if he had studied the part for
fifty years in the valleys of Bergamo’.181 It is hardly plausible that Lasso, solely
from influences received in Naples nearly two decades previously, single-
handedly developed key commedia dell’arte routines in independent parallel
with the professional troupes beginning to make their mark by the late 1560s.
Lasso’s early Italian years, long cited as the sole source of his comic acting
skills, represent just one of many factors in a complex equation. Direct influ-
ences on Lasso himself since leaving Naples in 1551, and almost certainly also
since his arrival in Munich in 1556, surely shaped the performing skills he called
on in 1568.
Two factors need to be evaluated if a balanced picture is to be built up of the
influences which may have played a part in establishing the commedia dell’arte
in Munich by the late 1560s. These are cultural exchanges between Italy and
Bavaria at the time, and the participants of the 1568 play. Massimo Troiano’s
account notes the participation of a number of unnamed singers and instrumen-
talists, including five string players, and identifies seven actors.182 They include
at least five courtiers, four of them members of the Munich court orchestra.
Carlo Livizzano was, like Troiano, a tenor who joined the choir led by Lasso
only around the beginning of 1568. So he is, for the same reason as Troiano, an
unlikely source for the commedia dell’arte at the Munich court.183 Troiano also
names the Marchese di Malaspina. Probably still beardless, as he played the
female role of the courtesan Camilla, he was perhaps one of the young noble-
men who served as pageboys, frequently referred to but hardly ever individually
named in the Munich court records.184 Also named are two Italians from Trent.
Concerning one of them, Giorgio d’Ori, nothing is known. The other was the
court goldsmith Giovanni Battista Scolari, whose involvement in this perform-
ance has been linked to several so-called gondola pendants, as noted above
[plate 24]. Like Troiano and Livizzano, Scolari moved with Prince Wilhelm to
the court he set up in Landshut after his marriage. In March 1568, he played the
part of Zanni to Lasso’s Pantalone. He received payment for lodging Wilhelm’s
moors, and together with Wilhelm’s court acrobats, performed in the musical
commedia dell’arte entertainments in the 1570s which, I would suggest, are a

Troiano, Dialoghi, f.147v (quoted above, p.56).
Troiano, Dialoghi, ff.147v, 148v (quoted above, pp.56–7).
Troiano, Dialoghi, f.42v.
A kinsman, Marchese Octavio di Malaspina, was with the Gonzagas at Prince Ferdinand’s
entry into Mantua on 19 January 1566, and hunted to hawks and hounds with him at Villa
Francha two days later (Diary, ff.109v–110r, 111r).


major inspiration for the Landshut ceiling frieze [plates 22–3].185 But none of
the surviving documents linking him to the Italian comedy predate 1568, and
his role, if any, in introducing this type of theatre to Munich, is unknown.
The seventh actor, Ercole Terzio, who played the parts of a maid and a serv-
ant, was the son of Lucio Terzio, the oldest of six surviving members of a group
of violinists from Bergamo, employed as chamber musicians at the Munich court
since around 1560.186 This group almost certainly provided the five string play-
ers involved in the performance of 1568. In 1568, Ercole seems to have been a
teenager who had been in Munich since early childhood, and thus could hardly
have learnt to act in Italy. His Bergamo relatives are the most obvious source for
his acting skills, in which case they could also have provided a focus for commedia
dell’arte activities in Munich, and a means by which Lasso kept in touch with
the latest developments on the Italian comic stage. Archival records such as the
Munich court accounts, and an undated letter in Italian from Cerbonio Besutio
to Duke Wilhelm, detailing his expenses for a journey to visit his family in
Bergamo, document this group of musicians.187 They build up a picture of the
Bergamo violinists as a stable, identifiable, closely interrelated group of secular
Italian performers who settled in Munich permanently around 1560, but main-
tained lifelong contacts with Italy. They dominated a fluctuating, semi-autono-
mous group of court chamber musicians, around eight in 1568, until the great
reorganization of 1594.188 The possibility that the regular professional duties of

Munich, BHStA FüSa 418/1, f.30v (c.1574) payment in respect of the little male and female
Moors to: ‘Baptista da Scolari von wegen daß clainen Mohrn und Mherin’; BHStA KÄA
4579, f.197v–8r (letter of 18 May 1583).
Eitner, Quellen-Lexikon der Musiker, IX (1903), p.382; Lea, Italian Popular Comedy, I, p.7
n.2; Munich, BHStA HR I Fasz 465/358 (official papers of Ercole Terzio); BHStA HZR
13(1568), f.265r; Sandberger, Geschichte der bayerischen Hofkapelle, III; M A Katritzky,
‘Orlando di Lasso and the commedia dell’arte’, in Orlando di Lasso in der
Musikgeschichte. Bericht über das Symposion der Bayerischen Akademie der
Wissenschaften, München, 4.–6. Juli 1994, ed. Bernhold Schmid (München: Bayerische
Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-Historische Klasse, Abhandlungen Neue
Folge, Heft 111, 1996), 133–155, pp.144ff.
Munich, BHStAGHA KA 1712 D5 (unfoliated, filed with letters of 1579, the year of
Besutio’s death); BHStAGHA KÄA 4579, ff.52r, 218r (letters of Hieronymus Morari,
February 1562, 13 February c.1590); BHStA HZR 16(1571), f.230; HZR 17(1572), f.270;
HZR 25(1579), f.295; HZR 33(1587), f.366v; HZR 36(1590), f.448v.
Munich, BHStAGHA KA 1712 E IV34: ‘Verzaichnis deren personen welchen abgedankht
werden solle’ lists numerous musicians, including Orlando di Lasso (d.1594) and his son
Ernst, as well as Ercole Terzio and Matthias Besutio (both reinstated in 1595, Besutio as a


the Munich court chamber musicians included acting as well as music making
receives support from their close kinship with Ercole Terzio. The Bergamo violin-
ists offer a previously unrecognized factor in the search to identify the performers
who contributed towards establishing the commedia dell’arte in Munich.
Lasso may have seen the Milanese acrobat known to have performed for the
Habsburgs during the time of his visit to Prague in 1562.189 Wilhelm made no
visits to Italy in the years immediately preceding 1568, and Lasso only one, to
Venice and Ferrara in May 1567. This followed the visit to Munich and Augsburg,
for several weeks until 5 March 1567, of the Medici court musician Alessandro
Striggio.190 Striggio’s musical skills, and compositions for the 1565 Florentine
wedding festival, including the musical settings for three of the six intermedi per-
formed on 26 December 1565, sufficiently impressed the Bavarians that a madri-
gal and motet were commissioned from him for Wilhelm’s wedding. Both Il
cicalamento delle donne al bucato et la caccia, a comic musical divertimento
published by Striggio in Venice in 1567, and the Munich wedding comedy of
1568 have been associated with the earliest phase of the madrigal comedy, and
some degree of cross-influence between Striggio and Lasso in 1567 seems likely.191
North of the Alps, mid-sixteenth-century theatrical activity was dominated by
the seasonal amateur offerings of the schools and guilds. However, travelling players
are also recorded in Bavaria between 1556 and 1568. It is possible that members
of the Bavarian court saw the six-strong Venetian troupes led by Anthonien of
Bolzano or Bartholome of Venice, known to have performed in Nördlingen in
1549 and 1559, or Johann of Mantua and his four companions, who played there
in 1560.192 These or other Italian companies may have stopped off in Munich, but
of the many visiting players noted in the court accounts for these years, only very
few are likely to be of Italian origin, such as rope dancers in 1561 and 1566, and,
in 1565, an acrobat who had performed for the emperor.193 Players were some-
times brought to court festivals by high-ranking visitors, as was perhaps the
Zanni–Magnifico group that featured at least three times at Wilhelm’s wedding.

Johannes Meissner, Die Englischen Comoedianten zur Zeit Shakespeares in Oesterreich
(Wien: Konegen, 1884), p.20: ‘Springer Von Mailannt’.
Munich, BHStA HZR 12(1567), f.304; David Butchart, ‘A musical journey of 1567:
Alessandro Striggio in Vienna, Munich, Paris and London’, Music and Letters, 63 (1982),
Laurie Detenbeck, ‘Dramatised madrigals and the commedia dell’arte tradition’, in The
Science of Buffoonery: Theory and History of the Commedia dell’Arte, ed. Domenico
Pietropaolo (Ottawa: Dovehouse, 1989), 59–68.
Trautmann, ‘Italienische Schauspieler’, pp.225–6.
Munich, BHStA HZR 6(1561), f.355v; HZR 10(1565), f.326r; HZR 11(1566), f.280v.


I.ii.e Rome
Perhaps directly related to the commedia performance of 30 December 1565
described in Ferdinand’s diary is an undated poem by the Florentine poet Anton
Francesco Grazzini (‘Il Lasca’). His best known poem referring to commedia
masks, Di Zanni e di Magnifichi, was published as one of his ‘Canti
Carnascialeschi’ in 1559. 194 The title In lode di Zanni, e del Magnifico
Commediai, included in a list of September 1566 that Grazzini (1503–84) made
of the titles of his own writings, may refer to another poem, A.M. Giovambatista
Altoviti in lode di zanni.195 In this, Grazzini celebrates the continuing ‘sweet
and delightful’ presence of the ‘magnificent’ troupe of the renowned [Benedetto]
Cantinella in Florence, praises the lively improvisation of the old master–serv-
ant duo played by Cantinella and his Zanni, and makes a pointed comparison
with the boring lengthy speeches of scripted drama. By his indication that this
company, possibly even the one that acted before Prince Ferdinand on 30
December 1565,196 prefers to remain in Florence, and will return to Rome only
if the pope becomes less negative towards them, Grazzini reinforces numerous
documents suggesting that Cantinella’s regular base was Rome.197
Paolo Giordano Orsini, at whose Florentine house the comedy of 30 De-
cember 1565 was presented, was a Roman nobleman.198 As Duke of Bracciano
and Marchese dell’Anguillara, he was a kinsman of some sort to the Roman
poet Giovan’Andrea Anguillara (1517–72), at the Medici court in the early 1560s,
and closely linked to the very beginnings of the professional zanni comedies.
Vasari’s biography of the artist Battista Franco (1498–1561), published in 1568,
includes a detailed account of a Roman acting troupe of around mid-century,

Grazzini, Le Rime Burlesche, pp.207–9.
Ibid., pp.cxix-cxxiv, 521–4.
Internal evidence points to a dating to early 1566. A mention of Varchi (1502–65) suggests
that he had recently died (Grazzini, Le Rime Burlesche, pp.cxxii, 523: ‘Varchi, che ne dica
male’). It is likely that the pope referred to towards the poem’s end is the anti-theatrical Pius
V, who promoted the Florentine churchman Altoviti to high office weeks after his election
in January 1566 (news of which reached Ferdinand on 9 January 1566, in Bologna. Diary,
f.103r). If so, then its reference to ‘questo verno’ dates this long capitolo quite precisely to
early 1566. See Re (‘Commedianti a Roma’, pp.298–9); but also Henke, for whom it was
‘probably written before 1552’ (Performance and Literature, p.75).
On Cantinella, see also below, p.93.
A cousin, Troilo Orsini, the only ambassador sent by the Bavarian ruling family’s Italian
relatives to Wilhelm’s wedding, represented Paolo Giordano’s brother-in-law, Francesco de’
Medici (Troiano, Dialoghi, ff.10v, 52v, 57v, 96–97v, 143v) [plate 25].


which, while still amateur, is a clear forerunner of the professional comedians.

Consisting mainly of painters and sculptors, and led by Giovan’Andrea Anguillara,
the troupe was financially dependent not on a rich patron or private funds, but on
its own takings. Its entrance fee was an important factor: it changed venues from
the great room of Santo Apostolo in the Palazzo Colonna to the less expensive
church of S. Biagio in the strada Giulia in order to ensure commercial success for
its venture. Vasari writes of this company:
Mentre adunque che attendeva Battista a While Battista was drawing in Rome,
disegnare in Roma, Messer Messer Giovann’Andrea dall’Anguillara, a
Giovann’Andrea dall’Anguillara, uomo in man truly distinguished in all types of po-
alcuna sorte di poesie veramente raro, avea etry, founded a society of assorted talents
fatto una compagnia di diversi begl’ingegni and let the large hall of Santo Apostolo be
e facea fare nella maggior sala di Santo fitted out with rich decoration and scenery
Apostolo una ricchissima scena et apparato in order to present comedies by different
per recitare comedie di diversi autori a gen- authors to the nobility, gentlemen and great
tiluomini, signori e gran personaggi, et ave- men, and had seating constructed for spec-
va fatti fare gradi per diverse sorti di spet- tators of every rank, and arranged several
tatori, e p[er] i cardinali et altri gran prelati, stanze for Cardinals and other great prel-
accommodate alcune stanze donde p[er] ates, from which, behind screens, they could
gelosie potevano senza esser veduti, vedere see and hear without being seen. The soci-
et udire. E p[er] ché nella detta compagnia ety was made up of artists, sculptors, archi-
erano pittori, architetti, scultori et uomini tects and those who could act the comedies
che avevano a recitare e fare altri ufficii, a or render other services, and Battista and
Battista et all’Amannato fu dato cura, es- Amanato, as members of this company, were
sendo fatti di quella brigata, di far la scena given the task of producing the scenery and
et alcune storie et ornamenti di pitture, le any related pictures and painted decorations,
quali condusse Battista, con alcune statue all of which Battista, with several statues
che fece l’Amannato, tanto bene, che ne fu made by Amanato, arranged so well that he
sommamente lodato. Ma p[er]ché la molta was highly praised. But because the high
spesa in q[ue]l luogo sup[er]ava l’entrata, outgoings at this venue exceeded the tak-
furono forzati M[esser] Giovann’Andrea e ings, M. Giovan’Andrea and the others were
gl’altri levare la p[ro]spettiva e gl’altri orna- forced to remove their scenery and decora-
menti di Santo Apostolo e condurgli in stra- tions from Santo Apostolo, and take them
da Giulia nel tempio nuovo di S. Biagio, dove to the new church of S. Biagio in the strada
avendo Battista di nuovo accommodato ogni Giulia, where, Battista having set everything
cosa, si recitarono molte comedie con incre- up again, they presented many comedies,
dibile sodisfazione del popolo e cortigiani di to the incredible satisfaction of the people
Roma, e di qui poi ebbono origine i and nobility of Rome, and to them may be
comedianti che vanno attorno chiamati i traced the origins of the comedians who
Zanni. 199 became known as the zanni.

Giorgio Vasari, ‘Vita di Battista Franco pittore Viniziano’, in Giorgio Vasari, le Vite de’ più
eccellenti pittori scultori e architettori [1568], eds P Pergola, L Grassi, G Previtali,


Orsini and Anguillara played important roles in the early development of the
Italian comedy, although any connection between their actors is not clear. But it
is perhaps significant that a publication of 1585, which laments the death of
Simone da Bologna, the great Gelosi company’s Zanni, mentions Anguillara,
while in 1587, two years after Paolo Giordano Orsini’s death, the Gelosi’s Dottor
Gratiano dedicated a publication to Orsini’s teenage son Virginio.200 In identi-
fying the Roman nobleman Paolo Giordano Orsini as an early patron of the
comici, Ferdinand’s diary also adds to the growing body of evidence which
suggests that Rome could have played a more important part in Zanni’s assimi-
lation on to the professional stage than has previously been recognized.
It is amply clear that Zanni as a type, his personality, costume and earliest
players, originate in the Veneto.201 Yet emphasis on Venice and Naples has un-
doubtedly obscured the role of Rome in the development of the commedia
dell’arte as a stage form, and specifically the adoption of the Zanni–Magnifico
partnership as the comic focus for full-length plays. This is particularly signifi-
cant for the Munich wedding performance of 1568. Its most talented and illus-
trious player, Orlando di Lasso, visited Venice only once before 1568, in May
1567. But in 1551, aged about twenty-one, Lasso moved from Naples to Rome.
He stayed there for three years around the very time that players in Rome, de-
scribed by Vasari, Grazzini and Du Bellay, were developing the earliest recorded
entertainments relating to the commedia dell’arte.202 Indeed, Lasso’s first Ro-
man patron was the exiled Archbishop of Florence, Antonio Altoviti, to whose
kinsman Grazzini dedicated his poem in praise of Benedetto Cantinella’s troupe.

(Novara: Istituto Geografico de Agostini, 1967), VI, 411–39, pp.427–8. A possible terminus
post quem for these activites is offered by a document of 1554 cited by Re (‘Commedianti a
Roma’, pp.295–6), referring to an inhabitant of ‘strada Giulia, per il vicolo dove se faceva
le comedie’.
Pandolfi, La commedia dell’arte, I, 219–26, p.220: Il Lachrimoso Lamento […] à pianzer
la morte di Zan Panza di Pegora, alias Simon Comico Geloso (Venice, 1585); ibid, II, 11–
19, p.12: Le cento e qvindici conclvsioni in ottaua Rima del plusquamperfetto Dottor
Gratiano Partesana da Francolin Comico Geloso (1587).
Magni, ‘Il tipo dello Zanni’, p.116; Povoledo, ‘Le bouffon’; for Françoise Decroisette, ‘il ne
fait plus aucun doute, à présent, que l’apparition de la commedia all’improvviso est
étroitement liée à l’activité des “bouffons” vénitiens’ (‘Le zanni ou la métaphore de
l’opprimé dans la commedia dell’arte’, in Figures théâtrales du peuple, ed. Elie Konigson
(Paris: CNRS, 1985), 75–90, p.75).
Vasari, ‘Vita di Battista Franco’, pp.427–8, quoted above; Re, ‘Commedianti a Roma’;
Francesca Bonanni, ‘Alla ricerca di Benedetto Cantinella, comico del cinquecento’, Rivista
italiana di drammaturgia, 5 (1980), 129–37.


I.ii.f Summary
Ferdinand’s diary does not settle the question of whether or not the commedia
dell’arte existed in its complete form before 1568. But it is rich in evidence re-
garding the spread of zanni, and the Zanni–Magnifico partnership, in
northern Italy in the mid-1560s. This evidence supports the view that all year
round professional theatre originated in a fusion between the skills of the profes-
sional buffone, carnival street improvisers and the amateur stage, which first suc-
cessfully came together in Italy, in the tricks of the commedia dell’arte Zanni. It
confirms that, less than a decade after Grazzini and Du Bellay admired Rome-
based Magnifici and zanni, these central masks of the Italian comedy were com-
monplace at the comic stages, public carnival festivities and private masked balls
of the very North Italian courts with which the Bavarian ruling famly had the
closest ties. The diary also confirms that the real-life inspiration for Zanni’s per-
sonality and costume was mid-sixteenth century Bergamasque peasants adjusting
to the lifestyle of Venetian servants and porters. A further source for zanni cos-
tume is identified, in the loose trouser suit of the late renaissance sailor. New
perspectives are opened up on accepted views concerning the origins of Zanni as
a stage character, and the spread of the commedia dell’arte across the Alps in the
1560s, and a clear link is provided between Italian zanni entertainments of the
mid-1560s and the so-called ‘first’ commedia dell’arte performance.
Lasso, Troiano and the other performers involved in the 1568 comedy, and
cultural exchanges between Bavaria and Italy in the years immediately preceding
it, notably those recorded in Ferdinand’s travel diary of 1565–6, are all relevant to
assessment of how the Italian comedy reached Bavaria. This question cannot be
answered by invocation of some vague unquantifiable osmosis from the comic
Venetian or Neapolitan stage, but only in the context of an evidence-based inves-
tigation of the performers and events of the commedia dell’arte’s earliest years as
an independent stage form.

I.iii Stock types and players of the commedia dell’arte

I.iii.a Introduction
To a large extent, the professional players took their characters from the pool of
characters classified as comic by Antonio Sebastiano Minturno in 1564.203 They
varied the mix to appeal to their audiences, and were also influenced by the popu-
‘Introduce il Comico in atto & in parole caualieri, dottori, medici, mercatanti, lauoratori,
servi, parasiti, meretrici, ruffiani, uecchi, giouani, madri di famiglia, fanciulle, & altre


lar characters of the peasant stage, the routines of professional buffoni, and carni-
val masks. Minturno’s characters are the stock favourites of the fully scripted
comedies of his time, inspired by the rediscovered classical comedies. We recog-
nize them in the early cast lists, such as that of the Munich performance of 1568,
or Garzoni’s summary of the typical roles in a travelling troupe, as being the old
masters Magnifico and Graziano, their menservants Zanni and Burattino, a bawd,
an inamorato, a Spaniard, Pedant and Signora.204 Such lists are a valuable source
of information concerning the development of the commedia dell’arte characters,
although few predating 1600 are this complete or reliable. Pellicer’s notorious
mention of Harlequin, Pantalone and dottore, in Spain in 1574, has been exposed
as nothing more than an anachronistic generalization, rather than a specific cast
list for a particular troupe, let alone proof of the existence of the Harlequin role by
the year 1574.205 Similar ‘loose translations’ abound in the older literature.206
It became usual for professional actors to create an individual stage persona
by whose name they often became known. This would be their most popular role,
and, depending on audience reception, one which they might play regularly over
a period of years, decades, or even their whole working life. Francesco Andreini
(1548–1624), for example, played the part of an inamorato before creating the
role of Capitano Spavento dal Vall’Inferno, while his wife Isabella (1562–1604)
stayed with the role of the inamorata Isabella throughout her acting career. Their

simili persone d’etâ, di sesso, di fortuna, di stato, di natione, di costumi, e di uita differenti’
(Antonio Minturno, L’Arte Poetica del Sig. Antonio Mintvrno, nella qvale si contengono i
precetti Heroici, Tragici, Comici, Satyrici, e d’ogni altra Poesia (Venetia: Valuassori,
1564), p.117).
Troiano, Dialoghi, ff.147v–148v (quoted above, see pp.56–8); Garzoni, La piazza
universale: Discorso CIII, p.903.
Otto Driesen, Der Ursprung des Harlekin, ein kulturgeschichtliches Problem (Berlin:
Duncker, 1904), pp.228–9; Lea , Italian Popular Comedy, I, p.82; Shergold, ‘Ganassa and
the “commedia dell’arte”’, p.362; María del Valle Ojeda Calvo, ‘Nuevas aportaciones al
estudio de la “commedia dell’arte” en España: el “zibaldone” de Stefanello Bottarga’,
Criticón, 63 (1995), 119–38, p.133.
Baschet, for example, repeatedly misidentifies actors as Harlequins in Gelosi cast lists
(Simone de Bologna in Venice in 1574, and Ludovico de Bologna in Florence in 1578. Les
comédiens italiens, pp.59, 83, 77); D’Ancona describes Simone da Bologna as ‘secondo
Zanni o Arlecchino’ (Origini del teatro italiano, II, 468); Allardyce Nicoll, with reference to
Porcacchi’s Gelosi cast list of 1574, writes that ‘the part of Arlecchino was enacted by
Simone da Bologna’ (Masks, Mimes and Miracles, Studies in Popular Theatre (New York:
Harcourt Brace, 1931), p.305); Baader misidentifies as Harlequins at the Munich wedding
of 1568, six unidentified zanni and Battista Scolari’s Zanni (Der bayerische
Renaissancehof, pp.44, 46–7, 252).


son Giovan Battista (c.1576–1654) made his name as the inamorato Lelio, but
also played the part of the Magnifico in later life. His great rival Pier Maria
Cecchini, who created the Zanni variant Fritellino, also played the parts of the
dottore, Magnifico, and Pipe, an elderly Florentine.

I.iii.b The inamorata

If we isolate from the repertoires of the early troupes and buffoni the elements
which can specifically be associated with the commedia dell’arte, two parts,
those of the zanni and the inamorata, or romantic stage heroine, stand out. The
servants and peasants who inspired stage zanni feature large in Minturno’s list
of comic characters.207 For contemporary audiences, a very particular attraction
of the commedia dell’arte was its actresses, whom, unlike actors, they could not
otherwise see on the stage. Actresses joined the professional players rather later
than the Pantalone–Zanni duo, and Minturno, writing in 1564, omits the
commedia dell’arte’s most celebrated role, that of the inamorata.208 There is a
longstanding tradition of scholarship on the pioneering actresses of the early
modern Italian stage. But mainstream theatre history has been slow to absorb its
findings, and older studies of the commedia dell’arte focus primarily on its
comic, male, masks. Only recently has emphasis on the colourful and distinctive
stock roles given way to wider recognition that studying female roles and play-
ers is not an intriguing sidelight, but essential to understanding the importance
of the commedia to Western theatre. The spectacular success of early prima
donnas created a radical change in theatrical gender dynamics that transformed
the art of the comici and paved the way for the modern professional stage.
Women had been performing in Europe long before the commedia dell’arte
created the first female stars.209 Nonetheless, commedia troupes are rightly cred-

Minturno, L’Arte Poetica, p.117.
E Tietze-Conrat (Dwarfs and Jesters in Art (London: Phaidon, 1957), pp.75, 110, pl.80)
reproduces a detail from a painting depicting a mixed-gender troupe, whose date she reads
as 1549. It is not possible to tell from the photograph here reproduced as plate 309, whether,
as she suggests, the date has been overpainted. However, the photograph is from the same
negative as Tietze-Conrat’s, and I read this date as 1578.
Amateur all-female acting had a venerable tradition in European convents. Vigil Raber,
director of the 1514 Bolzano Passion Play, assigned virtually all its female roles to local
women amateurs (Katritzky, ‘Vigil Raber’s stage’, pp.105–6). Amateur actresses featured in
sixteenth century English cycle drama, Lord Mayor’s shows, and elsewhere (David


ited with pioneering the systematic promotion of professional actresses as ce-

lebrity performers on the stages of Europe. In contrast to this gradual process,
the mechanics of the initial participation and rise to success of women within
the commedia dell’arte itself is swift and obscure. Already in the earliest years
of the commedia’s documented existence, the contribution of women is evident
at the highest level, in every sphere from performance through production to
management. Modern scholarship dates the systematic introduction of actresses
into Italian troupes to the early 1560s, often citing an observation by the re-
nowned actor Pier Maria Cecchini in 1614 that it had not yet been 50 years
since women first appeared in costume on stage. 210 The earliest formal record
of an Italian actress joining a professional troupe is a Roman contract of 10
October 1564 recording the agreement of Lucretia of Siena and six men ‘omnes
ut vulgo dicitur Commedianti’ to form a company to perform comedies.211
Actresses proved enormously popular. Within a few years of their introduc-
tion on to the Italian stage they were a star attraction of commedia companies,
contributing significantly to their tremendous audience impact. In the late 1560s,
the charismatic star actresses of two professional troupes, Vincenza Armani and
Barbara Flaminia, raised audiences to a new pitch of excitement as they vied for
recognition.212 Here, Flaminia, Pantalone and Angela,213 who staged ‘la tragedia
di Didone mutata in Tragicommedia’, were judged more successful than
Flaminia’s great rival, Vincenza.214 In April 1568, Flaminia and Armani again
competed for audiences in Mantua, as reported by Baldassare de Preti: ‘S.Ecc.a
ha fatto far comedia da due compagnie: l’una de Pantalone, l’altra del Ganaza’.215
Adriano Valerini’s oration in honour of ‘la divina Signora Vincenza Armani’

Bevington, ‘The popular troupe’, in Medieval English Drama, a Casebook, ed. Peter Happé
(London: Macmillan, 1984), 162–74, p.166). French professional actresses are recorded
from 1545, when Marie Ferré first trod the boards (Virginia Scott, ‘“La virtu et la volupté”.
Models for the actress in early modern Italy and France’, Theatre Research International,
23 (1998), 152–8, p.153).
John V Falconieri, ‘The commedia dell’arte, the actors’ theatre’, Theatre Annual, 12
(1954), 37–47, p.41: ‘non sono 50 anni che si costumano donne in scena’.
Re, ‘Commedianti a Roma’, appendix.
1 July 1567, correspondence of Luigi Rogna from Mantua: ‘hoggi si sono fatte due comedie
a concorrenza’ (quoted in D’Ancona, Origini del teatro italiano, II, p. 449).
Possibly Angela, daughter of Maphio del Re, aged twelve when the troupe leader was
murdered in Rome in 1553 (Cocco, ‘Una compagnia comica’, pp.64, 69).
D’Ancona, Origini del teatro italiano, II, p.449.
Ibid., II, p.455 (26.4.1568).


gives some idea of the stage impact of this multi-talented actress.216 Extrava-
gantly mourned by her fellow actors in 1569, on the occasion of her death by
poisoning, Armani heralded the advent of the female prima donna.
In a pamphlet of 1574, Thomaso Porcacchi praises the Gelosi and their cast,
including Simone da Bologna, who played a facchino Bergamasco, Giulio
Pasquati, their Magnifico, Rinaldo and above all their famous prima donna
Vittoria as ‘donna che è unica (a most unique woman)’.217 When Henri III of
France came to Italy that same year, he expressed the wish to see the Gelosi
troupe act with their star, ‘la femme appelée Vittoria’, already at the height of
her fame.218 He made his royal entry into Venice on 18 July, and six days later
saw Vittoria Piisimi star, at a week’s notice, in a demanding singing role of the
Gelosi’s production of Cornelio Frangipani’s Tragedia. A decade later, although
she was still the ‘divine Vittoria, a compendium of all the arts, a perfect actress’
to Tomaso Garzoni, his highest praise is reserved for the Gelosi’s rising star, ‘la
gratiosa Isabella’.219 Adding to the lustre of Isabella’s stage persona was her
polished literary output, which gained her international renown as a playwright,
poet and correspondent.220

‘Nella Musica poi fece profitto tale, che non pure cantaua sicurmente la parte sua con i
primi Cantori d’Europa, ma componeua in questa professione miracolosamente […] sonaua
de varie sorti de stromenti Musicali […] recitaua questa Signora come forse udito hauete in
tre stili differenti in Comedia, in Tragedia, et in Pastorale […] questa Donna riusciua
meglio assai parlando improuiso, che i più consummati Autori scriuendo pensatamente […]
accompagnaua le parole con gesti si appropriati al soggetto […] se nella Comedia facea
ueder quanto ornamento abbi un dir famigliare, dimostraua poi differentemente nella
Tragedia la grauità dell’heroico stile, usando parole scelte, graui concetti, sentenze morali
[…] dirò delle Pastorali da lei prima introdotte in Scena […] tanta forza hauean le parole
con che ella descriueua hor questo hor quell’affetto’ (Pandolfi, La commedia dell’arte, II,
‘Esser rara nel recitar tragedie, comedie ed altri componimenti scenici’, quoted by Baschet
(Les comédiens italiens, pp.60–1).
Ibid., pp.57–9. (See also Anne MacNeil, Music and Women of the Commedia dell’arte in
the Late Sixteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp.11–12).
Garzoni, La piazza universale: Discorso CIII, pp.901–2: ‘quella divina Vittoria […] merita
di esser posta come un compendio dell’arte […] una perfetta comediante’.
The great actress, generally allowed only a cameo appearance in traditional accounts of the
commedia dell’arte, plays centre stage for MacNeil (Music and Women) and Britta Brandt
(Das Spiel mit Gattungen bei Isabella Canali Andreini, 2 vols (Wilhelmsfeld: Egert, 2002).
On gender issues, see also McGill, ‘Women and performance’; Hanna Scolnicov, ‘The
woman in the window: a theatrical icon’, in Spectacle & Image in Renaissance Europe,
Selected Papers of the XXXIInd Conference at the Centre d’Études Supérieures de la
Renaissance de Tours 29 June – 8 July 1989, ed. André Lascombes (Leiden: Brill, 1993),


The most famous rivalry between these two great actresses occurred during
the spectacular 1589 wedding festivities of Ferdinando de’ Medici and Christine
de Lorraine.221 For these, hundreds of musicians, dancers and singers were hired
to perform in five intermedi, musical entertainments performed between the
acts of plays. 222 Although men were cast in the overwhelming majority of fe-
male and male roles, the intermedi broke new ground by starring three women.
Two of the composer-performers, Antonio Archilei and Giulio Caccini, cast their
wives, respectively the dancer, instrumentalist, and singer Vittoria Concarini
and the singer Lucia Caccini, as prima and seconda donna.223 ‘Margherita’,
Archilei and Concarini’s pupil, sang several supporting roles, and more women
may have joined the cast at a later stage.224 The intermedi framed the acts of
Girolamo Bargagli’s scripted play La pellegrina, performed by all-male ama-
teur actors, and two commedia plays, both staged by the Gelosi troupe. In these
plays, La Zingara and La pazzia d’Isabella, the rival prima donnas Vittoria
Piisimi and Isabella Andreini strove to outdo each other, and their brilliant per-
formances as the gypsy (Piisimi) and the madwoman (Andreini) became a high-
light of the wedding festivities.
Isabella and her husband Francesco founded the greatest early acting dy-
nasty. In 1608, the professional singer Caterina Martinelli, engaged for the title
role of Monteverdi and Ottavio Rinuccini’s opera Arianna, died shortly before
the Mantuan wedding festivities of Francesco Gonzaga and Margherita of Sa-

281–305; Jane Tylus, ‘Women at the windows: commedia dell’arte and theatrical practice
in early modern Italy’, Theatre Journal, 49 (1997), 323–42; Scott, ‘“La virtu et la
volupté”’; Frances K Barasch, ‘Italian actresses in Shakespeare’s world: Vittoria and
Isabella’, Shakespeare Bulletin, 19 (2001), 5–9; eadem, ‘Italian actresses in Shakespeare’s
world: Flaminia and Vincenza’, Shakespeare Bulletin, 18 (2000), 17–21; Michael A
Zampelli, ‘The “Most honest and most devoted of women”: an early modern defense of the
professional actress’, Theatre Survey, 42 (2001), 1–23; Pamela Allen Brown and Peter
Parolin, eds, Women Players in England 1500-1660: Beyond the All-male Stage (Aldershot:
Ashgate, 2005).
Niece of Wilhelm V of Bavaria’s wife Renée (Renate). Christine (1565–1637) was the
daughter of Renée’s brother, Charles II of Lorraine (1543–1608), another of whose
daughters, Elisabeth (1574–1636), married Maximilian I (1573–1651), son and successor
of Wilhelm V. See also plate 25.
For James M Saslow, its entertainments constituted a ‘transitional landmark in the
increasing role of women’ in renaissance theatre (Florentine Festival as ‘Theatrum mundi’,
the Medici Wedding of 1589 (New Haven: Yale, 1996), p.53).
Giulio Caccini’s lament at the 1565 Medici wedding, as a fourteen-year-old boy soprano, so
appreciated by Prince Ferdinand’s entourage, marked an early highpoint in this genre.
Saslow, The Medici Wedding of 1589, p.54.


voy, for which it was written. Her replacement was Isabella’s daughter-in-law,
Virginia Ramponi, the prima donna of the Fedeli troupe, already engaged to
perform in Giambattista Guarini’s scripted drama L’idropica, the main play of
the festivities. She mastered this demanding additional role in the astoundingly
short span of six days. Virginia (‘Florinda’) had performed well under pressure
before, having achieved a stunning success in the title role of her husband
Giovanni Battista Andreini’s 1606 play La Florinda, which includes an elabo-
rate sung lament. Her performance of Arianna’s Lament, judged a triumphant
success by Mantuan courtiers, represents both a key date in the development of
opera and a defining moment in the history of women on the stage.225 Arianna
cemented her international reputation and became a feature of the repertoires of
many ambitious professional actresses.
Three pioneering women of Martinelli’s troupe, noted but not named by the
documents recording their London tour of 1578, precede the official sanction-
ing of actresses on post-restoration London stages by over eighty years. Al-
though the personnel of troupes often fluctuated rapidly, Spanish documents of
the following decade are pertinent to the identities of Martinelli’s actresses,
who are significant for being among the first, and perhaps the first, women to
feature in full-length plays on the English stage. These records are special li-
cences of 1587 allowing Drusiano, his wife Angelica Alberghini, his brother
Tristano, their companions Angela Salomona and her (unnamed) husband, and
‘La Franceschina’ to perform in Madrid.226 In doing so, they identify the women
of ‘Los Confidentes Italianos’ as the first actresses in full-length plays on the
Spanish stage – and their troupe as including veterans of the English tour of
English writers generally treated women associated with travelling actors
with mocking contempt regardless of whether they performed, degrading them
by associating them with prostitutes. Thomas Nash famously dismissed the cel-
ebrated Italian actresses as ‘whores and common Curtizens’ and reduced their

Burattelli (Spettacoli di corte, p.203) quotes from letters praising the 1608 performance.
According to Anne MacNeil, its ‘combination of practiced crafts – rhetorical gesture,
seconda pratica music, and commedia dell’arte performance – results in a radically new
style of music theatre that is representational in all its aspects’ (‘The nature of commitment:
Vincenzo Gonzaga’s patronage strategies in the wake of the fall of Ferrara’, Renaissance
Studies, 16 (2002), 392–403, p.403).
Falconieri, ‘Commedia dell’arte en España’, pp.74–5. Franceschina here may refer to the
male actor Carlo or Carletto, who played the servetta Franceschina in Angelica’s troupe
throughout the 1590s.


plays to the antics of ‘Pantaloun, a Whore, and a Zanie’. The actor and troupe
leader Dionisio, who, as ‘Scoto of Mantua’ conjured, and possibly performed
with a troupe, before Queen Elizabeth I in 1576, is branded by Ben Jonson’s
Corvino as a ‘damn’d mountebank […] a common rogue come fidling in to
th’osteria,’ his actress as a ‘tumbling whore’ and their repertoire as “forc’d
trickes”.227 Harsnet is even more explicitly negative, maintaining that ‘it is the
fashion of vagabond players, that coast from Towne to Towne with a trusse and
a cast of fiddles, to carry in theyr consort, broken queanes, and Ganimedes, as
well for their night pleasance, as their dayes pastime’.228 The much quoted pas-
sage in Hamlet is far from Shakespeare’s only comment on improvised acting:
‘Falstaff: What! Shall we be merry? Shall we have a play extempore? […] For
God’s sake, lords, convey my tristful queen, for tears do stop the flood-gates of
her eyes. Mistress Quickly: Oh Jesu! He doth it as like one of these harlotry
players as ever I see’.229
John Marston’s 1599 reference to ‘the nimble tumbling Angelica’ is taken
by some as evidence for Angelica Alberghini’s presence during the Martinelli
brothers’ 1578 English tour, or even as an indication of an otherwise undocu-
mented later British visit by the troupe.230 Also relevant to non-Italian percep-
tions of commedia actresses is an extended passage in a play by John Day that
draws on the travels of Anthony, Robert and Thomas Shirley. In this much-
quoted scene, Sir Anthony Shirley, to whom a visit by the English stage clown
William Kemp in Rome is historically documented for 1601, invites Kemp and
‘an Italian Harlaken’ to improvise a performance at his Italian residence.231
The two clowns launch into an extended dialogue – with sexual innuendo robust
enough to suggest that pictures featuring on-stage nudity may have more than
tenuous links to actual stage practice:

Thomas Nash, Pierce Penilesse, his svpplicaton to the Diuell (London: I B[usbie], 1592),
f.F4r; Ben Jonson, eds C H Herford and Evelyn Simpson, 11 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1925–52), IX (1950), p.704; Ben Jonson, Volpone, or the foxe. A comoedie acted in the
yeere 1605 (London: Stansby, 1616),–15.
Samuel Harsnet, A declaration of egregious popish impostures, to with-draw the harts of
her Maiesties Subiects from their allegeance, and from the truth of Christian Religion
professed in England, Vnder the pretence of casting out deuils (London: Iames Roberts,
1603), p.149.
Hamlet III.ii.1–50; Henry IV pt.1, II.iv.312–13, 439–42.
John Marston, ‘Satyre X’, in The scovrge of villanie. Three bookes of satyres (London: Iohn
Buzbie, 1598), f.H5v.
Lea, Italian Popular Comedy, II, p.350.


Kemp Now Signior, how many are you in companie?

Harl. None but my wife and my selfe, sir.
K. Your wife, why hearke you, wil your wife do tricks in publike.
H. My wife can play.
K. The honest woman, I make no question […] Your wife plaid
the Curtizan.
H. True.232

English travellers’ accounts of European performances emphasize the rarity of

women performers back home. Actresses are treated as a newsworthy attraction
and a significant innovation that was changing the theatrical landscape of early
modern Europe. Fynes Moryson, who went to Italy in the 1590s, reports that ‘in
Florence they had a house where all the yeare long a Commedy was played by
professed players once in the weeke and no more, and the partes of wemen were
played by wemen, and the cheefe Actors had not their parts fully penned, but
spake much extempory or vpon agreement betweene themselues, espetially the
wemen, whose speeches were full of wantonnes, though not grosse baudry’.233
In 1608 Lord Edward Herbert of Cherbury noted as a novelty that Italians per-
forming in Paris featured ‘women [who] play boys’.234 That same year, in Ven-
ice, Thomas Coryat ‘saw women acte, a thing that I never saw before, though I
have heard that it hath beene sometimes used in London, and they performed it
with as good a grace, action, gesture, and whatsoever convenient for a Player, as
ever I saw any masculine Actor’.235
Despite their international successes, the mixed-gender troupes did not meet
with universal acceptance. Their welcome varied widely from nation to nation.
Even within the borders of Italy, the leading companies could be lionized in one
region and shunned in another. Plays continued to be performed in which the
lovers stayed off-stage entirely, and even in commedia dell’arte troupes, men
played some female servant roles well into the seventeenth century. Thus, in
1584, a collection of canzone was published by ‘Battista Amorevoli da Treviso,
Comico Confidente detto la Franceschina’, and as late as 1588, for example,
Diana Ponti’s Desiosi troupe was licensed to play in Rome only without

John Day, The travailes of the three English brothers. Sir Thomas, Sir Anthony, Mr Robert
Shirley. As it is now play’d by her Maiesties Seruants (London: Iohn Wright, 1607), ff.E4r–v.
Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS CCC94: Fynes Moryson, The Fourth Part of an
Itinerary […] (dated in pencil 1595), p.631.
Lea, Italian Popular Comedy, I, p.179.
Thomas Coryat, Coryat’s Crudities: Hastily Gobled up in Five Moneths Travells in France,
Savoy, Italy […], 2 vols (Glasgow: MacLehose, 1905), p.386.


women.236 Often this patchwork pattern of acceptance and exclusion arose from
clerical opposition to theatre in general and to actresses in particular. Scandal-
ized by the growing power and success of the professional troupes and their
intriguing actresses, prelates and theologians denounced the commedia’s intro-
duction of women on to the stage. In calling for a ban on all theatre in 1578,
Cardinal Paleotti specifically targeted the comici’s ‘donne commedianti’, cen-
suring these infamous women of ill repute for earning their living through skills
which exerted a devastating effect on the morals of their audiences, and espe-
cially on married men who fell for their charms.237
Nonetheless, by the end of the century actresses were a standard feature of
the professional Italian stage, inclusively implicated, rather than singled out, in
Juan de Pineda’s 1599 long-winded denunciations of the theatre as a ‘bottega
del diavolo (devil’s workshop)’.238 Five years later the Dominican monk
Domenico Gori made renewed attempts to rid the stage of ‘gl’antichi tanto osceni
(the obscene antics)’ of the ‘commedie di Zanni’. Classifying the comici as out-
casts of society, with the excommunicated, heretics, pagans and Jews, he warns
men of the grave spiritual dangers of marrying an actress, and reminds actresses
who perform in lewd comedies that their public words and gestures are as mor-
tally sinful as the private deeds of prostitutes.239 Despite continuing clerical
fulminations, there was no going back. There is increasing recognition of the
extent to which the early Italian troupes’ success and influence relied on the
commercial and creative alliance of actors and actresses, and their art was de-
fined through the process of adapting to accommodate the ambitions and skills
of female as well as male performers. The visual record charts the growing
confidence of actresses in terms of costume and roles, sphere of action, and
stage presence, and confirms the increasing indispensability of women performers
at every level of theatrical activity.

I.iii.c Zanni and Pantalone

Early commedia plots draw heavily on the interplay between the masked duo of
the servant Zanni and his master Magnifico. Vasari traces ‘the origins of the
comedians who became known as the zanni’ to the activities of a quasi-profes-

D’Ancona, Origini del teatro italiano, II, p.500; Pandolfi, La commedia dell’arte, II, p.246.
La fascinazione del teatro, ed. Taviani, p.39.
Ibid., p.122.
‘Trattato contro alle commedie lascive’, c.1604 (ibid, pp.136–43).


sional troupe set up in mid-century Rome by the poet Giovann’Andrea

dall’Anguillara.240 A Venetian and Bergamasque element anticipating the cel-
ebrated stage duo of the older Venetian master, Magnifico or Pantalone, and his
Bergamasque servant Zanni, is alluded to in the titles of certain comedies from
the time of Sanudo’s early sixteenth century diaries. A particular star of Sanudo’s
theatrical episodes is the Venetian buffoni Zan Polo. His activities have been
linked with those of the actor Benedetto Cantinella of Venice, whose portrayal
of the old Venetian in partnership with his troupe’s Zanni is celebrated by Grazzini
in 1559: ‘we travel all over playing the Bergamasque and the Venetian, and
staging plays is our profession’.241 Cantinella’s troupe played with much suc-
cess in Rome in the 1540s, and is a possible direct link between the activities of
early sixteenth century Venetian buffoni and the professional acting troupes of
the mid-sixteenth century onwards.242 Another poem of the late 1550s much
cited in this connection is the sonnet in which Joachim Du Bellay indicates that
Marcantonio played the part of a Zanni in a Zanni–Magnifico partnership which
was one of the chief attractions of the Roman carnival.243
In 1579, Prince Ferdinand of Bavaria accompanied a group of noblemen led
by his uncle, Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol, to the Venetian carnival, where the
highlight of the celebrations was the Gelosi troupe. Ferdinand’s diary offers inter-
esting insights into the playing practices of the great troupes in the period imme-
diately preceding the first opening to public audiences of Venetian theatres. As
well as performing publicly, the Gelosi staged several plays in the visiting party’s

Vasari, ‘Vita di Battista Franco’, pp.427–8, quoted above (p.81). On the Zanni–Pantalone
partnership, see Mario Apollonio, ‘Il duetto di Magnifico e Zanni alle origini dell’arte’, in
Studi sul teatro veneto fra rinascimento ed età barocca, ed. Maria Teresa Muraro (Firenze:
Olschki, 1971), 193–220; Povoledo, ‘Le bouffon’.
Grazzini, ‘Di Zanni e di Magnifichi’, in Le Rime Burlesche, p.207: ‘Faccendo il
Bergamasco e ’l Veniziano / n’andiamo in ogni parte / e ’l recitar commedie è la nostr’arte’
(see also an undated poem perhaps of 1566 noted above, p.80).
Re, ‘Commedianti a Roma’; Bonanni, ‘Benedetto Cantinella’; Lea, Italian Popular
Comedy, I, pp.248–51 (who suggests that in 1525 Zan Polo played under the name of
Nicoleto Cantinella, and quotes a letter of 30 April 1538 implying that Cantinella may then
already have been with a troupe, although Enrica Benini (‘Il “Bravo”, personaggio da
teatro’, Rivista italiana di drammaturgia, 3 (1978), 21–49, p.41) identifies Zan Polo as
Giovanni Paulovicchio; and Henke identifies him as Zuan Polo Liompardo (Performance
and Literature, pp.50–68)).
‘Voicy le Carneval […] / Allons baller en masque, allons nous promener / Allons voir Marc
Antoine ou Zany bouffonner, / Avec un Magnifique à la Vénitienne’, Regrets (Sonnet CXII,
quoted by Re, who notes that ‘Marcantonio buffone’ and his troupe enjoyed great success in
Rome with their comedie from 1550 onwards (Re, ‘Commedianti a Roma’, pp.296–7).


own private lodgings, for them and their guests. By 1579, zanni costume was an
essential element of carnival practice, and Zanni and his master were a standard
pair on the comic Italian stage, as is clear from the travellers’ surprise at their
absence from a five-hour comedy staged in Mantua by the Jewish court troupe led
by Leone de’ Sommi: 244

[18.1.1579, Venice] Nach malln wider uf [18.1] Then we got back into our gondolas
unsere Gondele gesessen und haimbgefarn. and rode home, to eat our evening meal. And
Zu nacht gessen. Und nach dem die best after this as the best troupe of actors in the
gesellschaftt, so in gantz Italia von Co- /f.8v/ whole of Italy, known as the Gelosi, was
medianten, so man die Gelosj nennt, alldo here, they performed after dinner in a house
gewest, haben sy nach dem nachtmal in der in the street known as San Giovanni &
gassen, so man St. Joan & Paolo nent, in Paolo.245 So we rode there, and it lasted for
ainem hauß agirt. dahin wir auch gefahrn three hours. After which we rode home, and
welche biß in drey stondt gewärt hatt. Nach everyone went to bed.
malln seyen wir wider haymb gefarn und
hatt sich ein jeder zue rhue gethan […] Den [19.1] So we rode home again, and after
19 […] Allso seyen wir widerumb the evening meal a play was performed in
haimgefahrn, und ist nach dem Nachtmal our lodgings by these same actors. After it
in unserm Losament, durch vorgemelte ended, everyone went to bed.
Comedianten, ein Comedi agiert worden,
nach solcher hatt sich ieder schlafen ge-
macht [… 20.1.1579, Venice …] mein Ge- [20.1] My birthday … After the evening
burtstag […] nach dem Nachtmal, ist meal, the actors again performed a play, af-
abermallß von den Comedianten ein ter which everyone retired to their own room.
Comedi agirt worden, nach welcher sich
jeder in sein zimber verfuegt hatt. […
21.1.1579, Venice …] Indessen ist der Her- [21.1] Then the Duke of Venice and his ten
zog von Venedig sambt den zehen gehaimen counsellors came to pay us all a visit, in Arch-
khomen und unß alle beyainandern, in des duke Ferdinand’s chamber […] we con-
Erzherzog Ferdinandts Camer visitirt […] versed for nearly an hour, after which an-
haben vast ein Stondt conversirt, und nach other comedy had been arranged, for which
dem abermalln ein Comedi zugericht gewest the Duke stayed. It was held before the
ist der herzog dabey blieben, welche man evening meal and finished at about half past
vor dem Nachtmal gehalten und ungefar six. After this the Duke took his leave and
umb halbe /f.13v/ sibne außgewest ist. Nach we accompanied him to the steps, after which
solcher hatt der hörtzog sein abschidt we took the evening meal in our lodgings

Munich, BHStAGHA KA 925, ff.8r–v, 10v, 11v, 13r–v, 19v–20v, 27v–28r, 30r–v.
Possibly, this unidentified ‘house’ was the Teatro Tron (by the Campo Santi Giovanni e
Paolo). MacNeil identifies its opening (and that of Teatro Michiel, at the Grand Canal end
of the Rio di San Cassiano) to public audiences during the 1581 carnival season as ‘a great
watershed in the history of theatrical production in Italy and especially of the commedia
dell’arte’ (Music and Women, p.8).


genomben, den wir zu der Stiegen belayt […] [26.1] Directly the evening meal was over,
und vollgendts das Nachtmal in unserm we left to go to a play that was to be held in
Losament eingenomben [… 26.1.1579, the old castle [Castello Estense]. We only
Ferrara …] Alßbaldt das nachtmal got to bed at midnight.
eingenomben, hernach zu ainer Comedi,
welche im Allten Schloß gehalten worden
gangen. Seyen erst umb zwölf uhr schlaffen [27.1] After the meal we played ball in a
khomen. [… 27.1.1579, Ferrara …] Nach chamber, then we put on zanni costumes and
essens uff ainem Sal Pallon gespiltt, darnach rode to the street called the Giovecca. Prac-
in Zani klaider angelegt, in ein Gassen gerit- tically all the noblewomen were there, rid-
ten die man die Givecca nennet. Alldo vast ing up and down the street in their carriages
alles frauenzimber vom Adell, uff Iren until nightfall. Then we rode home to the
Caretten fahrn, die gassen uff und ab, bis evening meal […] After this we again put
donckhl würdet. Seyen allso wider haimb on zanni costumes and went to a festino
zum Nachtmal geritten […] Nach solchem dance. We only watched for a while, then
haben wir unß wider in Zani klaider ange- we went home again to rest.
legt / f.20v/ und zu ainem danz so man festin
nennet gangen. Allein ein weil zugesehen,
darnach wider heimb zu rhue gangen [… [5.2] After the meal we went to the cham-
5.2.1579, Mantua …] Nach eßens uf den ber. There a play was performed by Jews, it
saal […] gangen. Alldo ein Comedj von Ju- lasted for almost five hours. It was no dif-
den agirt worden, hatt schier funf Stondt ferent from other Italian plays, except that
gewärt. Ist /f.28v/ nichz anders gewest, alls it included no Magnifico or Zanni. The stage
sonst bey welschen Comedj, allein das khein was most attractively provided with door-
Magnifico und Zanj dabey gewest. das Ort ways and houses.
ist mit Portalln und heüßern gar hübsch
zugericht. [… 9.2.1579, Bolzano …] Wir [9.2] We ate the evening meal early. After
haben zeitlich zu nacht geßen. Nach eßens the meal, a young fellow from Spaur invited
hatt unß ein junger Pursch, einer von Spaur, us to a dance at his house. We went there in
in sein hauß zu ainem Danz geladen, dahin zanni masquerade costumes, and danced
wir in Zani Mascara gangen, bis uf ailfe until eleven, after which we went to bed.
gedanzt, darnach unß zu rhue gethan.

Stage routines involving Zanni and his master combined elements from a number
of sources: the parasite–master relationship of commedia erudita, the dialect dia-
logues of the peasant stage, and the crowd-pleasing skills of the professionals:
acrobatics, music, song and dance. This rich heritage contributed to the stage
duo’s huge success. As their comic routines gained in popularity, Zanni branched
out from his original role, based on a Venetian porter of peasant origin, willing to
run errands for whoever would pay him, into numerous stage servants, represent-
ing personal servants identified by their masters’ livery. The master too diversi-
fied, leading to the gradual creation of a whole family of comic servants and
masters, many confined to one actor, and often only distinguishable by their names.
The enormous success of the new entertainment was not greeted with unqualified


approval, and Cristoforo Castelletti was one of many hostile playwrights.246 In

the prologue to I torti amorosi, he complains that audiences prefer the impro-
vised foolings of an old Venetian and his Bergamasque servant to a serious play
taking three years to write, and six months to rehearse.247
While the Zanni–Pantalone pair had long been a commonplace stock fixture
of the Italian stage by 1600, it remained, at this time, an exotic rarity to much of
the population of German-speaking Europe. For the Hechingen wedding of his
nephew in 1598, Karl II von Hohenzollern, who as noted above (p.47) had taken
an active part in the Munich wedding of 1568, organized a group of tournament
masqueraders disguised as commedia dell’arte zanni. The wedding’s official
festival book description gives no clue as to their theatrical connections, and it
is clear that its author, Jakob Frischlin, was himself unfamiliar with the Italian
zanni. They are correctly identified in the private account of Felix Platter of
Basle, who attended as the personal physician of a guest. Karl II’s group evi-
dently made a considerable impact, even though many of its spectators were
unaware of the source of its costumes. The detailed descriptions of Frischlin and
Platter, not previously cited in connection with the commedia dell’arte, are sig-
nificant for Zanni’s transalpine diffusion, reception, and depiction.
Karl II’s group was the second of seven companies of masqueraders who
took part in the wedding’s sole tournament at Hechingen, on Thursday 5 Octo-
ber 1598. Frischlin248 associates them with Turks, Hungarians, Tartars and

Others were Varchi: ‘Credo che i nostri Zanni facciano piu ridere che i loro Mimi non
facevano, e che le comedie del Ruzante di Padova cose contadine avanzino quelle che dalla
citta d’Atella si chiamavano Atellane’ (L’ercolano, 1570, p.259, quoted in Lea, Italian
Popular Comedy, I, p.225) and Nicolò Rossi (Discorsi sulla commedia, Vicenza 1589, p.34:
‘nè commedie io nomerò giammai quelle che da gente sordida et mercenaria vengono qua e
là portate, introducendovi Gianni bergamasco, Francatrippa, Pantalone et simili buffoni, se
non volessimo assomigliarle ai Mimi, alle Atellane ed ai planipedi antichi’, quoted in
Magni, ‘Il tipo dello Zanni’, p.113).
‘Una chiacchierata all’improviso […] d’un vecchio Vinitiano, & d’vn servitor Bergamasco,
accompagnata da quattro attioni disoneste […] che una Comedia Grave, che vi si serà
stentato tre anni a comporla, e sei mesi a recitarla’ (quoted from an edition of 1591 by
Louise George Clubb, ‘Italian comedy and The Comedy of Errors’, Comparative Literature,
19 (1967), 240–51, p.243, who notes that the first edition is dated 1581).
248 e H
Jakob Frischlin, Drey schone und lustige BXcher von der Hohenzollerischen Hochzeyt, ed.
Casimir Bumiller (Konstanz: Isele, 2003), pp.222–3, 240: Drauff folgen thet / das sag ich
dir // Ein seltzam Gsind / auff der manier. // Die kamen an mit jren Haeublen // Rot HXtlen
warens / darnach scheublen // Oder Mützlen / gar kurtz gestumpet // Haben auff jren Rossen
gumpet. // Weyß ploder hosen hettens an // Gar scheützlich sahen dise Mann. // Die HXtlen
von rodt / blaw / gelb 7ÙFK// Solch Leüt im Vngerland du VÙFK. // Die zogen her Türckischer
art // Mancher hett da ein Knebelbart. // Darauff zwey dachlein zogen blaw // Die hindern


Croatians, and describes their costumes as white hose, blue or grey cloaks, and
hats of red, blue or yellow cloth, some with moustaches. This company of ten
‘challengers’ is described by Platter as follows:249
Hierauf volgt die andre compagny der Ten knights, riding in pairs, costumed like
‘Avanturieren’, zechen ritter, par unnd par zanni, especially the last two, who wore hor-
rittende, verbutzet wie die ‘Zanii’, besunder rible masks or make-up. They were Karl [II
die zwen letsten, welche heßliche larven Count] of Zollern [-Sigmaringen],250 the
oder angesicht vor sich hatten, daß waren Count of Holach,251 [Wild- und] Rheingraf
graf Carl von Zolleren, graf von Holach, Ott[o zu Kyrburg], 252 the Count of
Reingraf Ott, graf von Zeinigen, schenck Zeiningen, 253 Heinrich von Limpurg
Heinrich von Limpurg, Frobenius Truchseß, [-Sontheim],254 Frobenius Truchseß,255 [Carl

zwen die sahen graw. // Die Zinckenblaser modulierten, // Vnd disen Reyen artlich zierten. //
Posaunen zwo / vnd auch zwen Zincken // Zur rechten die / jhene zur lincken. // Die Proceß
daher thete bringen // Graff CAROLVS, von Sigmaringen. // Menigklich die Procession // Hat
PÙVVHQ wol passieren lohn. // Dann sie gantz wunderbarlich waren // Jn disen Ringplatz
eingefaren. // Von Schaeumen kamen mancher hand // Als wann man ist im Türckenland. //
Gantz greülich mit dem Angesicht // Der Tartar vnd Crabat auch sicht. // Dann sonderlich
zwen scheützlich sahen // Wann sie sich herzu theten nahen. // Sie renntten her auff grXhnem
Wasen // Bleckten die zan / hetten groß Nasen. // Das menigklich PÙVW lachen jr // Der sie
sach rennen / glaub du mir. // Auff disen auffzug kam der dritt // Den soll man auch
verschweygen nit […] Jnns Ringle darnach stachen fein // Die in dem andern auffzug sein. //
Gleich wie die Vnger giengens her // Wie droben ist vermeldet mehr. // Sie randten grewlich
auff dem Wasen // Mit jren grossen dolder nasen. // Die sie an jren Laruen haben // Darmit sie
grewlich zeychen gaben. // Der langen Nasen waren zwen // Die bleckten auch da jre Zaen. //
Allda sie jre Bossen machen // Das jederman thet jrer lachen.
Felix Platter. Tagebuch (Lebensbeschreibung) 1536–1567, ed. Valentin Lötscher (Basel &
Stuttgart: Schwabe, 1976), pp.499–501.
(1547–1606), brother of Eitelfriedrich (1545–1605, who, as the groom’s father, hosted the
1598 wedding), present with his second wife, Elisabeth von Cuilenberg (d.1620) (Jakob
Frischlin, Drey schoene und lustige BXHcher, pp.143, 154; Felix Platter. Tagebuch, p.490).
The previous day, he had displayed exceptional horsemanship skills, having trained his
horse in dressage, acrobatic tricks and jumping; and he was to participate in the hunt. (Felix
Platter. Tagebuch, pp.498–9, 504).
(1578–1637), brother of the bride; present with his wife Claudia v. Manderscheid and
e H
daughter Juliana (Jakob Frischlin, Drey schone und lustige BXcher, pp.175, 180, 182, 210,
248; Felix Platter. Tagebuch, p.490).
A kinsman of the young Anna Maria v. Zeiningen, who travelled to the wedding with the
bride’s brother Rheingraf Adolf (Felix Platter. Tagebuch, p.490).
(1573–1637), present with his parents Johannes v. Limpurg-Gaildorf (1543–1608) and
Eleonora von Zimmern (one of seven sisters of the groom’s mother, Sybilla) and a retinue of
e H
thirty-two courtiers (Jakob Frischlin, Drey schone und lustige BXcher, pp.110–11, 144;
Felix Platter. Tagebuch, p.491).
Hereditary Lord High Steward of Waldtpurg; present with his wife Anna Maria von Törring
and a retinue of twenty-two courtiers, as representative of Maximilian of Bavaria. Also present


Schornstetter, Wolf Fuchs, Christoph von] Schornstetten,256 Wolf and Christoph

Fuchs[chs], steurmeister, hatten EOÙZH, Fuchs and the revenue master.257 They wore
ettlich brune wie nachthuben auf, weiße blue or in several cases brown nightcaps over
kappen dorunder, mit angehenckter kutten white caps, with attached cowls and aprons
unnd schürtz biß uf die stifel, kurtze hanging down to their boots, and jackets as
mentelin wie goller, von farb EOÙZ, braun short as collars, blue, brown or yellow in col-
unnd gäl, nampten sich der 1. Joan Badello, our. The first called himself Joan Badello,
legt in, dorumb zerennen vor den richteren, and placed a ten florin wager with the judges
10 gulden, der ander Joan Frimocollo 10 fl, in order to take part in the tournament. The
der dritt Scherisepho 8 fl, der viert Peterlino second, Joan Frimocollo, ten florins, the third
8 fl, der fünft Jhan Fourmage 5 fl 5 batzen, Scherisepho eight florins, the fourth Peterlino
der sext Joan Fritada 4 kronen, der sibendt eight florins, the fifth Jhan Fourmage five
Francotrippo 9 gulden, der acht Pergomasco florins and five batzen, the sixth Joan Fritada
5 fl, der neunt Zani 4 fl 7 batz., der zechendt four crowns, the seventh Francotrippo nine
Zani 5 fl 7 batz. Die Maintenierer gwanen florins, the eighth Pergomasco five florins,
die neun partido, der Frimocollo die ein. Ire the ninth Zani four florins seven batzen, the
‘patrin’, die inen nach ranten unnd sper tenth Zani, five florins and seven batzen. The
abnamen, waren die grafen von Fürstenberg defenders [i.e. Markgraf Georg Friedrich von
unnd Helfenstein. Baden258 and Scipio von Rappolstein] won
nine rounds, and Frimocollo one. Their sec-
onds, who ran behind them and gathered up
spears, were Counts [Friedrich of]
Fürstenberg [-Heiligenberg]259 and [Georg
of] Helfenstein.260

were his father Jakob’s (d.1589) widow Johanna v. Zimmern, sister of the groom’s mother,
brother Heinrich and wife Jacoba and her sister Eleonora (widow of his kinsman Karl
Truchseß), aunts of the groom (and two sisters of Karl II, with whom the brothers left the
wedding the day after the tournament) (Jakob Frischlin, Drey schoene und lustige BXHcher,
pp.92, 105–6, 143–4, 150, 155–6, 173, 188, 199, 245; Felix Platter. Tagebuch, pp.489–90,
Present with a retinue of six courtiers, as representative of Ernst Friedrich, Margrave of
Baden-Durlach (Jakob Frischlin, Drey schoene und lustige BXHcher, pp.150–1; Felix Platter.
Tagebuch, p.489).
Three otherwise unidentified courtiers.
Platter’s patron, and husband of the bride’s sister (Felix Platter. Tagebuch, p.468).
1563–1617. Present with his first wife Elisabeth v. Sulz (1584–1601). His father Joachim
(1538–98) sent an envoy. His mother Anna v. Zimmern was a sister of the groom’s mother
(Jakob Frischlin, Drey schoene und lustige BXHcher, pp.109–10, 144, 188; Felix Platter.
Tagebuch, p.491).
Also present were his widowed mother Apollonia von Zimmern (a sister of the groom’s
mother), and brother Frobenius, who took part in the fourth group of this tournament (Jakob
e H
Frischlin, Drey schone und lustige BXcher, pp.143, 151, 188, 228; Felix Platter. Tagebuch,
pp.491–2, 501).


Platter identifies the ten knights by both name and stage name. The latter cor-
rects Frischlin’s interpretation of their costumes. These ten masquerade dis-
guises are not based on a range of ethnic national costumes, but on one quite
specific stock theatrical role. The grotesquely masked big-nosed tooth-gnash-
ing final two were generic zanni, and at least seven of the other eight are spe-
cific variants of zanni. Lötscher footnotes zanni as a generic theatrical stage
clown, without specifying the connection with the commedia dell’arte.261 Schmid
notes zanni as ‘Harlequin figures’, but explicitly describes the group as ‘Hun-
garian-Turkish’.262 Lists of variants of this masked comic servant figure of the
commedia dell’arte, evidently part of standard zanni stage patter, are the defin-
ing feature of one genre of early modern popular printed ephemera. In late ex-
amples, such as Giorgio Maria Raparini’s L’Arlichino of 1718, most of the zanni
names appear to be fantasy or caprice names, featured for purely literary pur-
poses, and their connection to genuine stage roles is tenuous or non-existent.263
Sixteenth century examples of the genre are far more likely to feature genuine
stage names, and my suggestion is that the zanni variants of the 1598 wedding
tournament are not fantasy names, randomly created for this masquerade, but
all or mostly inspired by real actors of the time. This is clearly the case for
Peterlino and Francotrippo, the stage names of two internationally known and
widely documented stars of the commedia dell’arte, Giovanni Pellesini, who
created the role of Pedrolino, and Gabriele Panzanini of Bologna (fl.1571–1609),
who created that of Francatrippa. That Jakob Frischlin altogether failed to ac-
knowledge the theatrical source of these costumes, and that two others of the ten
simply called themselves ‘Zani’ may perhaps suggest that the specific zanni
variants that were used stretched the limits of this south-western German group’s
knowledge of zanni names at that time.
Jhan Fourmage is possibly inspired by Jean Potage, a stage clown created
and performed in Germany by Thomas Sackville, an internationally renowned
English actor based at the court of Wolfenbüttel during the 1590s, when he also
played several seasons at the Frankfurt Fair.264 Joan Frimocollo, Joan Fritada

Felix Platter. Tagebuch, p.499 n.77.
Ernst Fritz Schmid, Musik an den schwäbischen Zollernhöfen der Renaissance: Beiträge
zur Kulturgeschichte des deutschen Südwestens (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1962), p.604.
Giorgio Maria Raparini, L’Arlichino, poema carnevalesco dedicato a Signori Accademici
sfacendati (s.l, s.d.); idem, L’Arlichino poema dedicato a Ss. Accademici Sfaccendati
(Heidelberg: Müller, 1718).
On Jean Potage (also known as John Posset, Jan Bouset or Hans Supp), see Hansen,
Formen der commedia dell’arte, pp.42ff.


and Joan Badello are inspired by genuine stage identities not yet firmly associ-
ated with specific actors. Joan Frimocollo almost certainly refers to the Zan
Frignocola or Fracagnola seen in 1581 by Montaigne, acting in Pisa with the
Desiosi troupe of commedia dell’arte actors, and recorded in publications such
as Giovanni Gabrielli’s Il novo Maridazzo alla bergamasca de M. Zan
Frogniocola con Madonna Gnignocola.265 Joan Fritada is the street entertainer
recorded by Ben Jonson, Tomaso Garzoni and others in the decades around
1600 as Fritata or Zan Fritada.266 Joan Badello is identifiable with Zan Padella,
Gradella or Badil, recorded in Contrasti of 1613 and 1617 and by Garzoni, and
depicted as Padelle on the French mountebank stage of Gille le Niais, with
Harlequin and others [plate 299a].267 Pergomasco is possibly the ‘Gianni
bergamasco’ noted by Rossi in 1589, or perhaps a generic bergamasque zanni.268
Scherisepho’s context indicates that this is also a zanni variant. Perhaps there is
some connection with Zan Panza di Pegora, the stage persona of Simone, the
Zanni of the Gelosi Company, thought by some to have inspired Sancho Panzo.
A Lachrimoso Lamento published on his death in 1585, and the previously re-
ferred to Contrasto of 1617 by the same author both name Panza de Pegora
himself, as well as Zan Padella, Pedrolin, Zan Frignacola and Zan Fritada, and

Verona 1611 (Pandolfi, La commedia dell’arte, IV, 37–40, p.37); Frignochola: Stanze alla
venitiana d’vn bravo, Venice 1582 (ibid, I, 336–42, p.339).
Jonson, Volpone, II.ii.110; Garzoni, La piazza universale: Discorso CIV, p.910; Viaggio di
Zan Fritada – opera nova e ridicolosa and Barzeletta nova in lingua bergamasca cantada
da Zan Fritada alla sua Sabadina (Magni, ‘Il tipo dello Zanni’, 167–9); Opera nuova
nellaqvale si contiene il Maridazzo della bella Brunettina, Sorella de Zan Fritada de
Valpelosa (Venetia, 1585) in Pandolfi, La commedia dell’arte, I, 215–19; Contrasto di
bravvra fra il Capitano delvvio e Zan Badil con due Canzoni alla Bergamasca (Ferrara,
1613) in ibid, I, 348–53, p.349; Opera nova dove si contiene madrigali, sonetti, canzoni, &
villanelle. Tutte cose honeste & degne ad ogni eleuato spirito. Nouamente da Zan Fritada,
& il Figliuolo del Fortunato posto in luce (sl, sd) in ibid, I, p.136, II, p.319. On Zan Fritada
see also Henke, Performance and Literature, pp.112–19).
Garzoni, La piazza universale: Discorso CIV, p.911: ‘Gradella fa una squaquarata di voce, e
di canto molto sonora; idem, L’Hospidale de’ pazzi incurabili, ed. Gorgias Gambacorta
(Milano: Ferro, 1967), pp.9, 46–7, 116: ‘non è comedia da due gazette, né la squarquerata
triviale di Gradella, che si dona per le piazze per antipasto delle balle di Macaleppo’; ‘una
bella squaquerata di risa, di quelle che fa il Padella su la piazza di S. Marco’, ‘Vedrò almen
con Gradella sopra il banco’). Contrasto di […] Zan Badil (1613); Contrasto di Zan
Salcizza e Scatolin (Carmagnola, 1617); Viaggio de Zan Padella (sd) (all three in Pandolfi,
La commedia dell’arte, I, pp.286, 349; V, p.416).
Magni, ‘Il tipo dello Zanni’, p.113.


a poem of 1621 by Croce adds Francatrip to these latter four.269 Several of the
1598 zanni types are also linked in two publications of 1597, Orazio Vecchi’s
L’Anfiparnasso, whose cast list names Pedrolin, Zane Bergamasco and a
Francatrippa who recites a list of zanni variants that include Fritada, Pedrolin,
Padella, Gradella and Frignocola, and Adriano Banchieri’s Il donativo di qvatro
asinissimi personaggi, which includes a sonneto naming Pedrulì, Fregnocola
and Francatripp.270 A genealogy lists Frittada, Zan Padella and Pedroli, and
Conti’s Partenza di Carnevale adds Francatripp to these three.271
Felix Platter’s identification of Karl II’s group as zanni types is of theatre-
historical value in itself, and for identifying them as the subjects of Frischlin’s
account of this group. It also identifies as courtiers, rather than
members of the nobility, the group’s final pair, whose outsize noses and ugly
masks struck spectators as so comical when they ran across the meadow gnash-
ing their teeth at them, that many laughed at their grotesque appearance. In
March, May and July 1598, the groom’s father, Duke Eitelfriedrich IV, sent a
succession of courtiers, including his tailors Jakob Maurer and Jakob Flies, and
his director of music Narzissus Zängel, to Milan.272 On his instructions, they
ordered, purchased and transported back to Hechingen bales of cloth of gold,
velvet and silk, tapestries ‘for the running at the ring’, masquerade costumes,
twenty-four theatrical face masks, musical instruments and other luxury items
for the wedding festivities, to the value of over 3000 florins. Many German
masquerade costumes were inspired by iconographic sources in ephemeral pub-
lications, or by engravings in costume books, and in turn surely had their impact
on the iconographic record. But more directly than to visual sources, or even
than to Eitelfriedrich’s Milanese and other Italian contacts and suppliers, the
search for the source for this unprecedented array of zanni variants north of the
Alps before 1600 points directly the Munich wedding of 1568, in which the
groom of 1598’s grandfather, father and uncle played central parts. These Ger-
man descriptions of zanni, by Platter, who recognized them as such and by
Frischlin, who did not, chart cross-cultural influences that contributed towards

Il lachrimoso lamento (1585); Contrasto […] (1617); Giulio Cesare Croce, La gran
vittoria di Pedrolino contra il Dottor Gratiano Scatolone (Bologna, 1621) (all in Pandolfi,
La commedia dell’arte, I, pp.223–4, 286; II, pp.24–9).
Pandolfi, La commedia dell’arte, II, pp.266, 275, 302.
Genologia di Zan Capella (late sixteenth century, s.d.); Camillo Conti, Partenza di
Carnevale (Ronciglione, 1615) (both in Pandolfi, La commedia dell’arte, I, pp.253–7; IV,
pp.32, 37).
Schmid, Zollernhöfen, pp.256–60.


the diffusion of the commedia dell’arte beyond Italy, and offer vivid insights
into early modern German reception – and expectations – of zanni behaviour.

I.iii.d Harlequin
Harlequin is perhaps the most popular, universally recognized and thoroughly
researched of all commedia dell’arte servants. The abundant theories for Harle-
quin’s origins as a commedia dell’arte mask have been comprehensively re-
viewed.273 Already in 1904, Driesen had argued that the name Harlequin has its
etymological roots not in Italy but in northern Europe. In contrast to the other
central masks of the commedia dell’arte, which were created in Italy and ex-
ported to other countries, the stage character Harlequin originated in France,
and only gradually became accepted in Italy. He suggested that the commedia
dell’arte servant Harlequin was created by one individual Italian actor, on the
Parisian stage, during the reign of Henri III (1574–89), inspired by Hellequins,
a type of local comic stage devil popular in religious plays since medieval times,
derived from a satanic underworld leader.274 Although Driesen was unable to
identify the actor concerned, or any sixteenth century depiction of Harlequin
costume, his theories have been largely borne out by subsequent research, which
pinpoints Harlequin’s creation as a stage character quite precisely to in or just
before the year 1584. It was Lea who convincingly established Tristano Martinelli
(7.4.1557–1.3.1630)275 as the creator of the Harlequin role, a generally accepted

Delia Gambelli, ‘Arlecchino: dalla “preistoria” a Biancolelli’, Biblioteca teatrale, 5 (1972),
17–68; eadem, Arlecchino a Parigi: dall’inferno alla corte del re sole (Roma: Bulzoni,
Driesen, Der Ursprung des Harlekin, pp.188–277. Harlequin’s etymological roots as a
‘wild huntsman’, the underworld devil figure sometimes known as Hellequin or Erlen
König, who led wild bands of medieval demons or ghosts, have been exhaustively traced to
early medieval, and in some cases to pre-Christian ritualistic, origins. His bestial appear-
ance was first imitated by medieval stage devils and carnival fools, and by the masked
human participants of the charivari. See also Giovanni Jaffei, ‘Note critiche su le maschere
in genere e su Arlecchino in ispecie’, Rivista d’Italia, 1 (1910), 771–825, pp.803–19;
Hermann Flasdieck, ‘Harlekin: Germanischer Mythos in Romanischer Wandlung’, Anglia,
61 (1937), 225–340, p.311; idem, ‘Nochmals Harlekin’, Anglia, 66 (1942), 59–69; Gustave
Cohen, ‘Survivances modernes de la Mesnie Hellequin’, Bulletin de la Classe des lettres de
l’Académie royale de Belgique, 1 (1948), 32–47.
Sirro Ferrone, Claudia Burattelli, Domenica Landolfi, Anna Zinanni, eds, Comici dell’arte.
Corrispondenze. G B Andreini, N Barbieri, P M Cecchini, S Fiorillo, T Martinelli, F Scala,
2 vols (Firenze: Le Lettere, 1993), I, pp.351–3.


identification reinforced by more recently discovered documentation.276 Accord-

ing to Lea ‘there is nothing to prevent us from supposing that all the references to
Arlecchino in the sixteenth century belong to […Tristano] Martinelli’.277 If so, it
seems logical to suggest that all sixteenth century depictions of Harlequin also
belong to Tristano Martinelli.
A troupe of Italian comedians who crossed the Alps in the late 1570s included
Tristano Martinelli.278 Led by Tristano’s older brother, the troupe played for four-
teen months in Antwerp to October 1577, before travelling on to Paris, and, in
1578, London. Nowhere in these documents of the late 1570s cited by Schrickx is
Tristano referred to as Harlequin, but this is of limited significance, as none of the
eight actors is identified by role. It is possible that the twenty-year-old Tristano
established contact with local comedians at the time of his 1577 visit to Paris.
Several Parisian pamphlets of the 1580s demonstrate that when he returned to
Paris around 1584–85, Harlequin and his troupe collaborated with the French
acting troupe led by Agnan Sarat, and with Henri III’s court buffoons Chicot and
Sibilot.279 By 1588, when he addresses a letter ‘a mia madre Lucia Martinelli,
madre d’Arlecchino’, Tristano Martinelli was already well known by the stage
name Arlecchino.280 In the 1590s, he signs himself as ‘Tristano Martinelli, detto
Arlechino comico’, or ‘alias Arlechino’, and he remained identified with the role
for life (as late as 1627, he refers to ‘nostra arlichinesca persona’).281 In 1599,
‘Tristano Martinelli cognominato Arlechino’ was promoted to superintendent for
the state of Mantua of all performing itinerants, in a decree whose wording leaves
no doubt as to the overlap between charlatans and comici.282 Martinelli’s later

Ileana Florescu, ‘Harlequin, nom de comédien’, Biblioteca teatrale, 4 (1986), 21–59,
pp.30, 57; Ferrone et al., Corrispondenze, I, pp.349–50; Lea, Italian Popular Comedy, I,
p.83; Gambelli, Arlecchino a Parigi, pp.189–91.
Lea, Italian Popular Comedy, I, p.83.
Schrickx (‘Commedia dell’arte players in Antwerp’, pp.79–80) cites documents of the
1570s naming all eight of the troupe’s actors, and noting its three actresses. As noted above,
a Spanish licence of 1587 names actresses as well as actors of this troupe (Falconieri,
‘Commedia dell’arte en España’, pp.74–5).
Florescu, ‘Harlequin, nom de comédien’, pp.39–41; Gambelli, Arlecchino a Parigi, p.171.
Gambelli, Arlecchino a Parigi, p.192.
Tristano Martinelli, L’Epistolario d’Arlecchino (Tristano Martinelli 1556–1631) raccolto
da Jarro (Firenze: Landi, 1895), p.15; Ferrone et al, Corrispondenze, I, pp.355–64, 429.
Burattelli, Spettacoli di corte, p.207: ‘tutti li comici mercenarii, zaratani, cantinbanco,
bagattiglieri, postiggiatori, e che mettono banchi per vender ogli, balotte, saponeti, historie
et cose simili (all the professional actors, charlatans, mountebanks, peddlers, jugglers, and
those who display for sale oils, ballads, soaps, stories and similar items)’.


career, when he visited France several times, and the Harlequin role became the
favourite of royalty and nobility, is well documented, as is the adoption of the
Harlequin role by actors in France after his death.
The Harlequin role became generic during the latter part of Martinelli’s life-
time. As early as 1610, the French physician Thomas Sonnet de Courval com-
plains of gaudily attired drug-peddling charlatans touting for business
‘accompagnez d’vne grande suitte & Carauane d’Escornifleurs, batteurs depaué,
Basteleurs, Comediens, Farceurs & Harlequins’.283 Harlequins occur in over
forty of Scala’s scenarios of 1611, and in Johann Valentin Andreae’s Tvrbo sive
moleste et frvstra per cvncta divagans ingenivm of 1616.284 A soldier in
Michelangelo the Younger’s La fiera describes a Harlequin in a fairground
commedia dell’arte performance; Barbieri refers to the amusing
acrobatics of ‘gli Arlichini’ in 1634, and by the time of Martinelli’s death in
1630 the masked comedian Harlequin had become a popular and much depicted
stage character.285 But most early depictions of commedia dell’arte masters and
their servants feature the servant Zanni, and pictures of Harlequins and other
comic performers in patched costume from the period before 1630 are rare.

I.iii.e Some other roles

The inamorata and regional servant–master stock roles, which underpin
commedia dell’arte plots, were complemented by a number of national types.
These afforded the opportunity to mock foreigners and their habits, and to tailor
performances to foreign audiences by including material in a familiar language.
The comic possibilities of foreigners were recognized on the Italian stage well
before the commedia dell’arte became established.286 The main male national

Thomas Sonnet, sieur de Courval, Satyre contre les charlatans, et psevdomedecins
empyriques (Paris: Milot, 1610), p.94. Thomas Platter jr of Basle’s travel account (compiled
1604–5) notes that on 27 July 1599, when he was at supper in the ‘Delphin’ inn at Linas
near Montlhéry, musical, theatrical and acrobatic entertainment was provided by a
travelling player, a single fiddler wearing ‘Harlekins vermumbte Kleider (Harlequin’s
masked costume)’ (University Library, Basle MS. A O 7 & 8, f.474r).
Flaminio Scala, Il teatro delle fauole rappresentatiue (Venetia: Pulciani, 1611); Hansen
(Formen der commedia dell’arte, pp.57–8) speculates on whether Andreae’s Harlequin
wore patched costume, and was the first German stage Harlequin.
Jaffei, ‘Note critiche’, p.773; Barbieri, La Supplica, p.109
Sanudo’s diary (1 February 1525) notes that ‘Zuan Polo si portò benissimo, et li intermedii
fonno molto belli, de tutte le virtù de soni e canti ch’è possibil haver, vestiti in vari habiti da


types of the commedia are military, and, of these, the most characteristic is the
Spanish captain, who already features in 1568, as Massimo Troiano’s Don Diego
de Mendoza in the Munich wedding performance.287 But early captains were
also often played as regional types. Some, such as Girolamo Garavini of Ferrara,
who played Capitano Rinoceronte to great acclaim until his death in 1624, spoke
no Spanish, and the early commedia featured military types of several other
A popular sixteenth century commedia dell’arte military type was the tedesco
or German mercenary, recognizable in pictures from his costume, similar to that
of the Vatican Swiss guards. The tedesco, less well documented than the Span-
ish captain, is noted, for example, in the cast lists of two scenarios of the Corsini
Album, a manuscript collection of 100 commedia dell’arte scenarios, perhaps
dating to as early as the 1590s, each with a title page illustration (no.38, Le
Bvrle di Fidele and no.50, La cieca, see plate 246). He also features in an ama-
teur Ferrarese court comedy, where he was played by the Duke of Ferrara.289 As
popular carnival masks, ‘todeschi’ were represented at the Venice carnival of
1572.290 While the commedia Spaniard was almost exclusively a military captain,
Turkish costume seems to have been used more for disguise or publicity than for
the creation of stock roles, and the Frenchman had no fixed role or social standing
on the early commedia stage. He appeared primarily not as a soldier or inamorato,
but as a minor servant, as in the Munich wedding performance of 1568 or the
servant Philipin of the Recueil Fossard woodcuts [plate 6].
By 1620 the zanni comedies were very much settling into the stereotypic
format that Baretti and his eighteenth century contemporaries understood by the

mori, da todeschi, da griegi, da hongari, da pelegrini et altri assà habiti senza però volti’,
and that in 1533 Zan Polo acted in the character of one Rado Stizoso, a Slav mercenary
whom Benini identifies as a forerunner of the commedia military captain (Lea , Italian
Popular Comedy, II, pp.476–8; Benini, ‘Il “Bravo”’, p.41).
On this, see section I.ii.b, pp.46ff.
As revealed by a letter of 28 August 1620 from Cecchini to Ferdinando Gonzaga (Ferrone et
al, Corrispondenze, I, p.286).
Recorded in a letter of 11 March 1577 by Bernardo Canigiani (Angelo Solerti, Vita di
Torquato Tasso, 3 vols (Torino: Loescher, 1895), I, 256–7)
‘Cinque Todeschi con fiaschi de Maluasia, & bicchieri in mano, cantando à questo modo,
“Vina vina Bacco Bacco […]” […] Vno Todesco, & uno Francatrippe uestiti honorata
mente con fiasche […] pieni de buoni uini […] mangiando, & beuendo attorno il Trionfo’
(Ordine, et dechiaratione di tvtta la mascherata, fatta nella Città di Venetia la Domenica
di Carneuale. M.D.LXXI. per la Gloriosa Vittoria contra Turchi, in Venetia, appresso
Giorgio Angelieri, MDLXXII (Venetia: Angelieri, 1572), ff.A7, A8).


term commedia dell’arte. The significant roles of the commedia dell’arte had
largely been defined, and later generations of actors took over already created
personae. Originality became increasingly difficult, and despite their different
names, most of the dottore, Pantalones and captains became as indistinguish-
able as the lovers had already been in the sixteenth century, lifted out of uni-
formity only by the most exceptional actors. Publications such as Cecchini’s
influential Frutti delle moderne comedie of 1628, Barbieri’s La supplica of
1634 and Perrucci’s Dell’arte rappresentativa of 1699 made firm recommen-
dations concerning performing practice. These increasingly confine the
commedia’s range within neat and manageable formulae which, in the very act
of defining it, imposed an increasing stylization. From the genuine improvisa-
tion, exciting experiments and wide creative repertoire of their earliest decades,
the professional players gradually settle into unity, systematization and predict-
able routine. Within a century, custom and expectation had channelled the pre-
viously diverse dramatic offerings of the Italian professionals into the narrow
and predictable range of masked and unmasked stock roles, plots and lazzi which
for many exemplify the commedia dell’arte in its purest form.

II Art-historical analysis: some case studies

II.i The Recueil Fossard 291

II.i.a General introduction

The best known and most reproduced renaissance commedia dell’arte images
are in Stockholm’s Nationalmuseum, in the so-called Recueil Fossard album.292
The album was discovered by Agne Beijer in the early 1920s, in the uncatalogued
reserves of the Nationalmuseum Stockholm. Its title page bears the name of
Sieur Fossard, a musician at the court of Louis XIV, who reputedly assembled a
vast personal collection of theatrical and festival prints and drawings, in the
mistaken hope that it would be purchased by the king. Fossard’s collection was
dispersed after his death in 1702 and is now largely lost [plate 39]. In an at-
tempted reconstruction of the original collection, Beijer published forty-six of
the eighty-five prints.293 The Stockholm album entered the Nationalmuseum
Printroom from the Swedish royal collections in 1904, with at least a dozen
further similar leather-bound volumes. It is the only one of these known to have
survived the dismemberment into single leaves officially ordered in 1905, and
thus the only one whose prints escaped being filed individually into the
Nationalmuseum’s general print collection.
Two complete sections of Fossard’s dispersed collections are in the Royal
Library at Copenhagen. They are bound together as one volume containing 163
mostly seventeenth century prints and drawings, on 124 numbered folios with

On the Recueil Fossard woodcuts, see also Guardenti, ‘Gli artigiani della rue Montorgueil e
le incisioni della Raccolta Fossard’, in Gli Italiani a Parigi, 194–200; Kellein, Pierrot,
pp.17, 20; Mamone, ‘Arte e spettacolo’, pp.76–9; Philiep Bossier, ‘Het beeld van de
commedia dell’arte in de “Recueil Fossard” en de middencultuur tussen stad en platteland’,
Incontri, 12 (1997), 167–78; idem, “Ambasciatore della risa”, pp.64–9; Lawner,
Harlequin on the Moon, p.114.
Stockholm Nationalmuseum Printroom catalogue nos. NM 2189/1904 to NM 2272/1904;
including two prints, on consecutive folios, numbered 2250.
Beijer and Duchartre, Recueil de plusieurs fragments.

two title pages.294 Unlike the Copenhagen Fossard prints, many of the Stock-
holm prints survive as unique impressions, and the volume’s title page and prints
are no longer as Fossard mounted them. They have been rearranged and re-
mounted, in scrapbook fashion, with additional material that was not part of the
original Fossard collections, on to the recto pages of a forty-eight-folio bound
volume which was still empty-paged in 1738, thirty-six years after Fossard’s
death. Some of the Stockholm prints are still clearly identified as Fossard’s by
their distinctive inked borders.295 But others have been trimmed [plates 40–1],
and some woodcuts have been cut out, rearranged and hand coloured [plates 8–
9]. Fossard could have acquired the engraving now distributed over folios 34–5
of the album [plates 40–1] as a cut-out, or mutilated it himself. But, in view of
the absence of inked borders on folios 34–5, these fragments were probably cut
out, perhaps even acquired, by a later collector.
Although they are traditionally dated as early as 1571, more rigorous thea-
tre-historical methods suggest that the woodcuts of the Recueil Fossard were
produced in the mid-1580s [plates 6–11].296 It has been suggested that certain
of them represent highlights from particular commedia dell’arte performances,
and can be arranged to form coherent plots. This would give these early visual
records exceptional documentary significance. However, there has been no agree-
ment concerning the exact number of prints involved, their sequence, or even

Holm, Solkonge og Månekejser. Two further Fossard title pages are in the British Museum,
in an album containing prints not of direct theatrical interest (M A Katritzky, ‘The Recueil
Fossard 1928–88: A review and three reconstructions’, in The Commedia dell’Arte from the
Renaissance to Dario Fo, ed. Christopher Cairns (Lewiston, Queenston, Lampeter: Mellen,
1989), 99–116, figs.4a, 4b). My thanks to Anthony Griffiths for drawing my attention to
For example, Stockholm NM 324–341/1904, two sheets of eighteen engravings from the
1642 and later editions of Franco Bertelli’s Il carnevale italiano mascherato, oue si
veggono in figura varie inuentioni di Capritii (reproduced: Holm, Solkonge og
Månekejser, pp.38–9).
Gambelli, Arlecchino a Parigi; Bent Holm, ‘L’image ambiguë d’Arlequin: problèmes d’art
et d’histoire du théâtre liés à l’interprétation des gravures de la collection Fossard de
Copenhague’, in Iconographie et arts du spectacle. Actes du Séminaire CNRS (G.D.R.712)
(Paris, 1992), eds Jérôme de La Gorce and Catherine Monbeig Goguel (Paris: Klincksieck,
1996), 155–70, pp.164–5, n.8. Leik (Frühe Darstellungen, pp.46, 105–22) does not rule
out a dating as early as the mid-1570s; Alba Ceccarelli Pellegrino links the woodcuts to the
Holy League and favours a dating to as late as 1594 (‘La “gravure” “Ancilla comœdiæ”
(L’“Improvvisa” alla corte di Enrico III)’, in Lettere e arti nel rinascimento (atti del X
convegno internazionale, Chianciano-Pienza 20–23 luglio 1998) ed. Luisa Secchi Tarugi
(Firenze: Cesati, 2000), 489–529, p.497).


their initial selection from the eighty-five Stockholm prints. Here, the focus is on
three groups of prints. The artists of two of these are identified as Ambrogio
Brambilla and Ambrose I Francken, and further examples of their theatre-related
pictures are identified and presented.

II.i.b Some Recueil Fossard woodcuts

Beijer considered but rejected the possibility that certain of the Recueil Fossard
woodcuts represent ‘a complete sequence of acts, in which the artist has repro-
duced every scene’.297 The basal numeration, from j to vj, of these woodcuts,
whose sequence is faithfully honoured in Tessin’s album, is dismissed by Beijer
as a typographical convention. He concludes that, rather than reflecting any sort
of representative selection from the comedians’ repertoire, these woodcuts are
part of an incomplete series heavily biased towards burlesque episodes, clown-
ing and lazzi. In 1945 Beijer conceded that ‘most of them depict isolated situa-
tions in some play’, but qualified this by adding that ‘in only a few instances is
there a thematic connection between the pictures’.298
In 1942, a theory was put forward that ‘in the Recueil Fossard there is a
selected group of engravings, which, when considered in a certain order, sug-
gest a probable story’.299 The inadequacies of this sequence may be judged by
the fact that it includes a print which is iconographically and typographically
unrelated to the woodcuts, and indeed not even a woodcut but an engraving
[plate 42]. In 1970, Mastropasqua suggested the theory again. His case was
supported in detail by a selected sequence of eighteen of the woodcuts, arranged
into three groups of six, each group representing one act of a three-act play.300
This sequence takes into account both the order in which they are mounted in
the Stockholm album, and the basal numbers, but ultimately seems to be based
on intuition rather than logic. One problem is that a sequence of only eighteen
pictures does not necessarily account for all the Recueil Fossard woodcuts suit-

Beijer and Duchartre, Recueil de plusieurs fragments, p.20.
Agne Beijer, ‘XVI–XVIII century theatrical designs at the National Museum’, Gazette des
Beaux-Arts, 6e series, 28 (1945), 213–36, p.221.
John Huber McDowell, ‘Some pictorial aspects of early commedia dell’arte acting’, Studies
in Philology, 39 (1942), 47–64, p.59.
Stockholm NM2198–2213, 220, 222; Fernando Mastropasqua, ‘Lo spettacolo della
Collezione Fossard’, in Ruzante e Arlecchino. Tre saggi sul teatro popolare del
cinquecento, eds. F Mastropasqua and Cesare Molinari (Parma: Studium Parmense, 1970),


able for possible inclusion, for example a fragment discovered in 1926 [plate
7]. In 1976, Mastropasqua decided that the series was incomplete, and his se-
quence, although just one of many possibilities, provided as as good a basis as
any from which to investigate the prints.301 Some regard these woodcuts as merely
a miscellany of highlights from different troupes; others agree that reconstruc-
tion of the series is no longer possible.302
Although the 1970 selection of the eighteen woodcuts cannot be faulted, its
sequence can be questioned on both art-historical and philological grounds.
Examination of the images and their related texts, both within each print and in
relation to the other scenes in the series, has suggested a number of refinements
[plate 6]. The reasoning behind them is offered here, without lingering over
previously covered ground. For the first act, the 1970 sequence offers a battle
scene (NM2220) as the fifth picture. However, if the love scene (NM2202) is
substituted, as shown here, the dagger on the floor and Pantalone’s reference in
line 2 to being eaten out of house and home refer directly back to the third
picture of that act. The second line of the fourth picture (NM2213), in which the
grotesque race between Harlequin and Zany is revealed as a contest for the
favours of Francisquina, looks forward directly to this love scene as its sequel,
and also ties in better with Pantalone’s comments on his servant’s debaucheries
in the following scene.
In the second picture of the second act (NM2199), Pantalone’s rallying call
against ‘the gallant man … this fop Harlequin who puts on such brave airs’,
must surely be in response not to Harlequin as prone and suffering suitor
(NM2198), but to Harlequin as comic fighter (NM2204), determined to win
over Francisquina, who in the second picture of this act (NM2199) recognizes
his ‘fight to sustain and defend my beauty’. This act is also visually more coher-
ent if all the battle scenes are placed together here.303 The new sequence de-
picted here is reached by process of elimination, as Mastropasqua’s selection of
the eighteen woodcuts from which the play is built up is the only viable one, and

Fernando Mastropasqua, ‘Pantalone ridicola apparenza – Arlecchino comica presenza’, in
Alle origini del teatro moderno, la commedia dell’arte. Atti del Convegno di Studi,
Pontedera, 28–29–30 maggio 1976, ed. Luciano Mariti (Roma: Bulzoni, 1980), 97–103,
Povoledo, ‘Le bouffon’, p.257; Hallar, Teaterspil og tegnsprog, p.43; David Esrig,
Commedia dell’arte. Eine Bildgeschichte der Kunst des Spektakels (Nördlingen: Delphi,
1985), pp.11–13.
i.e. if the fourth, fifth and sixth pictures are Stockholm NM2201, 2208 and 2203, rather
than Mastropasqua’s NM2201, 2202, 2222 (‘Lo spettacolo della Collezione Fossard’).


the basal number of each print has to be honoured. The play ends as it starts, with
music, and the wedding dance allows the spectators to take an active part in the
celebrations with which the performance concludes. But are the modifications
proposed here a genuine advance, or was Mastropasqua justified in implying that
further debate on this issue is a waste of time?
One way of testing the validity of the various reconstructions is by compara-
tive examination with compositional variants. Such an opportunity is offered by
five unsigned and undated engravings [plate 43]. Each image is sandwiched be-
tween two sets of quatrains, three French ones above and their German equiva-
lents below, and includes between two and four main characters, all identified by
name. Each verse is printed under the character whose dialogue it represents.
Despite close integration of verbal and visual content there is no internal logic,
either compositional or dramatic. In every print, the order of the dialogue in these
verses contradicts the logical chronological order of the depicted dramatic action.
Thus, in the first scene Francatripa introduces Harlequin to the audience only
after both Licetta and Harlequin himself have spoken. In the second scene,
Francisquina agrees to take Harlequin in marriage before Pantalone has had a
chance to make the suggestion. In the third scene, Pantalone bids Harlequin fare-
well before Harlequin has explained why he is returning the children to him. In the
fourth scene, Harlequin gets into a jealous rage before Pantalone and Francisquina
have made their flirtatious exchange, and similarly in the fifth scene, Zany and
Harlequin plot to attack Leandro only after he has been warned by Francisquina.
The very crudeness and illogicality of these engravings offers a vital clue in
establishing the definitive sequence of the original woodcuts. For the fact that
they are the wrong way round establishes beyond doubt that they are copies.304
Answers to questions concerning their patronage and interpretation came only
through examining a fourth set, in Berlin.305 Unlike the others, the fourth set is

On sets of these five engravings in Oxford and Yale, see M A Katritzky, ‘A renaissance
commedia dell’arte performance: towards a definitive sequence of Sieur Fossard’s
woodcuts?’, Nationalmuseum Bulletin (Stockholm), 12 (1988), 37–53, pp.43–8. On an
incomplete set (missing Licetta, Harlequin, Francatripa), in Rome, see Leik, whose
tabulation of the sequences accepts that proposed here (Frühe Darstellungen, pp.117, 315–
20, pls.A93–97). On the Yale series, see McDowell (An Iconographical Study, pp.86, 106,
119, 138–9; idem, ‘Commedia dell’arte acting’, notes 52, 116, 118, 121, 127–8, p.53:
‘duplicating in reverse scenes from the Recueil Fossard’).
Kunstbibliothek, Berlin, Lipp.Cg.67.kl (Heinrich Wirre and/or Johann Hogenberg, Stam
vnd Wapenbvchlin […] wie sie erstlich vom Heinrich Wirings in kupffer gestochen
angefangen, vnd volgentz vom Joh. Hogenb. vollendet worden sint, zu Collen truckts Joh.
Bußemecher (Collen: Bußemecher, s.d.), c.1600).


preserved not as individual prints, but as five illustrations in a book published by

Johann Bußemecher in Cologne, with engravings by Heinrich Wirre, who died in
1600, and Johann Hogenberg. The Berlin copy contains forty-five illustrations,
some of which are known through many impressions. Its title page reveals that it
was specifically intended as a ‘Stammbuch’, or friendship album, a pocket-sized
album in which the owner’s friends and patrons could be requested to enter their
names and titles accompanied by short texts, and sometimes suitable illustrations.
Early modern noblemen, travellers and academics, often in their student years,
compiled such albums as souvenirs of European tours, often illustrated with coats
of arms and typical scenes commissioned from local artists of very varying de-
grees of talent and experience.306 In the half-century from around 1570 to 1620, a
highly fashionable category of coloured drawings in these albums was a series of
plates depicting Venetian costume of the type also produced for manuscript cos-
tume books, and often including genre scenes of mountebank and carnival activ-
ity. The expense of original works of art also created an eager market for afford-
able alternatives amongst less affluent friendship album owners.
In this context, it becomes clear that these engraved copies were not produced
to commission in order to publicize or record a specific theatrical performance or
tour. They were mechanical copies produced as a speculative business venture, to
provide attractive illustrations of an iconographic theme fashionable in friendship
albums of the period 1570–1620, namely the costumes of the commedia dell’arte.
These prints were aimed to appeal not to a limited market of patrons of a specific
theatrical production, but to the much vaster and longer-term market of those who
aspired to keep friendship albums, and who could be tempted to part with their
money by suitable pictures with which to decorate them. German translations of
the French verses of the Recueil Fossard originals were provided because the vast
majority of this potential market was German-speaking. The originals were scaled
down and printed with generous margins, to fit the typically small format of friend-
ship albums, and allow adequate space for the handwritten entries typical of such
volumes. The Harlequin of these prints is not based on any identifiable actor, and
has no direct input from stage costume or practice current at the time of their
production. He is based solely on the iconographic precedent of the Recueil Fossard
These five prints copy the same composition, and the same French verses, as
five of the Recueil Fossard woodcuts included in all the reconstructions.307 Re-

See plates 33, 36, 238–9, 248–61, 285, 317, 325, 336.
Stockholm NM2198, 2205–7, 2220.


gardless of whether their source is the Recueil Fossard woodcuts themselves, or

another common or intermediate source, only minimal independent artistic intel-
ligence appears to have intervened in making the translation from the originals to
the engravings. This indicates that these five engravings are, unlike more artisti-
cally ambitious variants, a relatively faithful reflection of their prototypes. If they
do not represent the complete series of the original images on which they are
based, there is a high degree of probability that all or part of a coherent sub-series
is reflected in them. So it is worth considering the distribution of the five wood-
cuts which share the same composition as the engravings, within each of the pro-
posed sequences of the commedia dell’arte performance. In fact, there are con-
siderable differences in distribution, and it would be interesting to establish whether
these can be shown to support one particular reconstruction. As mounted in the
Recueil Fossard itself, and reflected in Beijer’s publication, three of the woodcuts
are consecutive, with the other two singly distributed some way before and after
this group of three. In McDowell’s proposed reconstruction, the five scenes ap-
pear as two widely separated pairs of adjacent pictures, with the fifth again on its
own, this time between them.308 Mastropasqua scatters the five over all three acts
of his reconstruction, placing NM2220 in Act I, 2198 in Act II, and 2205–7 con-
secutively in Act III. Only the new sequence here proposed features all five wood-
cuts consecutively, in one continuous block, as the first five pictures of Act III.
Successive impressions indicate the popularity of the series. It is beyond coinci-
dence that more than one subset of the same five compositions could have sur-
vived from a series of eighteen. So it seems reasonable to conclude that the scenes
represented in the Oxford, Yale, Rome and Berlin series form the majority, if not
the whole, of the original series of derivative engravings.
The regrouping of the woodcuts outlined here [plate 6] is strongly suggested
by the internal coherence of the verses and the images. It assumes that the number
in the bottom right-hand corner of each print indicates the position held by that
print within an act, although it does not, of course, specify which of the three acts
this is. Independent support is given to this new sequence by the five Oxford
engravings. According to the new reconstruction, the first five pictures of the third
act are the woodcuts of which these derivative engravings are variants. In other
words, they fall into the same – final – act of the play. These amendments are
offered as a refinement to Mastropasqua’s sequence, and not as a definitive se-
quence of the original series. His misgivings, the extremely high number of possi-

McDowell, ‘Commedia dell’arte acting’, pp.61–4: nos.8–9 (Stockholm NM2207, 2198),
no.11 (NM2220), nos.17–18 (NM2205–6).


ble combinations of these eighteen prints, and the chance of variants which may
have bearing on this sequence, all indicate that the reconstruction proposed here
can be no more than tentative. Nevertheless, the establishment of a coherent se-
quence for these woodcuts is useful in providing the basis for a better understand-
ing of what may well reflect a typical late sixteenth century commedia dell’arte

II.i.c Ambrogio Brambilla

Two prints which have frequently been reproduced in connection with the
commedia dell’arte are inscribed ‘Ant. Carenzano formis Roma 1583’ and ‘Roma
Ant carenzano Formis 1583’ [plates 52–53].309 Stylistic and compositional simi-
larities suggest that they are by the same artist, and depict two episodes from the
same narrative. Their inscriptions have misled some into assuming that Carenzano
is their artist. However, my identification of the signature in the bottom left-hand
corner of plate 52 enabled them to be attributed to Ambrogio Brambilla, an artist
of Milanese origin active in Rome c.1579–99.310 Brambilla is known chiefly for
his topographical prints, and particularly for architectural views and plans of Rome
engraved for the Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae. These postdate the death of
its first publisher, Antonio Lafrery, in 1577, and were produced for his successors
Claude Duchet (active 1577–86) and Nicolas van Aelst (active 1582–1613).311

These prints extend the activity of their publisher, Antonio Carenzano, from 1591–1614, as
known to Paolo Bellini (‘Printmakers and dealers in Italy during 16th and 17th centuries’,
Print Collector, 13 (1975), 17–45, p.31), by a further eight years. See also Franco Paliaga,
‘Giovanni Ambrogio Brambilla’, “le teste di carattere” di Leonardo e la commedia
dell’arte’, Raccolta vinciana, 26 (1995), 219–254, pp.228–9; idem, ‘Giovanni Ambrogio
Brambilla’, in Rabisch: Il grottesco nell’arte del Cinquecento,: l’Accademia della Val di
Blenio, Lomazzo e l’ambiente milanese, ed. Franco Ambrosio (Milano: Skira, 1998), 182–
3, 337–8.
Katritzky, ‘Italian comedians’, p.246. On Brambilla, see G K Nagler, Die Monogrammisten
und diejenigen bekannten und unbekannten Künstler aller Schulen, 5 vols (München:
Hirth, 1863–79), I, pp.411-13, nos.942, 946–7; Paolo Arrigoni and A Bertarelli, Piante e
vedute di Roma e del Lazio (Milano, 1939), pp.8, 15, 79, 134, 160ff., 220, 353; Ruth
Mortimer, Harvard College Library Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, Catalogue
of Books and Manuscripts, Part II: Italian 16th-Century Books, 2 vols, (Cambridge, Mass:
Belknap, 1974), I, pp.315–17; Leik, Frühe Darstellungen, pp.129–36, 233–4, 324–7;
Artioli, ‘A Palazzo Berla’; idem, ‘Le grottesche’; Barasch, ‘Theatrical prints’.
As such, many of them found their way into the holdings of the de’ Rossi family of Roman
printers and publishers in the seventeenth century. They were enough of a success to
warrant repeated re-issues, so that for example Gio. Giacomo de’ Rossi’s name is found on
a reissued impression of Brambilla’s Theatrum Sive Coliseum Romanum of 1581.


Portraits, religious engravings, and numerous popular prints, including I gridi di

Roma of 1582 (the earliest known broadsheet of hawkers) and allegorical heads
of Carnevale and Quaresima, are listed in the standard reference works, but no
theatrical pictures. Books such as Dei veri ritratti degl’habiti di tvtte le parti del
mondo, published by Bartolomeo Grassi in Rome in 1585, with its forty-nine
engraved costume plates by Brambilla, testify to his highly successful career as
an illustrator.
Brambilla’s activities as a sculptor, poet, painter and architect are also re-
corded.312 His dialect verses apparently satirize the poetry of contemporary acad-
emicians, and are relevant to an understanding of his popular prints, and his
relationship to the theatre. An anthology of Milanese dialect verse by members
of the Accademia della Val di Blenio, of which Brambilla was a leading member
(‘compà Borgnin’), was published in 1589 by Compra Zavargna, the pseudo-
nym and stage persona of its founder, the artist, critic and writer Giovan Paolo
Lomazzo. Dismissed in some older literature as ‘local poets of little renown’,
these academicians are now achieving recognition for providing a significant
bridge between the comic peasant as portrayed by the troubadour tradition and
by the commedia dell’arte, in Lomazzo’s Compra Zavargna, the first Milanese
quasi-zanni type.313 Lomazzo’s serious writings, such as the Trattato dell’arte
della pittura, scultura et architettura of 1584, display a penetrating interest in
comedy, as for example in a description of Besozzo’s painting of laughing peas-
ants.314 For many academies, the writing and performance of amateur dramatic
comedies was a central activity, and those of artisan academies such as the Sienese
Rozzi, often have close links with the commedia dell’arte of the professional
Plates 52 and 53 depict stock characters from the commedia dell’arte, firstly
in the kitchen preparing for Zan Trippu’s wedding feast, and secondly celebrat-
ing the wedding with an open-air dance. Each character is named. In the kitchen
are: Burati, M. Gratian, Ma. nespola, Zan Zaccagni, Ma. balzarina; for the danc-
ing, the first three of these have been joined by: Ma. franceschina, Zan Trippu,
Ma. filomena, Pantalone and Venturina, accompanied by Mo. Rigo on pipe and

In this context, it is perhaps worth noting stylistic parallels between Brambilla’s signed
engravings and two works reproduced here [plates 17, 191].
Glenn Palen Pierce, The “caratterista” and comic reform from Maggi to Goldoni (Napoli:
Napoletana, 1986), p.30; Paliaga, “Le teste di carattere”; idem, ‘Giovanni Ambrogio
Barry Wind, ‘Pitture ridicole: some late cinquecento comic genre paintings’, Storia
dell’arte, 20 (1974), 25–35, p.28.


tabor. A sonneto by Adriano Banchieri features numerous comic characters, among

them Zachagna, Trippu, Burati and Franceschina.315 It is possible that Brambilla’s
characters are from a common source, perhaps even the same identifiable troupe.
I was able to identify Brambilla’s monogram on a third engraving featuring
comedians, inscribed ‘Romæ Baptiste Parmensis formis 1589’ [plate 38].316 Bellini
lists this Roman publisher, born in Parma in 1541 and active until 1592, as Battista
Panzera.317 In plate 38, five concentric flattened rings alternately feature triads of
dice faces and popular and mythological characters, of which the comedians in
the third ring include eight named stock characters of the commedia dell’arte.
They are Pantalone, Trastulo, Franceschina, [Dottore] Gratiano, Todesco,
Francatripe, [Capitano] Cardone and a Pedrolino who predates the earliest previ-
ously accepted image of this mask by over three decades. Section III.iv.b suggests
that Brambilla is depicting actors associated in 1589 with the Gelosi troupe. The
importance of plates 38, 52 and 53 in the study of the commedia dell’arte lies in
their being inscribed with dates and places of execution; moreover they establish
the interest of Ambrogio Brambilla, an identified sixteenth century Italian artist,
in the commedia dell’arte as subject matter for his work.318
There are strong stylistic similarities between Brambilla’s prints and nine of
the ten prints mounted on folios 34 and 35 of the Stockholm Recueil Fossard

In the third ‘donativo’ of Adriano Banchieri’s Il donativo di qvatro asinissimi personaggi
(Vicenza, 1597), that of Messer Dvrindel Rastellant dalla Vallada Bergamina (Pandolfi, La
commedia dell’arte, II, p.302).
Katritzky, ‘Italian comedians’, p.248. See also Paolo Toschi, Populäre Druckgraphik
Europas: Italien vom 15. bis zum 20. Jahrhundert (München: Callwey, 1967), fig.146,
monogram given as ‘M.R.F’; Erwin Glonnegger, ‘Brettspiele des Volkes’, Homo Ludens.
Der spielende Mensch, 4 (1994), 181–95, p.188, as ‘Italien, 18. Jahrhundert’. Variants
include two undated later woodcuts, much cruder and broader than Brambilla’s engraving,
one with the outer, but not the inner, ring of characters in reverse (Karen F Beall, Kaufrufe
und Straßenhändler. Cries and Itinerant Trades. Eine Bibliographie/a bibliography
(Hamburg: Hauswedell, 1975), p.319); the other fully reversed (Il nvovo gioco del pela il
cihiv (Florence, s.d.): Alberto Milano, ‘Prints for fans’, Print Quarterly, 4 (1987), 2–19,
pl.6, detail, as ‘anonymous seventeenth-century artist’; Regina Kaltenbrunner, ‘Alte
Spielbücher und -Graphik’, Homo Ludens. Der spielende Mensch, 3 (1993, special issue:
‘Spielbücher und -Graphik des 16.–18. Jahrhunderts’), 41–98, p.91 and fig.25, as c.1680.
Bellini, ‘Printmakers’, p.33.
According to Sterling: ‘the makers of most of the sixteenth-century engravings of Italian
comedians are Netherlanders’ (‘Early paintings’, p.31). In ‘Représentations figurées’, his
influential iconography of the commedia dell’arte, Ternois lists as Italian works only a
drawing by Guercino, a set of engravings by Bracelli, the anonymous Corsini watercolours,
and costume engravings by Jacopo Franco and Pietro Bertelli.


album [plates 40–1].319 Each of these nine Recueil Fossard etchings is a cut-out
featuring two or three stock characters of the commedia dell’arte engaged in
comic antics. Clearly legible at the base of print NM 2241/1904 (the left-hand
middle scene mounted on folio 34) is the inscription ‘Roma apud Laurentius
Vaccarium’ [plate 40]. Lorenzo Vaccari, or Della Vaccheria, a printer-publisher
of French or perhaps Bolognese origin who ran a workshop at S. Giuliano in
Rome from the mid-1570s to 1600, has been taken for the artist of these prints
by some authorities of the commedia dell’arte.320 I was able to identify the
‘indecipherable’ monogram on print NM 2241/1904, again that of Ambrogio
Brambilla, confirming the close parallels between these nine scenes and plates
38, 52 and 53, in subject matter, artistic style, and handwriting.321 This attribu-
tion enabled me to locate and identify an unmutilated impression of the nine
etchings, in which the scenes are joined in one continuous block three scenes
deep by three scenes wide [plate 54].322 This reveals them to be not the separate
tailles-douces depicting a jumble of unrelated lazzi, which Beijer saw in them,
but a coherent series of scenes, each accompanied by inscriptions which further
enhance their theatrical interest.323 As well as solving the riddle of the author-
ship of the nine Recueil Fossard cut-outs, enough real art-historical evidence is
presented here to assemble a significant group of precisely dated sixteenth cen-
tury commedia dell’arte-related images by a named Italian engraver, and to
pave the way for their more informed theatrical interpretation.

II.i.d Ambrose I Francken

Commedia dell’arte plots revolve around comic exploitation of human con-
flicts: particularly those between servant and master, man and woman, and be-

For Beijer, the nine etchings of folios 34 and 35, while not necessarily the oldest pictures of
the commedia dell’arte, show it in its most primitive form, and he suggests a dating of
1560–80 (Beijer and Duchartre, Recueil de plusieurs fragments, p.18).
Bellini, ‘Printmakers’, p.34; Thomas Ashby, ‘Antiquae statuae urbis Romae’, Papers of the
British School at Rome, 9 (1920), 105–58, pp.123–9; McDowell, ‘Commedia dell’arte
acting’, p.50; Mel Gordon, Lazzi: the comic routines of the commedia dell’arte (New York:
Theatre Library Association, ‘Performing Arts Resources’, 7, 1983), pls.II, III, V, IX. See
also Molinari, La commedia dell’arte, pp.83–9.
Beijer and Duchartre, Recueil de plusieurs fragments, p.18: ‘presque indéchiffrable’;
Katritzky, ‘Italian comedians’, pls.174–5.
Katritzky, ‘Italian comedians’, pp.249–51.
Beijer and Duchartre, Recueil de plusieurs fragments, p.18.


tween maturing children and their not always mature fathers. These themes are
united in the two engravings on folio 45 of the Stockholm Recueil Fossard
featuring the same composition, the one below being a reversed variant with
different inscriptions [plate 55].324 They show a fashionable young suitor and a
ruffiana at one side of the stage, and an elderly couple at the other. In the centre,
a manservant and maid mock a greybeard and crown him with the cuckold’s
horns, a central theme of sixteenth century Italian comedy.325 The costumes of
the old man and pointing servant are those of the commedia dell’arte Pantalone
and his servant Zanni. Five of the characters are identified by name in the lower
print, and these theatrical names, as well as the costumes and hairstyles, particu-
larly of the central girl, are of later origin than those of the upper print.
My search for compositionally and stylistically related pictures led to a paint-
ing on wood featuring this same composition, and two further paintings in simi-
lar style and format [plates 56–8]. The three paintings can be arranged consecu-
tively to reflect a plot sharing many typical commedia dell’arte characteristics,
although the players are, for example, not masked. In the first picture Pantalone,
supported on the shoulders of his servant Zanni, delivers a love letter to the
inamorata, via her maid, who takes it from an upper-floor window in the cur-
tained backdrop [plate 57]. A second Zanni serenades on his lute. A third Zanni,
servant to the elegant inamorato appearing from behind the backdrop, surprises
the group and threatens Pantalone with his dagger. This foreshadows the events
shown in the second painting [plate 58]. Here, the inamorato – Pantalone’s rival
– and his Zanni attack Pantalone, watched by the inamorata, her maid (who
gleefully illuminates the chaotic scene with a candle), her parents and Pantalone’s
cowardly servant. The third picture may be regarded as the concluding tableau
of this action. Here, Pantalone is crowned with the cuckold’s horns and exposed
to the mockery of the inamorato, his Zanni and the maids [plate 56]. The ex-
treme similarity of the actors, particularly the three males, in pose, costume and
features to those in the other two paintings, strengthens the likelihood that the
three compositions show consecutive scenes of the same series, painted by the
same artist.
The signature on the upper engraving of plate 55, that of H. Liefrinck, records
the publisher of this print, and a print’s publisher was by no means always iden-

Another impression of the upper print is on f.3 of the Copenhagen Fossard album.
Although the girl is identified as an inamorata by some authorities (e.g. Molinari, La
commedia dell’arte, p.135), her simple dress and the bag and knife hanging from her waist
indicate servant status.


tical with its engraver, let alone its artist. Hans Liefrinck the Elder was an en-
graver and print publisher active in Antwerp until his death in 1573. Although
the calling of his namesake Hans the Younger, a map designer in Leiden from
1567, makes him a less likely candidate, it is his death which establishes a firm
ante quem of 1599 for these pictures. One of the paintings [plate 57], shares its
composition and format with a signed drawing which is probably its prepara-
tory drawing [plate 59]. The signature on the drawing, ‘M. Ambrosius Vrancx’,
is that of Ambrose I Francken (1544–1618), who is thus almost certainly the
artist of all three paintings, and probably of the original design on which the
Recueil Fossard engravings of plate 55 are based.326
The related pictures enable the Recueil Fossard engraving to be attributed
to a named artist and set in the context of a performance, and offer valuable
insights into the action out of which it developed (although modification may be
required if further versions, or additional scenes, are discovered). Their artist
Ambrose I Francken, a member of the Francken family of artists, was a younger
brother of Hieronymus I Francken, and a pupil of the Antwerp artist Frans
Floris.327 He may have travelled as far as Italy in the 1560s, and settled in Ant-
werp soon after his return from Fontainebleau in 1570, entering the Violieren
Rederijkerskamer, or Chamber of Rhetoricians, the oldest and most distinguished

For F-C Legrand, plate 59 is ‘cet unique sujet de genre qui nous soit connu le [= Ambrose
Francken] rattache étroitement à son frère Jérôme’ (Les peintres flamands de genre au XVIIe
siècle (Bruxelles: Meddens, 1963), p.75). Hans Mielke (‘Antwerpener Graphik in der 2.
Hälfte des 16. Jahrhunderts. Der Thesaurus veteris et novi Testamenti des Gerard de Jode
(1585) und seine Künstler’, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 38 (1975), 29–83, p.52),
unaware of the related paintings and drawing, concluded on stylistic grounds that the design
for the Recueil Fossard engraving is the work of Ambrose I Francken. The connection
between the drawing and the Recueil Fossard engraving was made by Marijn
Schapelhouman (Tekeningen van Noord- en Zuidnederlandse kunstenaars geboren voor
1600 (Amsterdam: Historisch Museum, 1979), p.47). J van Tatenhove, ‘Bookreview’, Oud
Holland, 96 (1982), 191–7, pp.193–6) notes the relationship between two of the paintings
[plates 57–8], the Recueil Fossard engraving [plate 55], and the drawing [plate 59]. Plate
56 was first noted in this context in 1987 (Katritzky, ‘Lodewyk Toeput’, plate 4). Leik
(Frühe Darstellungen, p.157 n.388) expresses grave doubts concerning the authenticity of
the two paintings here reproduced as plates 57–8: ‘the suspicion here is that we are dealing
in both cases with nineteenth century pictures, that may owe their origins to the initiative of
a commedia dell’arte enthusiast, perhaps inspired by Maurice Sand’s book of 1860’ (my
translation). Satisfactory resolution of this question, as with so many in the field of early
theatre iconography, is impeded by the disappearance of the originals into private hands,
leaving only grainy monochrome reproductions for scholarly contemplation.
On Francken, see Mielke, ‘Antwerpener Graphik’, pp.43–52.


of Antwerp’s amateur debating and dramatic groups, in 1588. Between 1573,

when he entered the Antwerp artists’ guild, and his death in 1618, continual
archival records attest to his presence in Antwerp. The strongest stylistic influ-
ence on his largely religious oeuvre comes from Marten de Vos, with whom he
collaborated extensively. The subject matter of plate 59 is unique in Francken’s
known work, but his thin unbroken contours and delicate washes are strongly in
evidence, and the drawing’s almost identical format, composition, and style to
plate 57 suggests attribution of all three of these paintings to Ambrose I Francken.
What bearing does identification of their artist have on theatrical interpretations
of plates 56–9, such as Beijer’s suggestion that this Fossard engraving could
show a troupe of French farceurs inspired by one of the early visits of the Italian
comedians to Paris?328 The artist and probable publisher indicated, Ambrose I
Francken and the older Liefrinck, were both based in Antwerp. French, the lan-
guage of the accompanying verses, was current in Antwerp as well as Paris in
the late sixteenth century.329 But evidence in favour of Antwerp must be bal-
anced against the fact that the older Liefrinck is thought to have died in 1573,
before the earliest documented visit of commedia dell’arte troupes to Antwerp.
Furthermore, Francken is known to have been in France in 1570, where visits of
the Italian comedians are well documented from 1571, and was perhaps previ-
ously in Italy itself.

II.ii Inspiration and imitation. The progressive stereotyping

of shared artistic motifs: Antonio Tempesta and some
Flemish carnival paintings

II.ii.a Introduction
The numerous iconographic connections between early modern pictures of comic
performers form dense nets of interdependent images. Many such pictures are

Beijer and Duchartre, Recueil de plusieurs fragments, p.30. Sadly, it does little for J R
Bailey’s intriguing suggestion (30.3.1932 letter to Sir Robert Witt, Courtauld Institute,
London), that two of the players in the painted version of the Recueil Fossard composition
bear a striking resemblance to Ben Jonson and Shakespeare.
It was, for example, the language of the archival records noting the presence of Martinelli’s
troupe of Italian comedians in Antwerp in 1576-77 for fourteen months (Schrickx,
‘Commedia dell’arte players in Antwerp’, pp.79–80).


anonymous and undated, and the complexity of their interrelationships seriously

deters attempts to retrace them, or even to establish the chronological develop-
ment of particular motifs. Association with dated pictures, in order to establish
chronological directions of pictorial influence, offers a more reliable approach to
dating undocumented ones than speculative attempts to relate them to recorded
performances. On-stage depictions of the comici, such as those of the Recueil
Fossard, are rightly placed at the top of a hierarchy of commedia-related images.
In this section, the focus is on pictures showing actors and comic masks in a wide
variety of settings, both on and off stage, including carnival scenes. Such pictures
cannot be dismissed as being of ‘minimal documentary value’.330 They are essen-
tial for a full assessment of the early modern rise of the acting profession.
The renaissance carnival was a rare opportunity for unbridled peasant cel-
ebration of sloth, lust and gluttony, the very elements which underlie much of the
interaction between the commedia dell’arte’s master–servant pairs.331 Since the
mid-sixteenth century, favourite European carnival disguises have been the cos-
tumes associated with the more popular commedia dell’arte characters.332 My
examination of some carnival pictures also suggests the presence of organized
troupes of actors amongst the costumed revellers, parading to publicize their skills,
or playing in the street, on or off stage. By this time, depictions of carnival activi-
ties had become predominantly associated with Winter in series of the seasons,
and with January, and even more typically February, in series of the months.333
The Florentine engraver Antonio Tempesta is associated with pictures of
Italian comedians through both his teachers and his pupils. He trained under the
Flemish artist Stradanus (Jan van Straet, 1523–1605), who was active in Flor-
ence from about 1550 onwards and depicted three Italian comedians in a com-

Inge Krengel-Strudthoff recognizes pictures as an invaluable documentary source for the
commedia, but dismisses carnival pictures: ‘Tatsächlich gibt es […] auch sehr viele Bilder
zum Thema Commedia dell’arte, aber tatsächlich nur “zum Thema”. Selten sind es echte
Wiedergaben von Aufführungen, meist dagegen nachempfundene Bilder, oft nur
Darstellungen einzelner Figuren oder überhaupt Karnevalsbilder: der Quellenwert ist also
häufig gering’ (‘Die Commedia dell’arte in Europa. Versuch einer Übersicht über ihre
neuere Erforschung’, Kleine Schriften der Gesellschaft für Theatergeschichte, 23 (1969),
45–63, p.58).
Anger and avarice, and, to a lesser extent, pride and envy also play their part in the
commedia dell’arte, but of the seven ‘deadly’ sins, sloth, lust and gluttony are the dominant
motivating forces of commedia plots and lazzi.
As noted in connection with Ferrara and Munich (see above, pp.67–8,74).
This tradition has medieval roots. As early as around 1400, the February of a fresco cycle
of the twelve months, in the Torre dell’Aquila of the Castello del Buon Consiglio in Trent,
shows a carnival tournament.


position known through an engraving after it, and several painted versions [plates
29, 62–3]. Jacques Callot (1592–1635), artist of the influential Balli di Sfessania
cycle, trained in Tempesta’s workshop during the first decade of the seventeenth
century [plates 2–5]. But the only clearly recognizable groups of Italian come-
dians in Tempesta’s prints are in the Februaries for his two series of the months
[plates 64–5].334

II.ii.b Direct copies after Tempesta’s Februaries

Febraro is one of a series of the months engraved by Tempesta dated 1599 on
the title page [plate 64]. In this print, the tournament contest of running at the
ring is watched in the background by a crowd, some in carriages, some on raised
covered seating, most standing in the street. In the middle distance, the circle of
spectators is held back by two mounted riders, between whom performers enter-
tain the crowds with lute playing and acrobatics. The foreground is framed on
either side by raised structures holding spectators, and has three centrally placed
costumed horsemen. In the left foreground, a pointing Pantalone is mounted on
a donkey, and at the right his servant, Zanni, carries a basket of carnival eggs
over his arm. Both Pantalone and Zanni are masked, and dressed in anachronis-
tic, theatrical costume, based on the outfits of the typical mid-sixteenth century
Venetian merchant and porter. The houses forming the architectural backdrop to
this scene are representative of late renaissance Florentine architecture.
Febrarius, from a second series of the months by Tempesta, also appears to
be set in his native Florence, the façade of the church in the left background
resembling that of S. Maria Novella [plate 65]. In the foreground, five perform-
ers in a city square entertain two women on a balcony. The group consists of two
women on horseback, in eastern or medieval costume, a zanni with an egg bas-
ket, similar to the one in the foreground of Febraro, and, underneath the bal-
cony, a serenading pair, one of whom is a masked lute-playing zanni. The cym-
bals, chin-strapped headgear and flowing cloak of the other indicate a gypsy.
Direct copies after Tempesta’s Februaries include mirror image engravings by
members of the prolific Sadeler dynasty of Flemish printmakers, and drawings
in a German sketchbook.335

An isolated instance of a possible commedia-related figure is the left-hand zanni type in a
Winter of 1592 (Bartsch, 1978–, vol.36, 807(152)).
The Sadeler engravings [plates 66–7] are virtually mirror image copies. Two drawings after
Febraro probably datable to the 1610s, one very detailed, the other more freely sketched, in


II.ii.c Jan I Bruegel

My research has revealed a large number of pictures less directly influenced by
Tempesta’s Februaries.336 Roman carnival is a depiction of costumed revellers
by the Flemish artist Jan I Bruegel (1568–1625) [plate 68]. In the foreground
are two characters in dark full-face masks wearing red and yellow tedesco cos-
tumes. In the centre background are three performers on a stage, an older male
or female hunchback flanked by two men, one playing a lute. To the right fore-
ground, a masked boy sells carnival eggs. All the face masks in this painting are
in flesh or deep flesh tones. Ertz favours a dating to c.1600, half a decade after
Jan I’s return to Antwerp in 1595, and suggests that the painting is based on lost
drawings made by the artist during his stay in Rome in the early 1590s.337 Even
though both Tempesta’s Februaries have Florentine settings, and Bruegel is
depicting the Piazza del Popolo in Rome, there appears to be a definite relation-
ship between Februarius and the layout and even some of the individual build-
ings and figures in Roman carnival [plates 65, 68]. In both pictures, costumed
characters are framed by a stage-like setting, with ‘wings’ and ‘backdrop’ pro-
vided by architectural elements including high buildings to right and left, and
views leading into the background from either side of a central building.
Tempesta’s church has its counterpart in Jan I’s painting, albeit with its tower on
the other side. Tempesta’s lute-playing zanni is in similar pose and costume to
the lute player on Jan I’s stage, and both pictures have two horses in the fore-
ground, those in the painting both in similar pose to the central horse in the
print. To the right of the print, two women overlooking the performers wield
eggs, as was the custom at carnival time, and carnival eggs are being sold from
baskets at the left of the print, and at the right of the painting, where, as in the
print, women overlook the performers.

albums of material predating 1622 from the Strasbourg workshop of Friedrich Brentel
(1580–1651), further demonstrate the influence of this composition (Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, VIII 2676, f.26r; 1965–10, f.455, see also Wolfgang Wegner, ‘Untersuchungen
zu Friedrich Brentel’, Jahrbuch der Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen in Baden-Württemberg,
3 (1966), 107–96, pp.108–10, 134).
M A Katritzky, ‘Scenery, setting and stages in late renaissance commedia dell’arte
performances: some pictorial evidence’, in Scenery, Set and Staging in the Italian
Renaissance: Studies in the Practice of Theatre, ed. Christopher Cairns (Lewiston,
Queenston, Lampeter: Mellen, 1996), 209–88, pp.218–27.
Klaus Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Ältere (1568–1625); die Gemälde; mit kritischem
Oeuvrekatalog (Köln: DuMont, 1979), p.115; Konrad Renger, ‘Römischer Karneval, um
1596’ in Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere – Jan Brueghel der Ältere, flämische Malerei um 1600,
Tradition und Fortschritt, Kulturstiftung Ruhr Essen (Lingen: Luca, 1997), pp.143–4, Kat.27.


It seems worth considering that Jan I’s panel was influenced by, and thus
postdates, Tempesta’s print of 1599. A further implication is that Jan I, an artist
who undoubtedly visited Rome, and probably witnessed the Roman carnival at
first hand, based his painting of this event, its masked performers
and revellers, and even its architectural setting, at least in part not on his own
experiences, but on pictures by other artists.338

II.ii.d Tempesta’s Februaries and Flemish revellers

The relationship between the compositions of Tempesta’s prints and those of
three further paintings is so close that coincidence can be ruled out [plates 70–
2]. They share virtually identical settings and are all attributed to Louis de Caulery,
because of their compositional and stylistic similarities to his signed painting
The carnival [plate 73]. Two were sold under the titles Village and party and
Carnival revellers at a tourney in an Italianate renaissance town [plates 70–1].
Despite these titles, which imply that the comic masks in the foregrounds of all
three of these charming compendia of late renaissance carnival diversions are
nothing more than party goers or revellers, they are actors performing comic
scenes. No doubt such compendia carried wider symbolic and religious mean-
ings, and, judging by the frequency with which they were painted, perhaps also
provided nostalgic consolation to many an affluent February reveller in the lean
days of Lent. In the background of each picture a tournament takes place before
a crowd. In the foreground, to the right in plates 71–2 and to the left in plate 70,
a man with a basket sells eggs, traditionally tossed into the crowd by the more
boisterous carnival participants.
In plate 70, there are four comic actors next to the egg seller in the street.
Pantalone, in traditional black cloak over red suit, rides a ‘pantomime donkey’,
a rare iconographic motif, which also features in plate 48. This ‘donkey’ con-
sists of an older player led by a zanni in a buff-coloured suit, and wearing
Pantalone’s slippers as ‘donkey’s ears’. They face right, and a second zanni
behind, in a pale yellow top and grey trunk hose, wields a dagger. This group

This implication has a bearing on other depictions of comic entertainers attributed to Jan I
Bruegel, notably a magnificent Allegory of worldly vanities [plate 69], known in several
versions, where the high arched windows of an interior look out on to a market square
featuring lively carnival performers evidently influenced by those of Callot’s Balli prints of
c.1620 [plates 2–5]. Traditionally accepted as a collaboration with Rubens, the painting’s
background figures are also close to the carnival performers of Sebastian Vrancx’s Comic
masks besides the Tiber [plate 69c].


serenades an elegant gathering on a temporary raised dais at the right. The pic-
ture is delicately painted in thin, free washes through which the ruled under-
drawing of the architecture shows. In plates 71–2, Pantalone rides a conven-
tional horse, and has only two servants, one beside him, and a Harlequin in
front. Plates 71–2 also feature a group of three acrobats directly below the dais,
perhaps directly associated with the comic troupe, and one of many shared
compositional elements with Tempesta’s Febraro [plate 64]. Others include the
carnival tournament in progress in the middle distance, the mounted Pantalone
in the foreground who gestures towards a richly dressed group on a raised tem-
porary structure, the costumed pair of mounted horsemen, the basket of carnival
eggs, carriages and a distant crowd of spectators. The compositions cannot have
been reached independently or without some common source or intermediary.
The wide circulation of Tempesta’s prints and engraved copies increases the
probability that northern artists would be familiar with it [plates 64, 66]. Addi-
tionally, Tempesta would have had the opportunity to witness at first hand the
festival portrayed in Febraro, and it is placed in a convincing Florentine street
setting. Plates 70–2 have capriccio settings, suggesting that Tempesta’s print of
1599 precedes them. Various iconographic elements support this indication, for
example the pleasing and logical circular route taken by the carnival eggs at the
right-hand side of the print (from egg seller up to the ladies, and then down to
the hapless gentlemen), is degraded meaninglessly in the paintings, suggesting
that it portrays a custom familiar to the engraver, but not to the painters. In plate
70, Pantalone’s servants are still in their earliest theatrical costume, that of the
zanni. The Harlequin and his companion of plates 71–2 are later comic servant
types. However, plates 71–2 are closer to Tempesta’s print than plate 70. They
share, for example, the motif of the tower of acrobats, absent in plate 70, and the
pointing Pantalones and their donkeys are similar.
These iconographic relationships can be explained if plate 71 is the earlier
painting, based (either directly or indirectly) on Tempesta’s Februaries, and plate
70 a later version, based on the earlier painting itself or on an intermediary.339
Evidence in favour of this, and also of the hypothesis that the artist of plate 71
may have drawn on direct observation of Tempesta’s prints for this picture,
comes from Tempesta’s Februarius [plate 65]. The theatrical layouts of the two
pictures, with foreground figures and backdrop cityscape framed by architec-
tural ‘wings’, are close. The central part of Februarius’s Florentine cityscape
also occurs in the capriccio backdrop of the painting, from the far view of the

Plate 72 is close enough to plate 71 to be a direct variant.


square, with church and tower at the left, to the distinctive central building with
its deep wings. Many of the architectural details are different, for example the
arrangement of the windows in the front-facing façade of the central building.
But even these changes could in some cases be explained by the influence of
other Tempesta prints, such as one dated 1598 featuring a palace closely resem-
bling the left-hand ‘wing’ of plate 71 [plate 74].
The possibility that Tempesta drew on this Flemish painting for both his
Februaries can be virtually dismissed. An as yet undiscovered common source
predating both the paintings and the prints also seems unlikely. Most plausible
is that the earlier of the paintings is based on knowledge of Tempesta’s prints
themselves, or on a later intermediate source. Regardless of the number of vari-
ants involved, certain compositional elements of Tempesta’s prints appear to
give a clear artistic precedent for the theatrical element of these two carnival
paintings, in which case the date of Febraro, 1599, gives a reliable terminus
post quem for all three paintings. The stylistic differences between plates 70
and 71 indicate two artists. Despite the art market attribution, the heavily painted
background architecture and less artificially contorted types of plate 71 rule out
serious association with Caulery.

II.ii.e Louis de Caulery

Louis de Caulery was born in Caulery, near Cambrai, c.1580, was based in
Antwerp throughout his artistic career, and is thought to have died there c.1621.340
He is identified with the ‘Loys Solleri’ who in 1594–5 became an apprentice of
Joos de Momper, then already a member of Antwerp’s St. Lucas Guild, into
which Caulery was accepted as a master in 1602, himself taking an apprentice
in 1608.341 Caulery’s signed paintings include one of exceptional theatrical sig-
nificance, the undated The Carnival of c.1605 [plate 73].342 It depicts a Pantalone-

On Caulery, see Edwin Buijsen and Louis Peter Grijp, The Hoogsteder Exhibition of Music
& Painting in the Golden Age (Zwolle: Waanders, 1994), pp.162–5; Dieter Beaujean,
‘Louis de Caulery as a draftsman’, Master Drawings, 36 (2001), 398–408.
Carl van de Velde, ‘Enkele biografische gegevens betreffende Louis de Caulery’, Jaarboek
van het Koninklijk Museum voor schone Kunsten te Antwerpen, (1966), 211–14.
Édouard Michel, ‘Louis de Caulery au Musée d’Anvers’, Revue belge d’archéologie et
d’histoire de l’art, 3 (1933), 224–9, p.227; idem, ‘Un “tableau de société” par Louis de
Caulery’, Bulletin des Musées de France, 48 (1936), 52–4. However Beaujean dates it to
c.1615 (‘Louis de Caulery’, p.398). Dated signed pictures include: Crucifixion, 1617 (New
York art market 1986); The five senses, 1620 (Louvre). An indoor society scene similar to


like old man mounted on a donkey in the centre foreground, surrounded by a

crowd of comic characters, some with musical instruments, including an un-
masked xylophone player in the right foreground, in a Harlequin-like patched
garment, but neutrally coloured with monochrome greys, rather than brightly
coloured. They focus their efforts in the direction of the group on the balcony at
the right of the picture, while being watched by the elegant company in the
doorway below. Attribution of an unsigned Carnival scene is supported by its
similarity, in style, atmosphere and foreground figures, to the signed The Carni-
val. Carnival scene too features a carnival tournament in the middle distance
and comic masks in the foreground, in an Italianate capriccio setting built up in
the same theatrical way, with high, cut off buildings forming the ‘wings’ on
either side and an architectural backdrop [plate 76].343 The three spectators look-
ing down from a balcony and the richly dressed young man playing the lute in
the right foreground of both paintings are similar, as is the foreground group of
children dressed as soldiers.
A substantial group of pictures by Caulery and other artists relates to Caulery’s
The carnival and Carnival scene, themselves compositionally close to the pic-
tures discussed above in connection with Tempesta’s Februaries. Certain of
these compositionally related paintings can be arranged in sequences, in which
their backgrounds form gradually changing series, taking on an increasingly
northern flavour in one while remaining Italianate in another. Some of these
sequential compositional changes are here attributed to the decreasing pictorial
influence of plate 76, and, through it, ultimately of Village and party [plate 71]
and Tempesta’s Februaries [plates 64–5]. Plates 77 and 78 are among further
panels attributed to Caulery which share the theme and setting of plate 76, and
the leafless tree acting as a central focus and indication of the winter carnival
season.344 The Italianate architecture of plate 77 also places it close to plate 73,

the Paris painting appeared on the art market in 1965, then described as being signed and
dated 1627 (illustrated: Weltkunst 1.11.1965). An inferior drawing dated 1598 signed by ‘L
de Caullery’, one of a group in Cambrai, is the work of a namesake and possible relative
[plate 75].
Formerly Marshall Collection. Exhibited Palacio de Velazquez, Madrid 1977–8 (Pedro
Pablo Rubens (1577–1640), Exposicion Homenaje, cat.12).
Plate 77: see Michel, ‘Louis de Caulery’, p.225; Hummelen, ‘Doubtful images’, pp.207–8.
A near replica of plate 78, attributed to Caulery by Theodor v Frimmel (‘Der
Monogrammist Sebastian Vrancx im Museo Nazionale zu Neapel’, Blätter für
Gemäldekunde, 3 (1907), 193–5, p.195), was sold in Berlin (Lepke: Klarwill Sale, 17 April
1928, lot 57, 98 × 131cm).


and even closer is yet another carnival painting [plate 79]. Also associated with
this group are dated carnival paintings of 1604 and 1605, whose setting, like
that of plate 78, is Flemish [plates 80–3].345 Plate 80, and more emphatically
plate 81, deviate from plate 76 in that the central building has a much less for-
mal façade, a sloping roof, leafless trees on both sides, and a tower to the left
rather than to the right. Additionally, the slope of the bridge to the right with the
carriage on it is steeper, there is a greater shift of the central building to the left
of the picture, with a correspondingly lesser emphasis of other left-hand archi-
tectural details, and the right-hand wings do not have balconies. The door of this
wing, arched in plates 76 and 80, has pilasters and a classical pediment in plate
The capriccio, imaginary settings of plate 73 and other carnival paintings
associated with Caulery have received considerable emphasis,346 but compari-
son with Tempesta’s Februarius [plate 65] indicates a direct relationship with
the print’s Florentine background. In the backgrounds of these paintings can be
traced a progressive transformation from the Italian engraver’s reasonably au-
thentic Florentine setting, through Italianate capriccio, to northern town squares,
some again featuring recognizable commedia masks.347 If the hypothesis that
Tempesta’s prints influenced, and thus precede, plate 71 is correct, then regard-
less of any undiscovered variants, the sequence of influence can only continue
to lead in the same chronological direction. According to this, plates 71–2 pre-
cede plate 70, which leads on to the Madrid Carnival [plate 76], from which the
composition diffuses into Caulery’s oeuvre, as demonstrated by the Hamburg
Carnival and its variants and derivatives [plates 73, 77–9]; and is developed
from them by plates 80–3. These ‘sequences of influence’ can in no way be
regarded as a complete explanation for their iconographic interrelationships.
They intermesh with other equally complex sequences, some pictures may have

Plate 80: ascribed to Caulery by Horst Gerson, and its date read as 1.1.1604 by
Gudlaugsson (handwritten notes on a photograph of plate 80 at the RKD, Hague); plate 82:
A. P. de Mirimonde (‘Les concerts parodiques chez les maitres du nord’, Gazette des
Beaux-Arts, 61 (1964), 253–84, p.284 n.53) draws attention to the closeness of its figures
to those of Caulery; plate 83: attributed to Caulery by Michel (‘Un “tableau de société”’,
p.54; accepted by Andrzej Chudzikowski, ‘Louis de Caulery et ses tableaux en Pologne’,
Bulletin du Musée Nationale de Varsovie, 8 (1967), 25–31, p.27 n.13), who reinforces his
dating of plate 73 to around 1605 by citing its closeness to this dated panel of 1605.
Michel, ‘Louis de Caulery’, pp.227–8.
Notably the Pantalone, Harlequin and tambourine-playing inamorata in the left foreground
of plates 81–3.


been painted concurrently, and compositional parallels are sometimes coinciden-

tal.348 But even taking into consideration these areas of uncertainty, they support
several suggestions. These are that the date of plate 83, 1605, gives an ante quem
for the ‘northern’ sequence, whose terminus post quem is given by Tempesta’s
Febraro of 1599 [plate 64], that plates 71 and 76 were probably painted between
the years 1599 and 1603, and that the later of the two, plate 76, thus probably
dates from the very start of Caulery’s independent professional career, when he
was accepted into the Antwerp Guild as a master painter in 1602–3. A further
indication is that unlike the artist of plate 71, Caulery did not necessarily have
first-hand knowledge of Tempesta’s prints: their shared compositional elements
can all be found in the intermediate pictures of other artists.349

II.ii.f Tempesta and Sebastian Vrancx

There is at least one Antwerp painter of comic performers and carnival scenes
who, in contrast to Caulery, was directly influenced by Tempesta’s prints. This is
Sebastian Vrancx, born in Antwerp in 1573.350 He visited Rome in the 1590s, and
may have worked in the Veneto under Lodewyk Toeput, returning to Antwerp in
or soon after 1602, where he lived until his death in 1647.351 Here, he rose to high

Even in the restricted context of commedia-related images, it is clear that their
compositional similarities cannot be fully explained by simple linear sequences of influence
from one picture to another. For example, figures in plates 81–5 which relate to some of
those in plate 76 include Father Time on his stilts accompanied by a drummer and a
tambourine player, and Carnival himself, mounted on his barrel. In plates 81–3 they are
closer to those of plate 84 than plate 76, although the background of plate 84 bears no
relation to these paintings. Plates 86–8, carnival scenes including masked entertainers in
commedia dell’arte type costume, are more distantly compositionally related.
Prints that did influence Caulery directly include plate 10 of Hans Vredeman de Vries’
Scenographiae sive perspectiva, 1560, reprinted Antwerp 1601 (Uwe M Schneede,
‘Interieurs von Hans und Paul Vredeman’, Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, 18
(1967), 125–66, pp.150–1; Beaujean, ‘Louis de Caulery’, p.398).
On Vrancx, see: Legrand, Les peintres flamands, pp.200ff.; Friedrich Winkler, ‘Der
unbekannte Sebastian Vrancx’, Pantheon, 22 (1964), 322–34; Velde, ‘Enkele biografische
gegevens’, p.213; Joost vander Auwera, ‘Sebastian Vrancx (1573–1647) en zijn
samenwerking met Jan I Brueghel (1568–1625)’, Jaarboek van het Koninklijk Museum
voor schone Kunsten te Antwerpen (1981), 135–151, p.146; A Keersmaekers, ‘De schilder
Sebastiaen Vrancx (1573–1647) als rederijker’, Jaarboek van het Koninklijk Museum voor
schone Kunsten te Antwerpen (1982), 165–86.
Italian sketches by Vrancx, dated 1597–1602, at Chatsworth, include a titlepage, possibly
that of a dismembered Roman sketchbook, inscribed ‘Ann.o 1597 A di 20 di Lulio in


office in the St Lucas Guild. His very successful workshop collaborated with
many local artists, including Jan I Bruegel, Hendrik van Balen and Caulery’s
teacher, Joos de Momper, and he was an active member of the Antwerp Cham-
ber of Rhetoricians, ‘de Violieren’.352
Motifs in Tempesta’s The months I, and especially in Gennaro, Febraro,
Aprile and Maggio, recur in a number of pictures by Vrancx and his circle fea-
turing Italian comedians [plates 64, 89–91]. Pictures in which possible direct
influence is apparent include Earthly pleasures and its variants, several ver-
sions of Dives and Lazarus, two panels monogrammed by Vrancx, and a Carni-
val [plates 92–101].353 Similarities between plate 92 and Aprile [plate 89] in-
clude their layout, the foreground pair of the fortune-telling gypsy and her cus-
tomer, and Neptune’s fountain and peacocks in the background. The central
mounted falconer of plate 92 closely resembles those in Maggio [plate 91]. The
fountains, formal flowerbeds, peacocks, deer, carriage and pair and central folly
of Aprile all have their counterparts in Dives and Lazarus, whose bending fore-
ground servant, display of plates and jugs, pointing man and rich foods are
reminiscent of those in Gennaro [plates 89–90, 97–8].354 In plate 99 the shared
motifs with Aprile [plate 89] include the peacock, dog, young servant with cloth

Roma’. An art market Mountainous landscape (Sotheby’s 22.11.74, lot 2) is inscribed on

the verso: ‘Sebastiano Vrancx in et fecit Roma 1597’. Further evidence for Vrancx’s Roman
stay is provided by plate 69c. Possibly, Vrancx was an assistant in the Roman studio of Paul
Bril, perhaps even involved with the production of the Corsini Album drawings [see plates
243–7, 276].
Vrancx’s extensive literary oeuvre is said to have included at least fourteen lost plays.
Plate 99 shares motifs not found in Tempesta’s engravings with Dives and Lazarus, and is
thus probably close in date to the engraving of 1606 [plate 98]; the more integrated design
of plate 100 indicates a slightly later date.
Painted variants of plate 98 include plate 104, which simplifies the print by, for example,
omitting the palm trees, and plate 105, which varies the foreground figures. A colour detail
of a monogrammed variant of plate 106, featuring a commedia troupe, sold on the Paris art
market in 1995 (54 × 84 cm), is reproduced on the jacket of Heck et al’s Picturing
Performance. Plate 107 has been associated with Caulery (C M Kauffmann, Victoria and
Albert Museum, Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I: Before 1800 (London: HMSO, 1973),
p.66, cat.63), although its figures are close to Vrancx, and it is perhaps a workshop
production. Its crudely painted background is a schematic variant of that in plate 98, while
its pavilions are similar to those to the right and left of plate 108. This dated painting of
1613 is reliably associated with the workshop of Vrancx (by Jørgen Wadum, ‘Sebastian
Vrancx’ værksted og Rosenborg Slot’, Iconographisk Post, 4 (1987), 24–42; see also idem,
‘The Winter Room at Rosenborg Castle: a unique survival of Antwerp mass-production’,
Apollo, 128 (1988), 82–7).


over arm, formally laid-out flower beds and clipped arched hedges, central bower,
garden house and grotto with a Pegasus fountain.355
In plate 100, the layout of the formal flower beds and clipped hedges punc-
tuated with a duplicated repetition of a Pegasus fountain in the grotto, the pea-
cocks and dogs, distant carriage, and the young servant with cloth over arm are
all shared with Aprile [plate 89]. A display of plates and jugs similar to that in
plates 97–9 and Gennaro [plate 90] also recurs, and the foreground figures are
set in a grotto reminiscent of the construction of the central folly of Aprile [plate
89]. Plate 101 includes arcades, clipped hedges, formal gardens and a Nep-
tune’s fountain similar to those of Aprile, while the background tournament and
carriages are reminiscent of Febraro, and the comic types, especially the strut-
ting Harlequin, link it to plate 71.356 In plate 102 and, to a lesser extent, variants
such as plate 103, much fainter echoes of Tempesta’s Months suggest possible
direct influence. Reminiscent of Tempesta’s Aprile are such motifs as the cen-
tral couple, the market women to the right, the Neptune fountain at the left, the
arcaded building in the central background, and the horse-drawn carriage. In
plate 102, a lute-playing zanni shares a trestle stage in the right-hand middle
distance with a mountebank, while in plate 103, the stage is in the central fore-
ground, and two masked actors perform on it.
This analysis is directly pertinent both to the attribution and the dating of
plate 71, a painting of exceptional theatrical importance that combines motifs
from the commedia dell’arte and the prints of Tempesta. The demonstrable and
profound influence of Tempesta’s prints on certain theatrical paintings of Se-
bastian Vrancx strongly supports the stylistic attribution of plate 71 to Vrancx,
and allows it to be postdated to Tempesta’s first series of The Months, published
in 1599.

Marianne Takács cites a tradition that Vrancx used Bembo’s written description of an
Italian park as the model for such settings in his paintings, and that the villa in the left
background of plate 99 may have been based at least partly on the Villa Colorno near Parma
(‘Un tableau de Sebastian Vrancx à la Galerie des Maîtres Anciens’, Bulletin des Musées
Nationaux Hongrois (1961), 51–62, p.54). On this painting, see also Ildikó Ember, Musik
in der Malerei, Musik als Symbol in der Malerei der europäischen Renaissance und des
Barock (Budapest: Corvina, 1989); Thomas Fusenig and Chris de Maegd, ‘Lustbarkeiten
im Garten’, in Gärten und Höfe der Rubenszeit im Spiegel der Malerfamilie Brueghel und
der Künstler um Peter Paul Rubens, ed Ursula Härting (München: Hirmer, 2000), 367–81,
The background of plate 146, at whose left-hand side comedians on a raised stage aid a
mountebank, also relates to that of plate 71. Plate 109 relates closely to plate 101, but lacks
its right-hand architectural feature.


II.ii.g Vrancx and his circle

Numerous further theatrical and carnival pictures are associated with Sebastian
Vrancx and his circle. Of particular importance for this study are depictions of
commedia dell’arte masks in Italian settings, discussed below [plates120–6,
131–3, 146, 148]. Of the Flemish scenes, those bearing the monogram or signa-
ture of Vrancx include several winter carnival scenes depicting figures, some
masked, in commedia-related costumes [plates 110–113].357 A monogrammed
Harbour scene, featuring actors on a raised trestle stage performing to a crowd
of spectators on a busy Flemish dockside, is known in several versions [plate
119]. Plate 150, securely attributed to Vrancx through its association with a
print after it, shows carnival mummers in an indoor setting [plate 151].358 A draw-
ing of superb quality, and surely the original of this striking composition, also
known through numerous inferior variants, features seven masqueraders in a
city street setting [plate 147].
The Italian settings of Vrancx’s theatre-related paintings are often recogniz-
ably Venetian or Roman.359 Plate 120, an engraving signed in the plate and
probably based on a lost drawing of the 1590s, while Vrancx was in Rome, is a
costume plate featuring a Roman couple. In the left background, on a stage
raised to just above head height, a mountebank promotes his wares, aided by a
string-playing male in zanni costume, and a female. In the right and central
background, six masks burst on to the scene, the female in eastern-inspired cos-
tume, the males in matachin costumes, one armed with a hammer and one wielding
a stick, another playing the violin, a fourth somersaulting, the fifth partnering
the woman in a dance. A composition featuring a troupe of Italian comedians in

See also index (Vrancx). Plate 111 reverses the composition of plate 110. Plates 112–16
feature masked carnival revellers of the type depicted on the left-hand side of plate 149.
Plate 112 is dated 16*8, with a probable reading of 1618 or 1628. Variants of plate 113
attributed to a range of artists include plates 114–16. Stylistically similar are the comic
types in a dated picture of 1631 (plate 117) signed with a monogram interpreted by the art
market as that of Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne. The typical attributes of winter in plate
118 include a theatrical or carnival mask.
Others in this print series, much favoured by the owners of friendship albums, also feature
comic performers [plates 152–3].
Plate 148 may relate to Vrancx’s paintings of comedians in palace garden settings. A
painting attributed to Vrancx, showing a troupe of masked comedians disembarking from a
gondola at a Venetian quayside, appeared on the London art market in 1965 (50 × 65 cm,
my thanks to Jørgen Wadum for drawing to my attention this painting, for which it has
unfortunately not proved possible to obtain a photograph).


a Roman carnival setting is known is several painted variants, which may origi-
nate from the workshop of Vrancx [plates 131–3].360
Numerous paintings depict mountebank stages or Venetian carnival scenes set
in the Piazza San Marco or Piazzetta [plates 121–6].361 The backgrounds of plates
123–6 show similar views, looking eastward across the piazza to the Campanile
and St. Mark’s Basilica; those of plates 121–2 show the view from the sea front
looking northwards up the Piazzetta towards the Campanile, Basilica and clock
tower. Plate 123 is the most topographically accurate. In plate 124 the Doge’s
Palace, for example, is very freely rendered, while in plate 125 it has been re-
placed by an invented building which bears little relation to reality, and the views
of the Piazzetta also introduce a number of topographical inaccuracies. Plates
123–6 depict the traditional Venetian Giovedì Grasso bullfight and masked dances,
acrobatic set pieces and processions of the public mumaria at San Marco (plates
123–6). For the first third of the sixteenth century, descriptions of this civic festi-
val in the diaries of Marin Sanudo detail the carnival and other mumarie organ-
ized by the Compagnie della Calza, acting alongside temporarily employed pro-
fessional buffoni.362 By the 1570s, the great commedia dell’arte troupes were
being employed to provide comparable shows, attracting wealthy and influential
visitors to the city during the carnival period from all over the Veneto and beyond,
and commanding fees that routinely allowed them to turn down court invitations
during the carnival season. It is such professional troupes, the acknowledged high-
light of the Venetian carnival, and not random masqueraders, that are reflected in
the right foregrounds of this group of paintings.363

Plate 131 has been attributed to both Vrancx (art market) and ‘Caulery(?)’ (Rubenianum,
Antwerp) and plates 132–3 are attributed to Caulery (art market). Perhaps more loosely
associated with this group is plate 134, which may be an inferior workshop production.
Undoubtedly by Vrancx himself is plate 69c, brought to my attention in 2004 (reproduced
with thanks to the private owner).
Related paintings for which it has not proved possible to obtain photographs include:
Carnival at Venice (Christie’s, 30 July 1943, lot 150, as by Alsloot); Bull-baiting in the
Piazza of St Mark’s (Sotheby’s, 23 February 1955, lot 2, as by Vrancx, but according to the
Rubenianum (Antwerp), reattributed by P. de Boer to Caulery), noted by Legrand as being
in the Delwart collection, Brussels, the pendant to one in another private collection, based
on Ambrogio Brambilla’s view of a Roman firework display for the Speculum romanae (Les
peintres flamands, p.82).
Susanne Tichy, “et vene la mumaria”: Studien zur venezianischen Festkultur der
Renaissance (München: scaneg, 1997), pp.278ff.
They precede by several decades the mid-seventeenth century festival paintings of Giuseppe
Heintz often cited as being the forerunners of this popular Venetian genre, and share close


The most artistically distinguished of this group is A bullfight on the Piazza

San Marco [plate 126b].364 In 1928, Dr Hans Schneider, the then vice-director
of the Mauritshuis, had lent this painting, inscribed: ‘Johann Lijs fecit 16**’,
from his private collection to an exhibition of Dutch art in Rome considered to
be of such cultural importance that its organizing committee was chaired by
Benito Mussolino.365 In his lengthy review of the exhibition, a Dutch committee
member indicated that while he was certain of the authenticity of its inscription,
the painting deviates in important respects from the style and composition of
Liss’s accepted oeuvre. His proposal for solving this conundrum was to suggest
the simultaneous presence in early sixteenth century Venice with the German
Johann Liss (d.1631) of an otherwise unknown identically named Dutch art-
ist.366 This suspiciously convenient theory received immediate art-historical
support, and underlies Steinbart’s rejection of the picture as the work of Liss, in
the first substantial monograph dedicated to the great German artist, whose oeuvre
and nationality only fully re-emerged in the twentieth century.367 Steinbart’s de-
tailed illustrated evaluation derisively dismisses lesser art historians who, lulled
into a false sense of security by the picture’s undeniably authentic inscription,
had failed to recognize its ‘fundamentally different, not to say mediocre style,
that has absolutely nothing at all in common’ with the artist’s accepted oeuvre.

compositional links with the late sixteenth century Venetian costume pictures of the subject
produced for friendship albums, on which see bibliography (Katritzky).
During a brief art market reappearance of 1997, without any hint of the lengthy debate it
provoked, or its venerable two and a half century provenance, it was described only as
‘property of a Lady’, and despite its inscription, given as ‘Johann Lijs *6**’, attributed to
Louis de Caulery. Variants of plate 126c include plates 124, 126, 126b (my thanks to the
curators of the Correr Museum for granting me access to this reserve collection painting).
They feature formulaic architectural staffage, grisaille background crowds, and, as a
glowing contrast, numerous brightly costumed middle and foreground figures, delicately
painted by a consummate colourist of high artistic skill.
Willem Martin, ‘Jan Lijs’, in R. Galleria Borghese Roma: mostra di capolavori della
pittura olandese (25 febbraio – 18 aprile 1928 – A. VI) (Roma: Biblioteca d’arte editrice,
1928), no.68. I believe the Schneider collection painting and plate 126c to be the same
work. They share virtually the same dimensions and inscription, and additional
compositional features in the Schneider painting absent from plate 126c (notably the
prominent shadow thrown by the Campanile, and the first digit of the inscribed date) may
be the result of over-harsh cleaning.
Willem Martin, ‘De tentoonstelling van oud-Hollandsche schilderkunst in de Galleria
Borghese te Rome, Februari en maart 1928’, Mededeelingen van het Nederlandsch
Historisch Instituut te Rome, 8 (1928), 89–110, pp.108–9.
Fiocco, Venetian Painting, p.19; Kurt Steinbart, Johann Liss: der Maler aus Holstein
(Berlin: Deutscher Verein für Kunstwissenschaft, 1940), fig.1, pp.3–4, 176–7.


The picture’s descent into art-historical oblivion was only hastened by Steinbart’s
own complete about-turn in his second Liss monograph, where he unreservedly
accepted it as a genuine Johann Liss of around 1621.368 Steinbart was not per-
ceived to have emerged untarnished from the murky cultural politics of the war
years. Notwithstanding his close personal knowledge of the original, this re-
assessment attracted distrust and contempt, and the painting was completely
ignored by the great Liss exhibition of 1975.369
Great artists often radically modified their style, for example to copy the
work of an admired master, as does Jacques Callot in two early engravings (plates
271–2), or to produce a work to commission, or conform to the expectations of a
patron. Attribution on stylistic grounds alone is fraught with pitfalls. The Schnei-
der painting’s contextualization, in the related group of pictures presented here,
could contribute to our sparse knowledge of Germany’s most important seven-
teenth century painter, and represents a key to a greater understanding of the
commissioning circumstances and dating of these important Venetian festival
The foreground groupings of plates 123–6 each include an elegant gather-
ing on a raised platform in the left foreground, watching bullfighting in the
middle of the square, while crowds of carnival revellers mill around the various
amusements. Mountebanks perform on raised outdoor stages in the middle right-
hand distance of plates 121–3 and 125–6. In plates 121–3, crowds of small,
hardly differentiated plump figures swirl around the square. Plates 124 and 126
have an even more spontaneous atmosphere. But in plate 125, distinct groups of
figures, each with minutely described features, gestures and costume details,
are combined into one large and carefully planned composition. It features a
representative selection of typical carnival diversions: wealthy and merchant
onlookers at the left, the bullfight in the middle, the mountebank’s stage under-
neath the Campanile, the comic troupe in the foreground and masked partici-
pants to the right. Some awkward changes in scale, for example between the
figures in the group in the left and middle foreground, and the rather coarse and
stilted treatment of the background, indicate an artist inexperienced in handling
such an ambitious and complicated composition.

Kurt Steinbart, Johann Liss (Wien: Schroll, 1946), pp.22–3.
In a more recent Liss monograph it rates only two lines of text, relegated to the status of
‘unknown Flemish artist, c.1610’, in a brief unillustrated appendix of ‘inauthentic and
wrongly attributed works (selection)’ (Rüdiger Klessmann, Johann Liss: eine Monographie
mit kritischem Œuvrekatalog (Doornspijk: Davaco, 1999), p.193, see also p.23).


Plates 121–3 accord best with their saleroom attributions to Caulery. Plate
123 features running children with outstretched arms in similar pose to those in
Caulery’s signed Carnival [plate 73], and both the figures and architectural back-
grounds of these paintings belong to similar artistic conventions. The comic
troupes of plates 123, 124 and 125 are very different to each other. That of plate
123 appears to be composed of a string-playing male, a woman and a manserv-
ant in a tight red matachin suit similar to those worn by the bullfighters at the
front right-hand side of the picture. They are followed by another couple and
two males in less brightly coloured outfits, but it is difficult to make out more
than the most general costume details in the tiny, centrally placed figures. The
troupe depicted in plate 124 is a close variant of the one in Lodewyk Toeput’s
drawing Allegory of January [plate 127]. In both, a string-playing zanni pre-
cedes a Pantalone accompanied by a man holding a bird, who are followed by
two masked couples, and the painting is broadly compatible with the style of
Toeput, who died c.1603/4.370
The comic troupe of plate 125 consists of a main group of three actors and
one actress, namely Pantalone, two menservants, and an inamorata, a masked
couple at the extreme right of the picture, a Harlequin and tedesco, and several
matachins. There are compositional parallels with the Italian comedians de-
picted in two drawings by Momper, which themselves appear to derive from
those in an engraving after Toeput [plates 128–30]. None of these comic figure
types or compositional groups is to be found in the paintings of Louis de Caulery.
However, Vrancx’s output repeatedly features similar string-playing zanni vari-
ants, somersaulting acrobats, some with hoops, and a masked woman in exotic
dress accompanied by a comic servant or Pantalone. In some of his paintings,
hammer-wielding zanni lead comic troupes, or there are even variations on a
whole component of the troupe of plate 125, namely the Pantalone–inamorata
pair with Zanni and a second servant, and one or two acrobats.371 Many of the
masked figures in plate 125 also appear in modified form in plates 105 and
107–8, unsigned works associated with Vrancx, possibly workshop productions.
In plate 105, the zanni has acquired a striped suit, and moved from the right of
the Pantalone–inamorata pair to that of the Harlequin and drunken tedesco pair.
In plate 108, the masked performers include the Pantalone–courtesan pair, the
somersaulting acrobat and his companion, and a string-playing servant. In plate

Although the topographical inaccuracies of, for example, the Doge’s Palace raise misgiv-
ings about attribution to a long-term Veneto-based artist.
See, for example, plates 97, 99–100, 106, 120.


107, Pantalone and his courtesan, and a second couple both in eastern-inspired
costume, are preceded by a string-playing zanni, and followed by a Harlequin.
Plate 125 is especially close to the monogrammed plate 97, whose composition
is shared by a dated engraving of 1606. Not only do the comic troupes in the two
paintings share a close resemblance, but the costume details, poses and facial
types of the wealthy spectators are comparable, and consistent with both paint-
ings being early works of Sebastian Vrancx.

II.ii.h Summary
Aspects of pictures with little direct bearing on theatre history are here exam-
ined in some detail in order to demonstrate two points of general relevance to
early modern theatre iconography. These are firstly, that very precise dating of
such images is sometimes possible quite independently of their theatrical con-
tent; and secondly, to demonstrate that the Antwerp artists of this group of paint-
ings drew heavily on detailed knowledge of previous pictures, to the extent that
the settings for their depictions of the Italian comedians are primarily variations
on a limited range of themes. Often associated with the month of February,
these are predominantly urban carnivals and courtly garden scenes. Sometimes
the comic masks are nothing more than carnival revellers.372 In other pictures,
troupes of performers with more or less identifiable commedia dell’arte charac-
ters are shown on stage,373 in street performances,374 entertaining outdoors in
palace gardens or courtyards, usually at banquets and picnics,375 or performing
or masquerading indoors.376 Others are engaged in less easily definable pur-
suits, which might be troupe parades to publicize professional skills, or amount
to nothing more than public carnival revelry.377 The extent to which eyewitness
experience of itinerant troupes, at home or abroad, played a role in modifying
the depiction of the costume details, postures, gestures and props in the borrow-
ings which have been noted, is rarely clear. At least one of the artists concerned,
Sebastian Vrancx, played a leading role among the amateur actors of Antwerp’s
rhetoricians’ chamber. For their performances, costumes and sets, it is possible

See, for example, plates 73, 76, 78–80, 84, 110–16, 149, 153.
See, for example, plates 68, 77, 102–3, 117, 119–23, 125–8, 146.
See, for example, plates 70–2, 125.
See, for example, plates 92–101, 104–9, 148, 157–9, 211.
See, for example, plates 138–45, 150–1.
See, for example, plates 81–3, 120 (RHS), 123–135 (offstage figures), 147.


that rederijkers drew on Italian prints, the travelling troupes they saw, or even
on paintings by Vrancx or other members of their group.
The hypothesis that Tempesta’s Februarius influenced Jan I Bruegel’s Ro-
man Carnival is tentative, and a common source cannot be ruled out [plates 65,
68]. But the compositional similarities suggest that Jan I’s painting postdates
his visit to Rome in the 1590s and was not based solely on his own sketches.
There is more substantial evidence for tracing a sequence of influence from
Tempesta’s prints378 to plate 71, and in turn from this painting to three further
carnival scenes,379 and then on from one of these380 to two groups of carnival
paintings by Caulery and others. One of these groups features Italianate back-
grounds, the other, ending with paintings dated to 1604 and 1605, northern back-
grounds. Here more than one print is involved, and an as yet undiscovered com-
mon source for the similarities between the prints and plate 71, or influence
from this painting to Tempesta, is correspondingly unlikely. The possibility of
as yet unknown variants representing further links of influence or requiring
modifications to these groupings cannot be ruled out, and any assumptions based
on this restricted sampling of the pictorial record can only be tentative. How-
ever, this analysis does indicate that plates 71, 76 and 78 may be dated quite
precisely to the period 1600–3, and that plate 81 probably dates to 1604–5.
The older literature deduces from Caulery’s paintings that he had an exten-
sive knowledge of Italian prints, if not personal experience of Italy itself.381 On
the evidence presented here, this case must rest as unproven. But one named
artist has been identified who certainly used Tempesta’s prints as a direct source
for motifs in pictures containing Italian comedians. He is Sebastian Vrancx,
whose Dives and Lazarus [plate 97] of c.1606 and other paintings including
Italian comedians drew on motifs in Tempesta’s The months I of 1599 [plates
64, 89–91], and in turn influenced a large group of further pictures containing
comic players, investigated in this section. Vrancx is here suggested as the prob-
able artist of plate 71, a painting of commedia dell’arte street performers of
exceptional theatrical interest. In drawing on compositional elements in at least
three prints by the Italian engraver Tempesta, plate 71 serves to demonstrate
both Tempesta’s influence on the development of this genre and some of the
problems encountered in trying to identify the performers in such pictures. Al-

Notably plates 64–5, 74.
Plates 70, 72, 76.
Plate 76.
Michel, ‘Louis de Caulery’, p.226.


though Antonio Tempesta only depicts groups of Italian comedians twice, mo-
tifs and settings from his prints appear in many Flemish pictures of comic types.
The Florentine cityscapes which form the settings of some of his prints, and the
poses, props, and costumes of his figures, were repeatedly plundered for garden
palace scenes and carnival pictures in Italianate capriccio settings, by Flemish
artists whose pictures were in turn modified to provide ‘Flemish’ backgrounds.

II.iii Sterling’s ‘Early paintings of the commedia dell’arte in

France’ reconsidered

II.iii.a Introduction
Charles Sterling’s article of 1943, long the most significant scholarly publica-
tion concerned with an interpretation of sixteenth century commedia dell’arte
images based on art-historical methods, plays a pioneering role in reinforcing a
point central to theatre-iconographical research.382 This is that the visual ap-
pearance of the comic types, their gestures, costumes, props, postures, facial
characteristics, expressions and body types, even the settings in which they are
depicted, cannot be decontextualized from the pictorial record as a whole. They
have as much to do with the identity of the artists who depicted them, and the
pictures with which they are familiar, as with the appearance, performances,
and settings of any actual entertainers depicted. Sterling reviews the pictorial
record then associated with the visits of Italian actors to France during the years
1570 to 1585, reproducing six paintings, all depicting actors on-stage, or in
three-quarter view groups. To three paintings in Paris already well known at this
time383 he adds two pictures in museums in Béziers and Rennes, and a Harle-
quin disguised at that time on the art market, but now in the Drottningholm
Theatre Museum.384 More than in its conclusions, the article’s value lies in its
method, an unprecedentedly careful art-historical analysis of the then known
visual material relating to the early commedia dell’arte. Here, these images are
reconsidered in the light of related pictures.

Sterling, ‘Early paintings’.
Bayeux Museum [plate 12]; Carnavalet Museum [plate 61]; Paris, private collection [plate
Plates 154, 155, 49.


II.iii.b The Bayeux painting

Traditionally, this panel was interpreted as depicting an altercation at the French
court in 1570, between Charles IX and his sister Marguerite de Valois, over her
frustrated marriage plans [plate 12].385 Maurice Sand, who first associated the
picture with the commedia dell’arte, described it as a court ballet of 1572, with
the Duke de Guise as Scaramouche, the Duke d’Anjou as Harlequin, the Cardi-
nal of Lorraine as Pantalone, Caterina de’ Medici as Columbine and King Charles
IX himself as Brighella.386 Sand’s description, unillustrated and lacking clear
indications concerning the location of the image, raised considerable interest
even before the panel was identified and published.387 This was only in the
1920s, when Duchartre triumphantly sprung the panel upon his readers as no
less than ‘the oldest and most important document in the iconography of the
commedia dell’arte now extant’.388 An inscription, painted on a piece of wood
added to the original panel, identifies eleven numbered characters as King Charles
IX and members of his court.389 Four of the remaining figures are masked.

For a detailed discussion of plate 12 and its possible iconographic borrowings, see Leik,
Frühe Darstellungen, pp.190–6. On this painting, see also Frances K Barasch, ‘The Bayeux
painting and Shakespearean improvisation’, Shakespeare Bulletin, 11 (1993), 33–6;
Schindler, ‘Zan Tabarino’, pp.491–4; and for colour reproductions, Kellein, Pierrot, p.18;
Lawner, Harlequin on the Moon, p.73.
Sand, Masques et Bouffons, I, p.43
Driesen, Der Ursprung des Harlekin, pp.231–2 (who raised serious misgivings about
Sand’s description).
Duchartre, The Italian Comedy, p.86.
Small numbers painted directly beside eleven of the twenty depicted characters, some
barely legible, others evidently touched up, identify them as follows: 1) PORBUS peintre
auteur du tableau [in the black hat and dark cloak standing in the extreme left back-
ground]. 2) LE ROI charles Neuf (1550–74) [Duchartre (p.84) identifies him as the man
with outstretched arms directly behind the woman standing in the foreground, in a green
hat, hose and garters, a cream coloured doublet and shoes and a black cloak]. 3) HENRY
duc de Guise [to the right of Charles; with sword, black hat, shoes and hose, a pale cloak
and stockings, and white neck ruff]. 4) CATHERINE de Medicis Reine mere (1519–89)
[was known to have worn widows’ weeds from 1559 onwards. The woman standing behind
Pantalone is youngish and in a fashionable, cream-coloured dress with decorative black
undersleeves, a pale lilac underdress, and the same type of pretty headwear as her female
companions]. 5) LE DUC D’ANJOU depuis henry 3 frere du Roi (1551–89) [Charles’s
younger brother Henri. Now identified by number as the young man standing between
Charles and Caterina, in green doublet, stockings, hose and hat, the last with a spoon in it,
black doublet and pink cloak, although Duchartre (p.84) identifies him as the older man to
the left of the doorway in the light-coloured headwear]. 6) LE DUC D’ALENCON frere du
Roi (b.1554) [Charles’ younger brother Hercule (Francis), a frail hunchback. The number 6


Pantalone, in the central right foreground, wears his traditional black and bright
red, with a prominent codpiece, flesh-coloured full-face mask with large circu-
lar eye holes, and white hair and beard. The masked servant next to him wears a
feathered cap, dark leggings, and a pale grey jacket cut in loose zanni fashion,
but decorated with numerous neutrally coloured, and several bright red, green,
or yellow patches.390 Two further masked zanni stand at the left of the picture.
The setting is a stone-walled interior of monumental proportions, leading to an
open archway framing a summer view into formal gardens. To the top left of the
panel, a heavy black curtain has been drawn back.
Duchartre recognized the panel’s inscription as a later addition, but cited it
as evidence that it was painted by Pourbus, and that the location and date of the
performance it depicts is the French court c.1572–4. He concludes that: ‘the
troupe was certainly one of the oldest, and there is good reason to believe that it
was Ganassa’s company […] the scene portrayed could not possibly have taken
place later than 1574’.391 Sterling, for whom the inscription has ‘no documen-
tary value whatever’, dismisses its attribution of the picture to the Pourbus fam-
ily, and debunks its identifications of the depicted people: ‘nothing could be
more suspect than this roster of players so obviously well chosen for their roles;
it proclaims naïve wishful thinking’.392 However, he accepts Duchartre’s inter-
pretation of the painting’s subject, and confirms its status as ‘the oldest painting
known (or at least published) of a scene from the commedia dell’arte’.393 De-

is painted above the head of the woman in the background standing immediately to the
right of the archway, indicating an error in repainting the numbers. Duchartre (p.84)
identifies no.6 as the man described in no.5, above]. 7) ELISABETH mariee a philippe 2
Roi d’espagne soeur du roi (1545–68) [Duchartre (p.84) identifies her as the seated figure
in the green dress at the extreme right stroking a lapdog, now identified as number 9.
Caterina’s oldest daughter left France in 1559 to marry Philip II of Spain]. 8) CLAUDE
mariee a charles 2 duc de Lorraine Soeur du roi (1547–75) [older sister of Charles. The
number is no longer visible, and it is not possible to tell which figure is meant]. 9)
MARGUERITE mariee a henry 4 Roi de Navare soeur du Roi (b.1553) [younger sister of
Charles. The date of the marriage was 17 August 1572, a week before the Massacre of St
Bartholomew (24.8.1572). Now identified as the extreme right-hand seated figure]. 10)
CHARLES CARDINAL de Lorraine. [seated second from the right]. 11) MARIE TOUCHET
maîtresse de charles 9 [the dark-clad woman in the extreme right-hand background is
identified by a faintly painted number as this mistress of Charles IX, who married Elisabeth
of Habsburg, sister of the future Holy Roman Emperors Rudolf and Matthias, in 1570].
Identified by some as a Harlequin; see below, p.236.
Duchartre, The Italian Comedy, p.86.
Sterling, ‘Early paintings’, p.17.
Ibid., p.20.


spite widespread reservations concerning the inscription,394 a dating to c.1571–2

is generally accepted.395 Sterling links the Bayeux and Carnavalet Museum paint-
ings, and suggests the possibility that the Bayeux painting, and a drawing which
repeats part of its central composition, may both be independently based on an
earlier lost engraving of the central group.396

II.iii.c Lucas van Valckenborch

Adhémar reinforced Sterling’s link between the Bayeux and Carnavalet pic-
tures, and suggested that they and two further depictions of Italian comedians
came from the same sixteenth century workshop.397 He more loosely associated
this group with two ‘second-rate’ compositions featuring commedia troupes,
here attributed to Lucas van Valckenborch [plates 157–8].398 The oeuvre of the
Valckenborch family is still emerging as a focus for commedia studies.399 Sev-

Ireneo Sanesi, ‘Note sulla commedia dell’arte’, Giornale storico della letteratura italiana,
111 (1938), 5–76, p.66.
Nicoll, Masks, Mimes and Miracles, pp.270–1; McDowell, ‘Commedia dell’arte acting’,
p.55; Lebègue, ‘La Comédie Italienne’, p.19; Hallar, Teaterspil og tegnsprog, p.27;
Françoise Decroisette, ‘Les oiseaux de passage’, Langues neo-Latines, 76 (1982), 63–85,
pp.64, 78; Robert L Erenstein, De geschiedenis van de Commedia dell’arte (Amsterdam:
International Theatre Bookshop, 1985), p.90; Gambelli, Arlecchino a Parigi, p.142.
Plates 12, 13, 61; Sterling, ‘Early paintings’, p.29. J Cousin (‘Une scène des Gelosi:
Isabelle Andreini et sa troupe (tableau du Musée Carnavalet)’, Bulletin des Musées de
France, 2 (1890), 67–70), identifies the players of plate 61 as Isabella Andreini and the
Gelosi troupe.
Plates 12, 60, 61, 156.
Plates 157–8; Jean Adhémar, ‘French sixteenth century genre paintings’, Journal of the
Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 8 (1945), 191–5, p.192. With hindsight, I no longer
support my tentative stylistic linking of plate 12 to these pictures. Erroneously promoted by
more than one scholar from idle speculation to the status of a definite re-attribution to
Valckenborch, it has met with justifiably negative reactions (Schindler, ‘Zan Tabarino’,
pp.491–5; idem, ‘Zan Ganassa – vom Reichstag zur Bluthochzeit. Neue Funde zu Alberto
Naselli, am Theater Ganassa’, in Theater, Kunst, Wissenschaft. Festschrift für Wolfgang
Greisenegger zum 66. Geburtstag, eds. Edda Fuhrich and Hilde Haider (Wien: Böhlau, 2004),
301–22, p.321; Frances K Barasch, ‘Shakespeare and commedia dell’arte: an intertextual
approach’, Shakespeare Yearbook (Shakespeare and Italy), 10 (1999), 374–400, p.384).
Renger, ‘Joos van Winghes “Nachtbancket”’, p.171; Leik, Frühe Darstellungen, p.206 n.489;
Hummelen, ‘Doubtful images’, p.211; Otto G Schindler, ‘Türkenkrieg als Faschingsscherz:
Der “Karneval in Venedig” in Kremsmünster’, Oberösterreichischer Kulturbericht, 52
(1998), 12–13.


eral commedia-related paintings are associated with the brothers Gillis (c.1570–
1622) and particularly Frederick van Valckenborch (c.1570–1623), whose fa-
ther Marten (1535–1612) was also an artist.400 Marten’s brother Lucas van
Valckenborch (c.1535–97) was born in Leuven near Brussels.401 Already a well-
established artist, Reformation sympathies forced him to flee to Liège in 1566,
but he was back in Antwerp by 1575. He was in the employ of Archduke Matthias
(1557–1619) from around 1577, when the archduke moved to Brussels as nominal
Regent of the Netherlands. Here, Valckenborch’s duties included designing cos-
tumes for Matthias’s guard, and painting his portraits.402 In 1582, Valckenborch
accompanied Matthias to Linz, where he was the only painter of any signifi-
cance at Matthias’ court until 1593, when he left for Frankfurt to enter into the
service of Matthias’ younger brother Archduke Ernst. Here Lucas joined his
brother Marten, becoming a citizen of Frankfurt in 1594, and dying there in
Matthias’s father, Emperor Maximilian II (1527–76), was one of the earliest
foreign patrons of Italian travelling performers, inviting them almost annually
to Linz and to Vienna throughout his reign as king and then emperor from 1564

Several pictures of comic types on stage [plate 172] or engaged in outdoor [plate 173] or
indoor [plate 174] carnival revels are attributed to Marten.
On Valckenborch, see Dr Zülch, ‘Die Künstlerfamilie Van Valckenborch’, Oud Holland, 49
(1932), 221–8; Heinrich G Franz, Niederländische Landschaftsmalerei im Zeitalter des
Manierismus, 2 vols (Graz: Akademische Druck, 1969), pp.198–209; idem,
‘Niederländische Landschaftsmaler im Künstlerkreis Rudolf II’, Um¥ní, 18 (1970), 224–45;
C van Valkenburg, ‘Het vlaamse schildersgeslacht Van Valckenborch’, Oud Holland, 86
(1971), 43–6; Alexander Wied, ‘Lucas van Valckenborch’, Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen
Sammlungen in Wien, 67 (1971), 119–240; idem, Lucas und Marten van Valckenborch
(1535–1597 und 1534–1612). Das Gesamtwerk mit kritischem Œuvrekatalog (Freren:
Luca, 1990); idem, ‘Die Gärten in den Gemälden der Malerfamilie Valckenborch’, in
Gärten und Höfe der Rubenszeit im Spiegel der Malerfamilie Brueghel und der Künstler
um Peter Paul Rubens, ed. Ursula Härting (München: Hirmer, 2000), 107–19.
Walter Hummelberger, ‘Erzherzog Matthias in den Niederlanden (1577–1581)’, Jahrbuch
der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, 61 (1965), 91–118, figs.132–3, 138–45, 147,
149; Wied, ‘Lucas van Valckenborch’, pp.140–1, 199.
Matthias continued to stay in touch with developments in Flemish art, through his Brussels
envoy, Karl Larchier. Archduke Matthias of Austria at the vintage, a signed and dated work
of 1597 (London art market, 10.12.1980), is one of many depictions of the Austrian
Habsburgs in Lucas’s considerable late production; another is Emperor Rudolf taking the
waters (R J W Evans, ‘The Austrian Habsburgs, the dynasty as a political institution’, in
The Courts of Europe. Politics, patronage and Royalty, 1400–1800, ed. A G Dickens
(London: Thames & Hudson, 1977), 120–45, p.126).


to 1576.404 Limited financial resources during the period when Valckenborch was
his court painter did not prevent Matthias from indulging his love for the thea-
tre.405 After 1612, when Matthias succeeded his older brother Rudolf to the impe-
rial throne, he had the financial means to indulge his enthusiasm for the Italian
comedians. At the Reichstag of 1614, during what has been called the ‘the earliest
important “season” of improvised comedy at the Bavarian and Imperial courts’,
he raised to the nobility the comic actor Cecchini (‘Fritellino’).406 Matthias’s un-
cle (and later father-in-law) Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol (1529–95) also had an
active interest in the Italian comedians. His collections included three masked
captains of Murano glass, one of the oldest sculptural representations of Italian
comedians, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna,407 and several ‘Sani’
are featured in his play A Mirror of Human Life.408 Visits by the Italian comedians
to Ferdinand of Tyrol’s court, at Castle Ambras just outside Innsbruck, included a
five-week season booked by his agent Aloizio Spinosa on 16 December 1589.409
The sizeable troupe of thirteen actors and two actresses received an honorarium
of 300 crowns. They came from Mantua, and it seems likely that they included the
nucleus of what would, by around 1598–9, become the Gonzaga court troupe.
This was the Martinelli brothers and Drusiano’s wife Angelica Alberghini, closely
associated from around 1580 with the future Duke Vincenzo I, older brother of
Ferdinand’s second wife, Anna Caterina Gonzaga.410

Trautmann, ‘Italienische Schauspieler’, pp.228–30, n.149. Linz is the capital of Upper
At the invitation of Archdukes Matthias and Karl, members of the Bavarian court visited
Innsbruck during the carnival period 4–15 February 1589. They enjoyed typical carnival
entertainments, such as music, dancing, a tournament, sledge rides, masquerades at court
and in the town, and on 9 February, an otherwise unspecified comedy (Munich, BHStA
KÄA 4292 ff.485r–489r).
Nicoll, The World of Harlequin, p.175.
Schlosser, Die Kunst- und Wunderkammern, pp.60–1 and fig.48; Torben Krogh, ‘Nye
bidrag til den tidlige italienske maskekomedies historie’ in Musik og Teater (Munksgaard,
1955), 132–49, p.148, fig.35.
408 e
Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol, Eine Schone Comœdi Specvlvm Vitæ Hvmanæ, auff Teutsch
Ein Spiegel des Menschlichen Lebens genandt (Jnßprugg: Johann Pawer, 1584).
Trautmann, ‘Italienische Schauspieler’, pp.232–3. On Ferdinand’s unsuccessful plans to
bring this troupe to Munich, see Schindler, ‘Zan Tabarino’, pp.514–17.
Burattelli, Spettacoli di corte, 188ff. The mother of Vincenzo (b.1562), who succeeded
Guglielmo in 1587, and Anna Caterina (b.1566) was Ferdinand of Tyrol’s sister Eleanor. Anna
Caterina’s cousin, Ferdinand of Bavaria, brought her from Mantua for the Innsbruck wedding
in 1582 (see plate 25 and Lietzmann, ‘Die Geschichte zweier Automaten’, pp.395–6).


Italian comedians entering a château is known in at least two variants, one

of which came on to the Italian art market in 1928 with the title Reception of a
Turkish Ambassador, and attributed to Frans I Francken [plate 157]. It was
reassigned to Frans I’s brother Hieronymus I, and recognized as depicting
Italian comedians, although their similarity to those in earlier prints has not
received recognition.411 The Harlequin and Pantalone are close to those in two
Recueil Fossard woodcuts depicting a comic serenade [plate 6]. The lute-play-
ing zanni and exotic couple appear to have been lifted from a print by de Jode
after Toeput, whose masks are faithfully reversed in the ‘ambassadorial’ group
of the panel, where they are placed in a very different setting [plate 130, 16].412
Mannerist architecture and several figures similar to those in Italian comedians
entering a château, such as the woman in white in the right centre of the picture,
appear in a painting of the 1590s by Valckenborch, Dance on a palace ter-
race.413 This type of architecture, unique to this picture in the artist’s accepted
oeuvre, shows the influence of Hendrik Steenwijk the Elder, since 1573 a son-
in-law of Lucas’s brother Marten. Dance on a palace terrace, plate 157 and
plate 187 share sufficiently similar architectural staffage and figures to encour-
age the possibility that the three paintings stem from the same studio and period,
given by the date and monogram (apparently that of Lucas van Valckenborch,
dated 1590), of plate 187.
In the middle foreground of a painting of similar style and format, a troupe
of Italian comedians, including Pantalone, Zanni, Harlequin and a masked cou-
ple, entertains a courtly gathering in a palace setting [plate 158]. The picture
traditionally bore the title Queen Elizabeth and her court at Hunsdon House.
Sewter, who first published it (as Queen Elizabeth and her court at Kenilworth
Castle in c.1575, by Marcus Gheraerts senior) identifies its figures as follows:

Legrand, Les peintres flamands, p.72 (who attributes it to Hieronymus I Francken);
Lebègue, ‘La Comédie Italienne’, p.20; Adhémar, ‘Genre paintings’, p.192 and fig.43b;
Pandolfi, La commedia dell’arte, II, opp.280. Leik notes the borrowings from de Jode, and
from Goltzius’ dated print of 1584 after Barendsz, Venetian wedding. (Frühe
Darstellungen, p.211).
The Zanni of plate 130, also similar to that in the right foreground of plate 135, in turn
relates to one in plate 12, a painting apparently dated 1565.
Wied, Lucas und Marten van Valckenborch, p.160, cat.53. This architecture may be an
elaborate ‘palazzo mobile di legname […] dipinto di chiaro scuro’, of the type whose
temporary erection for carnival comedies is noted in archival records such as this one of
1591 (D’Ancona (Origini del teatro italiano, II, p.503), or generic pictorial staffage (Leik,
Frühe Darstellungen, p.210).


the Pantaloon on the left appears to be the actor Giulio Pasquati […] the Zany who bran-
dishes a violin appears to be Gabriele Panzanini […] Almost certainly, therefore, it is the
Gelosi company which is represented […] to come at last to the figures of the members of
the court, it has been found unfortunately impossible to identify with certainty more than
three of them […] namely Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester […] on the Queen’s right; the
Queen herself, a dainty, wide-eyed figure dressed in white, with pale golden-red hair and
wearing a crown; and on her left, with his arm interlinked in hers, Leicester’s nephew the
young Philip Sidney.414

Although it is clear that the representations of actors are based on iconographic

precedents, it would be unduly pessimistic to rule out any possibility of linking
this picture and others like it with actual locations and genuine commedia dell’arte
troupes.415 But whether or not it is intended to represent a real performance,
Sewter’s identification of its actors with the Gelosi troupe may be ruled out. It
dates from the period when Tristano Martinelli’s Harlequin was still unique on
the commedia dell’arte stage, and Martinelli was not associated with the Gelosi
troupe. The older man of the interlinked group of man, woman and boy wears a
fashionable bonnet and high ruff. His facial hair conforms not to the longer,
corkscrew moustache and spade-shaped beard depicted in portraits showing
Dudley (c.1532–88) in the mid- to late 1570s (for example, two in the National
Portrait Gallery, London), but to the picke-devant style fashionable in the 1580s.
The female figure in no way reflects the dazzling imperial majesty and symbol-
ism of Queen Elizabeth’s official portraits, and the boy at her side, identified by
Sewter as Sir Philip Sidney (1554–86) seems hardly into his teens. Almost in-
stant exceedingly robust refutation of these claims by a then leader of the art-
historical establishment has not prevented continuing sporadic citations of this
picture as ‘proof’ that the Gelosi performed in England in 1575.416
The compositional group of this woman and the boy also feature in another
depiction of Italian comic types in a palace garden setting [plate 184].417 Here
there are five, in the right-hand middle distance, of whom the last is a dottore on
horseback. He is preceded by a very similar group of four to that in plate 48,

A C Sewter, ‘Queen Elizabeth at Kenilworth’, Burlington Magazine, 76 (1940), 71–6,
Pace Leik, Frühe Darstellungen, p.212.
H M Hake, ‘Letter: Queen Elizabeth at Kenilworth’, Burlington Magazine, 76 (1940), 166;
Adhémar, ‘Genre paintings’, p.192; Katritzky, ‘Lodewyk Toeput’, pp.74–5; Gambelli,
Arlecchino a Parigi, pp.142–3; Leik, Frühe Darstellungen, pp.209–12.
Legrand, Les peintres flamands, pp.254–5 n.110; G Renson and M Casteels, Het Kasteel-
Museum van Gaasbeek (Lennik, 1979), pp.50–1; Fusenig and Maegd, ‘Lustbarkeiten im
Garten’, pp.371–2.


namely a Pantalone riding a ‘pantomime donkey’ consisting of a crouching player

supported by a standing Harlequin wearing Pantalone’s slippers as donkey’s
ears, followed by a zanni holding up an open song book.418 These three paint-
ings, all depicting Harlequins, bear sufficiently strong stylistic similarities to
some of Lucas van Valckenborch’s known works for the possibility that he is
their artist to deserve serious consideration.419 Comparison of them with signed
pictures by Valckenborch, such as a Spring and Autumn of c.1585 in Vienna’s
Kunsthistorisches Museum, reveals certain typical stylistic and compositional
characteristics. These include their high viewpoint, distant background views,
clean brushwork and clear bright, unbroken colours, intricate mannerist foun-
tain and arcaded architecture, formal clipped hedges and busy scenes peopled
with figures sharing a relatively narrow range of distinctive costume, gesture
and build.
Quite different in style are two depictions of performing troupes that, in
contrast to these three paintings, are attributed to Lucas van Valckenborch [plates
160, 162].420 Winter carnival, one of a set of four drawings depicting the sea-
sons, is a small, exquisite, colour drawing with predominant shades of deep
blues and browns [plate 162]. The highlight of the festivities is a troupe of
Italian comedians in the left foreground, whose crowd of zanni jostle around a
shoulder-borne Pantalone in glowing red, with a deep blue waist sash and elabo-
rate headgear. Stylistic and compositional similarities with Momper’s January
and February include the circular lutes,421 baggy jackets and short trousers of
the zanni, the pop-eyed, round-faced women, with their high, slim waists, the
proportions, poses and gestures of the figures in general, and the dogs [plates
128–9]. These characteristics recur in three anonymous drawings perhaps by
Momper himself [plates 164–6]. But the strongest stylistic links are with the

Further paintings featuring court gatherings in palace gardens perhaps to be associated with
this group include two featuring three dancing masked performers In one, they are a
Pantalone in traditional bright scarlet and black, flanked to the left by a lute-playing zanni
with a short black cloak, and to the right by a second servant in a buff suit, black hat, and
short red cloak [plate 159]. In the other, this group is in similar pose and costume, but
instead of the burlesque carnival instrument of grill and fire tongs, the second servant plays
a guitar [plate 185].
Plates 157–8, 184.
Martin Royalton-Kisch, Adriaen van de Venne’s Album in the Department of Prints and
Drawings in the British Museum (London: British Museum, 1988), pp.76, 126.
Lutes of this time were generally teardrop-shaped (Tom Heck, verbal communication,


oeuvres of Hans Bol and his stepson, Frans Boels, probably, like Valckenborch,
born in Malines, a miniaturist who generally painted on parchment or cop-
per.422 Carnival masqueraders feature in several of their signed and dated pic-
tures of the 1570s and 1580s.423 Comparison of plate 162 and its three com-
panion pictures of the seasons with the later oeuvre of Boels, notably several
signed and dated works of 1616 (Munich Residenz, Miniaturenkabinett) es-
tablishes parallels, for example in the schematic representation of the foliage.
These are close enough to enable confident attribution to Boels, and dating to
around the second decade of the seventeenth century.
Plate 160 is an urban carnival scene including masks in commedia-inspired
costume. Informally reattributed to Lucas van Valckenborch by the RKD
(Hague), it seems to be closer to the style of his nephew Frederick van
Valckenborch, who was made a citizen of Frankfurt in 1597, where children
born to his wife were christened on 23.4.1598 and 17.8.1600. He was in Rome
1591–2 and Mantua 1595–6, and possible extensive travels in Bavaria and
the Tyrol at the end of the century are thought to have included a visit to
Landshut in 1599.424 Possibly, he is even the artist responsible for a double-
sided sheet of drawings after the Trausnitz staircase frescoes [plates 164–5].
Catalogued as preparatory drawings by Friedrich Sustris, they are on paper

For Hans Bol (1534–93) and Frans Boels, see: Theodor v Frimmel, ‘Frans Boels’, Blätter
für Gemäldekunde, 1 (1904), 42–6; Heinrich G Franz, ‘Hans Bol als Landschaftszeichner’,
Jahrbuch des Kunsthistorischen Instituts Graz, 1 (1965), 1–67; idem, ‘Beiträge zur
niederländischen Landschaftsmalerei des 16. Jahrhunderts’, Jahrbuch des
Kunsthistorischen Instituts Graz, 15/16 (1979/80), 135–74, pp.154–68; Yvonne Thiéry, ‘A
propos d’un paysage inédit de Frans Boels’, Revue belge d’archéologie et d’histoire de
l’art, 41 (1972), 59–75; William W Robinson in Hand et al, The Age of Bruegel, pp.73–4.
See, for example, plates 167–8 and 171, Boels’s signed and dated Winter of 1594. A copy of
Bol’s signed and dated The four seasons: Winter of 1586 (Miniaturenkabinett, Munich
Residenz), it demonstrates how closely the style of Boels followed that of his stepfather.
In 1602, the family moved to Nürnberg (Zülch, ‘Die Künstlerfamilie Van Valckenborch’,
p.226). In Mantua, he is thought to have painted scenery for court performances (Schindler,
‘Zan Tabarino’, p.495). Heinrich Geissler (Zeichnung in Deutschland, deutsche Zeichner
1540–1640, 2 vols (Stuttgart: Staatsgalerie, 1979), I, p.204) attributes to him a dispersed
sketchbook containing townscapes of Landshut, including one now in Budapest dated
1599, Munich, Salzburg, Passau and Stift Melk. A view of Landshut assigned to Lucas van
Valckenborch (Weimar, is reattributed by Teréz Gerszi (‘The draughtsmanship
of Lodewijk Toeput’, Master Drawings, 30 (1992), 367–95, pp.374–5, 384, figs.8, 9) as a
copy by Toeput of a preliminary drawing by Hoefnagel for an etching of 1577 published by
Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg (Civitates Orbis Terrarum, 6 vols, Cologne, 1572–1618,
III, 1581, f.45).


with a watermark used at the Landshut papermill of Burkhardt Faist during

the period 1595–1614, and thus postdate completion of the Trausnitz frescoes
by well over a decade. 425 Frederick and his brother Gillis, who perhaps ac-
companied him to Italy, painted in similar mannerist style, although they also
signed works in more traditional Flemish style.426 The mannerist pictures in-
clude a number of night scenes depicting large crowds of carnival masquerad-
ers, including recognizable commedia dell’arte types, some with performers
on stage in the background. Plate 177 was tentatively dated to the period 1596–
1607 when it was exhibited in Brussels in 1963; the date of plate 180 has been
read as 1597.427 Stylistically close to this group is an indoor banqueting scene
attributed to Donducci, in whose left foreground six masked performers, a
woman, four men and a lute-playing boy, entertain a hall of banqueters [plate
181]. A drawing in which the unusual motif of a matachin with a parasol may
indicate the influence of plate 130 shares a number of compositional similari-
ties with plate 177.428

As noted by Wolfgang Wegner, who suggests that plates 164–5 are by an unknown master
after lost drawings for the frescoes, because of their high artistic quality, and compositional
deviations from the frescoes (‘Eine Zeichnung zur Narrentreppe auf der Trausnitz zu
Landshut’, Verhandlungen des Historischen Vereins für Niederbayern, 88 (1962), 98–103,
p.102). These deviations do not to me appear incompatible with creative copies directly
from the frescoes themselves. See also Volk-Knüttel, ‘Der Maler Alessandro Paduano’, p.80.
Two such by Frederick feature winter carnival masqueraders, to the left of the drawing
Winter (Vienna, Albertina,, and at the right background of the main scene on a
signed and dated virginals lid of 1619 featuring the seasons [plate 183].
Le siècle de Bruegel, ed. Boon, cat.220. On plate 177, see also Heinrich G Franz (‘Die
spätmanieristische Landschaft: der Weg zur phantastischen Landschaft’, Jahrbuch des
Kunsthistorischen Instituts Graz, 4 (1968), 21–71, p.31) and Hummelen, who dismisses the
stages in this and plate 176 as ‘inventions […] imaginary italianate settings’ (‘Doubtful
images’, p.211). A privately owned variant is of interest both in providing full-length rather
than cut versions of the foreground group of masks, and for being signed in monogram by
Frederick, and dated 1603 (reproduced in colour: Weltkunst, October 1996). My thanks to
Konrad Renger for drawing this painting to my attention, in March 1998, and to Thomas
Fusenig and Ulrike Villwock, for sending me an offprint of their article (‘Hieronymus
Franckens “Venezianischer Ball” in Aachen. Eine neue Datierung und ihre Folgen’,
Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch, 61 (2000), 145–76, fig.5).
Plate 161, see also plate 320. Günter Irmscher reattributes plate 161 from Friedrich van
Valckenborch to Christoph Jamnitzer, c.1600 (cat.330 in Gerhard Bott, ed, Wenzel Jamnitzer
und die Nürnberger Goldschmiedekunst 1500–1700, eine Ausstellung im Germanischen
Nationalmuseum Nürnberg vom 28. Juni – 15. September 1985 (München: Klinkhardt &
Biermann, 1985), p.359). This is accepted by Matthias Boeckl (cat.V.13 in Werner Hofmann
et al, Zauber der Medusa, Europäische Manierismen (Wien: Löcker, 1987), p.242).


Several theatrical paintings attributed to Frederick in Austrian monasteries

may point to Habsburg patronage. One, in the Benedikterabtei, Ottobeuren, shows
entertainments, perhaps at a court festival, actors in mythological costume on a
raised covered stage, and a tournament. The right-hand foreground group of a
monumental canvas at Kremsmünster has been identified as a performing
commedia troupe.429 This is yet another compendium of winter carnival diver-
sions, compositionally conflating selected aspects of highlights that would have
taken place at different times and venues. Provided account is taken of the heavy
reliance on iconographic precedents, it seems reasonable to interpret the fore-
ground right-hand group as members of a commedia troupe, and those wearing
commedia-related costume outside this group, as costumed carnival masks. The
canvas features numerous red-costumed matachins. At its centre, five surround
two of their number shinning up a greasy pole to claim the caged goose at the
top. One ferries a group of hunters across the canal, and to the right, on the far
bank, another leads a Pantalone and zanni seated back-to-back on a donkey.430

II.iii.d The Carnavalet painting

The second and third paintings discussed by Sterling, a privately owned troupe
portrait and a canvas in the Carnavalet Museum, share certain stylistic parallels
[plate 61]. He notes the closeness in composition and format of the private
collection picture (and an unillustrated near-identical variant) to his fourth illus-
trated painting [plate 154].431 Plate 60, another near variant of Sterling’s second
picture, depicts seven comedians, rather than the eight of plate 154. A zanni,
Pantalone and pair of lovers in similar pose occupy the foreground of both pic-
tures. In the background, instead of the left-hand zanni of plate 154, plate 60
features an older woman to the right. The elegant courtesan behind the fore-
ground Zanni–Pantalone pair has been replaced by a maid, and two further
courtesans in the centre background make way for a pointing male figure.

Marzia Pieri, ‘Maschere italiane e carnevali del nord’, Biblioteca teatrale, 21 (1991), 1–19,
p.15. Schindler (‘Türkenkrieg als Faschingsscherz’; idem, ‘Zan Tabarino’, p.495) rejects
this identification, and the painting’s attribution to Frederick van Valckenborch, in favour
of its interpretation as costumed carnival masks taking part in a procession, by an as yet
unidentified artist.
Similar motifs occur in plate 135, featuring comic types and carnival diversions in a
northern town square setting.
Sterling, ‘Early paintings’, p.21. Nicoll (Masks, Mimes and Miracles, fig.224) reproduces
this variant of plate 60 (in a Stockholm private collection). For plate 154, see also pp.155ff.


Noting the ‘entirely different’ style of the variant of plate 60 to plate 154,
Sterling associates the former with a painter of ‘Netherlandish descent […] one
of those little masters skilled in scenes of genre in the tradition of the
Monogrammist of Brunswick, of Jan van Hemessen, and of Martin van Cleve’.432
From the costumes, he dates it to ‘about 1580’. Stylistic and compositional simi-
larities to three paintings here attributed to Ambrose I Francken encourage the
possibility that plate 60 and its variants (and perhaps also plate 154) are also
from the circle of Ambrose I Francken [plates 56–8].433 The facial types of the
young woman in the left background and older woman at the extreme right of
plate 60 resemble those of the two maids in the left background of plate 56. The
elegant man to the right foreground of plate 60 resembles the man to the right of
plates 57 and 59, and to the left of plates 56 and 58, in both facial type and
costume. Although the zanni and Pantalone of plate 60 are masked, and those of
plates 56–9 are not, there are marked similarities in physical type and costume.
Two anonymous and undated variants of the Carnavalet painting are known,
one of which is one of a pair of pictures, in the Comédie Française, both featur-
ing actors on stage [plates 61, 188–190].434 Sterling identifies the Carnavalet
artist as either Flemish or French and dates it, by the costumes, to the 1570s.435

Sterling, ‘Early paintings’, p.21.
On Ambrose I Francken, see Section II.i.d, pp.117ff. Plate 207 may be a further theatrical
painting originating from this circle. Attributed to ‘Vlämischer Künstler um 1600 aus dem
Kreise des Ambrosius Francken’, it features two costumed characters in the left foreground,
a man in a vertically striped suit and a musician ‘playing’ grill and tongs. In a variant
drawing, the equivalent pair wear clothes not associated with the Italian comedy [plate 208].
Sterling, ‘Early paintings’, pp.20–21. The replica he notes as having been sold to Milan’s
Scala Theatre Museum from a Paris private collection, is not now catalogued in the
museum’s collections.
Accepted by Lebègue, ‘La Comédie Italienne’, p.19 (who notes, without further details, a
variant in the collection of Mme. J Giraudoux); Povoledo, ‘Le bouffon’, pp.262, 265;
Hallar, Teaterspil og tegnsprog, p.162; although McDowell suggests 1550–1600
(‘Commedia dell’arte acting’, p.59 n.102; idem, ‘Some pictorial aspects of early mounte-
bank stages’, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, 61 (1946),
84–96, p.88 n.28). Jacques Foucart suggests a link to Hieronymus I (Carnavalet Museum
documentation), as does Noë (Illustrationen zur Commedia dell’arte, pp.30–1). Adhémar
(‘Genre paintings’, p.192), suggests that the Carnavalet and Bayeux paintings, a variant of
plate 60, and plate 156 are from the same workshop. A wooden dagger of the type carried
by the zanni of plate 156 appears in an ink drawing attributed to Jacques de Gheyn II
(Reinhart Schleier, Neue Zeichnungen alter Meister, Entdeckungen aus einer
Barocksammlung (Münster: Westfälisches Museumsamt, 1981), pp.117–20) but executed
by an artist with native familiarity with Italian (Paliaga, “Le teste di carattere”, pp.236–8,


The Carnavalet painting is almost half life-size, and its monumental scale is
reflected in the smooth and relatively mechanical treatment of its draperies.
Their vast expanses do not lend themselves so naturally to the more spontane-
ous handling of the smaller variants, a particularly brilliant feature of the Comédie
Française panel [plate 189]. The gown of the Comédie Française variant’s
inamorata is comparable to the street dress of the typical late sixteenth century,
well-to-do young Venetian matron [plate 189].436 However, the gown worn by
the inamorata of its partner panel features sleeves divided by bands into a series
of narrow slashed strips, a fashion inspired by Emperor Maximilian I’s Swiss
mercenaries and adopted by high society in the 1530s [plate 190].437
The nearest equivalent to the handling, facial types, actors, and costumes of
plates 189–90 is to be found in Venetian carnival by Hieronymus I Francken
(1540–1610), the oldest member of a clan that produced several generations of
painters. Notably, these were Hieronymus I and his brothers Frans I (1542–
1616) and Ambrose I (1544–1618), Frans I’s sons Hieronymus II (1578–1623),
Frans II (1581–1642) and Ambrose II, and Frans II’s sons Hieronymus III, Frans
III (1607–67) and Ambrose III. As the earliest of Hieronymus I’s few securely
accepted works, Venetian carnival, signed and dated 1565, plays a key role in
the development of northern genre painting [plate 16].438 He trained under Frans

suggests a Lombard artist, perhaps from Brambilla’s circle) [plate 191]. The drawing’s zanni
and the painting’s central zanni wear similar rope belts and heavy purses, and stick their
tongues out in similar lewd fashion. Plate 156 also shares a number of striking compositional
parallels with the Trausnitz frescoes [plates 20–23]. These include the distinctive way of
painting bows, the female types, the baggy zanni costumes, with their rope belts, beards and
bi-feathered hats, and Pantalone’s costumes and two-tone sword. Perhaps plates 156 and 191
are by artists from the same circle which produced Friedrich Sustris, who oversaw the
Trausnitz frescoes, namely that surrounding Vasari and Stradanus in Florence.
Cesare Vecellio, Vecellio’s Renaissance Costume Book (1598) (New York: Dover, 1977),
pl.95. On plates 61 and 189, see Barasch, ‘Shakespeare and commedia dell’arte’.
Vecellio’s Renaissance Costume Book, pl.71 describes it as ‘old costume worn in Venice and
other parts of Italy’. Isolated examples of the style occur as late as around 1580, for example
in an anonymous Ball given at the court of Henri III in honour of the marriage of the Duc de
Joyeuse (Louvre), where the dress of the lady seated next to Caterina de’ Medici has such
On plate 16, see: Kellein, Pierrot, p.97; Leik, Frühe Darstellungen, pp.197–8; Lawner,
Harlequin on the Moon, p.107. Although it gives it the status of being the earliest painting of
the commedia dell’arte, there has long been an unease about its inscribed date of 1565. P
Philippot recognized the painting’s genre subject and bravura style as being ‘exceptionnelle
pour la date de 1565’ (in Le siècle de Bruegel, ed. Boon, p.98, cat.99). The painting has
certain apparently anachronistic details, and although it is far more usual for artists to copy


Floris in Antwerp, is recorded in Fontainebleau in 1566, and, apart from several

years in Antwerp during the mid-1570s, spent his working life in Paris, obtain-
ing French nationality in 1572 and becoming peintre du roi under Henri III in
1594.439 Venetian Carnival features matachins and a troupe of Italian comedi-
ans, including Pantalone and Zanni, entertaining a noble audience. It is the
oldest known dated painting of stock commedia dell’arte types, and shares many
stylistic features of plates 189–90 [plate 16]. These include virtuoso colour ef-
fects such as the shot draperies of some of the dresses, the sweet faces and
expressions of the women, and their prominent dark button eyes, round girlish
features, plump cheeks and arms, double chins, neat ears and waists and small,
sketchily depicted hands. An attribution of both the Comédie Française panels
to his hand, with a dating near to his dated painting, seems reasonable. In an-
other painting whose figure style appears close to that of Venetian carnival,
nineteen singing, dancing and lute-playing comedians frolic across a stage-like
platform behind which a cityscape, real or stage backdrop, recedes sharply into
the background [plates 16, 192]. The panel may show an outdoor performance
with a view of some actual city behind, or the outdoor celebrations of costumed
carnival revellers, or alternatively a painted backdrop or perspective scenery of
a stage performance. The two pictures feature similarly costumed women, and

prints than any other form of art, it is compositionally close to the apparently much later
Venetian wedding. Depicting the commedia dell’arte trio of Pantalone and a masked
servant, perhaps Zanni, with a courtesan, in a similar Venetian festival setting, Venetian
wedding is known through Hendrik Goltzius’ dated print of 1584 and a drawing
(Rijksmuseum: reattributed from Dirck Barendsz to Goltzius by Huigen Leeflang and Ger
Luijten, Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617), Drawings, Prints and Paintings (Amsterdam:
Waanders, 2003), pp.49–50; painted variants include: I. Sibiu, Museum Brukenthal (cat.
1909 no.550, as J Heintz); II. London art market, 1939 (as Barendsz); III. London art
market, 1983 (as Francken, excludes the egg-throwing courtesan at her balcony above
Pantalone and Zanni). Various tentative suggestions have sought to address these factors.
Should its date rather be read as 1585? Have hairstyles and other fashion details apparently
dating to a later decade been retouched? Was an earlier version of the Venetian wedding
composition in circulation two decades before being engraved? A robust approach based on
solid art-historical reasoning, but scantier supporting technological observations, entirely
rejects the inscription, radically re-dates the painting to the opening years of the seven-
teenth century, and (I believe, unconvincingly) reattributes it from Hieronymus I Francken
to the apprenticeship of his nephew Hieronymus II (Fusenig and Villwock, ‘Hieronymus
Franckens “Venezianischer Ball”’, pp.151, 169 n.28, 155–7). These questions raise
fundamental issues for early modern theatre iconography, whose evidential foundations rest
heavily on the limited number of such seemingly authentic inscriptions.
Legrand, Les peintres flamands, pp.71–4.


comparable props (such as the feather fan) and comic characters. These include
Pantalone, matachins (four in the right-hand background of Venetian carnival,
and six in the left foreground of plate 192), and the plump dottore-type in the
crenellated beret who leaps with outstretched arms behind the Pantalone and
Zanni of Venetian carnival, and just right of centre of plate 192.
At the start of the seventeenth century, the Francken family contributed a
group of interrelated compositions to the genre of the society dance, often fea-
turing pairs of dancers leading a carnival festival. They were commercially suc-
cessful and many variants exist, with and without groups of comic masks in
commedia-inspired costume among the dancers or bursting in on the scene from
right or left. Whether or not these are local masqueraders rather than itinerant
professionals, these pictures are informative about stage costume. Plate 193 of
c.1605 has been attributed to Max and Gabriel Francken, Hieronymus I Francken,
or Frans II Francken.440 In a variant by Hieronymus II with similar figure groups,
the two masked figures to the immediate right of the group in eastern costume at
the extreme right-hand side wear Harlequin and Pantalone-inspired costume
[plate 186].441 Dated variants include ones of 1608 and 1616 [plates 204, 204b].
A more distant variant features masqueraders, some in eastern-inspired cos-
tumes, entering from the left background, led by a masked musician in zanni-
inspired costume ‘playing’ a grill and tongs [plate 201].442 Close in style is a
painting sharing compositional motifs, such as the seated women in the left
foreground, with Venetian carnival, in which a group of costumed masquerad-
ers led by a Pantalone enters at the right [plates 16, 202].
The earliest example of a society dance scene by Frans II is a signed Interior
with couples dancing, with no masks, dated 1607 or 1601.443 Signed by Frans II
or his father is a dance scene of the second decade of the seventeenth century, in
which half a dozen torch-bearing masqueraders, led by a Harlequin type, burst
into a room of dancers and musicians from the right background [plate 194].444
Many variants are evidently no more than pictorial derivatives, but the compo-
sition’s popularity suggests a genuine vogue for masqueraders at early seven-

Ursula Alice Härting, Studien zur Kabinettbildmalerei des Frans Francken II, 1581–1642,
ein repräsentativer Werkkatalog (Hildesheim: Olms, 1983), pp.167–8, cat.A341, pl.105.
Art market authentication by Härting.
Attributed to Hieronymus I by Legrand (Les peintres flamands, p.72), and to Frans II by
Härting, Studien zur Kabinettbildmalerei, cat.A343.
Ursula Alice Härting, Frans Francken der Jüngere (1581–1642), die Gemälde mit
kritischem Œuvrekatalog (Freren: Luca, 1989), cat.434; eadem, Studien zur
Kabinettbildmalerei, cat.A340.


teenth century Antwerp carnival celebrations [plates 195–8, 205b].445 In a signed

dance scene of the 1630s by Frans II, the masks lurk in the deep shadow of a
curtain in the right background [plate 199].446 Further dance scenes attributed to
Frans II include one in which torch-bearing masqueraders burst from behind a
curtain in the left background, and another featuring masqueraders led by two
twisting matachins [plates 200, 203].447 In plate 205, the four masks in the cen-
tre left background are Harlequin in a hat and tight-fitting white suit covered
with smallish buff, green, and red patches and Pantalone in traditional red, with
black cloak, cap and slippers, flanked by two zanni, one bearing a torch. Variously
attributed,448 the painting’s stylistic similarities to the Stockholm variant of the
Carnavalet painting include the facial types and hands, loose passages of paint
in the draperies, overpainting of decorative details, thin-waisted, flat-chested
build of the two central women, and Pantalone’s sword [plates 61, 188, 205].
Plate 142, one of a significant group of landscape-format indoor society scenes,
many with Italian comedians entering or performing, is signed in monogram by
Frans II and dated 1628 [plates 138–45].449

II.iii.e Marten de Vos

Sterling recognizes and salutes the superlative quality of two paintings of al-
most identical format in French provincial museums he interprets as depicting
Italian comedians in France [plates 154–5].450 Dating the Rennes Woman be-
tween two ages to the 1570s, and the Béziers troupe portrait to around 1580–5,
he suggests that they are by the same artist, whom he tentatively identifies as

A variant in the museum at Graz shows masked mummers, led by a Harlequin type,
entering through a doorway at the right.
For plate 199 and an almost identical variant, also signed, see Härting, Studien zur
Kabinettbildmalerei, cat.A337, cat.338a, pl.104; eadem, Frans Francken, cat.432 (=
Studien zur Kabinettbildmalerei, cat.A337).
Plate 203 is variously attributed to Hendrik van Balen and circle of Hieronymus Francken
(art market), Hieronymus I (Legrand, Les peintres flamands, p.72), and Frans II (RKD,
Hieronymus I (Legrand, Les peintres flamands, p.71); Frans II (Mirimonde, ‘Les concerts
parodiques’, p.283 n.44); Frans I (Museum Mayer van den Bergh).
Plates 143–4, in the Medici collections from at least 1649, are attributed to Caulery, c.1620
by Didier Bodart (Rubens e la pittura fiamminga del seicento nelle collezioni pubbliche
fiorentine: Firenze, Palazzo Pitti, 22.VII – 9.X.1977 (Firenze: Centro Di, 1977), pp.96–9).
Sterling, ‘Early paintings’, pp. 22–7.


François Bunel the Younger, a French artist who survives solely in written docu-
mentary records. Here, they are linked to the artistic circle that produced the
painting The feast [plate 209], here attributed to the circle of Marten de Vos on
stylistic grounds, and by association with a print of the same composition signed
in the plate [plate 210].451
In the Béziers picture, perhaps dating to c.1580–85, eight half-length fig-
ures fill the canvas [plate 154].452 To the left, a servant or peasant in a red hat
stands behind a zanni and Pantalone. To the right a pair of lovers exchange a
love-note, the bare-breasted inamorata in a yellow dress with dark green slashes
in the sleeves and lace trim, and a bejewelled and veiled tiara, the inamorato in
red, white and deep crimson. Behind Pantalone stands a second female in dark
modest clothing, veiled or in deep shadow. Two further women standing behind
the inamorata are, like her, barefaced, blonde and wearing drop pearl earrings.
The picture encapsulates a typical commedia dell’arte closing scene. Zanni’s
obscene sign indicates that Pantalone’s mistress has cuckolded him with the
young man at the extreme right.
Sterling reproduces three variants of the Rennes painting [plate 155]. A
painted variant, Young lovers, is after a print, which in turn could be an anony-
mous copy of a print by Perret after the Rennes painting itself.453 He suggests
that the date of Perret’s print, 1579, could indicate an approximate dating for
this group of pictures, and a post quem for the Rennes picture, although he does
not rule out the existence of a lost engraving, predating the whole group. Mis-
givings about the reliability of this composition as documentation for sixteenth
century stage practice, by critics who cannot accept that the nudity it records
would have been possible at that time, are robustly dismissed by Sterling. But
he believes that rather than being inspired by a specific play, the composition is
a generic satirical genre painting: ‘from Donna Lucia choosing between Orazio
and Il Vecchio it has become La Femme entre les Deux Ages’.454
In plate 211, a small panel attributed to Toeput, the handling is broad but
compositionally hesitant, and the style indicates a minor Flemish hand heavily

Katritzky, ‘Lodewyk Toeput’, pp.89–91; on plate 51, see also pp.164ff.
See also plate 60.
Sterling, ‘Early paintings’, pp.11–13, 24. Young lovers was then on loan to the Metropolitan
Museum from a New York private collection. Further painted variants of plate 155 are
owned by: I. Lord Bruce of Fife; II. Musée d’Aix-en-Provence; III. ‘M S, Paris’ (reproduced:
Sylvie Béguin, L’École de Fontainebleau: Grand Palais, 17 octobre 1972 – 15 Janvier
1973 (Paris: Musées nationaux, 1972), p.221, with further variants noted).
Sterling, ‘Early paintings’, pp.25–6


influenced by late sixteenth century Venetian mannerism. Seven opulently dressed

couples are spread behind and to the right of a banquet table in a leafy glade,
with an Italianate landscape featuring a small town set in hills behind. They are
plied with food and wine by servants and entertained by a diminutive musician
at the extreme right, and three masked players at the left, who wear the costumes
of Pantalone, inamorata and Zanni. Pantalone is in his standard outfit of skin-
tight suit with codpiece, flat cap and flowing dark cloak, slippers, and mask.
The inamorata wears a black half mask and elegant gown of the highest fashion,
and the violin-playing Zanni is in his standard loose trouser suit and feathered
cap. All three seem caught in the steps of a stately dance, and although they are
quite unmistakably stock commedia dell’arte characters, the entertainment they
are offering seems more akin to an informal song and dance interlude than to a
sequentially narrative play.
Plate 209 is compositionally close, but much larger, and more formal in
style.455 It is a polished northern mannerist work whose comparable figures
include the six couples, and three players and servants; but not the musician or
couple at the extreme right of the sketch. The banquet is now set indoors, with
views out to a building of perhaps northern architecture. The costume of this
masked trio deviates in some respects from that of Zanni, Pantalone, and the
inamorata. Rather than red and black, the older man wears a yellow cloak over
a dark grey suit with gold trim. His shoes are buff coloured, and his cap red with
brown feathers. Zanni’s hat and shoes are typical neutrally coloured, but his
jacket is an uncharacteristic dark greenish, again trimmed with gold, and his
trousers and hat feathers are brown. The courtesan, whose hair is a striking
blonde, wears a white underdress and short-sleeved rich red overdress which,
judging by the clothes of the female feasters, is, as is customary, of the latest
fashion. Her lower arms, neck and breasts are bare, with the skin tones en-
hanced by a string of pearls, and, unusually, her face is covered by a fine white
veil. The feasters are predominantly clothed in reds, yellows, orange, buff, and
Although the painting has been exhibited and published, it has always been
attributed to the second school of Fontainebleau rather than to a particular artist,

Closely related, e.g. through the hands, facial types and gestures, is a painting of a music-
making elegant couple flanked by two masked servants [plate 230]. One to the left wears a
black full-face mask and hat, and a tight-fitting jerkin with a distinctive hole at the
shoulder, and patches, some rhomboid, in reds, browns, dark colours and black; to the right
is a grey-hatted zanni in ruddy half mask and a characteristic loose grey suit.


and its firm unbroken contours, confident composition, autumnal tints, and el-
egant sophistication are far from the style of Toeput.456 However, it is virtually
identical in composition to the first of five engravings accompanied by verses
from the Old and New Testaments. They make up a series entitled Christus
adventus, the frontispiece of which is signed in the plate ‘M. de Vos inventor,
Joannes Sadler sculps. Sadlers excud.’, numbered I and entitled Crapula et Lascivia
[plate 210]. Marten de Vos (1532–1603) was an Antwerp mannerist who took an
active part in the affairs of the Antwerp Rederijker players.457 He is traditionally
thought to have accompanied Pieter Bruegel on his journey to Italy, and had strong
connections with the second school of Fontainebleau, as well as being a pupil of
Tintoretto and the probable master of Toeput. After completion of their appren-
ticeships, Vos and a younger fellow pupil of Frans Floris, Ambrose I Francken,
collaborated on several major commissions. In 1594, they jointly oversaw the
decoration of Antwerp to welcome the entry of Archduke Ernst of Austria.
Although it is clear that independent derivation of the oils from this print by an
artist not associated with Vos or his studio cannot be ruled out, the close similari-
ties between engraving, oil-painting and oil sketch encourage an investigation of
their compositional links. There are parallels between the engraving and the sketch
which are not shared by the painting [plates 209–11]. These include the type of
ewer and dog in front of the table, the table leg itself, the female mask’s dress skirt,
and sandals of the lute-playing woman and shoulder costume detail of the woman
seated behind the table. However, the engraving is much closer to the painting
than to the sketch, both in individual detail and in mood, the sketch showing a
light-hearted picnic in the open, while the painting and engraving are set indoors
and share a much more artificial and self-conscious atmosphere. Even if other
versions have yet to come to light, it is unlikely that the engraver would have
introduced major innovations to the composition, or radically altered the mood of
the work. The similarities between the engraving and painting, and the common
variations in detail of engraving and sketch from the painting, cannot have been
arrived at independently. This leaves only two possible chronological sequences
of the three works. Either Sadeler’s engraving is preceded by the painting, and
followed by the sketch, or the painting and sketch are independently based on the
engraving. The possibility that the sketch is a later reworking by de Vos himself
cannot be ruled out, but it is unlikely, and the work is not incompatible with its art

Charles Terrasse, ‘L’énigmatique Ecole de Fontainebleau’, L’Œil, 1 (1955), 6–13, p.9.
Walter S Gibson, ‘Artists and rederijkers in the age of Bruegel’, Art Bulletin, 63 (1981),
426–46, p.431.


market attribution to Toeput, a pupil of de Vos known to have made a number of

reinterpretations after engravings.
A feast has a comparable ‘feeling of monumentality and strong plastic qual-
ity’ to that evident in the Béziers picture, and its hands, facial types, gestures
and female types are similar to those of the Rennes and Béziers pictures [plate
209].458 The courtesans of the Béziers picture and The feast share similar smooth
features, although in the former painting the tight veil with which they have
been achieved is dark, in the latter it is white. The three old men wear variations
of Pantalone costume, and those of A feast and the Béziers picture have similar
lank curly hair, straggly beards and sharp-featured, realistically moulded, full-
face masks. The central woman in each painting has exposed breasts, of the
same full, separated type, and each wears pearls around her neck and uses the
fingers of one hand to grasp a typical commedia prop. The Béziers and Rennes
inamoratos have similar features, and similar types are evident in The feast.
The numerous prints and drawings of theatre-iconographical interest associ-
ated with Marten de Vos and his circle include on-stage depictions. Melancho-
lia, a signed and dated preparatory drawing of 1583, shows a quack doctor and
snake charmer on a trestle stage [plate 212]. Pax depicts three actors on a cur-
tained booth stage and a troupe of five acrobats in the middle distance [plate
213]. Pantalone dances to string-playing zanni on the trestle stages at the ex-
treme left of Mercurius and right of Mercury [plates 214, 215]. Some of Vos’s
carnival prints include commedia-related motifs in a non-stage context. The
group of masked carnival masqueraders in the left background of the moraliz-
ing print Negligentie et socordie underline the close connection between carni-
val excesses and sinful vices [plate 217]. The musical grill and fire tongs and
cooking-pot hat of the zanni of Februarius’s carnival masqueraders reappear in
another carnival-associated print after Vos, The egg dance [plates 216, 218]. A
fine mirror image drawing of identical dimensions is Vos’s preparatory drawing
for this print [plate 219]. Here, the sign of the codpiece presides over yet an-
other peasant celebration of the sins of lust and gluttony. The hat pierced by a
spoon, cooking-pot helmet and burlesque instruments of grill and fire tongs all
feature in commedia iconography.459

Plates 154–5. Sterling, ‘Early paintings’, p.23.
Plates 6, 28, 30–1, 73, 84, 88, 159, 162, 201, 203, 207, 218–24, 319. All three motifs are
present in Pieter Bruegel’s painting of 1559, Carnival and Lent in the Kunsthistorisches
Museum, Vienna, a veritable compendium of carnival iconography that itself draws heavily
on earlier pictures, such as a Fight between Carnival and Lent in the Museum Mayer van
der Bergh, Antwerp, after Hieronymus Bosch.


The drawing of the Fat kitchen, too, requires reattribution to Vos on stylistic
grounds supported by association with a mirror-image signed print of identical
composition and dimensions, identified in the plate as ‘M. de Vos invent. Martinus
vanden Enden excud.’ [plate 225].460 In the Fat kitchen, sausages, meats, roast
fowl and alcoholic beverages are evident in abundance, in a celebration of the
sin of gluttony already threatened by the appearance of the allegorical and gaunt
figure of Lent at top left, and the Shrove Tuesday waffles at bottom right. Carni-
val meats are much in evidence in many commedia-associated pictures, and
there is a strong association between carnival and the Land of Cockayne. Winter
was another subject which lent itself to the depiction of carnival motifs, as for
example in a print after Vos by Collaert [plate 227]. This print provided the
compositional impetus for a group of depictions of the Italian comedians by
Toeput and other artists [plates 127, 228–9].
A major canvas which can be stylistically and compositionally associated
with this group is a three-quarter length group of gypsies and masked zanni in
Sarasota, in which six life-size three-quarter length figures are tightly compressed
across the foreground picture plane [plate 231].461 The centrally placed zanni,
who is masked, has his right arm around a woman, and holds out his left hand,
palm up. Her fumbling at his waist, and her companion’s caress, give an erotic
alibi to an attempt to steal money concealed in the scabbard attached to his belt.
Apart from his mask, his costume is similar to that of the Béziers zanni in style,
proportions, and colouring, and even in minor stylistic details such as the way
the fabric folds around the neck opening,462 and the fall of the cloak. Another
man at the extreme right, unmasked and in a bright red cap, peers over the
shoulder of a second woman with large, separate breasts, generous proportions
and emphasized navel. At the extreme left a third, older, woman holds a child.
The delicate superimposed patterning of the central and left-hand women’s gar-
ments is a decorative device also deployed in The feast. The picture is animated
by the distinctive anti-clockwise circular swirl set up by the hands of the central
characters, which have coarse palms and digits, but delicately painted and high-
lighted backs of the hands and fingertips. Little can be seen of the male figure

Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale; reproduced: Martine Grinberg, Carnavals et Fêtes d’Hiver
(Paris: Edilec, 1984), p.93. A composition inspired by Cock’s engraving of 1563 after Pieter
Bruegel (Oxford, Douce Collection E.2.6/192). See also Konrad Renger, ‘Karneval und
Fasten, Bilder vom Fressen und Hunger’, Weltkunst, 58 (1988), 184–9; Wind, ‘Pitture
ridicole’, p.28.
On this painting, see also below, pp.211ff.
A detail seen also in the outfit of the Recueil Fossard woodcuts’ Philipin [plate 6].


on the extreme right. A half-height more freely painted variant extends the com-
position slightly on all four sides, suggesting that the larger canvas has been
trimmed [plates 231, 232]. In it, the figure on the right is seen to wear a fool’s
cap and affect a posture comparable to that of the comic servant at the left of the
Béziers picture, and there is a draped backdrop, possibly the fringed opening to
a large tent in the background. Plate 231 bears similarities to the theatrical paint-
ings of Vos, an artist whose name has not previously been suggested in this
In no other iconographic group are the sources and early manifestations of
the commedia dell’arte, or its artistic conventions and potential, laid bare as
clearly as in the pictures here associated with Marten de Vos. It was early mod-
ern Italian comedians’ dual roots in theatre and folk customs, and more specifi-
cally in humanist comedy and carnival ritual, which gave them their fertile crea-
tivity and wide appeal, and both sources have left their mark in the works which
can be associated with Vos and his circle. They record the commedia’s influ-
ences, its troupes and stage performances, and its court appearances, as well as
the use of comic types and motifs as vehicles for moralistic, allegorical and
religious messages which, in transcending the dramatic content of the comedi-
ans’ comic entertainments, blur the interpretation of these pictures as theatre-
historical records.

II.iii.f Harlequin disguised

Sterling’s sixth painting is a Harlequin disguised which, with two other small
panels unknown to him, in the same style and format and evidently three of a
series, is now in Stockholm’s Drottningholm Theatre Museum [plates 48–50].463
The present study has identified a fourth painting in the series, Pantalone at the
gate [plate 47].464 Harlequin disguised has the same three verses below a depic-
tion of Italian comedians as a Recueil Fossard woodcut, and Sterling recog-
nized it as a compositional variant [plates 6, 49]. The poses, but not the cos-
tumes, of the woodcut’s three characters also appear in the painting, where they
are flanked by a zanni peeping out from behind the backdrop to the left, and an
older maid to the right. One of its companion paintings, The comic serenade, is
less closely related to another woodcut in the same Recueil Fossard series [plates

Sterling, ‘Early paintings’, pp.27–30.
Further related paintings include variants of plates 49 and 50 [plates 44–5, 51], and a dated
picture of 1623 [plate 46].


6, 48]. This painting too shares the woodcut’s verses, and its Pantalone, as in the
woodcut accompanied by Zanni, similarly serenades Lucia. However, he is now
mounted on a ‘pantomime donkey’ consisting of Harlequin wearing Pantalone’s
slippers as ‘donkey’s ears’, leading a crouching player. The third panel, The
comic duel, with less text than its companion pictures, relates to a woodcut in a
different Recueil Fossard series, featuring outdoor settings and two accompa-
nying verses with decorative surrounds [plates 9, 50]. This painting reverses the
two central characters of its related woodcut, and adds a maid and Pantalone.
In plates 47–50, Harlequin, a zanni and Pantalone wear the same costumes
in different situations, and the three Swedish panels have long been accepted as
belonging to the same series. Although even cursory comparison with the wood-
cuts shows that, unlike the engravings discussed above,465 they are not mechani-
cal copies, they are still generally dismissed as naive copies, adding little more
than colour to certain Recueil Fossard woodcuts, and hardly worthy of theatre-
historical study for their own sake.466 Undeniably, the artist of these paintings
has taken compositional elements from artistic precedents, perhaps the wood-
cuts themselves, perhaps another as yet unknown common iconographic source
or intermediary. But he has made significant alterations and additions of his
own to each of the four scenes, and drawn on a variety of iconographic sources.
For Sterling, the costumes of Harlequin disguised ‘suggest a date around
1600 or 1605’, accepted by some authorities; 467 others, including the
Drottningholm curators, date these paintings to around the 1580s.468 There are
strong historical grounds for rejecting a dating earlier than around 1584 for
named depictions of Harlequin, and the actors in another painting, Village and
party, are close enough to those of Harlequin disguised to indicate that the two
paintings may date to around the same time [plate 70]. Above, I outline my
reasons for postdating Village and party to Tempesta’s Febraro of 1599, which
would tend to support Sterling’s dating of Harlequin disguised [plate 64]. Fur-
ther support is offered by another painted variant of a Recueil Fossard print, a
dated Harlequin and his children of 1623 placing the woodcut’s figures not in
its simple stage setting, but in a city square whose architectural elements possi-
bly indicate the wings and backdrop of a theatrical set [plate 46]. It has no

Plate 43, see pp.111ff.
Ifan Kyrle Fletcher, Shakespeare in the Theatre, sale cat. 212 (London, 1964), p.51; Leik,
Frühe Darstellungen, p.155.
Sterling, ‘Early paintings’, p.28; Nicoll, The World of Harlequin, xi, figs.17, 18, 21;
Fletcher, Shakespeare in the Theatre, p.51; Molinari, La commedia dell’arte, pp.216–17.
Erenstein, De geschiedenis van de Commedia dell’arte, fig.18.


painted verses below, but is close in style to the Drottningholm paintings, shar-
ing, for example, the delicately painted stitching of the Harlequin’s patches.
The late date of this painting is one of several factors, including the costume
style and relative artistic quality of the woodcuts and paintings, which indicate
that the Drottningholm variants also postdate the Recueil Fossard woodcuts.
Although Sterling associates plate 49 with Caulery, he is characteristically
The author […] is undoubtedly Flemish […] One might even believe this picture to be the
work of Caulery […] But in spite of his similar color and his lively and fluid brushwork,
he cannot have been the painter of our picture. He never escaped from his elongated
canon of the body and his roundish modeling, from a certain cold and facile mannerism.
The figures of our little master are more frankly drawn and more abruptly modeled; they
are more vital and robust.469

Of the only possible comedians in patched costume I know of in paintings which

are or could be by Caulery, one, in the signed Carnival in Hamburg, is very
different to the Harlequin of Harlequin disguised [plates 49, 73]. The other, the
right-hand of three central comic types in a courtyard scene attributed to Caulery,
is too small to make out the costume clearly [plate 281]. Far closer are the
costume of a Harlequin in a Venetian carnival painting I associate with Sebas-
tian Vrancx, with its random brightly coloured patches on a close-fitting white
suit, black hip pouch, and ornately handled sword, and the Harlequins of Vil-
lage and party and several further paintings.470 Other comic types in the three
Drottningholm panels are also close to those in Vrancx’s oeuvre. Their zanni are
similar to those of plates 70 and 125 in costume, mask and spear-shaped dagger,
and even his pose is repeated in plate 50, albeit rotated through ninety degrees.
Their Pantalone, with his distinctive three-buttoned doublet, showy sword, con-
toured flesh-coloured three-quarter face mask, white undershirt, black slippers
and long white beard is similar to that of monogrammed paintings by Vrancx,
although he wears a cap rather than a fez, and his cloak is of a fuller cut and falls
straight from the shoulders rather than having a slight collar [plates 99, 100].
Lucia’s split sleeve in plate 49, and her distinctive, slightly concave, stomach,
peaked hairstyle and the parallel stripes around the bottom of her dress, are
characteristic of Vrancx.
The facial features of the females in the Drottningholm series are close to
those in two paintings in Paris which I associate with Hieronymus I Francken,

Sterling, ‘Early paintings’, pp.29–30.
Plates 62, 71, 107, 125.


and their Pantalones are also similar [plates 47–50, 189–90]. But the brushwork
of the Parisian paintings is more brilliant, and appears to have more Italian
influence and virtuoso passages, for example in the shot colours of the woman’s
drapery. Another painting in Drottningholm, Comedians on a Venetian terrace,
also features a Harlequin whose clear precedent appears to be that of the Recueil
Fossard woodcuts [plate 221]. Coarser in handling than plates 47–50, it shows
four masked comedians, an inamorata accompanied by a Harlequin, zanni and
Pantalone, in a Venetian loggia. Anonymous and undated, it relates to a group of
landscape-format winter interiors of the 1620s and early 1630s [plates 138–45].
Comparison of four variants of Harlequin disguised suggests that plate 44,
and a painted variant of higher quality in a UK private collection, are
compositionally so close that it seems likely that plate 44 is based directly on
the private collection painting [plates 6, 49, 51]. The latter shares the same three
quatrains of French verse below as the Recueil Fossard woodcut and the
Drottningholm painting.471 Fletcher, who inclined to the view that the UK pri-
vate collection variant ‘is based on the 1577 visit of I Gelosi to France’, read its
date as either 157[?] or 159[?], and its monogram signature as ‘D.f’, which
neither he, nor Allardyce Nicholl or Anthony Blunt, to whom he showed the
original, were able to interpret.472 Iconographic parallels between each pair of

Ifan Kyrle Fletcher, The History of Entertainment, sale cat. 200 (London, 1962), p.93;
idem, Shakespeare in the Theatre, pp.50–1. Hallar, Teaterspil og tegnsprog, figs.28–30
reproduce this painting, the Recueil Fossard woodcut and the Drottningholm Harlequin
Fletcher, Shakespeare in the Theatre, pp.50–1: ‘Blunt […] believes that our painting is of
French origin and suggests that it might have been painted by an artist attached to the
company’. Leik (Frühe Darstellungen, pp.152–4) reads the date as 1590(?) and identifies
the artist, whom she refers to as Master D, as coming from the circle of Hieronymus I
Francken, but suggests that an inferior associate was responsible for painting all but the
figure of Lilia. The monogram is close to two assigned to Marten de Vos by Nagler (Die
Monogrammisten, II, pp.341, 486). Unusual iconographic elements the woodcuts share with
pictures associated with Marten de Vos include the cauldron helmet, Pantalone’s unusually
long flowing cloak and button-down waistcoat, and Zanni’s wide-brimmed, feathered hat.
The facial features of the elegant female in plate 44 resemble those of the left-hand standing
muse of Vos’s signed Apollo and the muses (Antwerp), while the very free handling of her
skirt draperies is reminiscent of the paintwork of the right-hand seated muse. The gold trim
of the draperies in this painting, and the delicate treatment of Lilia’s features, gauze veil
and ruff, and Harlequin’s hat feathers, seem close to Vos, although the awkward stance of
the men and coarseness of depiction of the hands and backdrop draperies do not. If this
picture is from an Antwerp workshop, this would have implications for the location of the
depicted troupe, traditionally thought to be Paris.


the three versions of Harlequin disguised which feature the quatrains below
make it impossible to put the woodcut and paintings into chronological order
without assuming further, as yet unknown, related pictures [plates 6, 49, 51].
These include Harlequin’s boots and armband, where the two paintings differ
from the woodcut. But Harlequin wears Horatio’s high-crowned, feathered hat
in the woodcut and private collection painting, while he is bare-headed in the
Drottningholm painting, whose captain is very close in pose, if not costume, to
the captain of the woodcut. In the private collection painting, by contrast, his
right arm points out of the picture, and he is identified as Leandro, while Lucia,
the elegant young woman of the other two pictures, is here Lilia, the name Lucia
being taken by her companion. It seems clear that further variants were pro-
duced. If they come to light, it may be possible to do more than speculate on the
place of origin and designer of the composition of Harlequin disguised.

II.iii.g Lodewyk Toeput

Sterling identifies a picture attributed to various artists, including Lodewyk Toeput
(c.1550–c.1603/5) [plate 242] as possibly the only painting of performing
commedia dell’arte actors from sixteenth century Italy.473 Although he also briefly
footnotes ‘several drawings in the Corsini Album’, he does not note their Italian
origins.474 Before turning to a consideration of the commedia-related work and
influence of Toeput, this section considers the Corsini Album, and particularly
plate 243, which exhibits similarities with Toeput’s style, notably in its wilful
perspective, lumpy nudes and striated buildings.475 The undated (probably early
seventeenth century) Corsini Album is a manuscript collection of 100 commedia
dell’arte scenarios, numbered 1 to 102, of which two, the original numbers 45
and 50, are missing. It was probably the working collection of a troupe, or plots
poached from the professional stage by some amateur. Whatever its exact theat-
rical status, the album is unique in that each of its scenarios has been provided
with its own individual illustrated title page. Perhaps the best known series of
commedia-related coloured drawings, each depicts one scene, or composite
scene, from that scenario, enabling the roles of many of the depicted actors and
actresses to be identified [plates 243–7]. The binding of the collection bears the

Sterling, ‘Early paintings’, p.30.
Ibid., p.19.
See, for example, Luigi Menegazzi, ‘Ludovico Toeput (il Pozzoserrato)’, Saggi e memorie
di storia dell’arte, 1 (1957), 167–223, figs.50–67.


arms of Cardinal Maurizio of Savoy (1593–1642), indicating that it was bound

together at some time between 1608, when he became a cardinal, and 1642. But
the exact dates of these drawings are unknown. Nagler ignores Lea’s warnings
against necessarily taking the date (c.1618–22) of the related Locatelli collec-
tion of scenarios as a reliable post quem, and puts them in the second quarter of
the seventeenth century.476 D’Amico ventures a dating of 1621–42.477 Clearly,
there is some conflict here with the costume types of the innamorati, which
predate the major fashion changes introduced all over Europe in the years around
1630. A previously unnoted post quem is given by a sole mention, in Il Gratiano
Innamorato (scenario 90), of ‘Arlecchino’, a character first named in the mid-
One drawing, that for La gran pazzia di Orlando (scenario 1), uniquely in
the Corsini Album, is a monochrome full-page frontispiece separate from its
title page; its artist, of considerably greater talent than those of the remaining 99
drawings, has never been identified [plate 243]. The drawing’s style is close to
Toeput, but closer to another Flemish artist working in Italy, the Rome-based
Paul Bril (1554–1626). The ‘sign of the glasses’ in the top right-hand corner,
perhaps an example of Bril’s own characteristic punning monogram, encour-
ages attribution to Bril or his circle. Because the remaining ninety-nine draw-
ings are of such extremely pedestrian quality, dating on stylistic grounds is dif-
ficult, and there is no way of telling stylistically whether or not plate 243 pre-
dates them. So Bril’s artistic development and the date of his death cannot be
used as guidelines in dating the whole collection. These naive, colourful pic-
tures are comparable to the typical costume picture series of friendship albums.
Although some friendship album drawings are clearly inspired by prints and
could be the work of amateurs, the existence of variants to many popular com-
positions of this nature appears to indicate that some artists were able to support
workshops from such commissions [plates 260–1].478
The watermark in the flyleaf of the album is one first appearing in Rome in
around 1638, suggesting that the Corsini scenarios may have been bound to-
gether at around that time. Aasted notes that the most frequently occurring wa-
termark in the paper used for the scenarios themselves is a Roman one of c.1589,
while others are c.1570 and c.1591, but gives no separate data for the water-

A M Nagler, ‘The commedia drawings of the Corsini scenari’, Maske und Kothurn, 15
(1969), 6–10, p.7; Lea , Italian Popular Comedy, I, p.144.
Silvio D’Amico, Storia del teatro drammatico, 4 vols (Milano: Rizzoli, 1939–50), II, p.68.
See index (friendship albums).


marks of the paper on which the drawings themselves are painted.479 She argues
that these scenarios considerably predate their binding, and also the Locatelli
collection of c.1618–22, and redates them to the second half of the sixteenth
century. 480 A dating to the 1590s seems an attractive option, but all that can be
established on the basis of the known evidence is that the Corsini drawings were
produced c.1590–1620. At that time, Bril ran a large and thriving workshop in
Rome, which employed among its assistants many young Flemish artists pass-
ing through the city in their student years, possibly including Sebastian Vrancx,
known to have been in Rome at least between the years 1597 and 1602 [plate
276]. It is worth considering that, during his apprentice years in Rome, Vrancx
may have been involved with the production of the Corsini drawings.
Toeput, a Fleming who settled in the Veneto, where he was known as
Pozzoserrato, is one of the few named artists to whom sixteenth century
commedia dell’arte-related pictures are regularly attributed by the art market.
Because Toeput forms a connecting link between many artists interested in the
commedia dell’arte, and absorbed and reflected elements of their very diverse
styles into his own oeuvre, his name acts as a focus for works in this genre.
Toeput may have been a pupil of Marten de Vos in Antwerp. By the early 1570s,
he was established in Venice. Soon after 1581, when he visited various Italian
cities including Rome and Florence, he moved permanently to Treviso. In Ven-
ice, he worked in the studio of Tintoretto, where Vos had been twenty years
previously, and he has close stylistic links with both these artists, and with the
Bassani, particularly Leandro, who worked in his father’s studio in Bassano
until the late 1580s, when he moved to nearby Venice.481 Joos de Momper may
have studied under Toeput in the 1580s482 , and there is also some evidence that
Sebastian Vrancx visited Toeput in the 1590s.483 Toeput’s oeuvre includes land-,
garden-, and cityscapes. His religious scenes were often a pretext to depict con-
temporary Venetian courtly diversions such as banquets and concerts, and he
also painted series of the months and the seasons, and allegorical works.

Elsebeth Aasted, ‘The Corsini scenarios: the oldest surviving commedia dell’arte collec-
tion’, Nordic Theatre Studies, 4 (1991), 94–110, pp.95–7.
Ibid., p.108.
Menegazzi, ‘Ludovico Toeput’, pp.169, 178, 183; Tom Nichols, Tintoretto. Tradition and
Identity (London: Reaktion, 1999), p.90.
‘“Een lantschap van Mompers Meester Lodewyck van Treni [read ‘Trevi’]” was listed in the
inventory of Herman de Neyt, Oct.1642’ (Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann, and Anne-Marie S
Logan, European Drawings and Watercolors in the Yale University Art Gallery 1500–1900
(New Haven & London: Yale, 1970), p.275).
Takács, ‘Un tableau de Sebastian Vrancx’, p.61


Many works of importance to theatre history have been attributed to, or

associated with Lodewyk Toeput by art historians, museum curators, and sale-
room experts.484 In order to aid more reliable attribution and dating of these
pictures, a systematic search was made for other pictures compositionally and
stylistically related to each of those attributed to Toeput. Contextual analysis
resulted in several reattributions.485 The works attributed to Toeput feature three
distinct contexts in which the Italian comedians are found, namely, formal staged
theatre performances, carnival festivals, and courtly celebrations, in both in-
door and outdoor settings. Toeput kept in touch with the work of his compatri-
ots, and copies by him after contemporary Flemish engravers, as well as engrav-
ings after his own works by other artists, are documented. Even where his pic-
tures record specific performances that could potentially be identified,
compositional elements may be largely borrowed from previous works.
Depictions of the comedians in the context of courtly celebrations, associ-
ated with Toeput, include de Jode’s iconographically influential engraving of a
Masquerade after Toeput [plate 130],486 a Carnival banquet [plate 242] pub-

Katritzky, ‘Lodewyk Toeput’ reproduces fifteen (figs.1, 2, 5–9, 13–14, 18–20, 23, 28–9)
and analyses them in the context of fourteen further reproductions of commedia dell’arte-
related pictures [plates 57, 58, 228, 262, 127, 229, 84, 242, 265, 130, 266, 211, 104, 159,
148]. All then virtually unknown to theatre historians (none are noted by Ternois
(‘Représentations figurées’); Pandolfi (La commedia dell’arte); Duchartre (The Italian
Comedy); Nicoll (Masks, Mimes and Miracles; idem, The World of Harlequin), they were
rapidly integrated into the accepted canon of commedia-related iconography (see, for
example, Richards and Richards, The Commedia dell’Arte, figs.8, 9, 12, 31, 35, 46, 47).
Works associated with Toeput footnoted in Katritzky, ‘Lodewyk Toeput’ (p.80) include:
Winter (Luciana Larcher Crosato, ‘Di “Quattro Stagioni” del Pozzoserrato e la grafica
fiamminga’, Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, 34 (1985), 119–30, fig.4); Masked
fête, Berlin art market, 1933 and Banquet with Italian comedians, New York, Julius
Weitzner, 1956 (Legrand, Les peintres flamands, p.73); variants to plate 84 known to the
late Wolfgang Wegner (David Scrase, private communication, 1986); and plate 12.
Plates 57–8 are reattributed to Ambrose I Francken. Plate 84 is discussed in the context of
the oeuvre of Louis de Caulery; plates 104 and 148 in that of the oeuvre of Sebastian
Vrancx, and plate 211 in relation to Marten de Vos.
Poensgen, ‘Jodocus a Winghe’, pp.326, 328; Mirimonde, ‘Les concerts parodiques’, p.274
(‘une joyeuse bande, conduite par un luthiste’); Renger, ‘Joos van Winghes
“Nachtbancket”’, pp.173–4 (‘Maskierte Damen und Herren […] angeführt von einem
Lautenspieler’); Bert W Meijer, ‘A proposito della Vanità della ricchezza e di Ludovico
Pozzoserrato’, in Toeput a Treviso, Ludovico Pozzoserrato, Lodewijk Toeput, pittore
neerlandese nella civiltà veneta del tardo cinquecento. Atti del Seminario, Treviso 1987,
eds Stefania Mason Rinaldi and Domenico Luciani (Asolo: Acelum, 1988), 109–24,
pp.115–16 (‘una festa di coppie mascherate che scendono da una gondola, con musicisti e


lished as a Toeput by Peltzer, who drew attention to its similarities with Mas-
querade, and three outdoor banquet scenes [plates 104, 159, 211].487 Plate 242
shows a company grouped around a laden banqueting table in a covered area
open to the outside all round. Some play lutes, others drink wine or converse,
and they include commedia dell’arte stock types as well as elegantly clad cou-
ples. There are stylistic parallels with a carnival scene which, from the water
carrier at the middle top, is clearly January from a series of the months [plate
265]. Attributed to ‘School of Bassano’, it shows four masked comedians flanked
by Bassanesque soldier types, in front of an extensive landscape with a hill
town. The bare trees framing the composition to either side, flocks of birds and
hesitant handling are reminiscent of Toeput’s work. According to Sterling ‘there
are no paintings of [commedia dell’arte stage scenes] from sixteenth century
Italy’, and plate 242 is ‘perhaps […] a real scene of the commedia dell’arte
played during Carnival and before masked and banqueting spectators. If so, it is
the only example known of such a subject in Italian painting before 1600’.488
However, extensive searching revealed the existence of at least two
commedia-related paintings by the Italian artist Leandro Bassano (1557–1622),
carnival scenes representing February from series of the months [plates 226,
267]. They show stock commedia characters in a carnival context, but some of
their motifs echo aspects of plate 242, and to a lesser extent plate 265. Plate
267, signed ‘Leander Bassanensis F’, predates his knighthood of 1595 or 1596;
plate 226 is close enough in style and content to date from a similar period,
perhaps the late 1580s. In both, the view is down a wide city street whose build-
ings flank either side of the picture, framing the foreground like a stage set, to
converge just left of the centre in a triumphal arch. In both streets, bull-baiting is
in progress and an open stall in the right foreground sells plucked chickens and
other carnival delicacies, while a troupe of comedians, all masked, is gathered
at the left. Thus these pictures display together typical carnival amusements. In
plate 226, Pantalone faces a couple, the woman gazing diffidently at him, the
male serenading her with a lute. In front of them is a blindfolded Cupid leading
a dog towards Pantalone; to their left are two servant figures and to the right a
matachin. In plate 267 the same group of Pantalone, blindfold boy (unlike the

ciarlatani […] si tratta, quindi, di una scena pseudo-carnavalesca’); Fusenig and Maegd,
‘Lustbarkeiten im Garten’, p.369 (for a distantly related group of comedians, see also p.360.
I thank Ursula Härting for drawing this image to my attention in 1998).
R A Peltzer, ‘Lodewyck Toeput (Pozzoserrato) und die Landschaftsfresken der Villa Maser’,
Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, 10 (1933), 270–9, fig.7.
Sterling, ‘Early paintings’, p.30.


boy in plate 226 not characterized by wings and quiver) and couple is without the
two servant figures to the extreme left. A matachin here kneels behind, rather than
beside, the main group of comedians, apparently to a similar figure squatting on a
raised pedestal, and only partially visible at the extreme left of the canvas. The
possibility that this canvas has been cut is strengthened by the composition of a
large-scale watercolour, virtually identical except that it shows slightly more on
three sides, and significantly extends the composition on the left-hand side [plate
268].489 This reveals not only two masked figures standing to the left of Pantalone,
similar to those in plate 226, but several figures in a doorway behind them, and
two matachins seated above the doorway, with whom the kneeling matachin is
now seen to be in animated communication. Costumed figures feature in the back-
grounds of both works; in plate 226 another Pantalone accompanied by two serv-
ants, a zanni and another matachin, are recognizable to the right.
The distinctive matachin costume has a green and gold vertically striped dou-
blet with padded rims at the shoulder and false sleeves, tight buff-coloured leg-
gings held in by belled leather belts and straps around the waist and calves, moulded
full-face mask, squashy red stocking cap, white undershirt and no neck scarf, but
billowing white cloth around the waist and between the legs. This unusual varia-
tion recurs in plate 242, and has some similarities to the costume of the right-hand
mask in plate 265. Other common compositional elements strengthen the connec-
tions between the canvases by Bassano and Carnival banquet [plates 226, 242,
267]. The wine-drinking bravo who fills the bottom left-hand corner of Carnival
banquet is closely paralleled in the cavalier drinking at the road stall in plate 226,
the troupes in both plates 226 and 242 include a monkey, costumed in plate 242,
and the three Pantalones are almost identical in both costume and pose, while the
Pantalone of plate 265 is rather less elaborately attired. The horizontally striped
costume of the mask to the extreme left of Carnival banquet, reminiscent of the
costume of certain seventeenth century commedia dell’arte servants, has prec-
edents in a distinctive green and gold horizontally striped jacket repeatedly fea-
tured in the work of Leandro’s father Jacopo Bassano.490 Carnival banquet fea-

Published by Schleier as a workshop study for the painting (Neue Zeichnungen, pp.14, 17,
fig.2). Variants of plate 226 are in the Ukraine (Hlyboka Castle) and Russia (Tula Museum).
According to McDowell Eugene Kenley, ‘the association of matachins with the comedia
continued well into the seventeenth century’ (Sixteenth-century ‘Matachines’ Dances;
‘Morescas’ of Mock Combat and Comic Pantomime (Stanford: University Phil. Diss.,
1993), pp.51, 55).
As, for instance, worn by one of the magi in the National Gallery of Scotland’s Adoration of
the magi.


tured in the Dantsek-Dayka de Pozsony collection as by Giovanni Schiavone

(‘Il Meldolla’) [plate 242]. It was sold in 1930 (from the Karácsonyi Collection,
Budapest) as by Toeput, an attribution accepted by Sterling and others, and in
1937 as by Leandro Bassano, while Takács inclines towards a follower of Toeput,
and Meijer proposes Dirck de Vries.491 Its stylistic closeness to Bassano’s carni-
val pictures supports attribution to the same workshop: identified by Leandro
Bassano’s signature on the Vienna canvas. Carnival banquet is far closer to
Leandro Bassano than to the hesitant style of plate 265, possibly also a work-
shop production.
The Bassaneque elements also evident in de Jode’s engraving after Toeput
may be due to Leandro Bassano’s influence on Toeput rather than, as Peltzer
suggests, because it originates from the same hand as Carnival banquet [plate
130].492 The engraving’s foreground is occupied by a line of masqueraders led
by a turbanned mask and his exotically dressed female companion following a
lute-playing zanni across the front of the picture towards a Pantalone and his
zanni at the extreme left. In the left background, a concert takes place on a
pavilion, to the right is a wide terrace with views down a Venetian canal. A
painting, The concert, reflects the left-hand composition of the engraving, show-
ing only the pavilion and three left-hand masks, and has marked similarities to
Carnival banquet [plates 130, 242, 266]. The lute players seated at the left of
the two paintings are close, and in The concert, the servant accompanying
Pantalone at the left is not a zanni, as in the engraving, but a type similar to the
servant to the left of Carnival banquet. The performers in many pictures featur-
ing masks reminiscent of de Jode’s group, whether from Toeput’s own studio or
by other artists, are purely derivative; however, rather than merely copying de
Jode’s engraving, some artists may have used it as a compositional aid in re-
cording performers they themselves had seen.493 If the compositional links with
Momper’s drawings January and February are due to direct influence, it is
likely – because they share the same orientation, and because prints, by their
nature, achieve a far wider circulation than drawing – to be from the print to the

Sterling, ‘Early paintings, p.30; Renger, ‘Joos van Winghes “Nachtbancket”’, p.171;
Takács, ‘Un tableau de Sebastian Vrancx’, p.58; Meijer, ‘A proposito della Vanità’, p.118.
Peltzer, ‘Lodewyck Toeput’, p.278.
Such as plates 124–5, 128–9, 157, 228–9, 262–3, 266. The only commedia-related
paintings associated with Toeput by Menegazzi (‘Giunte a Ludovico Pozzoserrato’, Arte
Veneta, 15 (1961), 119–26, pp.122, 124) are plate 228, which he dates to the early 1580s,
and plate 262, which he dates to c.1590.


drawings [plates 128–30].494 The foreground groups in February and plate 157
are related, and the group in the extreme right-hand foreground of January, of a
masked woman in eastern costume attended by parasol-bearing matachins, is
reminiscent of a group in de Jode’s print.
Indeed, the whole of the foreground figure groups of both January and Feb-
ruary are built up and composed in a remarkably similar way to those of this
print [plates 128–30]. In each of the three pictures, a small group at the extreme
left point into the picture, and the middle ground is taken up by a lute-playing
zanni, and each of Momper’s right-hand groups mainly features comic types
similar to those in the print. It is possible that Momper was simply borrowing
from previous art, without any first-hand knowledge of the Italian comedians,
although he is thought to have visited Italy in the 1580s. Significant costume
differences between the comic types in his drawings and the print tell against
this. More likely is that Momper was using de Jode’s print after Toeput as a
compositional guide to depicting troupes he himself had actually observed.
Callot’s engravings after Momper’s drawings, via Collaert’s prints, have been
dated to around 1610, the year Callot completed his apprenticeship with Antonio
Tempesta [plates 269–72].495
In signing his engraving in the plate, de Jode recorded Toeput as its original
artist. Many pictures depicting comic types in settings exhibiting compositional
relationships, however faint, to Toeput’s work, can be confidently excluded from
his oeuvre. However, they underline the role played in establishing the artistic
conventions of the winter carnival picture by Toeput, and by Marten de Vos,
from whose print of Hiems this group ultimately derives its compositional inspi-
ration [plate 227].496 In the right foreground of one such, A village with carnival
revellers on the ice, are nine colourful comic types [plate 264]. They include a
stilt walking Harlequin type in white, with blue and red patches and red hat with
white feathers, a white Pulcinella type, and various acrobats predominantly in
reds, blues, and yellows. Although attributed to ‘circle of Lodewyk Toeput’, the
pronounced mannerist style of the background landscape, and nervous quality
of the comic types suggest that the picture postdates Toeput’s death in 1604, and

Two of a series of the months in the Rijksmuseum, recorded as by Joos de Momper on the
engravings after them [plates 269–70]. See also Hollstein IV, p.207, nos.559–70, p.213,
nos.125–8; a February after Momper by Hans Collaert is unrecorded in Hollstein (Oxford,
Ashmolean Museum).
Thomas Schröder, Jacques Callot: das gesamte Werk, 2 vols (Herrsching: Pawlak, 1971–
86), II, pp.880–2.
See plates 162, 263–4, 275–6.


is by an imitator or admirer of Jacques Callot. Winter carnival too is built up on

similar compositional principles to the Vos print which exercised such an influ-
ence on the compositions of Toeput’s carnival pictures, with a large bare tree
splitting the composition into a right-hand ice-scape and left-hand side more
dominated by architectural elements [plates 227, 275]. I reattribute it from
Hendrick van Avercamp to Pieter Stevens by virtue of its similarity to two draw-
ings, one authenticated by a print after Stevens of c.1607, and February, Roman
carnival from Stevens to Paul Bril by virtue of Bril’s monogram and its shared
composition with a dated engraving of 1615 after Bril [plates 276–79].497
While none of this last group can be seriously associated with Toeput him-
self, Allegory of January, an unsigned drawing attributed to Toeput, relating to
Momper’s January and February and the Fitzwilliam Museum’s drawing Janu-
ary/Carnival, provide the basis for associating several winter carnival scenes
with Toeput [plates 84, 127–9].498 In plates 127 and 229, the picture plane is
bisected by a largely leafless tree dominating the immediate foreground. To the
left, there is a view of an Italianate town resembling Georg Hoefnagel’s engrav-
ing of Treviso after Toeput.499 It is seen through a ruined arch, in front of which
a procession of commedia players makes its way out of the picture. To the right,
a wide country road leads across a bridge to a landscape stretching into the
distance beyond. The players are in each case led by a lute-playing zanni;
Pantalone and a man holding up a bird are followed in the Yale drawing by two
fashionably dressed couples, in Winter by one such couple accompanied by
their comic servant [plates 127, 229]. There are unmistakable parallels between

On plate 277, see An Zwollo, ‘Pieter Stevens, ein vergessener Maler des rudolfinischen
Kreises’, Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, 64 (1968), 119–79, p.166;
on plate 278, see Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, Drawings from the Holy Roman Empire
1540–1680, a Selection from North American Collections (Princeton: University Art
Museum, 1982), pp.160–1, cat.58. Bril’s visually punning monogram is also on one of the
Corsini Album drawings [plate 243].
Haverkamp-Begemann and Logan, European Drawings, p.275. See plates 124, 228, 229,
262, 265, and the painting of Winter from a series of the four seasons published as a major
early Toeput by Crosato (‘Di “Quattro Stagioni”’, fig.4). Plate 229 is attributed to Joos de
Momper’s son Frans. From the proximity of the comic types to those in an engraving of
1614 by Matham after Wildens another painting with carnival figures attributed to Frans
Momper can be dated with some confidence to 1614 or later [plates 273–4]. The comic
types in plate 124 are even more similar to those in plate 127 than they are to those in plate
130, suggesting more direct contact with Toeput than simply knowledge of prints after his
works, and a possible studio work.
Menegazzi, ‘Ludovico Toeput’, fig.58.


the comic groups in plates 127 and 229 (and other paintings, such as plate 124),
and those in de Jode’s engraving [plate 130]. In the backgrounds of both plates
127 and 229 there is bull-baiting on the main road into the city, in the panel a
dramatic performance is also in progress, on a raised outdoor stage. In plate
124, the bull-baiting occurs in a very different setting, that of St. Mark’s Square,
Venice. The motif of the central winter tree so evident in plate 277 similarly
occupies the foregrounds of plate 228 and Winter, with an allegorical personifi-
cation of ‘Winter’ seated in front, in the open in plate 228 (as in plate 127), and
on a processional cart in Winter.500 The right-hand scene in plate 228 resembles
that of plates 127 and 229: to the left, instead of their arch, is an imposing
townscape behind a large bridge raised on four massive brick arches. In front of
this, a procession of comedians, including acrobats, Pantalone and violin- and
lute-playing zanni, winds its way into the picture and towards the town. In Win-
ter, the background lacks any such dominating architectural feature. The divi-
sion of land to the left and water to the right seen in plates 127 and 229 is
preserved, but the water is frozen over, and, as well as carnival revellers or a
comic troupe to the left, there are carnival sleighs on the ice in the right back-
A country road leading via an arched bridge into a wide landscape, compa-
rable to those common to the right-hand side of plates 127 and 228–9 forms the
whole picture in plate 262, where comedians take part in bull-baiting in the
foreground and form a procession across the bridge. It is also echoed in the
right-hand side of plate 84, with its wide landscape containing a rustic bridge
but few buildings and no central tree. Its arch frames the left-hand background,
compositionally similar to that in plate 127, although the foreground is a unified
spread of carnival revellers across the bottom third of the picture plane, many of
them costumed, but related only loosely to specific commedia masks. Although
attributed to Toeput, there are close stylistic and compositional links with
Momper’s January [plate 128]. They share a similar view towards a circular
Italianate town, down a broad street on which bull-baiting and a dramatic per-
formance on a trestle stage take place. Like his January, Momper’s February
features comedians in the foreground, a group with similarities to that in the de
Jode engraving, as noted above, and to those in plates 127 and 229 [plates 128–

For Winter, see Crosato, ‘Di “Quattro Stagioni”’, fig.4. On plates 84, 127 and 228, see
Stephen Ostrow, Visions and Revisions, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design,
Providence, October 18 – November 24 1968 (Providence, RI: RI School of Design, 1968),
pp.15–16. On plate 228, see also Meijer, ‘A proposito della Vanità’, p.121.


30]. The compositional similarities but weaker handling of plate 229 and its
partner as compared to the Momper months may more plausibly be explained
by an attribution to Toeput, than to Momper’s son Frans.
The compositional links between the de Jode engraving and Momper’s Janu-
ary and February, and the group of interrelated pictures here discussed, bear
witness to the influence of Toeput’s carnival scenes on Momper’s Months, a
major series by his more talented compatriot.501 Their further investigation could
elucidate the links postulated between Toeput, Momper and Caulery, and aid
interpretation of their carnival costumes, some of which are closely paralleled
in Flemish carnival scenes.502 More exact dating and attribution of these pic-
tures could illuminate the extent to which their artists accurately recorded the
carnival in Toeput’s adopted Treviso, or added elements borrowed from their
own experiences, recent or not, of the carnival in Flanders, or from other works
of art. It is clear from this group of pictures that artists appropriated the group of
masked comedians in de Jode’s engraving after Toeput, and the compositional
setting for winter carnival pictures taken by Toeput from Vos. These borrowings
graphically demonstrate the increasing domination of imitation over inspiration
that led to a progressive stereotyping of shared artistic motifs in pictures of the
Italian comedians.

See especially plates 127–30, 228, 229, 262.
Such as signed and dated drawings of 1573 and 1580 by Hans Bol [plates 167–8].

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III Theatrical interpretation: some case studies

III.i Scenery, settings and stages

III.i.a Introduction
There is a great lack of detailed description of the actual performances and
acting methods of the troupes of Italian professional actors who developed the
commedia dell’arte before 1600. For information on their scenery, settings and
stages, we are largely reliant on the surviving visual material. Only a relatively
small proportion of renaissance pictures of commedia dell’arte characters show
them on stages with scenery, raising the question of exactly what sort of per-
formances the comic actors featured in other performance situations were able
to offer. Techniques for extracting documentary evidence from visual records,
and for interpreting commedia-related works of art in the light of accurate infor-
mation about their artist, date and place of origin, and artistic variants, are con-
sidered above. Even when a particular early modern depiction might appear to
be based on what its artist had seen at a specific performance, it cannot escape
being strongly influenced by the artistic conventions and commissioning pres-
sures of its time. Pictorial evidence never provides an unbiased ‘snapshot’ of a
performance event, even when it may seem to be a straightforward record of a
particular performance.503 This is particularly important when considering pic-
tures of the commedia dell’arte, whose costumed characters are depicted in
‘real life’ as well as performance contexts, so that an additional problem en-
countered in interpreting visual evidence of renaissance commedia dell’arte
performances is in defining and identifying those performances. Nevertheless,
further art-historical details of the pictures under consideration in this section
are only provided where they are directly relevant to its theme: the depiction of

As demonstrated by, for example, Louise George Clubb (‘Pictures for the reader: A series of
illustrations to comedy 1591–1592’, Renaissance Drama, 9 (1966), 265–77) on the
woodcuts to a 1592 edition of the play Gli Inganni, or W M H Hummelen on rederijker
stages (‘Toneel op de kermis, van Bruegel tot Bredero’, Oud Holland, 103 (1989), 1–45;
idem, ‘The boundaries of the rhetoricians’ stage’, Comparative Drama, 28 (1994), 235–51).

scenery, settings and stages. Further, the assumption is made that, in general,
these pictures reflect the contemporary stage practice of professional actors to a
reasonable degree of accuracy, even though by no means all relate to specific
performances by Italian troupes.
McDowell classifies early commedia dell’arte platform stages into the three
categories of bare platform stage, open stage with plain curtain backdrop or
scenic background, and stage enclosed at sides and top.504 Anderson discusses
five categories of renaissance commedia stages, in order of increasing sophisti-
cation: firstly, the cleared space; secondly, the trestle stage, with or without
backdrop; thirdly, the open-air booth stage; fourthly, hired indoor rooms (often
advertised in advance by a public parade); and fifthly, the specially designated
theatre.505 These categories simplify the wide range of staging methods depicted
in the iconographic records, most of which can be found indoors as well as
outdoors. The early pictorial evidence suggests that cleared-space staging cov-
ers a broad spectrum from the not-so-cleared space, where entertainers jostle
with their audience, through to improvisational use of architectural features as
natural stages, and even occasional enhancement of a natural performance space
by the addition of curtains or temporary audience boxes. Street performance
areas could also be defined by means of a specially constructed raised platform.
This could be an unadorned trestle stage, a stage with curtain backdrop, an
architecturally enhanced curtained stage with constructed openings in the back-
drop and/or architectural side features, or full perspective scenery. The surviv-
ing pictures suggest that these categories coexisted in the late renaissance, rather
than simply replacing each other in chronological succession.
Although this is familiar ground, the curtained platform stage receives an
undue share of critical attention in commedia dell’arte studies. The iconogra-
phy rarely clarifies whether the stage is situated in hired rooms or a specially
designated theatre, and sometimes not even whether the performance is being
held indoors or outdoors. There is also a good reason for the relative neglect of
depictions of cleared space and natural staging. Most fall into the category of
the numerous images with valuable information for the renaissance theatre his-
torian which are under-researched because, despite clearly depicting commedia
dell’arte characters, their theatrical significance is difficult to interpret.

McDowell, ‘Early mountebank stages’.
Michael Anderson, ‘Making room: Commedia and the privatisation of the theatre’, in The
Commedia dell’arte from the Renaissance to Dario Fo, ed. Christopher Cairns (Lewiston,
Queenston, Lampeter: Mellen, 1989), 74–98.


III.i.b Cleared space staging

A major problem with images of the cleared space performance practice is that
identifying and defining the limits of theatrical performance in pictures which
show no scenery, setting, or stage at all is generally far from straightforward.
Sometimes, it is impossible to tell whether the background to a depiction of comic
masks is theatrical scenery, or a genuine setting, either for professional perform-
ers, perhaps parading around a town to advertise a forthcoming indoor per-
formance, or for non-professionals in carnival costume. Genuine (as opposed
to theatrical) settings can be further differentiated into those which can be
related to actual locations, and those based to a lesser or greater extent on imagi-
nary locations, often strongly influenced by previous pictures. These problems
of interpretation have contributed to the relative under-researching of the icono-
graphic records. There are many pictures in which it seems possible, likely, or,
in some cases, even certain that the masked or comic characters depicted are not
stage performers at all, but costumed carnival revellers. The settings of many
commedia-related pictures are Italian or Italy-inspired. But some of these set-
tings are idealized, and it is hard to establish exactly what relationship the con-
tents of such pictures have with any real location and event. The boundaries
between ceremony, ritual, street entertainment, song and dance routine, public
parade, and theatrical performance are not clear cut, and are not always mani-
fest in the pictures. Some of the images under consideration may not show per-
formers at all, but be independent illustrations to texts of a non-performance
type, such as songs and anecdotes featuring commedia dell’arte characters.
My own most likely reading of plate 65 is that two zanni, two courtesans on
horseback and a Turk are performing in a city square, identified as Florentine. It is
also possible that plate 65 does not show performers at all, but merely costumed
carnival revellers; or that it shows performers on a perspective set, not in a cleared
space. Even in pictures where the activity taking place falls clearly under the
definition of theatrical entertainment, it is not uncommon for there to be no scen-
ery, set or stage, and for the actors to define their performance area solely by
clearing a space for themselves. The performance area does not seem to be de-
fined in plates 70–2, where an area in the background has been enclosed for a
joust, but again, the masks appear to be simply performing at street level, in an
unenclosed area of a city square. The comedians in some pictures perform in
palace gardens or courtyards, often to audiences seated at picnics or banquets.506

See, for example, plates 92–8, 105, 159, 211.


Cleared space performances can have indoor as well as outdoor settings. Depic-
tions of indoor or covered settings often show the entertainment as one element
of festivities which could also include feasting, music making and the playing of
games such as backgammon or dice.507

III.i.c Natural stages

A wealth of pictorial evidence suggests that cleared space staging sometimes
made use of existing architectural features to emphasise the performance area.
Even in plates 65, 70 and 152, noted above, the actors have enhanced the cleared-
space performance areas by playing to defined audience areas. Terraces, large
loggias and entrance lobbies of the type to be found in Italianate palaces, par-
ticularly if they incorporated steps, or the public buildings of most renaissance
towns centres, lent themselves well to use as makeshift outdoor stages. Such
architectural features were a favourite setting for dramatic entries and entertain-
ments by masked comedians.508 Indoor performers sometimes also took advan-
tage of existing architectural features.509 For itinerant entertainers with limited
ability to transport equipment, such ready-made stages had the advantage of
providing almost instant grand settings. However, they might be unfamiliar to
visiting actors, not necessarily suited to large audiences or to the collection of
entrance fees, and disappointing to audiences.

III.i.d Unadorned raised stages

The third level of sophistication, after cleared space and natural stages, is the
unadorned wooden platform. For most such depictions of platform stages the
lack of detail, and angle of depiction of the stage, mean that, even assuming that
they are accurately reflecting stage practice, the exact size of the platform stage
is difficult or impossible to determine.510 But the pictorial evidence suggests a
wide range, from tiny square platforms which are hardly more than a floor mat
with narrow, usually waist-high, trestles just big enough to raise two or three
performers a metre or so above ground level, to large wooden structures raised
to the shoulder or head height of the audience, or even higher, and suitable for a

See, for example, plates 138–45, 150–1, 209–10, 221.
See, for example, plates 27, 37, 99–101, 108, 130, 157, 162, 226, 266–8, 280, 282.
See, for example, plates 30, 181.
Hummelen, ‘Toneel op de kermis’, pp.27–8.


complete commedia troupe.511 Although to some the miniature stage of plates 14–
15 ‘appears to be a small portion of an acting platform’, an artistic convention
rather than a genuinely small stage,512 it seems reasonable to interpret its double
thickness joined by a central hinge as a realistic representation of two sections of
an actual itinerant troupe’s stage, untrestled and folded together for transporta-
tion. Sometimes stages are shown constructed against the sides of buildings, lend-
ing both added stability and a ready-made backdrop. Only rarely, as in plate 277,
is an unadorned raised stage depicted in an unmistakably indoor setting.

III.i.e Stages with curtain backdrops

It is only at this level of staging, often depicted in conjunction with music making
mountebank troupes selling their wares, that custom-made set and scenery are
introduced. At their simplest, they consist of no more than a backdrop, usually a
curtain supported by a metal rod or wooden poles, which may be plain, or bear
some form of decoration and/or inscription, and/or have one or more openings.513
Rarely, as with the large torches to either side of the stage in plate 75, lighting
arrangements are indicated.514 Sometimes there is an enclosed area behind the
backdrop, to give a booth stage, or a large elaborate temporary outdoor stage has
been constructed in front of a house, which appears to be utilized both as addi-
tional performance space and as a backstage area.515 Occasionally, as in plate 3,
the stage supports are concealed, and possibly this below-stage area was used as a
storage and changing area. The curtain of the stage in plate 3 is painted with a
perspective street scene reminiscent of Serlio’s comic set, as is the backdrop of
the stage-within-a-stage of plate 245 (Corsini scenario 34). Often the pictorial
evidence does not make it clear whether the stage is indoors or outdoors, but
where it does, they are generally outdoors, although plates 277 and 292 respec-
tively feature a trestle and a booth stage in indoor settings. Many indoor scenes
featuring comic carnival types or entertainers in cleared-space settings depict them
entering or in close proximity to a curtained door or opening, a possible indica-
tion of the use of curtains to define performance space in domestic interiors.516

See, for example, plates 27, 36, 68, 102–3, 121–3, 126, 128, 206, 212, 214–15, 254–5,
258, 269, 271, 275, 277–9, 283–6, 340.
McDowell, ‘Early mountebank stages’, p.87.
See, for example, plates 2–3, 77, 117, 119, 120, 125, 146, 287.
On this painting, see also Hummelen, ‘Doubtful images’, pp.206–7.
See, for example, plates 75, 172, 175, 213, 288–92, 299.
See, for example, plates 16, 29–30, 62–3, 140, 200, 205, 207–8, 221.


III.i.f Architecturally enhanced curtain stages

Scala’s scenarios of 1611 indicate that the commedia dell’arte required division
of the stage into separate areas, and point to two key factors required for the
successful performance of full-length improvised commedia plays.517 They re-
quire a stage which facilitates extensive use of the unmotivated exits necessary
for successful improvisation, and also has at least two levels, of which the upper
could most simply be provided by first floor windows. An intermediate step
between stages with curtain backdrops and stages with full perspective scenery
is represented by the architecturally enhanced stage with curtain backdrop. At
its simplest, this is depicted in plate 58, which shows a raised stage with a cur-
tain backdrop with window-shaped openings created not by cutting holes in the
backdrop, but by nailing the surrounding cloth to hollow wooden window frames.
Fixed scenery, albeit of the most rudimentary kind, has been created. The natu-
ralism with which the hang of the backdrop material, and its pleating, pinning
and folding around the central opening are depicted, suggest that they are based
on observation from life, although the extent to which this reflects actual stage
practice, rather than artistic embellishment, is undecided. As Anderson notes,
plate 58 contains: ‘many unusual features and it remains unclear whether the
artist was faithfully reproducing stage practice’.518 Some of the pictures in and
relating to the Recueil Fossard showing stages with curtain backdrops also fea-
ture simple solid scenery to one or both sides, as does one of Minaggio’s pic-
tures of c.1618 of Italian comedians.519 Alternative types of architecturally en-
hanced stages with curtain backdrops are represented in the middle background
of plate 177, which appears to feature a curtained stage on which the curtains
are supported by a solid pillared framework, or plate 295, where a tower has
been constructed behind the backdrop.

III.i.g Perspective stages

A more complex type of staging involves full perspective scenery. Serlio’s comic,
tragic and satyric stage settings of 1545 influenced virtually all renaissance per-
spective stage sets postdating them, however rudimentary [plates 296–8].520
His comic and tragic sets were street scenes, although the tragic set featured

Scala, Il teatro; Fitzpatrick, Oral and Literate Performance Processes, pp.109, 124.
Anderson, ‘Making room’, p.96 n.21.
See plates 47–8, 293.
Sebastiano Serlio, Il secondo libro d’architettura, perspettiva (Paris: Barbé, 1545).


much grander and more dignified architecture. The comic set is a culmination
of a tendency, during the first half of the sixteenth century, to increasingly re-
place civic and courtly renaissance and classical elements in the comic scene
with outmoded Gothic domestic architecture. Serlio’s third set, later used exten-
sively for pastoral drama, featured rustic cottages in a woodland glade.
The most valuable information on early commedia performances with full
perspective scenery is provided by the 100 Corsini Album title page illustra-
tions, each of which features a staged performance scene [plates 243–7]. A cen-
tral question when interpreting these pictures is whether or not they depict actual
sets and actors, that is, are based on productions of the plays they illustrate. Do
they give ‘a rather faithful picture of what the spectators saw at certain moments
of a performance […] a rather faithful record of the use of scenery by the
commedia dell’arte troupes’?521 Or are they, like some of the woodcuts dis-
cussed below, just more general, all-purpose evocations of plots of the type they
illustrate, produced by artists who knew little more about the individual plays
than what is available to us today in the accompanying scenarios? Some have
interpreted these drawings as aids for inexperienced or amateur actors, or pro-
motional material from which prospective patrons could commission the sce-
nario of their choice.522 Others conclude that although one illustration often
appears to conflate several incidents from a particular scenario, ‘analysis of the
title-page illustrations in the Corsini scenarios has shown a close correspond-
ence between picture, scenario and property list […] the decorations on the title
pages represent actual stage performances of the scenarios’.523
Whatever the actual degree of accuracy of these representations, it can be
reasonably assumed that their artists were familiar with contemporary stage prac-
tice, and that these pictures offer a great deal of valuable documentary informa-
tion of a non-specific nature concerning renaissance commedia dell’arte per-
spective sets. A statistical approach offers a preliminary route to understanding
the evidence these drawings offer. The Corsini Album sets can be divided into
three basic types, namely the city street, based ultimately on Serlio’s comic set;

Nagler, ‘The Corsini scenari’, pp.9–10.
The 138 folios of watercolour drawings of the New York Public Library Spencer Collec-
tion’s codex Repertorio di una compagnia della commedia dell’arte (on paper with
watermarks dating 1569–91) may be a collection of this type, as suggested by Louise
George Clubb, who first published some of these images (‘Italian renaissance theatre’, in
The Oxford Illustrated History of Theatre, ed. John Russell Brown (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1995), 107–41, p.118).
Aasted, ‘The Corsini scenarios’, pp.106, 108.


rural scenes, based loosely on Serlio’s pastoral set; and hybrid sets combining one
urban with one rural wing. Seventy-seven percent are of the first type, city street
sets, used in seventy of the seventy-five comedies, seven of the ten tragicomedies,
and none of the fifteen plays which fall into the remaining four categories.524
Much plainer and simpler in arrangement than Serlio’s prototype, although clearly
inspired by it, these tend to feature box-like houses, which do however provide
the openings on two levels necessary for effective performance of commedia sce-
narios. In the illustrations to scenarios 35 (L’hospite amoroso) and 54 (La nobilta
di Bertolino), furniture has been placed in the street set, presumably to indicate an
indoor setting [plates 245-6].
Rural sets form seventeen percent of the depicted sets. They are used for all
but one of the eleven pastorals, the sole tragedy, both opere turchesche, the tragi-
comedy La gelosa gverriera (49), set on a military field, and no less than three
comedies.525 Although no pastoral, tragedy, opera reale, or opera turchesca is
depicted with city sets, three comedies and a tragicomedy have frontispieces fea-
turing rural sets. Urban settings were considerably cheaper to stage than rural
settings, as they involved not only pastures, but usually several of the following
additional elements: woods, sea, lakes, grottoes, fountains, mountains, temples,
abysses, dramatic weather effects, military camps and towers. Tragedy was only
rarely performed by commedia troupes, so it would be surprising if they went to
the expense of having special sets made, especially as the grand and dignified
sets considered appropriate to true tragedy would be cumbersome to transport
and out of keeping with their style. The frontispiece to L’Adrasto (37), the Corsini
Album’s sole tragedy, shows five actors in a rural setting, apparently in front of
a painted backdrop depicting a coastal city with ships and mountains in the
background. The remaining six percent of the drawings feature hybrid sets.526
Other depictions of late renaissance commedia dell’arte performances with
perspective sets include the rudimentary perspective set of plate 299, where wings
and backdrop depict a simple architectural interior. The left wing only starts re-
ceding a quarter of the way along the stage, leaving an area at the extreme left
which represents an architectural exterior, in front of which more spectators stand.

The 100 Corsini Album scenarios subdivide into six categories of drama: comedy (75),
pastoral (11), tragicomedy (10), opera turchesca (2), tragedy (1), and opera reale (1).
Li Dispetti (85), in a formal garden setting; La magica di Pantalone (93), on a mountain
slope; and Il pozzo (25), in a glade with a large hexagonal well in its foreground.
For two comedies (La Zengara (21) and Il Veleno (89)), two tragicomedies (L’innocente
rivenduta (61) and Le teste incantate (97)), one pastoral (Il fonte incantato (77)) and one
opera reale (La gran pazzia di Orlando (1)).


More elaborate perspective sets are depicted in numerous images, including

book illustrations, the Three Italian comedians of c.1618–20 and other prints
by Callot, and two ink drawings [plates 300–306]. Among the best known book
illustrations are numerous title page woodcuts, such as plate 300, and the wood-
cuts for the prologue of the 1617 edition of Giovanni Briccio’s Pantalone
Imbertonao,527 and the 1607 edition of Adriano Banchieri’s La prudenza
giovenile.528 They also include twenty-nine woodcuts used in the 1592 edition
of Curzio Gonzaga’s Gli inganni and elsewhere,529 and the fourteen woodcuts
of the 1597 edition of Orazio Vecchi’s L’Anfiparnasso. Each of these latter
features one or more actors in front of a different perspective scenery set. Krogh
identifies Vecchi’s characters, many of them taken straight from the commedia
dell’arte, in these woodcuts, and relates them to episodes in Vecchi’s play.530
The degree of caution necessary for such an exercise is underlined by twenty-
nine woodcuts showing stock comic characters in front of different perspective
scenery. Unlike all but one of Krogh’s woodcuts, which shows the whole stage
and the front two rows of the audience, each features the stage and set in its
entirety. Clubb publishes all twenty-nine and demonstrates that they were an all-
purpose stock series commissioned for the purpose of selecting illustrations for
at least three different plays of the early 1590s. She concludes that: ‘it is obvi-
ous that the entire series was designed expressly to provide illustrations for any
regular example of the genre’.531 In three separate plates, Callot’s Three come-
dians feature Zanni, the Captain and Pantalone, in each case taking up the whole
foreground of a print whose background features the same comedian in a typical
commedia scene, on a stage with a perspective set, with a large audience in front
[plates 302–4]. The three sets are similar, elaborate street scenes inspired by
Serlio’s comic set [plate 296]. Plates 305–6 are two anonymous drawings, surely
by the same hand, each featuring a lively commedia scene in a city street repre-
sented by a perspective set.

Kathleen M Lea, ‘The bibliography of the commedia dell’arte: the miscellanies of the
comici and virtuosi’, The Library, 11 (1930), 1–38, pp.28–9; eadem, Italian Popular
Comedy, I, p.214. Briccio (1581–1646), a Rome-based professional painter, produced his
own woodcuts, as a visual guide for the amateur actors for whom he wrote plays such as
this and La ventura di Zanne, e Pascariello (Viterbo, 1619).
Martha Farahat, ‘On the staging of madrigal comedies’, Early Music History, 10 (1991),
123–143, figs.2–5.
Clubb, ‘Pictures for the reader’.
Krogh, ‘Italienske maskekomedies’, pp.134–43; Pandolfi, La commedia dell’arte, II,
Clubb, ‘Pictures for the reader’, p.267.


In some images it is difficult to tell whether the masked comic characters are
shown in real-life or theatrical settings. Plate 224 is an inlaid panel in a piece of
furniture featuring masked comedians, plate 307 is a drawing, and plates 12, 17,
156 and 192 are paintings. Do these pictures depict carnival revellers, or comedi-
ans performing in cleared spaces, in genuine, albeit often rather fanciful, streets,
or do they show actors on stages with perspective sets? Plates 17 and 307 offer,
perhaps, the least evidence to define their central groups. These figures may be
actors on stage, or simply street masqueraders. Beijer, who first identified and
published plate 224, is in no doubt that it represents actors on a theatrical stage.532
In his opinion, the panel records either a scene from a performance by a visiting
Italian troupe at a southern German court in the first decades of the seventeenth
century, or French farceurs. For Beijer, this scenery has nothing in common either
with the type of curtained sets familiar from the Recueil Fossard, or with Italian
perspective sets, and is a product of pure imagination, possibly influenced by the
type of sets used at the Hôtel de Bourgogne. However, this set, and especially the
central building, with its pointed elevation, high round window and door with
steps and pediment, seems to me to have perceptible correlations with Serlio’s
comic set. Plate 156, generally interpreted as showing a perspective stage set, is
variously dated to the later sixteenth533 or early seventeenth534 century.
Plate 192, which I reattribute from the eighteenth century Venetian School to
the circle of Hieronymus I Francken, affords insufficient clues to enable a deci-
sion on whether its background cityscape is a painted backdrop, perspective scen-
ery, or simply a genuine urban setting. Certain features tie in with those associated
with the late renaissance comic scene, notably the central round, columned build-
ing. The background divides into three areas: a garden scene to the left, and two
deep perspective constructions at centre and right, bounded by two large build-
ings centrally, a clump of tall trees to the extreme left, and an architectural wing
with a woman at its window to the right. Whatever the explanation of this picture
and its unique triple setting, it is clearly of great theatrical interest. The question of
whether architectural features depicted in images featuring commedia masks are
supposed to represent real buildings or painted sets may also be asked of the
Bayeux painting [plate 12]. Here the concern is whether the actors are performing

Agne Beijer, ‘Quelques documents sur les farceurs français et italiens’, Revue d’histoire du
théâtre, 9 (1957), 54–60, pp.59–60, fig.8.
Adhèmar, ‘Genre paintings’, p.192; Aasted, ‘The Corsini scenarios’, p.108.
Mario Apollonio et al, ‘Commedia dell’arte’, in Enciclopedia dello spettacolo, 9 vols
(Roma, 1954–62), III (1956), cols.1185–1226, fig.CXLIX; Hallar, Teaterspil og tegnsprog,
fig.14; Molinari, La commedia dell’arte, pp.90–1.


in a cleared space or on a perspective stage, that is, whether the architecture and
formal garden depicted in this painting represent part of a real-life cleared space
setting, or, as has been suggested by several authorities, are stage scenery and a
painted backdrop with a back-shutter.535 The visual clues afforded by plate 12
seem too meagre to allow a firm decision as to whether its setting is a perspective
stage, or a genuine and perhaps identifiable palace interior, with a view out on to
an actual garden.536

III.ii Zanni and Pantalone

III.ii.a Introduction
The Zanni–Pantalone partnership forms the heart, and oldest core, of the commedia
dell’arte, and the depiction of Zanni and Pantalone in reliably documented con-
temporary visual material yields important evidence for the sources and develop-
ment of the commedia. Commedia erudita adopted the servant–master partner-
ship from the classical stage. Amateur attempts to exploit its entertainment poten-
tial were hampered both by lack of skill and by the social stigma attached to the
garish costumes and gross bodily contortions necessary for successful clowning.537
By grafting crowd-pleasing elements from the traditions of acrobatics, juggling
and carnival on to the commedia erudita duo, professional performers were able
to develop them into a commercially successful stage act which formed the major
comic focus of their plays. By 1568, the date of the Munich wedding perform-
ance, Zanni is becoming established as the central element in a particular type of
Italian comedy, recognized outside Italy, and identifiable in the iconographic record.
The earliest dated pictures of Zanni and Pantalone pairs and their forerunners
feature them not on the stage, but in the context of real-life settings. Dating to the
1560s, they show mountebank troupes on marketplace trestle stages and domestic
servant–master scenes [plates 233–7, 283].538 Several undated prints apparently

McDowell, ‘Early mountebank stages’, p.89.
Robert Erenstein has informally suggested that the setting may be that of the stage of the
Hôtel de Bourgogne (private communication, 1994).
Noë, Illustrationen zur Commedia dell’arte, pp.47–51, 83.
Plate 283 remained commercially viable for over two centuries. David Kunzle reproduces
an impression dated 1773, from the Roman print workshop of Carlo Losi (The Early Comic
Strip: Narrative Strips and Picture Stories in the European Broadsheet from c.1450 to
1825 (Berkeley: University of California, 1973), fig.7.4).


showing Zanni and Pantalone as costumed carnival revellers may also date to
around this time [plates 220, 308].
By the time of Antonio Tempesta’s Febraro of 1599, Zanni (standing in the
right foreground with a basket over his arm), and Pantalone (mounted on a don-
key in the left foreground), are masked [plate 64]. Their costumes are notice-
ably anachronistic and theatrical. Although not on stage, they play an integral
dramatic role in the tournament spectacle, and are unmistakably based not on
everyday characters, but on the commedia masks. It is extremely difficult, how-
ever, to chart reliably the changeover from ‘real life’ to theatrical source in the
iconographic record. Differentiation between depictions of genuine Venetian
master–servant duos in everyday dress, and costumed marketplace mountebanks,
carnival revellers, or professional actors is rarely straightforward. Neither is
there a simple relationship between the commedia dell’arte proper and the popu-
lar sources from which it drew its strength and inspiration, whose very essence
was in turn affected by the commedia characters as they developed on stage.

III.ii.b Venetian servants and masters

A printmaker closely associated with images of Zanni and Pantalone in the 1560s
was Nicolò Nelli. Born c.1530, he was active from 1563 to 1572 as an engraver
and printer in Venice, where he specialized in book illustration, and particularly
portraits.539 He is also known from a treatise of 1569 on the horse (Libro de
marchi de cavalli), topographical engravings and popular broadsheets such as
the Proverbii of 1564. His numerous engraved portraits include the signed and
dated one of 1568 of Massimo Troiano on the frontispiece of Troiano’s 1568
Munich festival book.
Five engravings by Nelli feature the Venetian Magnifico Naspo Bizaro and
his servant Zan Polo [plates 233–7]. The wine flows freely as a bored Zan Polo
keeps himself occupied in his gondola, first by eating, then by twiddling his
fingers, then by picking his teeth in an increasingly gross manner. He awaits his
master, an elderly, love-stricken and hyperbolic Magnifico who interminably
serenades on his lute the beautiful Cate Bionda Biriota. She peeps shyly, and
then more boldly, from her window, and eventually descends to be given, reluc-
tantly, in marriage to the fortunate Magnifico, in a sumptuously festive scene
dated 1565 above Nelli’s monogram. In this final scene, in which Cate and

For Nelli, see Bellini, ‘Printmakers’, p.33; Mortimer, Italian 16th-Century Books, I,
pp.150–3, II, pp.465–6.


Naspo are surrounded by servants and guests and attended by the lethargic Zan
Polo, the dramatic suggestion generated by a complex web of crossing and in-
teracting glances and gestures is the scaffold for a comic masterpiece [plate
237]. Cate’s greedy relatives can ill restrain their eagerness for Naspo’s riches,
while his gaze, in turn, rests not on his new bride, but on her neighbour, leaning
invitingly out of a window above Zan Polo, who laconically notes Naspo’s in-
clinations and sizes up his own chances with his new mistress.
Several motifs, such as the servant with the pestle and mortar, are common
to the commedia.540 However, although the costumes of Nelli’s Magnifico and
Zan Polo are related to those of the commedia masks, they are shown unmasked,
in contemporary dress. Thus they appear not to be based on comic stage charac-
ters, but to be a more or less affectionate parody of contemporary Venetian
types. As such, Nelli draws on the same source from which the Zanni and
Pantalone of the commedia developed, and provides an insight into the attitudes
towards this Venetian servant–master duo in the very years in which the commedia
first came to the fore.

III.ii.c Zanni costume

The Zanni–Pantalone partnership drew elements from the mid-sixteenth cen-
tury real-life Venetian servant and master pairs from whom their costume origi-
nates. Paintings such as two by Giorgione confirm that, under his Venetian pa-
trician’s gown, Pantalone continued to wear the dress of his youth, the jacket
and tight-fitting hose which were the height of daring fashion for young Venetian
males in the opening decades of the sixteenth century.541 Zanni’s suit was usu-
ally of plain, coarse, light, neutrally coloured material, with an uncollared hip-
length long-sleeved belted jacket, loose or baggy trousers in matching material
often ending just above the ankles, and no codpiece. But the iconography records
many variations. The suit may have additional details.542 Occasionally, it is not

See also plates 52, 191, 249.
Trial of Moses by fire (Uffizi, Florence); Adoration of the magi (National Gallery, London).
Such as collars [plates 52–3 (1583), 310 (1595), 311 (1616)]; ruffs [plates 35, 249, 252,
253 (1619), 312 (1610), 319]; codpiece [plates 218, 313 (1615)]; jacket buttons [plates
314, 319]; turned-up legs [plates 17, 98 (1606)]; rolled-up sleeves [plate 277 (c.1607)].
Plates 54 and 315 feature zanni with collars, rolled-up sleeves and turn-ups. The zanni-type
costumes of plate 162 are olive green, and embellished with cuffs, elaborate lace collars,
decorative sashes, and shoe buckles.


plain and undyed, but dark, rough-textured, or layered.543 Or it may have stripes,
or some sort of more elaborate patterning, for example around all or some of the
bottom of the jacket sleeves and body and the trouser legs.544 As the character of
Zanni is identified with that of the Bergamasque peasants who worked in Venice
as servants and porters, so has his costume been associated with those of the
north Italian peasant and porter [plates 321–2].545 Troiano’s account of the 1568
Munich commedia dell’arte performance underlines this connection. Having
swapped clothes with Zanni, his master Pantalone reappears ‘dressed in coarse
clothes […] he was a porter’.546
Engravings depicting authentic Venetian porters and servant–master pairs
demonstrate discrepancies between Zanni and porter/servant dress which have
been noted by some scholars [plates 233–7, 322]. Decroisette attributes these to
the ‘stylization’ of stage costume; Povoledo to the influence of the skin-tight
suit of the professional buffone, whom she identifies as Zanni’s forerunner.547
The travel diary of Prince Ferdinand of Bavaria offers an alternative source.
When the young Prince and his four companions headed for the carnival festivi-
ties in Ferrara on 12 January 1566, they travelled incognito, disguised in zanni
costume. The diary suggests a composite source for this zanni costume whose
most important element, sailors’ trousers, is non-rustic.548 Zanni’s cap may have
been directly copied from that of the urban chimneysweep, or perhaps it merely
reminded the Bavarian chronicler of such caps [plate 323]. But pictorial records
confirm that zanni costume was indeed inspired by the loose rough linen trouser
suit of the sailor, apparently admired and adopted by the Venetian dockers of
peasant Bergamasque origin on whom the commedia Zanni was based [plates
316, 322, 324].
Suits of the type associated with Zanni are also worn in the iconographic
record by other commedia servants, such as the Recueil Fossard’s Zany Corneto,
Philipin and Francatripa, a Burati, Zan Trippu and Zan Zaccagna of 1583, a

See, for example, plates 57, 159, 209, 224.
See, for example, plates 27, 35, 57, 105, 207, 240 (1581), 248 (1575), 312 (1610), 317
(c.1588), 318 (1604), 319–20. Such patterning sometimes indicates a comic servant other
than Zanni.
Peasant garb was a popular renaissance carnival disguise in the alpine regions (Paul
Vandenbroeck, ‘Verbeeck’s peasant weddings: a study of iconography and social function’,
Simiolus, 14 (1984), 79–124, pp.85–6).
Troiano, Dialoghi, f.150v (quoted above, p.58; in the Catalan version, f.151r: ‘vestido con
vestidos rusticos […] era vn ganapan’).
Decroisette, ‘Le zanni’, p.79; Povoledo, ‘Le bouffon’, pp.257–8.
Diary, f.105v; the passage is quoted above, p.67.


Pedrolino of 1589, and German carnival fools of 1610 and 1619 [plates 6, 38,
52–3, 253, 312]. The iconographic record reveals a remarkable diversity within
the basic constraints of the zanni outfit, and tracing the historical development
of the stage costume over the first few decades of the commedia dell’arte through
the surviving dated pictures is not straightforward. It confirms that some sort of
hat, more often than not feathered and brimmed, is invariably sported by the
true Zanni, and that a dark three-quarter mask and beard occur in dated pictures
from the 1560s onwards.549 Occasionally, zanni types wear an obviously false
beard, or animal mask.550 Only from 1600 do dated depictions of zanni in pale
rather than dark masks, or without mask and/or beard, start appearing regularly,
as, for instance, Tempesta and Franco’s beardless zanni of 1599 and 1610,
Vrancx’s and Stevens’s pale-masked zanni of 1606 and c.1607, and several car-
nival zanni types.551 Hieronymus Francken’s comic servant carries a musical
instrument and, at his belt, a purse and weapon, and at least one such accessory
is clearly visible in all the earlier dated depictions of zanni [plate 16].552 With
some elements of zanni costume, such as hats, shoes, cloaks and props, there
appears to be little correlation with dated depictions. One or another of a varied
range of feathered and unfeathered hats, caps, turbans, or even kitchen caul-
drons, plumed pouring funnels or other non-standard headgear, was actively
sported by virtually every zanni [plates 218, 265]. A notable exception is the
left-hand zanni in plate 17, who has doffed his hat, leaving his mask ties clearly
visible. The type of footwear, whether none, or clogs, plain or spotty shoes, or the
more usual black slippers, is not always easy to distinguish in the iconography.553

See, for example, plates 16 (1565), 283 (1568), 238 (1573), 248 (1575), 22–3 (1576), 33
(1579), 240 (1581), 52–3 (1583), 317 (c.1588), 310 (1595), 318 (1604), 271–2 (1610).
See, for example, plates 27, 31–2, 220, 240, 326.
Plates 64 (1599), 98 (1606), 277 (c.1607), 286 (1610), 312 (1610), 313 (1615), 253 (1619).
In 1568 it is a sword [plate 283]; in 1573, dagger, purse and violin [plate 238]; in 1575,
dagger and lute [plate 248]; in 1576 generally a black purse and sword or dagger,
sometimes with a lute or cello bow [plates 22–3]; in c.1577, dagger and purse [plate 249];
in 1579, lute and dagger [plate 33]; in 1581, lute [plate 240]; in 1583, purse and dagger,
with or without violin [plates 52–3, 258]; in c.1588, rommelpot [plate 317]; in 1595, sword
[plate 310]; in 1599, purse and basket of carnival eggs [plate 64]; in 1604, sword and bell-
hammer [plate 318]; in 1606, purse and rommelpot [plate 98]; in c.1607, purse and dagger
[plate 277]. Other instruments carried by Zanni include the pipe [plates 54, 255], bent-back
guitar [plate 209–11], grill, poker and morris bells [plate 218], morris bells alone [plate
166] or with tambourine [plate 35], drum [plate 220], hunting horn [plate 315] or bagpipes
[plate 27].
See, for example, plates 35, 218, 249 and Hallar, Teaterspil og tegnsprog, fig.7.


A longer cloak or shoulder streamers were less usual than the short, often dark,
capes zanni are often depicted wearing over their shoulder or left arm from the
early 1570s onwards.554 The most usual prop was some sort of musical instru-
ment, or arms and armour, as noted above, closely followed by kitchen utensils
and/or items of food.555 One of the zanni of plate 166 appears to brandish a
pig’s trotter. Sometimes zanni hold an item of apparel, such as gloves, eye-
glasses, money bag, or lengths of rope, perhaps removed from their waists, where
like sailors they often used them as belts, one or more torches, a syringe, or
bellows.556 As late as 1631, comic actors are still depicted in straightforward
instantly recognizable zanni suits [plate 292]. But the iconography confirms
that the temptation to stamp individual actors’ personalities on the zanni role
and its traditional costume spawned more and more modifications, and fuelled
the decline of the commedia dell’arte’s earliest servant, in favour of a host of
more colourfully liveried variants.

III.ii.d Zanni and Pantalone in the Land of Cockayne

One early non-stage setting in which Zanni and Pantalone are depicted is that of
the carnival, and more specifically, the representation, at carnival time, of the
Cockayne revels. Were celebrators at such festivals merely borrowing costumes
already familiar from the stage, or did the central characters of the commedia
originate in the carnival festivities? A signed and dated print of 1564 by Nelli
offers a bird’s-eye view of the gluttonous pleasures of the fabled Land of
Cockayne, where edible stockpiles are of carnivalesque proportions and sloth
and greed are extravagantly rewarded, inhabited by its leader Panigon, and his
enthusiastic followers the Cucagnesi [plate 327].557 Explanatory inscriptions

See, for example, plates 17, 27, 31, 35 (1619), 130, 142, 181, 239 (1593), 285 (dated
‘seventeenth century’ by Nicoll, Masks, Mimes and Miracles, p.344; c.1570 by Sterling,
‘Early paintings’, p.30).
Such as basket alone [plates 64, 312, 315] or with bottle [plate 165]; jug [plates 313–14];
pestle and mortar [plates 52, 191]; spoon [plates 166, 315]; grater with or without cheese
[plates 166, 315]; sausages [plates 54, 220, 308]; comb, colander, syringe, or bucket [plate
See, for example, plates 27, 33, 99, 142, 161, 166, 205, 224, 260–1, 308, 314, 319–20.
A considerable literature and iconography bear witness to the fascination this secular Nirvana
exercised on the medieval mind and its inheritors. Pieter Bruegel’s Land of Cockayne of 1567,
in Munich’s Alte Pinakothek, one of the most artistically memorable paintings of this theme,
indicates that even the holy orders were not immune to this particular weakness.


accompany the vignettes and the whole is completed with seventeen lines of
verse in the lower right-hand corner. An anonymous reversed version, a print
entitled La Cvccagna, descrittione del Gran Paese de Cvccagna dove chi piv
dorme piv gvadagna, even more clearly labels the most important landmarks.
They include palaces to sleep in, a prison for those who work, a sea of good
Greek wine and huge mountain of grated cheese, a fountain of malmsey wine,
saltworks of pure sugar, trees that grow warm pancakes and a mine that pro-
duces gold coins.558 The reversed version’s companion print of identical for-
mat, Il Trionfo de Carnavale nel Paese de Cvcagna, apparently from the same
workshop, may also be derived from a print of the 1560s by Nelli [plate 308].559
The Shrovetide carnival, with its opportunity to indulge, for the last time
before Lent, in luxury foods such as meat and alcohol, holds the key to the
understanding of the Land of Cockayne’s grossly comic ‘régression orale’.560
Fantasy spilt over into reality when members of Netherlandish fishermen’s and
butchers’ guilds attacked each other with salt herrings and sausages in carnival
pageants which symbolized the fight between an anarchic, prodigal, male King
of Carnival and a thrifty, practical, female Quaresima.561 Such fights are a fa-
vourite subject of numerous Flemish paintings, and the extent to which they
reflect genuine carnival practice of the time is disputed. The subject, pioneered
by Bosch, and popularized above all by Pieter Bruegel’s Battle between Carni-
val and Lent of 1559, is depicted in many later Flemish paintings also including

1879-6-13-587, British Museum, London: Palazzi dove si dorme, Pregion per chi lavora,
Mare di bvon vino Greco, Montagna grandissima di cascio grattato, Fonte di maluagia,
Saline di zuccaro fino, Alberi che producono fritelle calde, Miniera che produce scudi
An impression in the Deutsches Theater Museum, Munich, is possibly a variant to that here
reproduced as plate 308 (DTM.III/3657, noted without signature or reproduction by
Povoledo, ‘Le bouffon’, p.265). A reversed variant in the Raccolta Bertarelli, Milan, signed
in the plate ‘Ferando Bertelli exc’ is reproduced by Toschi, Populäre Druckgraphik, fig.55.
F Delpech, ‘Aspects des Pays de Cocagne, programme pour une recherche’, in Colloque
International Tours 1977, L’Image du Monde Renversé et ses représentations littéraires et
para-littéraires, eds Jean Lafond and Augustin Redondo (Paris: Vrin, 1979), 35–48, p.44.
The woman at the centre of plate 166 is a rare female Carnival, as proclaimed by the pig’s
trotter and spit of carnival meats she brandishes (cf. spits in plates 73, 161, 220, 260). On
such pageants, see Sandra Billington, ‘Butchers and fishmongers: their historical contribu-
tion to London’s festivity’, Folklore, 101 (1990), 97–103; Dietz-Rüdiger Moser, Fastnacht
– Fasching – Karneval, das Fest der “Verkehrten Welt” (Graz, Wien, Köln: Kaleidoskop,
1986), pp.32–3. On connections between carnival meats and the commedia, see Barry
Wind, ‘Annibale Carracci’s “Scherzo”: The Christ Church Butcher Shop’, Art Bulletin, 58
(1976), 93–6.


masqueraders in commedia-related costumes.562 The boundaries between fantasy

and reality were even more blurred when the city of Naples staged the turbulent
carnival game of Cuccagna. For this orgiastic free-for-all, rooted in the essen-
tially comic concept of Cockayne but spawned by the cravings of the poor, a
construction of stages at various levels, with a painted backdrop representing the
Garden of Delights, was amply furnished with vast mounds of food, and fountains
which spouted real wine.563 At a given signal, the ravenous populace was let loose
on this edible tableau. Often, the results were so violent that the game was tempo-
rarily suspended; indeed, ‘Cuccagna’ was banned altogether by the civic authori-
ties at the end of the sixteenth century. Plates 308 and 327 were quite possibly
influenced by actual carnival pageants and celebrations, and, in their turn, almost
certainly had an influence on them.564
In plate 308, the slothful Land of Cockayne has been transformed into a blood-
thirsty battlefield: at the top an army of zanni, led by a Pantalone with a syringe
preceded by two bulls, drives out Panigon, mounted on a boar, and his unhappy
men. A band of gypsies lies ready to ambush the fleeing Cucagnesi, still clinging
pathetically to their carnival meats. In the central scene, a tournament celebrates
the comedians’ victory, while to the right, eight Pantalones and Stefanellos count
their looted gold, and to the left their eight zanni seize Panigon’s abandoned maca-
roni mountain. Below, ‘Carnavale’ is crowned King of Cockayne, and condemns
the unfortunate Panigon to death. Unfeeling tedeschi drain the sea of Greek wine
while the execution is carried out by three mallet-bearing Anatolian matachins,
who drown Panigon in a butt of malmsey wine. Sixteen lines of doggerel in the
bottom right-hand corner summarize the action. But why are the pleasure-loving
comedians, fighting under the banner of the King of Carnival, in such a vicious
campaign against the frivolous Cucagnesi, a group of like-minded temperament
in whose country, surely, Carnival is a way of life? Why are the comedians and
Cucagnesi not united against their common and ancient enemy, symbolized by
Quaresima, the Queen of Lent? Even if it proves possible to unravel the enigmatic
relationship of the comedians to the Cucagnesi it will not be a matter of simply
identifying the sources from which the Italian comedians took their motifs. The
figure of Panigon was borrowed by Rabelais from popular culture, and trans-
formed by him into the King of Cockayne, and underwent further transitions dur-

See, for example, plates 81–3, 86–8, 136.
Franco Valsecchi, L’Italia nel seicento e nel settecento (Torino: UTET, ‘Società e
Costume’, VI, 1967), p.394.
See Gibson (‘Artists and rederijkers’, pp.438–9) on the influence of engravings by Franz
Hogenberg and after Pieter Bruegel on Antwerp pageant floats of 1563.


ing the piecemeal re-assimilation of the Rabelaisian with the traditional Panigon.565
Similarly, as the commedia dell’arte developed, there was a constant give and
take between it and the popular sources from which it drew its strength. This
dynamic interchange not only moulded the development of the commedia, but
affected the very essence of those far from static popular traditions.
A pair of Venetian woodcuts show Il Triomfo del Carneval and Il Triomfo
della Quaresima as stately processions [plate 220]. In Carneval, the King of Car-
nival is borne aloft by a troupe of comedians.566 Zanni, Pantalone, a dottore, a
dark-masked inamorata and masked matachin are recognizable in a procession
which is a pointed burlesque of Petrarchan Triumphs. Its participants may be a
motley bunch, but they carry the symbols of their leader with pride. Tripe, sau-
sages, plucked chickens and other carnival meats assume the dignity of war tro-
phies, lending these humble woodcuts a distant affinity with Andrea Mantegna’s
Triumphs of Caesar567 entirely absent from the unruly village bun-fight atmos-
phere of the Flemish carnival scenes.568 Are these masks merely costumed carni-
val revellers, or are they the members of an actual commedia troupe? The iconog-
raphy appears to confirm the generalization that the earliest professional actors
borrowed and put together elements familiar in their own times. But it is unclear
whether the Pantalones and zanni depicted in such carnival scenes borrowed their
costumes from figures already fully established on the stage by professional ac-
tors, whether the Pantalone–Zanni duo was established before the commedia
dell’arte, perhaps in the rough and tumble of mid-sixteenth-century carnival cel-
ebrations or the marketplace, whether it was simply inspired by the typical Venetian
Magnifico and his servant, or whether the true account is to be pieced together
from a combination of some or all of these and other hypotheses.

III.ii.e Zanni and Pantalone as mountebanks’ assistants

The exact nature of charlatan entertainment is one on which the iconographic
record is open to varied interpretation, and one way forward is offered by com-

Antoinette Huon, ‘Le Roy Sainct Panigon dans l’imagerie populaire du XVIe siècle’, in
François Rabelais, ouvrage publié pour le quatrième centenaire de sa mort, 1553–1953
(Genève & Lille: Droz & Giard, 1953), 210–25.
Impressions in Paris (Bibliothèque de l’Opéra) and Rome (Museo NATP) are hand coloured
(Grinberg, Carnavals et Fêtes, p.45; Toschi, Populäre Druckgraphik, fig.56).
Royal Collection, Hampton Court.
See, for example, plates 81–3, 86–8, 136.


parative analysis in the light of textual documents. Notable among texts that
bring into sharp relief performance strategies used by actual early comici oper-
ating as mountebanks to interact with specific live audiences are German-lan-
guage accounts by Thomas Platter and Hippolytus Guarinonius. Perhaps not
coincidentally, both were physicians. Itinerant ‘Comœdianten’ in Avignon for
several months at the end of 1598 were repeatedly witnessed by Platter. The
account in his travel journal describes how the seven-strong Italian troupe staged
plays and interludes in an indoor tennis court for several weeks.569 When their
falling audiences no longer supported the rent, they moved outside, drawing up
to 1000 people to their ‘long table’ set up in Avignon’s Place de Change. Here,
in the time-honoured fashion of charlatans, they staged marketplace perform-
ances ‘en banque’ and sold medicines and cosmetics to the crowds attracted by
their performances. The mixed-gender troupe, all of whose members were cos-
tumed and masked, included two actresses, and featured skilled singers, instru-
mentalists and performers, capable of staging full-length pastorals and of play-
ing the stock commedia dell’arte characters ‘Pantalon’, ‘Zani’ and the doctor.
Platter names the troupe’s leader as Hans Latz, or Zan Bragetta.570 This
indicates to me that the troupe was not, as previously generally assumed, led by
some humble and otherwise unrecorded quack chancing his luck on the stage,
but by an influential professional actor who established his reputation in the
mainstream of the commedia dell’arte tradition. The Italian who played under
this stage name, as yet unidentified and virtually unrecorded in modern scholar-
ship, was evidently something of a celebrity in his own day. Possibly he was
identical with, or related to, the Girolamo Bragati of Padua who performed with
Maphio del Re in the late 1540s. The creator of a significant variant of Zanni,
Zan Bragetta inspired a masked comedy of 1585 (Bragatto), and several de-
famatory lines of verse in Genologia di Zan Capella, suggesting that he fa-
thered four felons hanged for petty thieving. Underlining the connections with
France and the commedia dell’arte are the character ‘Braghetto francese’ in the

Thomas Platter jr, MS. A O 7 & 8, ff.262r–265v. University Library, Basle. See also Rut
Keiser, Thomas Platter d. J. Beschreibung der Reisen (Basel & Stuttgart: Schwabe,1968),
pp.305–8, and for an English translation of an abridged French version, Richards and
Richards, The Commedia dell’Arte, pp.270–1. On this and other theatrical aspects of the
writings of Platter and his older half-brother Felix, noted above (pp.97–8), see bibliography
Platter, MS. A O 7 & 8, f.262r: ‘(zan Bragetta) Hans Latz’. As here, Platter often precedes a
term or name that he has translated literally into German, with its parenthesized and
italicized original wording. Keiser (Thomas Platter d. J., 305), reads ‘Ian Bragetta’.


cast list of Vergilio Verucci’s comedy Le Schiave of 1629, and his inclusion in
‘tutta la Zannesca natione’, in an undated poem lamenting the death, in c.1586,
of the actor Tabarino.571 By 1591, his stage persona was sufficiently well estab-
lished to merit inclusion in a comprehensive costume book by Pietro Bertelli
[plate 319b].572 Bragato was among fourteen plates depicting celebrated comici
selected half a century later from this book by a descendant, Franco Bertelli, to
serve as the basis for his highly successful specialist costume book of 1642,
Carnevale Italiano Mascherato.573
Commedia dell’arte scenarios were a vehicle for providing a succinct over-
view of whole performances, and rarely gave space to more than the most per-
functory descriptions of individual lazzi, the generally comic set piece theatri-
cal routines of the commedia stage. Difficulties in distinguishing between the
diverging traditions of stage practice and iconographic conventions, when inter-
preting the pictorial record, have contributed to the startling gap between the
iconographic and textual content of illustrated publications on the commedia
dell’arte. Stock characters are depicted engaging in a range of obscene and
scatological lazzi that are granted little comment in either the surviving textual
documentation, or the modern accompanying text. A medical treatise of 1610
with considerable bearing on these issues is by Hippolytus Guarinonius.574 Un-
like Platter, he does not identify his theatrical descriptions as specific perform-
ances by named players, although there are indications that many are based on
his own personal experience of outdoor mountebank troupes, seen as a medical
student in 1590s Padua. Some long known to literary historians, and all still
awaiting incorporation into the mainstream of commedia dell’arte scholarship,
the thirty-four lazzi descriptions of his treatise represent both a further indica-
tion of the substantial overlap between charlatan and commedia activity, and the

Pandolfi, La commedia dell’arte, I, p.255; III, pp.51–2, V, p.439; Stanze della vita e morte
di Tabarino Canaglia Milanese: in Schindler (‘Zan Tabarino’, p.542).
Pietro Bertelli, Diversaru[m] nationum habitus, iconibus in ære incisis, 3 vols (Patavii:
apud Aliatum Alcia et B Bertellium, 1589, 1591, 1596), II, plate 77.
F Bertelli, Il carnevale italiano mascherato (the exact borrowings are tabulated in M A
Katritzky, ‘Franco Bertelli’s “Carnevale Italiano Mascherato” of 1642 and other printed
influences on theatrical pictures in alba amicorum’, in Kloviev Zbornik. Minijatura –
crteÞ– grafika 1450–1700. Zbornik radova sa znanstvenoga skupa povodom petstote
obljetnice roðenja Jurja Julija Klovia. Zagreb, 22–24 listopada 1998, ed. Milan Pelc
(Zagreb: Hrvatska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti – Institut za povijest umjetnosti, 2001),
216–29, p.227).
Hippolytus Guarinonius, Die Grewel der Verwüstung Menschlichen Geschlechts (Ingolstatt:
Angermayr, 1610).


most informative textual source of documentary information concerning early

modern lazzi.575 In line with accepted theatrical practice, most involve a very
limited number of players, but taken as a whole they indicate a framework peo-
pled by a small mixed-gender troupe. These descriptions range in length from
oblique hints indicated in a single phrase or sentence, to page-long observations
recording detailed insights into the presentation, structure and reception of indi-
vidual lazzi. As such, they afford an incomparable overview of the verbal and
physical comic repertoire of a late sixteenth century working troupe, and repre-
sent a valuable corollary to the visual record.
Nicolò Barbieri (1576–1641), famed in his stage role of Beltrame by 1634,
the date of publication of his well-known defence of comic acting, La supplica,
in it recalls the start of his performing career, as a member of il Monferino’s
mountebank troupe in 1596.576 Giovanni Rivani, who took the stage name ‘Dottor
Graziano Campanaccio da Budri’, repeatedly risked being expelled from the
Fedeli troupe for mountebank activities.577 Flaminio Scala, one of the most re-
spected troupe leaders of his time, operated a demanding perfume business along-
side his stage career. Giovan Domenico Ottonelli describes how members of the
Uniti troupe preceded a street performance in Trapani, Sicily, in 1638, with the
sale of patent medicines and other merchandise.578 The eyewitness descriptions
of Platter and Guarinonius indicate that such documented instances, of celebrated
comici at the peak of their profession combining commedia dell’arte and moun-
tebank activities, are unexceptional. Their accounts strongly support the sug-
gestion that mixed-gender troupes, capable of staging full-length plays featur-
ing the lazzi and stock characters of the commedia dell’arte, routinely operated

See Jean-Marie Valentin, ‘Bouffons ou religieux? Le débat sur le théâtre dans l’Allemagne
catholique au début du XVIIe siècle (A Albertinus, H Guarinonius)’, in idem, Theatrum
Catholicum. Les jésuites et la scène en Allemagne au XVIe et au XVIIe siècles (Nancy:
Universitaires, 1990), 19–48; Peter Sprengel, ‘Herr Pantalon und sein Knecht Zanni. Zur
frühen Commedia dell’arte in Deutschland’, in Wanderbühne. Theaterkunst als fahrendes
Gewerbe (Kleine Schriften der Gesellschaft für Theatergeschichte, 34/35), ed. Bärbel Rudin
(Berlin, 1988), 5–18; Alberto Martino, ‘Fonti tedesche degli anni 1585–1615, per la storia
della commedia dell’arte e per la costituzione di un repertorio dei “lazzi” dello zanni’, in
Aspetti dell’identità tedesca. Studi in onore di Paolo Chiarini, eds Mauro Ponzi and Aldo
Venturelli, 2 vols (Roma: Bulzoni, 2003), II/2, 657–708; bibliography (Katritzky).
Barbieri, La supplica, pp.126–7.
Letter of 27 August 1623 from Giovan Paolo Fabri to the Duke of Mantua (cited by Ferrone,
Attori mercanti corsari, p.231, see also Ferrone et al, Corrispondenze, I, p.120 n.2).
Ottonelli, ‘Della Cristiana Moderazione del Teatro’, 1648, in La fascinazione del teatro, ed.
Taviani, 320–526, p.495.


as mountebanks. They imply a far greater overlap between the repertoires of

charlatans and comici than the protestations of the latter would suggest. In this
light, it seems reasonable to assume that the theatrical costumes and lazzi on the
mountebank stages of some pictures relate to actual stage costumes and comic
episodes of the type used in charlatan performances.579

III.iii Some further comic types

III.iii.a Some female types

There are particular problems with identifying and classifying the female stock
types in depictions of the commedia dell’arte. Even so, the visual material offers
a valuable supplement to the evidence available in the written documentation.
The pictures clarify the gestures, activities and accessories of the female comedi-
ans, and convey valuable information concerning the costume of actresses in gen-
eral, its historical evolution and its relation to a wide range of specific female
roles and performance situations. Depictions of commedia-related stock roles and
costumes in non-stage performative contexts, and female carnival masks and
charlatans, even in stage contexts, often dismissed as peripheral distractions in
conventional text-based considerations of the commedia dell’arte, are integral
to its visual record. Analysis of the iconography has the potential for clarifying
the players’ costumes and stage presence and their contribution to the dramatic
effect at hand. This task, complicated by the commedia’s reliance on cross-
dressing, is even more difficult with respect to actresses than actors.
On the all-male stage, the presence of men playing women was convention-
ally limited to a minimum. Men playing men dominated the stage, and their
roles were distinguished by easily recognizable stage costumes. Male stock roles
rapidly developed stylized stage names, costumes, masks, and other distinguish-
ing characteristics which aid their identification in pictures, even where the con-
text is not obviously theatrical. In contrast, early actresses honed their skills in
arenas in which overtly theatrical costume was rarely worn, such as the market-
place, oral tradition, and festivity. Depictions of female carnival masks and
mountebanks suggest that even in stage contexts, female performers habitually
wore less stylized costumes than men. The visual and textual documentation

See, for example, plates 36, 120, 125, 146, 214–5, 254–5, 258, 275, 283–7, 299, 340.


suggests considerable overlap in the names, costumes and social classes of early
modern female stock roles, both with each other and with the real-life types they
represent. Perhaps because visual recognition is less straightforward for early
female players than for actors, there are no detailed studies of female commedia
costume comparable to those of its male roles.
In commedia erudita, female parts were always played by boys and men.
The plays written for these all-male casts generally held to the convention that
wives and romantic heroines should appear as little as possible during a per-
formance, with much of their action related at second hand by maids and serv-
ants. Playtexts indicate that the respectable female roles only rarely break free
of this convention before the advent of the commedia dell’arte. If they appear
on stage at all before the mid-sixteenth century, female characters tend to hover
well in the background, preferably framed by a window or door of their own
domestic interior, a theatrical device extensively developed by commedia ac-
tresses. Despite church opposition, they turned the same doors and windows
that had marked boundaries for their cross-dressing male colleagues into step-
ping stones on to centre stage.580 On the late sixteenth century professional stage,
although some maids continued to be played by men, key scenes involving the
inamorata were increasingly no longer reported at second hand by the maid, but
conducted in full view of the audience. The inamorata herself, played by a woman,
became an essential on-stage presence. The introduction of actresses on to the
professional stage, pioneered by the early troupes of the commedia dell’arte,
was enormously popular, and a major factor in ensuring a rapid expansion of the
stage roles played by the younger women.
Cross-dressing, like nudity, attracted the particular condemnation of the
church. For the great early modern actresses, it is much more than a slick trick
of the trade. It was their strategy of choice for escaping the restrictions of theat-
rical plots that followed the conventions of the all-male stage, where the pres-
ence of men playing women was generally limited to a minimum. The earliest
female comici pioneered creative ways of exploiting secondary disguise to trans-
gress the multiple social taboo of younger respectable women appearing in pub-
lic, let alone as actresses. To facilitate their escape from the prescribed domestic
spaces of female roles, and more fully explore and realize their potential as
performers, these women created and starred in a wide range of disguises, drawn
from the spheres of gender, race, age, mental competence, and social class.
They embraced cross-dressed roles as diverse as gypsies, beggars, pilgrims,

Scolnicov, ‘The woman in the window’; Tylus, ‘Women at the windows’.


and slaves of either gender; madwomen, pageboys, soldiers; even a Syrian as-
trologer or their own elderly father,581 as creative passports to new dramatic
territory – in terms of performance modes as well as theatrical space – tradition-
ally monopolized by men. Conversely, many female roles continued to be played
by cross-dressed men. This made its impact on the development of regular fe-
male stage costume, on actresses concerned to deploy their feminine charms to
win and dominate centre stage, and on the visual record.582
Early actresses were the targets of numerous complaints, which sometimes
offer informative insights into female stage costume, and occasionally confirm
that its provocative nature in some images is based on genuine stage practice.583
Partial nudity is sometimes associated with the servant role, as with Franceschina’s
exposed breasts or legs, but more often, especially in conjunction with opulent
clothing, jewellery, or elaborate hairdressing, such as the bleached, curled styles
favoured by Venetian courtesans, with the role of the courtesan.584 Despite its
popularity in art, it is unclear how much nudity there was on the commedia stage
itself. By its nature far less easily identified in pictures, cross-dressing was cer-
tainly a significant early modern commedia stock-in-trade. Although the visual
record is especially hard to interpret in this respect, it is well known that ac-
tresses, no less than genuine courtesans, frequently and elaborately disguised
themselves as men. ‘The Harlotts called Cortisane,’ as Fynes Moryson notes in
1595, ‘commonly weare dobletts and Breches vnder their wemens gownes, yea,
I haue seene some of them (as at Paduoa) goe in the Company of young men to
the Tennis-Court in mens Apparrell (…) most commonly wearing doblets and
Hose of Carnation Satten, with gold buttons from the Chinne round to the wast
behinde, and silke stockings, and great Garters with gold lace both of the same

These last two played by Isabella in the 36th and 24th scenarios of Scala’s Il teatro,
‘Isabella astrologa’ and ‘Il finto Tofano’.
The nine-strong troupe of Alberto Naselli (‘Zan Ganassa’), for example, which made a vital
contribution to pioneering the introduction of women on to the Spanish stage during the
period 1574–84, had only one actress. Although Naselli’s wife Barbara Flaminia, the great
Roman diva, played the role of Ortensia, the troupe’s other stock female roles, Francesca
and Isabella, were, for a considerable period, played by the actors Cesare de Nobili and
Giacomo Portalupo (Sanz Ayán and García García, ‘El “oficio de representar”’, p.485).
Domenico Gori (‘Trattato contro alle commedie lascive’, c.1604, in La fascinazione del
teatro, ed. Taviani, p.141) claimed that the Florentine stage of his time routinely suffered
obscene indignities such as an actress wrapped in a sheet with a man, another who played
Europa totally nude, or one with an actor concealed under her garments.
See, for example, plates 6 (top row, fifth scene), 27, 53, 100–1, 128, 130, 154–5, 209–11,
260, 269, 271.


colour’.585 In plate 27, the courtesan, with elaborate horned Venetian hairdo,
wears breeches under her dress, as does many an inamorata in the scenarios. In
the invaluable Corsini Album, the plot spelled out in the text of l’Innocente
Rivenduta (scenario 61) makes possible the identification of a cross-dressed
actress on stage [plate 246]. Doralice, the diminutive inamorata at the right, has
exchanged clothes with the Turk next to her. She wears typical male Turkish
costume (slippers, loose knee length long-sleeved robe gathered in at the waist,
white undershirt, and simple turban). He wears Doralice’s sleeved gown with
high collar, but betrays himself visually by his beefy physique. Another rare
depiction of an actor in female costume is in the first scene of plate 315, where
Pantalone, without abandoning his pudding-basin hat, wears the simple aproned
dress typical of a maid’s costume and carries a spindle.
It is often suggested that the women of the commedia dell’arte were only
exceptionally masked in performance.586 Examination of the iconographic ma-
terial, however, reveals that a significant number of early female commedia
characters are depicted with their faces wholly or partially covered by a veil or
mask. With the male characters, masks are predominantly worn by the old mas-
ters and their servants. With the female characters too, their range appears to be
confined largely to particular types, although unlike the males, the female masked
types are by no means exclusively depicted masked, and the wearing of masks
appears to be dependent on performance situation as well as role. No masked
females are depicted, for example, in Recueil Fossard woodcuts or Corsini
illustrations, and only very few in peasant or servant dress [plates 6, 243–7].
In general, the female types depicted with face masks wear the type of rich
clothing associated with the inamorata or courtesan, and appear in outdoor or
informal, private indoor settings rather than on the public dramatic stage. At its
most discreet the female mask is, like the loup, little more than a black eye mask,
prompting arguments that such masks are not genuinely theatrical.587 According
to Duchartre: ‘the women did not wear masks […] the tiny black velvet mask, or
loup, which the women of the commedia dell’arte sometimes wore cannot be
considered a true mask, for it was used outside as well as inside the theatre. The
loup was as much a part of a woman’s dress as her brocade and lace’.588 But the

Oxford, MS CCC94, pp.629–30.
Richards and Richards, The Commedia dell’Arte, p.112.
See, for example, plates 17, 124, 140–5, 211, 256.
Duchartre, The Italian Comedy, p.266. Some may be carnival masks: see Sarah Carpenter,
‘Women and carnival masking’, Records of Early English Drama, 21 (1996), 9–16.


visual record shows that some actresses wore masks that differed from those
worn by other richly dressed women.
The theatrical mask often covered considerably more of the face than the
loup. In numerous pictures, including many associated with the circles of Se-
bastian Vrancx and Frederick van Valckenborch,589 the females wear types of
black three-quarter masks. More substantial than the elegant loup, these typi-
cally covered the nose as well as the eyes, sometimes also extending over the
cheeks and upper lip, and occasionally with a moustache attached.590 Although
its uneasy contrast with the feminine gown of its wearer provides the modern
eye with gender-ambiguous cues, these ‘twiskes of downy or woolly stuffe cov-
ering their noses’ may have been intended primarily as a protection against foul
air.591 In some pictures, women perform indoors wearing masks of similar type
and construction to those of their male companions.592 Also undeniably theatri-
cal are the full- or nearly full-face black masks worn by some commedia fe-
males. Some are of cloth, others more elaborately moulded and shaped, many
fastened with tapes above the ears. More difficult to distinguish in the iconogra-
phy than black face masks are pale or flesh-coloured face masks, and the most
discreet form of mask depicted, the veil.593 Numerous images depict commedia
actresses in a full or three-quarter face flesh-coloured moulded mask, veil, or
thick make-up, although it is not always easy to distinguish between such facial
In plates 86–8, the masks are little more than rectangles of soft cloth with
holes for the eyes, tied tightly back behind the ears. In plate 130, the central
female’s full-face moulded mask is secured by a tape running under the nose,
while those in Bassano’s paintings are fastened more conventionally, with tapes
tied to holes in the side of the mask and then back behind the ears [plates 226,
267–8]. In complete contrast to the grotesque masks of his comic men, those of
Bassano’s women are moulded and delicately painted with extreme realism and
attention to life-like detail. In plate 226 the actress wears a pearl necklace, ear-
rings, white underdress, dark green overdress trimmed with gold, and bright red
gown. She is blonde and bareheaded but wears a moulded mask, and holds
gloves and a kerchief. Bassano’s depictions are particularly significant for the

And those of other artists, for example, plates 138, 221, 242, 251, 257, 317.
As, for example, in plate 317, of c.1588, which also indicates methods for attaching such
masks, by tapes at the top and sides, fastened by a hat or tied at the back of the head.
Coryat, Coryat’s Crudities, p.386.
See, for example, plates 140–5, 181, 221.
Full-face veils are featured in plates 154, 162, and 209.


presumed authenticity of the costume, as they appear to show actual profes-

sional performances, albeit in street settings, by a local artist familiar with the
comedians. Light coloured three-quarter and full-face masks for both men and
women also seem to have been a standard part of the costume in a number of
northern carnival rituals [plates 147, 150–1, 218].
The exposed breasts, elaborately dressed hair, pearls, jewels, rich apparel and
explicit gestures of the female in the middle of the left-hand performing trio of
plate 209, who wears a full-face veil, mark her out as a courtesan. Possibly this
is also the role of the more soberly dressed veiled female in plate 162, who also
accompanies a Pantalone. In the engraved version of plate 209, the female’s veil
appears to have given way to a light-coloured full-face moulded mask similar to
that customarily worn by Venetian courtesans [plates 210, 240]. A courtesan in
another engraving wears a similar moulded pale full-face mask, rather than the
exceptionally full black face masks of the painted versions [plates 29, 62–3].
Textual records suggest actresses wore veils for their sexual allure, and that they
were found provocative on stage.594
The written documentation records that the more talented early actresses
were able to offer a wide range of skills, among which the more common were
dancing, singing, and the playing of instruments. Humbler female players also
left their mark on foreign audiences. Prince Ferdinand of Bavaria was greatly
impressed by the tumbling skills of ‘a little girl of eleven or twelve years’, the
star of a four-strong troupe of Italian acrobats who performed for him in Trent
in 1565.595 Italian women acrobats who crossed the Channel to perform scan-
dalized the London preacher Thomas Norton, who in 1574 inveighed against
‘that unnecessarie and scarslie honeste resorts to plaies […] and especiallie the
assemblies to the unchaste, shamelesse and unnaturall tomblinges of the Italion
Woemen’.596 Although such accounts confirm that Italian women and girls took
part in acrobatics, it is less usual for commedia females than males to be de-
picted actively displaying musical, dancing or acrobatic performing skills.597

A plea was sent to Ferdinando de’ Medici in 1581 on behalf of the Confidenti troupe, to
waive certain laws regarding forbidden props and items of costume, and to release one of
their actresses, arrested for wearing silver-coloured veils, from prison (MacNeil, Music and
Women, p.210).
Diary, f.43r, quoted above, pp.63-4.
London, British Library, MS.Add 32,379, f.41v.
For dancing theatrical women see, for example, plates 6, 16, 17, 22, 41, 53–4, 80, 100, 120,
123, 203, and 309.


Inamoratas are often depicted aiding mountebanks. They play a limited range
of ‘respectable’ instruments, commonly the violin, lute, colascione or harp, in
contrast to male musicians on mountebank stages, usually theatrically dressed
as commedia menservants and depicted playing many types of instruments.598
Plates 12, 192 and 230 also feature string-playing women, while a woman in
plate 65 apparently in gypsy costume may be playing some kind of cymbals,
and several pictures feature a female tambourine player.599 In a similar trio de-
picted in both indoor and outdoor settings, the music is provided by a string-
playing zanni, and the woman simply joins in with the dance [plates 209–11].
The women of the commedia dell’arte also display a more limited range of
gestures, poses and props in depiction than the men. Typically, they are with a
male companion, holding hands; or with a hand or arm on his shoulder; or en-
gaged in some other familiar gesture or embrace. In the iconography, their most
common hand-held object is an item of clothing such as the veil of their head-
dress, or a kerchief, fan, or muff; other popular accessories include general cook-
ing and kitchen equipment, plants, baskets, purses, letters, and potions. Older
women depicted in the iconography are generally maids, bawds or wives.600
The outer ring of plate 38 features a named depiction of a ruffiana. In headcloth
and aproned peasant dress, she stoops over the stick in her right hand, and car-
ries a dead fowl in her left. Two old women holding rosaries, in the Trausnitz
ceiling and staircase frescoes, may be ruffiane. One hands a letter of assignation
to a young woman, the other supports herself with a stick [plates 21–2]. The
Corsini Album illustrations depict the wife of Pantalone, Lucretia (La sepultura,
scenario 14) or Flaminia (Le moglie superbe, scenario 31) [plate 245].
The written documentation emphasizes two female stage roles above all
others, those of the maid and the inamorata. For basic classification purposes,
my reading of the visual evidence identifies four overlapping categories of cos-
tume. They are the elegant upper-class garments worn by the fashionable young
inamorata and the respectable married woman; the servant’s simpler and plainer
outfit, worn by most maids, nurses, and crones; the provocative and showy cos-
tumes of courtesans; and the exotic, usually ‘eastern’, garb of the foreign or
disguised woman.601 As with male roles, the majority of female commedia roles

See, for example, plates 255, 285–6, 340.
See, for example, plates 81–3, 86–8.
See, for example, plates 6, 48–9, 54, 70.
These categories are not exhaustive. The Corsini Album illustrations, for example, depict a
turbanned queen (scenario 33), an enchantress or female magician in a gypsy-like headscarf


fall into the category of servant or served. Often imperious as a mistress to

servants and suitors, the inamorata featured large in most commedia dell’arte
plots, and the actress playing her often dominated the stage and eventually the
troupe itself. Typically, she was a marriageable young daughter of Pantalone,
the dottore, or some other old master of the comici. Plots are concerned with
their complicated, but ultimately successful, search for appropriate marriage
partners. Although the inamorata typically wore opulent gowns in the height of
court elegance, unlike the menservants and their masters, no hard-and-fast rule
may be used to separate depictions of her role from those of other young fe-
males. The inamorata’s costume was particularly flexible, spanning a wide range
of garments from the everyday wear of maids and elegant gowns of respectable
upper-class women, through to the overt stage costume of professional entertain-
ers, such as exotic acrobats, dancers, and musicians, including the dancing, sing-
ing cantarina.
Pictures identifying female performers or their roles by name, either directly,
as in the Recueil Fossard woodcuts and Dionisio Minaggio’s Feather Book, or
from accompanying written documentation, as with some Corsini Album illustra-
tions, offer a valuable reservoir of reference images [plates 6, 243–7, 293–4].
Relatively few named portraits of renaissance professional actresses exist. Early
modern images of actresses labelled ‘Isabella’, for instance, cannot always be
identified as Isabella Andreini, who popularized this stage name for female lov-
ers, sharing it with, for example, the Uniti’s Vittoria degli Amorevoli.602 The fron-
tispieces of plays published by the comici often feature portraits of their authors.
Accepted images of Isabella Andreini, possibly dressed in her stage role of the
inamorata Isabella, include the portrait busts on the title page woodcut of the 1601
and 1602 editions of her Rime and commemorative medal struck after her death in
1604, and a full-length likeness in the right-hand background of Poccetti’s fresco
depicting members of the Medici court [plates 328, 335].603
Female servants are as essential to commedia plots as the ubiquitous men-
servants, typically attending the inamoratas, performing household chores, trans-
porting messages and objects, or fending off unwanted attentions of the zanni

(scenario 57), and a female pilgrim with child who are in fact the disguised Ortensia and
her young son, the secret family of the captain (scenario 26) (plates 245–6).
See also M A Katritzky, ‘Comic stage routines in Guarinonius’ medical treatise of 1610’,
Theatre Research International, 25 (2000), 217–32, fig. 2.
MacNeil reproduces all three, and several variants (Music and Women, pp.31, 50, 117–
120). For a possible painted portrait of Isabella in Milan’s Scala Theatre Museum, see
Mazzoni, ‘Genealogia’, fig.2.


and the old men. Maids are more often depicted with props, such as a purse,
scissors, dish of food, basket of vegetables or spindle, that powerfully evoke
their sphere of domestic activity, and indicate potential or actual stage action.
The maids Nespola and Balzarina in plate 52 are depicted in their kitchen, one
preparing food at a table, the other tending a pot over the fire while repelling a
manservant with a draining spoon, actions that suggest their involvement in
extended comic stage business, or lazzi. On-stage maids typically wear aproned
dresses and headcloths, and are often depicted hovering behind their mistresses,
or in a compromising situation with a manservant.604 Ricolina (f.104) and Spineta
(f.110), the two maids of Minaggio’s pictures of c.1615–18, have been identi-
fied as portraits of the actresses Angela Lucchesi (‘Rizzolina’) and Luisa Gabrielli
(‘Spinetta’) [plates 293–4].605 Ricolina wears a modest white blouse with blue
and black patterning on the sleeves, green tunic, white apron, cheerful blue and
red headscarf and white clogs, holds a brace of game birds in one hand, a bunch
of flowers in the other, and has a vegetable basket on her arm.606 Spineta’s fine
gown of rich yellow and navy with elaborate cuffs, matching cap and a fan, like
the unaccustomed finery of the ‘servitor molto costumato’ of the third scene of
plate 315, demonstrates the generous overlap in costume between the stage maid
and her mistress. In the Corsini Album illustrations too, the low-cut collarless
gown with apron typically worn by maids, such as Pantalone’s maid Franceschina
in scenario 100, is occasionally also worn by inamoratas [plates 244–7].607 Its
underplayed theatricality makes the stage maid’s costume especially hard to
identify where actresses are not explicitly depicted in performance contexts, or
contextualized by male companions in the strikingly distinctive costume of
commedia menservants.
Minaggio depicts three as inamoratas, of whom Florinda (f.106), and possi-
bly also the similarly costumed unlabelled woman on folio 111, portray Virginia
Ramponi (‘Florinda’). On folio 106, she is dressed in the height of court el-
egance, in a green underdress, black overdress with brown lining, white collar
and cuffs, and small plumed cap, and carries a fan in her right hand. Flavia, on
folio 105, portrays Margherita Luciani (wife of Girolamo Garavini, ‘Capitano
Rinoceronte’), modestly dressed in a white blouse, green bodice, grey skirt,

See, for example, plates 12, 44, 55–6, 60–1, 156, 188–90.
Beatrice Corrigan, ‘Commedia dell’arte portraits in the McGill Feather Book’, Renaissance
Drama, n.s.2 (1969), 167–88, pp.175–6, 179.
For typical maid costumes see also Lucia [plate 51], Tifeta [plate 11], Licetta [plate 6],
Francischina [plates 6, 38, 50, 260–1].
As perhaps in scenarios 48, 59, 86 [plates 246–7].


white shoes with red ribbons and a small plumed cap, gloves, and a white apron
with vertical blue stripes. The typical costume worn by the inamoratas of the
Corsini Album hardly differs from that of Minaggio’s Florinda [plates 293a,
244–7].608 It consists of a white blouse with a stand-up collar, floor- or almost
floor-length underdress, sleeved overdress often with elaborate false sleeves,
and neatly presented hair.
Whether courtesans or not, the stage costume of female lovers was more
dependent on context than on role. In the public arena, even the inamorata whose
reputation is not respectable may wear a respectable elegant gown. Named
inamoratas who may reasonably be identified as courtesans, because of their
immodest poses, dress and associations, include La Donna Lucia, La Dona
Cornelia and Venturina [plates 6, 11, 49, 53]. The plot summary of scenario 15
of the Corsini Album suggests that the female depicted on the right of the title
page illustration is Cintia, a widow who became a courtesan before remarrying.
Bare-headed and unmasked, she wears an elegant gown typical of those worn
by female lovers of the Corsini Album, as does Goltzius’ Venetian Courtesan,
whose performative context is given by her male companions Il Magnifico and
Zanni, stock commedia roles [plates 240, 245]. This latter depiction is particu-
larly valuable in specifying the exact profession associated with the depicted
woman’s costume, and in giving a detailed impression of the type of stage cos-
tume associated with the courtesan at a particular given date, 1581. Notable are
the high plumed bonnet, light full-face mask, high, sheer collar, waist sash, richly
brocaded floor-length gown, short cape, gloves, and ample range of jewellery.
The wide range of dates of related depictions of similar women, evidently also

Figures in Corsini Album title page illustrations who can tentatively be identified as named
inamoratas include Angelica (scenario 51); Cintia (22); Claudia (55); Doralice (16: on the
left, 43, 61, 68); Elisa (53); Emilia (17, 99); Flaminia (27, 35, 47, 58, 92); Isabella (36, 55,
67, 76, 91); Lanora (67); Lavinia (56); Lidia (47, 51); Olimpia (22); Ortensia (21: on the
left, 87); Turchetta (98). Exceptions to typically dressed Corsini inamoratas include
Doralice (left, scenario 15), who provides a contrast to the courtesan by virtue of her modest
aproned dress and lack of finery; Isabella and Claudia (right, scenario 55), in nightshirts,
simple unisex collarless white knee-length unwaisted gowns; Flaminia (scenario 35),
Doralice (scenario 43) and Isabella (scenario 91) in standard inamorata costume, but
betraying their madness through their wild gestures and unkempt hair; Emilia (scenario 17),
daughter of the King of Scozia, depicted meeting her inamorato Leandro in Arcadia, wears
a suitably Arcadian loose tunic and scarf over a floor-length skirt; Elisa (scenario 53),
daughter of Pantalone, captured by the Turks, wears Turkish costume, a loose knee length
robe gathered in at the waist, and a small turban; Turchetta’s slave costume is a shorter
tunic with an iron neck collar (scenario 98).


courtesans, by much less gifted friendship album artists, from the 1570s onwards
suggest that Goltzius’ courtesan is based on a still earlier joint iconographic ante-
cedent.609 They also demonstrate the difficulty of dating images of this type, be-
cause of the long-standing popularity of this costume, originally adapted with
only minor modifications for the stage, but increasingly removed from the typical
outfit of real-life courtesans as it became a traditional stage costume.
Turkish costume was more usually associated with stage or carnival disguise
by both men and women than a stock type in its own right.610 A frequent disguise,
especially for female lovers and maids, was some form of exotic stage dress of
more or less eastern flavour, often Turkish or gypsy-inspired. In addition to its
purely visual appeal, Turkish costume carried vivid military and religious conno-
tations.611 The Corsini illustrations demonstrate the popularity of eastern-inspired
costume in a performance context.612 In these pictures, Turkish, gypsy, eastern
and slave costume are favourite disguises of inamoratas; and real stage slave girls,
gypsies or Turks, such as the one who has exchanged clothes with Doralice in
L’Innocente Rivenduta (Corsini scenario 61; plate 246), are also depicted.
Doralice’s assumed ‘Turkish’ costume is similar to that worn by the inamorata
Elisa, captured by the Turks; and by Coviello’s daughter, an inamorata masquer-
ading as the Turkish slave woman Turchetta. Her even shorter version of the ‘Turk-
ish’ tunic is gathered at the waist and further dramatized with an iron neck collar
(Corsini scenarios 53 and 98); and Isabella and Doralice are disguised as slave
girls (Corsini scenario 16) [plates 245, 247].
Artists also used the Turkish look for showy, exotic costumes for comic
female types in depictions of outdoor parades and carnivals. The curious raised

See, for example, plates 33, 248, 257, 285, 317. See also plates 267–8.
Bavarian court accounts at Landshut for the year 1573 note payment of thirty-two florins at
the beginning of the carnival season to the court tailor Conrad Vleiß for sewing ‘den Jungen
Freülein Turckisch klaider unnd lange Reckh zu sturmung der Schneeschloß’ (Munich StA,
Slg.Trautmann 94.IV.55). The popularity of Turkish costume in northern carnival parades is
indicated, for example in Bol’s dated drawing, also of 1573 [plate 167], which features a
‘Turk’ leading a woman in a kashbasti and flowing gown, and exotically dressed women
occur in pictures by a wide range of artists, such as Francken, Frederick van Valckenborch,
Stevens, Schwoll, Toeput, ver Haecht and van Paenderen [plates 27, 163, 183, 201, 275,
331; see also Crosato, ‘Di “Quattro Stagioni”’, fig.4].
Comedians who experienced the Turkish threat at first hand include Isabella Andreini’s
husband Francesco, who spent seven years in Turkish captivity before starting his acting
career (Duchartre, The Italian Comedy, p.231).
See, for example, plates 244–7 (scenarios 2, 16, 18, 21, 23, 41, 53, 61, 94, 98).


headgear of these women often resembles the Turkish kashbasti, featured in the
highly influential late sixteenth century costume plates of Cesare Vecellio, and
introduced to the Turkish harem by European concubines, notably Roxelana
(‘Hurrem Sultana’), in the mid-sixteenth century [plate 330].613 Pictures such as
plate 130, which shows nine performers, all masked, in exotic costumes with an
unmistakable eastern flavour, suggest that such disguises raise questions that
are not adequately addressed by dismissing them as carnival revellers. Where
such players appear to be members of a troupe, performing in the open or parad-
ing to publicize their skills, it seems plausible to consider the possibility that
these women have, as a publicity exercise, substituted exotic disguise for the
costumes appropriate to their stage roles. Exotic costume would have been the
most gorgeous and eye-catching garments possessed by the troupe. By raising
more interest with the public than the commonplace costumes of respectable
female lovers and maids, while fitting in with the constraints of public decency
better than courtesan costume, it would have effectively fulfilled the aims of the
parade or open-air performance, which was to attract custom. But even if the
comic types depicted are based on real troupes, the artists may have seen them
years, even decades, before depicting them. The commedia dell’arte characters
featured in such works follow iconographic precedents, sometimes resembling
each other down to their individual groupings, gestures and costumes. Thus,
even fairly precise dating of these paintings on stylistic grounds does not always
enable the players themselves to be accurately dated.614
By the mid-sixteenth century, gypsies, nomadic migrants of Asian descent
whose dress represents a special sub-category of eastern costume, were popular

It was based on a type of headgear which descended from the ancient Greeks, via the
Roman diadem. Headgear of the kashbasti type is featured in Tempesta’s two prints of
February [plates 64–5].
Typically, women in exotic costume or headdress in paintings of commedia dell’arte
troupes in outdoor settings by Vrancx and his circle are accompanied by Pantalone or
another male comic type, such as a servant, captain or Turk. Sometimes, an exotic female is
depicted in a carnival context, or more loosely associated with zanni or male Turks. For the
most part masked, these women often have sheer veils trailing from their hair, or raised
above it by a pointed cap or headdress, which may be decorated with showy plumes. Some
wear richly decorated split overskirts to knee or calf level, short fur-lined jackets, or trailing
overgowns or cloaks, and many hold fans. Vrancx’s pictures span the half century from the
1590s to 1647. Plate 125, perhaps an early work by Vrancx dating to around 1600, features
commedia dell’arte characters some of whom, even down to their individual groupings,
gestures and costumes, repeatedly recur, hardly changed, in much later pictures by Vrancx.


stage characters [plate 332].615 The title page to Corsini scenario 21 illustrates
an on-stage scene featuring gypsy costume resembling depictions in costume
books of the period [plate 245]. But the appearance of gypsies alongside
commedia dell’arte stock types in another painting may have a less straightfor-
ward explanation, demonstrating some of the complications involved in using
early modern depictions of comic types as documentary information [plate 231].
It depicts two zanni, a ragged child, and three women whose flowing fringed
cloaks, loose striped robes, and circular headdresses with chin cloths corre-
spond to the traditional costume of the female gypsy. The exotic look and the
symbolic, allegorical, and moral possibilities of gypsy culture attracted late
Renaissance artists. Renowned for their skill in entertaining, fortune telling, and
cheating the gullible, gypsies were pagans who (according to legend) refused to
help the Holy Family on their flight into Egypt, then thought to have been their
country of origin.616
Individually, or within the same image, gypsy women and commedia dell’arte
menservants are commonly illustrated as examples of deceitful or cheating types,
as in some emblem book pictures, festival paintings, or popular prints.617 Two
vignettes of Le bararie del mondo of c.1600, a popular print providing a visual
compendia of typical market day distractions, respectively show mountebanks
on a trestle stage, two of them in stock commedia dell’arte costume, promoting
their wares with a comic street show, and a gypsy mother with child. The cou-
plet below this latter roundly condemns her activities: singing, dancing and tell-

Early modern drama featuring gypsies includes a play of 1544 by Francesco d’Ambra,
Giancarli’s farce La Cingana (1550), a commedia erudita by Giordano Bruno, Jonson’s
Masque of Gypsies, ballet designs by Daniel Rabel, Cervantès’ La Gitanilla, plays by
Molière and Middleton, scenario 21 of the Corsini Album (plate 245). They are sometimes
depicted in a carnival context, as in the top left-hand corner of plate 308, where authentic-
looking gypsy costume is worn by what appear to be costumed masqueraders (see also Jean-
Pierre Cuzin, La diseuse de bonne aventure de Caravage (Paris: Musées nationaux, 1977),
Cardinal Borromeo passed several edicts in repeated efforts to banish undesirables,
including gypsies and actors, from his territory. In a tract of 1592, the theologian Guglielmo
Baldesano attributes the origins of the ‘infame professione’ of the comici to the heathen
‘colto de gl’idoli’, and compares them to vagrant gypsies (La fascinazione del teatro, ed.
Taviani, pp.10–16, 96–106).
See, for example, plates 38, 92–5, 284, 292; Stefano della Bella, Royaume de Cieux,
engraving (Douce Prints W.2.3a, 68, Bodleian Library, Oxford: reproduced M A Katritzky,
‘The mountebank: a case study in early modern theater iconography’, in: Evidence and
Inference in History and Law: Interdisciplinary Dialogues, eds William Twining & I
Hampsher-Monk (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2003), 231–286, pl.15, detail).


ing fortunes, and points towards church condemnation of such worldly pleas-
ures as deceitful trickeries [plate 284]. The Gypsy fortune-teller of Caravaggio’s
influential early seventeenth century painting uses her fortune telling and a flir-
tatious gesture to cover up the fact that she is subtly teasing a young soldier’s
ring from his finger. Plate 231 also shows a gypsy simultaneously telling and
illicitly diminishing the fortunes of her client. Its modern title, A scene from the
commedia dell’arte, has been accepted without question as being an appropri-
ate and adequate description of its subject by the many art and theatre historians
who have written about it.618 Barry Wind, who mistakenly identifies the central
zanni as a Pantalone, cites this painting as direct evidence for ‘the popularity of
the fortune telling theme in the “commedia”’ and interprets it as depicting ‘the
gulling of Pantaleone by a gypsy’.619
Investigation suggests a more complex link with the late renaissance stage.
The possibility that the painting constitutes a documentary record of an actual
stage performance cannot be entirely discounted. The outfits look authentic, so
the question of whether they are real, carnival, or stage gypsies is not resolved
on the basis of costume. Rather than illustrating a dramatic episode played by
costumed actors and actresses, the artist may have combined disparate elements
from different sources as a suitable vehicle for his visual message. The painting
can be closely associated with a number of interrelated allegorical and popular
messages. It comments on Fortuna, the goddess of fortune, and her well-known
fickleness. The child holds the whipping rod to a spinning top, associated in
Dutch emblem books both with sloth and with the spinning wheel of fortune,
also indicated by the central activity of the fortune-telling gypsy women. They
dupe Zanni by their outrageous flirting, as a cover-up to rob him, thus paradoxi-
cally diminishing his fortune in the very act of telling it.620 Religious, allegorical

An exception is Leik (Frühe Darstellungen, pp.162–8). For Anthony Blunt (‘Georges de la
Tour at the Orangerie’, Burlington Magazine, 114 (1972), 516–25, p.519), plates 231, 60,
154 and 209 exemplify ‘a type of theatrical composition current in France in the late
sixteenth century’. Ternois (‘Représentations figurées’, p.234) includes plate 231 in his list
of the six most important early paintings of the commedia dell’arte. Regarding the artist of
plate 231, with hindsight it now seems to me that the suggestion of Jacques Bellange has
much to recommend it, not least that it was made by both Otto Benesch (1962) and Pierre
Rosenberg (1973). Mitchell Merling tentatively favours Nicolas Bollery (curatorial
communication, 22.6.99).
Wind, ‘Pitture ridicole’, p.32.
The renaissance saying ‘We are seven’ was commonly illustrated by some combination of
animals and humans with foolish connotations, such as owls, donkeys, and indeed fools and


and popular, as well as dramatic, readings of the picture are possible. They are
not necessarily equally valid, mutually exclusive, or incompatible with the pos-
sibility of a relationship between plate 231 and the professional stage. The am-
biguity of its subject makes plate 231 a particularly clear example of a painting
whose use as a visual source for the history of performing women is far from
straightforward, despite depicting recognizable stock types and costumes asso-
ciated with the commedia dell’arte.

III.iii.b Male national types

The most easily recognizable male national types in early commedia iconogra-
phy are two soldiers, the Spanish captain and the tedesco, or Teutonic merce-
nary. Also featured in some commedia performances are Turks, generally as an
excuse for displaying exotic costumes, and Frenchmen, most often as a second-
ary servant, captain or inamorato. These national types had antecedents on the
Italian stage, and both the tedesco and the Turk have parallels in northern, as
well as Italian, carnival practice and iconography. Sixteenth century captains
were generally Italian, Spanish, Teutonic, or, less often, French. The role af-
forded the opportunity to mock foreigners and their habits, and to tailor per-
formances to foreign audiences by including material in their own language.
Italian, Spanish and French captains were often played as young, unmasked,
and fashionably clad, and in this respect share many visual characteristics of the
inamorato, or young male lover, with whom there is considerable iconographic
overlap.621 The visual confusion is compounded in that in some commedia plots,
the role of inamorato is taken by the captain, and many established actors of the
inamorato role went on to play the part of captain in their later careers. A further
difficulty with differentiating depictions of Spanish, French and Italian soldiers
is that although some actors restricted the role to one nationality, others were

commedia dell’arte servants. But, as in many other pictures of this type, there would be
only six of them in the picture, the joke being that the seventh character, no wiser than the
rest, was the spectator himself. The two outermost of the six characters of plate 231, the old
woman at the extreme left and the comic servant at the extreme right of the painting, look
directly, not into the spectator’s eyes, but at his belt, where the renaissance spectator’s purse
would have been, giving the spectator a strong sense of implication in the narrative episode,
and a direct reference may be intended to the saying ‘We are seven’.
See, for example, the central figure of plate 304, whose costume, in strong contrast to the
assorted Capitani of Callot’s Balli series [plate 3], realistically depicted, has been variously
interpreted as that of a captain or inamorato.


known to portray captains of more than one nationality. This gives depictions of
commedia captains which are named, and those which can be associated with
named depictions, a particular importance.
Francesco Andreini was one actor who played the part of an inamorato for
many years before creating his personal version of the stock military captain.
This was Capitano Spavento del Vall’Inferno, the most famous and successful
commedia dell’arte captain, perhaps inspired by the Capitano Spavento of
Parabosco’s 1552 erudite comedy Il Pellegrino. Ferrone suggests that portray-
als of many commedia stock roles span a wide spectrum, from the farcical buf-
fooneries of street players and charlatans to the elevated dignity desired by edu-
cated professional actors, and that for the role of captain, these extremes are
represented by the drunken fooling tedesco and by the courtly Christian knight.
Establishing strong links between the artist Fetti and the Andreini family, he
develops this theme with reference to Fetti’s portrait of a comedian, whom he
identifies as Francesco Andreini, and the left-hand figure of a fresco lunette of
c.1607 by Poccetti, traditionally identified as Andreini’s Capitano Spavento
[plates 1, 335].622 Ferrone affirms that both these depictions are concerned to
dignify the image of the actor, by distancing him from the street buffoons and
strengthening his identification with the educated and even courtly strata of
However, some elements of the dress of Poccetti’s Spavento have marked
similarities with German military costume.623 Andreini published books in 1607
and 1612 in which he reminisces over the Gelosi of the late sixteenth century
and mentions his own exploits as their captain. A passage in the sixteenth dia-
logue of Andreini’s Bravure of 1607 suggests that Capitano Spavento may have

Ferrone, Attori mercanti corsari, pp.23–4, 30, 244, 247–53. On Bernadino Barbatelli
(‘Poccetti’), see also Ferrone ‘La parola e l’immagine’, pp.107–8; Mamone, ‘Arte e
spettacolo’, pp.82–3; Mazzoni, ‘Genealogia’, 113ff. Extensive frescoes in the Villa Il
Pozzino, at Castello near Florence, include grotesques of 1619 with several scenes of
buffoni and comici engaged in acrobatic spectacle. The villa was purchased by relatives of
Antonfrancesco Grazzini, some three years after the playwright’s death in 1583, who
commissioned the elaborate fresco cycle from Poccetti’s pupil, Piero Salvestrini of Castello.
Salvestrini was influenced by the prints of Callot, and they perhaps had direct contact
1615–17, when Callot was at the Medici court. See Carlo Cresti and Massimo Listri, Civiltà
delle ville Toscane (Udine: Magnus, 1992), pp.75, 212–17; Maria Pia Mannini,
‘Decorazioni fiorentine del seicento tra commedia dell’arte e melodramma’, Paragone,
rivista mensile di arte figurativa e letteratura, 45 (1994), 220–30.
For Povoledo (‘Le bouffon’, pp.262, 265), Andreini is here wearing ‘le costume des
officiers allemands, l’habit “accoltellato” des gardes suisses’.


had strong elements of the tedesco and the French soldier, as well as the Italian
or Spanish captain on whom the commedia dell’arte put increasing emphasis.
In this, the Capitano says ‘habito mezo Spagnuolo, mezo Francese, mezo Todesco
et mezo Italiano, foderato tutto di contrari pareri, ricamato di strane bizzarrie,
con la sua bottoniera d’interesse di stato’.624 This raises the intriguing possibil-
ity that Andreini’s Capitano Spavento could wear tedesco costume, and that a
Todesco on Brambilla’s games board of 1589 depicting Gelosi actors is an early
portrait of Francesco Andreini as Spavento [plate 38].
Some have identified the captain depicted in Martinelli’s Compositions de
rhetoriques as Girolamo Garavini, who spoke no Spanish and played the exclu-
sively Italian Capitano Rinoceronte [plate 14]. The mercenaries of the ceiling
and stair frescoes at Castle Trausnitz in Landshut, painted in the mid-1570s,
rank amongst the earliest depictions of the captain role. Although some are popu-
larly identified as portraits of Massimo Troiano as the Spanish captain Don
Diego de Mendoza, the role he played in 1568, it seems highly unlikely that
Prince Wilhelm would have sanctioned portraits of a courtier whose career had
ended as a disgraced murderer in 1570 [plates 20–3]. The ceiling frieze shows a
possible Spanish captain in red stockings and doublet, high black plumed cap,
slippers and long cloak, cream shirt with white ruff and cuffs, and cream dou-
blet with dark vertical stripes. He draws a long sword and strikes a suitably
threatening attitude towards two zanni stuffing their mouths from a large plate
at the left of the scene. The staircase frescoes show a possible Spanish captain in
doublet and hose, with a hip-length cape. Military captains depicted in the Corsini
Album range from one standing next to Pantalone, who, with his twin Silvio on
Pantalone’s other side, is soberly dressed in black (scenario 11), to one sporting
full battle regalia, including breastplate, plumed helmet, sword and shield (sce-
nario 77) [plates 245, 247]. Scenario 39 illustrates a captain and his long-lost
Spanish twin brother, the love-maddened Lelio, flanked by a servant–master
pair [plate 246]. Reminiscent of the Corsini Album captain is a black-clad masked
figure featuring in paintings by Sebastian Vrancx, typically in a plumed cap,
short cape, sash, and sometimes gloves, and often carrying a stringed instru-
ment rather than a sword.625
Minaggio’s Chapitan Mata-mor of c.1618 has been identified as a portrait
of Silvio Fiorillo (1584–1634) in the stage role he created, the Spanish Capitano
Matamoros, a role also depicted in the c.1611 title page portrait of Fiorillo used

Ferrone, Attori mercanti corsari, p.21
See, for example, plates 71–2, 97, 100, 105–6, 110.


in several of his published plays [plate 293a].626 The Recueil Fossard woodcuts
depict one of the earliest identified Spanish captains, Capitano Cocodrillo, cre-
ated and played by Fabrizio de Fornaris of Naples [plate 6]. Fornaris, who may
have been with the Confidenti as early as 1571,627 and is thought to have died in
1637, was with the Confidenti in Paris in 1584, when he published a play,
L’Angelica, there, featuring speeches in broken Spanish by Cap. don Alonso
Cocodrillo. The Recueil Fossard Cocodrillo wears a wide hip-length cloak, plain
shoes, and an unplumed bonnet. In some painted versions of this composition,
the equivalent character is labelled Il Sr. Leandro, and is evidently intended to
be not a captain but an inamorato [plates 44, 51]. The Capitano Cocodrillo of
Callot’s Balli de Sfessania engravings, a fantastical creature in skin-tight clothes
with plumed hat, grotesque scarf-like cloak, and morris bells at his ankles and
down his chest, perhaps a free interpretation of the role, can be ruled out as a
portrait of Fornaris [plates 2–5]. Similarly, as far as costume is concerned, Callot’s
Capitano Cardoni is no more informative than his other Balli captains, and just
as unlikely to portray a specific actor.
The documentary status of another depiction of this role is less insecure.
Valentino Cortesei, who created the role of Capitano Cardone, led the Uniti in
Genoa in 1593. He was with the Uniti troupe in Ferrara in 1584, and also played
with other troupes, such as Martinell’s in 1598 in Mantua, where he was cited as
a witness to the affair of Drusiano Martinelli’s wife, Angelica. The role features
in Orazio Vecchi’s L’Anfiparnasso of 1597, Scala’s scenarios of 1611, Boccalini’s
Parnasso of 1613, Michelangelo the Younger’s 1618 carnival play La Fiera,
and the manuscript Locatelli scenarios of 1617, where the cast list for Li Dui
Capitani identifies the role’s nationality as Spanish. Brambilla’s Cardone of
1589, although tiny, shows the actor in plausible stage costume: a feathered cap,
cloak, doublet, and hose, hand on sword, in swaggering pose, and may be the
earliest dated portrait of a specific actor in the role of a named commedia dell’arte
Spanish captain [plate 38].628

Corrigan (‘Commedia dell’arte portraits’, p.177) argues a progression in the role’s costume
between the earlier print and Minaggio’s picture, although Harald Zielske demonstrates that
the pose and costume of the latter are based on a print by Callot (‘Das McGill-Featherbook
(1618) – eine ikonographische Quelle zur Commedia dell’arte?’, Kunstchronik, 51 (1998),
99–106, pp.102–3). Maria Ines Aliverti (‘An unknown portrait of Tiberio Fiorilli’, Theatre
Research International, 23 (1998), 127–32) identifies a possible painted portrait of the actor.
Lea, Italian Popular Comedy, II, p.486.
M A Katritzky, ‘Eight portraits of Gelosi actors in 1589?’, Theatre Research International,
21 (1996), 108–20, p.116.


Like the Spaniard, portrayals of the German on the commedia dell’arte stage
are almost exclusively military. The uniform of the Teutonic captain or tedesco
is the colourful, distinctive type of the German or Swiss mercenary. Overwhelm-
ingly, the tedesco is iconographically associated with one or both of two charac-
teristics: he is either a prodigious drinker or a military musician. The drinkers
among them dance, lurch or slump drunkenly, brandish bottles, flasks, goblets,
small or even quite large barrels, or very often, some combination of these alco-
holic attributes. A tedesco of Schwoll’s British Museum sketchbook carries a
large barrel under his left arm, raises a drinking yard with his right, and bears a
sword and dagger [plates 27, 31]. The alcoholic excesses of Brambilla’s tedesco
are amply indicated, by a wine flask in his right hand, and an outsized wineglass
raised in his left [plate 38]. He sports the exaggeratedly slashed hose and dou-
blet typical of this role, and often further emphasized by strongly contrasting
striped colours in the below-knee padded hose, and sometimes also the doublet
and/or stockings [plate 38]. Favourite colours were yellow striped with bright
green or with red, often with a metal breastplate and/or weapon [plates 22–3,
36, 156]. His hat, almost invariable for this character, is of the standard large
beret type, but, less usually, plumed. It seems from Brambilla’s tiny vignette
that his tedesco is not lacking in other accessories common for this character,
such as a generously padded codpiece, flamboyant knee garters and copious
head and facial hair. But unlike some depictions of the character, who wear a
dark three-quarter mask, he is unmasked. In the Corsini Album title page illus-
tration to scenario 50, a tedesco disguised as a blind man wears a hip length
cloak over his usual outfit, and has a small guide dog on a lead (La cieca, see
plate 246). The lute-playing tedesco of plate 280 also wears a cloak, and carries
a dagger. The tedesco of plate 73 wears some kind of over-jacket, morris bells
on his ankles, a string of sausages slung around his chest and an oil lamp for a
hat, and, like the tedesco of plate 161, carries carnival meats spiked on a spit.
The musical tedesco generally carries a military drum, although sometimes
it is a pipe alone or with tabor; or a rommelpot, lute or morris bells.629 The
German military drummer has an iconographic parallel in certain Flemish car-
nival pictures, dating from around 1570 onwards, featuring processions of
moresco troupes in northern settings, led by two musicians, a drummer in tedesco
costume and a tabor player, followed by one or more couples in eastern dress.630

See, for example, plates 53, 73, 76, 78, 280.
See, for example, plates 167–8, 170–1, 217. cf. Harsnet: ‘the Fidler comes in with his
Taber, & Pipe, and a whole Morice after him, with motly visards for theyr better grace’ (A


Plate 217 depicts the vice of slothfulness, and here the procession is depicted
together with typical carnival pursuits condemned by the church, such as gam-
bling and excessive drinking. In other types of procession or processional dances,
depicted in the oeuvres of many Flemish artists, and by the Italian engraver
Brambilla, stock commedia roles, often with one or more couples in Turkish or
vaguely eastern dress, are led by one or more musicians.631 Sometimes, these
too include musicians in tedesco costume.632 One group of such pictures of
c.1600–5 is associated with Vrancx and Caulery. It features two comic musi-
cians, one or both in tedesco costume, one beating a drum, the second playing a
tambourine or rommelpot, in a carnival procession including a stilted Father
Time, and a Bacchus seated on a barrel mounted on runners.633 Associated with
this group of 1600–5 are two pictures in which tedesco types carry carnival
meats on spits [plates 73, 161]. Actual commedia dell’arte parades in which
drummers lead actors are noted by Garzoni in 1585 and in a Leiden licence of
1598 permitting a visiting troupe of Italian actors to perform on condition that
they do not parade around the town with their drummer.634 A collaboration be-
tween Italian professionals and local performers perhaps relevant in this con-
nection occurred as early as 1544, when Giovanni-Antonio Romano’s six Ital-
ian players took their repertoire ‘d’anticques, moralitez, farces, et autres jeux
rommains et françois’ to Paris. Here, they contractually engaged a ‘joueur de
tambourin de Suisse’ and two further French players, whom they initiated into
‘l’art et industrye de jouer d’anticques jeux rommains’.635
Unlike Spanish and German costume, Turkish or eastern-inspired costume,
a favourite for showy commedia dell’arte disguisings in the early scenarios and

declaration, p.49). The right-hand corner of Pieter Bruegel’s Gloomy day of 1565 (Vienna)
features a carnival procession of three adults and a child, in everyday peasant dress, apart
from the child’s paper crown and bell, and the cauldron headgear of the background adult.
See, for example, plates 53, 87–8, 107, 113, 124, 126–7, 129, 130, 183, 201, 203, 228–9,
262–3, 280 and other works by Aerts, Balten, Francken, Momper, Toeput, Vrancx and
Frederick van Valckenborch.
See, for example, plates 53, 280.
Plates 76, 78, 80–4.
Garzoni (La piazza universale: Discorso CIII, p.902) emphasises the importance of the
drummer in announcing the arrival of the troupe to a new town ‘come entrano questi dentro
a una città, subito col tamburo si fa sapere, che i signori comici tali sono arrivati’; on the
Leiden licence, see Robert L Erenstein, ‘De invloed van de commedia dell’arte in
Nederland tot 1800’, Scenarium, 5 (1981), 91–106, p.97.
Lebègue, ‘La Comédie Italienne’, p.11. Evidently yet another reference to the ‘labours of


iconography, was rarely military. Where Turkish and other commedia types are
depicted mingling in carnival crowds or bursting in on carnival revellers, it is
unclear whether the Turks are actors or carnival masks. An engraving features
Anatolian matachins in tight-fitting buffone-like outfits [plate 308]. But this seems
to be a special case, and Brambilla’s games board of 1589 reveals the standard
costume of Il turco to be a turban, loose calf- to floor-length gown, undershirt and
slippers, as do the title page illustrations to Corsini Album scenarios 41 and 61
[plates 38, 246]. In that for scenario 18, the three actors using Turkish costume as
disguise still wear their regular stage costumes underneath [plate 245]. More elabo-
rate ‘eastern’ costume is depicted in processions or outdoor performances. These
include an elaborately padded, plumed and ribboned turban, buttoned, decorated
and sashed jacket, and fearsome pickaxe in plate 130, the wide-collared, floor-
length robes and strangely tasselled turban of plate 281, the animal mask, elabo-
rate turban and cloak with false sleeves of plate 31, and the sabre of plate 107.636
Although the commedia dell’arte Frenchman has a venerable tradition, he
crops up only sparingly as the francese in early scenarios, as a chameleon figure,
an occasional supporting actor who also figures under various specific names,
and plays a wide range of minor roles.637 He has been iconographically identified
as the black-clad figure featured in twelve of the Corsini Album title page illustra-
tions, and associated with these scenarios’ named parts of Scartoccio, Trappolino,
Trastulo, Sardellino, Pasquarello, and Coviello.638 Scartoccio wears a dark tunic
over paler, loose leggings, black hat and a dark, full-face mask, a costume possi-
bly modified by the fact that, for the purposes of the plot, he is depicted disguised
as a blind man, and the evidence that he is French seems convincing (Corsini
scenario 50, see plate 246). But there seems no compelling reason for identifying
the Corsini Coviello who also wears dark apparel, as French (scenarios 83 and 92,
see plate 247). The Trappolino on the title page of scenario 80, like Minaggio’s
Trapolino, wears similar costume to Zanni, and the innkeeper Trappolin of sce-
nario 40 is also depicted in zanni-style costume, centrally flanked by the inamoratos
Orazio and Fabrizio, one of whom is the left-hand, black-clad character [plates
246–7, 293a]. A Philipin of the Recueil Fossard woodcuts may be French, and is
possibly related to the valet Philippin of a farcical intermedio of Le Jars’s French

See also plates 109, 157, 183, 217, 331.
Troiano, Dialoghi, f.148v (quoted above, p.57: ‘un seruo franzese’, played in the 1568
Munich performance, by an eighth, unidentified actor); Scala, Il teatro, giornata VIII;
Corsini Album scenario 48 (Pandolfi, La commedia dell’arte, V, p.264).
Aasted, ‘The Corsini scenarios’, pp.100–1.


tragicomedy, La Lucelle, of 1576, whose zanni-like lazzi are noted, without mak-
ing the connection to his Recueil Fossard namesake, by Lebègue [plate 6].639
Other Recueil Fossard woodcuts depict dramatic collaborations between the
troupes of the Italian comedian Harlequin and the French actor Agnan Sarat, and
between unidentified Italian comedians and French farceurs [plates 10, 11].

III.iii.c Buffoni and matachins

There are evident connections between the commedia dell’arte and moresco dances,
especially pantomimic, acrobatic, armed matachins of the type traditionally intro-
duced by way of intermedi into commedie erudite and generally performed by
professional buffoni.640 The moresco embraces a range of dances, characterized
by a high dramatic narrative content, acrobatic style, and the wearing of costume
and dark face masks. Hakewill, writing of Rome in 1627, notes ‘these forraine
exercises of vauting and dauncing the Moriske’, and the link between moresco
dancing and acrobatics is emphasised in a document of 1605 noting the participa-
tion of both sexes: ‘diuers Gypsies (as they termed them) men and women, dauncing
and tumbling much after the Morisco fashion’.641 The overlap between buffoni
and matachins, and their close connections with comici, receive significant sup-
port from the documentary record, and especially from a wealth of pictorial evi-
dence. Numerous depictions of carnivals, Italian and northern, record the pres-
ence of both stock commedia dell’arte types, and acrobatic performers in a type
of costume which can be associated with buffoni and moresco dancers.642 They
raise the question of whether or not actual collaboration or overlap between pro-
fessional actors and ‘th’Antike, Morisko, and the Mattachine’ is implied.643

Raymond Lebègue, ‘Premières infiltrations de la commedia dell’arte dans le théâtre
français’, Cahiers de l’association internationale des études françaises, 15 (1963), 165–
76, p.174.
And perhaps also comici (G Yvonne Kendall, ‘Theatre, dance and music in late
Cinquecento Milan’, Early Music, 32 (2004), 74–95, p.78).
George Hakewill, An apologie of the power and providence of God in the government of
the world. Or an examination and censvre of the common errovr tovching natvres
perpetvall and vniversall decay, divided into fovre bookes (Oxford: Lichfield & Tvrner,
1627), p.339; OED: sv ‘Morisco’.
See also above, p.219.
Guillaume de Salluste sieur Du Bartas, Du Bartas his deuine weekes and workes translated
and dedicated to the Kings most excellent Maiestie by Josuah Syluester (London: Arthur
Iohnson, 1611), p.574.


Matachins (properly defined as ‘a kind of sword-dancer in a fantastic costume’),644

were professional performers who earned their living by performing dances such
as the armed moresco or morisco dance known as the ‘matachins’, and other acro-
batic displays. These ranged from pedestrian stock-in-trade turns of individual
acrobats, such as juggling, hoola-hooping, stilt and hand walking, to choreographed
spectacles requiring large co-ordinated troupes. The latter included bullfights with
sword, hammer or lance, the climbing of carnival greasy poles, and the human
tower and other gymnastic spectacles and feats known as the ‘antics’, Forze
d’Ercole, or ‘labours of Hercules’. Rabelais warmly praised a matachin troupe of
1549, and Sidney wrote in 1586: ‘who euer sawe a matachin daunce to imitate
fighting, this was a fight that did imitate the matachin: for they being but three that
fought, euerie one had aduersaries, striking him, who strooke the third, and
reuenging perhaps that of him, which he had receaued of the other’.645
It has been convincingly suggested that some early commedia dell’arte char-
acters had a choice of two quite separate costumes, which were only fully inte-
grated when commedia types became standardized in the seventeenth century.646
One was based on early sixteenth century contemporary costume appropriate to
their character in real life, the other, typified by the tight-fitting Harlequin cos-
tume certainly being worn by the 1580s, on the skin-tight suit, or tights, of medi-
eval and renaissance buffoni, matachins and fools. It seems likely that significant
elements of the costume and stage routines of tight-suited commedia servants
such as Harlequin were directly based on those of buffoni and matachins. The
‘matt[a]cini de [A]natolia’ of an anonymous sixteenth century print confirm that
these matachins are masked and fantastically costumed armed acrobatic dance(r)s
of Turkish origin [plate 308]. The background of plate 281, where a troupe of
matachins perform a vigorous sword or stick dance accompanied by one of their
number on a drum, gives a rare vivid impression of the vigorously athletic nature
of their dancing.647

OED: sv ‘matachin’, see also Garzoni, La piazza universale, on the matachin as a dance
(Discorso XLV, p.547), and as a carnival costume (Discorso LXXXIV, p.790).
Rabelais, La Sciomachie, p.26 (‘En lieu de Comedie au son des cornetz, hautzbois,
sacqueboutes, &c, entra vne compagnie de Matachins nouueaux, lesquelz gran dement
delecterent toute l’assistance’, see also above, p.38); Philip Sidney, The Covntesse of
Pembrokes Arcadia (London: William Ponsonbie, 1590), f.74v.
Povoledo, ‘Le bouffon’, pp.257–8.
See also the dancing troupe in M A Katritzky, ‘Was commedia dell’arte performed by
mountebanks? Album amicorum illustrations and Thomas Platter’s description of 1598’,
Theatre Research International, 23 (1998), 104–125, pl.1. For Povoledo, matachin dancing
represents ‘la danse par excellence de la Commedia dell’Arte’ (‘Le bouffon’, p.261).


The standard costume of the matachin, the only performer often depicted with
commedia troupes to commonly wear morris bells, is a skin-tight red suit with
white strips of cloth at the joins of the fabric and disguising the join of the full-face
black mask, and a squashy cap [plate 319b].648 Brambilla’s games board of 1589
suggests that matachin costume differs in important respects both from that of the
Matto or fool, and the Saltarino or independent acrobat, who wears a buttoned
doublet and hose and is unmasked, bare-headed, and free of bells or neck scarf
[plate 38]. This neck scarf, evidently intended to secure the full-face mask and
disguise the join between mask and skin, was generally arranged in loose folds
around the throat and fastened in two points at the back, a costume detail possibly
misunderstood by the engraver of Vrancx’s Dives and Lazarus.649 The same cos-
tume variation is exhibited in plates 81–2, each of which features both light and
dark suits, all with knee sashes and long waist sashes, and some with circlets
around their upper arms. Plate 259 also exhibits this variant of the neck scarf, and
these matachins of 1583 wear their bells around their knees, studded leather belts
instead of waist sashes, plumed hats, and wield wooden spoons in lieu of the
weapons with which matachins are typically armed.650 In plates 86–8, they lead
the fight of the butchers against the fishmongers, wielding strings of sausages, and
the carnival wagon of plate 220 is led by a sausage-festooned matachin. In plate
308, their waist sashes have almost become little skirts, and they are shoeless and
have buttons down their fronts. The matachin of plate 99 wears a dark suit and
pale, moulded face mask. In plate 108, two matachins, one with a dark mask and
yellow cap, are in pale yellow; a third in red with a dark half mask, and a fourth in
a dark suit both have morris bells at wrists as well as ankles. Usually plain, matachin
suits are exceptionally vertically striped, or spotted,651 and two men at the ex-
treme right of the procession in plate 130, and others in the paintings of Leandro
Bassano, may be wearing elaborate adaptations of the matachin outfit.

A rare exception is a foreground zanni with morris bells in plate 166, a drawing related to
pictures of the type of Hans Leinberger’s Dance contest (Vienna, Albertina, G.898; Pass.8),
Balten’s Den Dans des Werelts, La danse du monde (Paris BN, Hennin G151583), or a
print by Daniel Hopfer (B.VIII 490.73). In each, male moresco dancers gyrate around a
central female personifying worldly vanities.
Plates 97–8, 104. The moulded full-face mask of a zanni in matachin-like headgear is
casually discarded on the central bench of plate 336.
Occasionally swords, bows and arrows, knives, or lances [plates 101, 131–3, 161], more
generally hammers, often painted in brightly contrasting stripes.
See, for example, plates 22, 35, 161, 320. Some Trausnitz ceiling frieze matachins wear
plain buff-coloured suits; one is in striped yellow and buff with pink sleeves. Except for the
hand walker, they wear squashy padded red or yellow caps.


Generally, where they are in pictures also including characters in stock

commedia costume, matachins or buffoni are depicted engaging in performative
activities of a highly athletic nature. The matachin centre stage of a commedia
performance, in tight-fitting suit with morris bells at knees, waist and upper arms,
pitch-black full-face mask, and a conical ‘dunce’s’ cap, accompanies his wild
dance on the grill and tongs; another matachin, also on furniture inlay work, plays
a lute [plates 35, 224]. Others dance attendance to an inamorata, or juggle with
oranges.652 Matachins often feature in pictures in which, as in these last, they are
in the context of the Venetian carnival, most often in St Mark’s Square.653 In plate
123, of c.1600–5, six commedia dell’arte stock types in the middle foreground
are led by a buffone in a tight-fitting red suit with a squashy cap, while a dozen or
so more cavort around a bull in the right foreground.654 In plate 124, one group of
buffoni fight a bull, others perform a popular ‘labour of Hercules’, the human
pyramid. This spectacular feat, involving as many as a dozen acrobats on five
levels, was evidently generally performed in buffoni costume, and often masked
and in close association with commedia dell’arte actors.655 A Roman document
records a payment to ‘attegiatori che fecero la moresca et le forze di Hercole’.656
Such ‘antics’ involved ‘vaulting with notable supersaltes and through hoopes, and
last of all the Antiques, of carying of men one uppon an other which som men call
labores Herculis’, and a sermon, which asks ‘Are they Christians, or Antics in
some Carnival?’ makes the connection with carnival celebrations.657 Plate 125
shows about a dozen matachins in tight suits with waist sashes, squashy caps, neck
scarves, morris bells at their ankles, and black full-face masks, again at the Venetian
carnival. Most attack a bull with lances, inside a large triangular area formed by
three of their number, who play drums. But in the foreground one, surrounded by
commedia stock types, has a hoop around his middle and walks on his hands.658

See, for example, plates 36, 128, 130. Numerous documentary references to such activities
include one of 1572, when the troupe of Johannes Romanus and Julius Parmensis
entertained the citizens of Strasbourg with dancing, acrobatics, fencing and the labores
Herculis (Trautmann, ‘Italienische Schauspieler’, p.290).
See, for example, plates 123–6.
Plates 37 and 262 feature similar activities in alpine settings.
See, for example, plates 64, 71–2, 126b and c, 161, 177, 192, 213, 320.
From the Privy Purse of Pope Paul III (1468–1549) (Lea , Italian Popular Comedy, II,
Sir Thomas Smith, 1572 (OED: sv ‘Antic’); Bishop Joseph Hall, 1618, ibid.
For similar figures see, for example, plates 92–5, 97–100, 104, 106, 108–9. Plate 6, where
Harlequin walks on his hands, reminds us that this was a favourite lazzi of the commedia
dell’arte. For hand walking and juggling with small hoops, see also plates 131–3, 281.


Matachins are also depicted at the carnival in Rome659 and in northern cit-
ies. In plate 135, dozens of them cavort in a northern town square and climb a
greasy pole, a traditional carnival diversion. In plate 80, they are accompanied
by stilt walkers, and a foreground group of three men and a woman dancing a
grotesque moresco to the accompaniment of a string player.660 Another group of
northern carnival pictures with a stilt walker in the background has similar con-
torted male dancers in the foreground, this time accompanied by commedia
dell’arte stock types as well as men in buffone costume.661 A matachin in an
alpine carnival scene partners a Pantalone in a similar dance, accompanied by a
masked lute-playing child in matachin costume [plate 242]. Similar dance move-
ments occur in plate 337, and in Minaggio’s depiction of Chola Napolitano, of
c.1615–18, identified as a portrait of the comico Aniello di Mauro, known for
his skilful dancing [plate 293a].662 Elsewhere, characters in buffone or matachin
costume accompany themselves on the tambourine as they dance with other
masks, or accompany a Pantalone on stringed instruments.663 Early seventeenth
century paintings depicting carnival stilt walkers based on the stilt walker in the
background of Callot’s Smaraolo cornuto, Ratsa di Boio illustrate the enor-
mous influence of Callot’s Balli prints.664 The window of plate 69 looks out on
to a northern carnival scene which is virtually a compendium of the background
diversions in Callot’s Balli prints, including stilt walkers, a man seated back-
wards on a donkey (as in Cap. Babeo, Cucuba), and acrobats hand walking and
performing a ‘crab’ (as in Fracischina, Gian Farina) [plates 3–4]. Buffoni some-
times lead carnival processions, often bearing one or more torches.665 The tight-
suited torch bearer of plate 338 is practically mirrored by the extreme left-hand
figure of plate 152, and another variant of the costume appears in the title page
illustrations to Corsini Album scenarios 39 and 82 [plates 246–7].
Buffoni and matachins take a prominent part in some of the earliest known
paintings of commedia dell’arte performances by named artists, such as
Hieronymus I Francken, Leandro Bassano and Christoph Schwarz. In plate 16,

See, for example, plates 131–3.
Comparable grotesque dancing groups in the foreground of related pictures, accompanied
by several musicians, include one or more participants in buffone-like suits, some with
strings of sausages slung around their chests [plates 73, 76, 78–80].
Plates 81–3. See also plates 203, 228, 273–4.
Corrigan, ‘Commedia dell’arte portraits’, p.178.
See, for example, plates 139, 142, 145, 161.
Plate 3. See, for example, plates 69, 69b, 264.
See, for example, plates 117, 163, 331, 338.


four in the top right-hand corner wear moulded pinkish tan-coloured full-face
masks with grotesque features, framed with white neck cloths, bright scarlet
caps and suits, and appear to be shoeless, but in some kind of padded mittens. In
plate 226, one in a moulded pinkish-tan, grotesquely featured, full-face mask,
bright red cap, white undershirt, beige tights and dark green jacket with pale
yellow stripes performs a grotesque dance accompanied by a lute-playing
inamorato. In plates 267–8 they leap on and off ledges in the left foreground. In
the Trausnitz ceiling frieze, they play the cello, clown around, walk on their
hands and perform a comic sword fight with a tedesco [plates 22–3]. These
early iconographic associations between acrobatic performers and professional
actors have a bearing on the twenty-four engravings of Callot’s Balli di Sfessania
[plates 2–5]. Although this series marks a qualitative high point in commedia
dell’arte iconography, and represents its most important art-historical water-
shed, its documentary value as a record of the commedia dell’arte is often mini-
mized. The series dates to Callot’s return to Lorraine in 1621, after over a dec-
ade in Italy, and exercised a uniquely great influence on subsequent representa-
tions of the theme. According to Posner, the supposition that its dancers:
portray a Commedia dell’arte company or at least personages from such companies […]
is wrong or, at least, seriously misleading […] it is true, of course, that music and dance
had a role in the Commedia, but they were certainly not the distinctive or central features
of its productions. Callot’s prints, therefore, either take a peculiar and unappreciative
view of the real nature of the impromptu theater, or they are not meant to represent it at all
[…] one cannot doubt that the Balli prints represent a fairground and that the dancers are
ordinary fair performers and not Commedia dell’arte players.666

For Posner, Callot’s prints depict a troupe of dancers specializing in the sfessania,
a Neapolitan moresco of possibly Turkish origin. He virtually rules out a link
with the commedia dell’arte even though, in an appendix, he quotes from a
document of 1588 which notes that the Naples carnival features ‘tanti boffoni’,
commedia stock roles, and a performance of the sfessania dances.667 Despite
general agreement that they depict dancers of a specific type of moresco, Callot’s
Balli engravings continue to attract diverse interpretation.668 Only rarely are

Donald Posner, ‘Jacques Callot and the dances called Sfessania’, Art Bulletin, 59 (1977),
203–16, pp.203, 204, 207.
Ibid., p.216.
On Callot, see also Povoledo, ‘Le bouffon’, p.263; Georg Syamken in Hofmann et al,
Zauber der Medusa, pp.243, 415–17; Christopher Cairns, ‘Jacques Callot dans la
bibliographie récente sur la commedia dell’arte’, in Jacques Callot 1592–1635, Musée
historique lorrain Nancy, 13 juin – 14 septembre 1992, ed. Paulette Choné (Paris: Musées


they still cited without qualification, as a source for commedia dell’arte per-
formance practice.669 Most scholars follow Posner in rejecting any connection
between Callot’s Balli dancers and the commedia dell’arte beyond their names.670
Some regard these prints as imaginative capricci, unrepresentative of either actors
or dancers.671 The imaginative nature of Callot’s Balli prints is undeniable. But
the iconographic material here examined supports the possibility that they may
be based, however freely, on actual performance practice, either in the form of
a commedia dell’arte troupe capable of offering matachin dances in its own
repertoire, or a temporary collaboration between troupes of actors and dancers.
Not all the characters depicted in the type of costume discussed in this sec-
tion are professional performers, neither is it clear whether commedia dell’arte
companies typically employed matachins or buffoni, or were routinely capable
of offering acrobatic spectacles such as the sword dance or human tower in their
repertoires. However, the widespread depiction of characters in buffone and
matachin costume in conjunction with professional actors identified here, in
Flemish, German and Italian iconography spanning the whole period of early
commedia activity, is an indication that this is not simply an artistic convention,
but reflects genuine performance practice.

III.iii.d Harlequin
As individual actors attempted to rise above the crowd and stamp their own
mark on the Zanni role, a host of variants were created, many of which differed
in little more than name and minor costume details. But a few of these servant
roles were so successful that they survived their creators, and became common
theatrical property. Of these, Harlequin is the most notable. Recent investiga-
tions of the medieval iconography of Hellequins suggest that they typically share

nationaux, 1992), 225–6; Kellein, Pierrot, pp.23–6, 100–103; Leik, Frühe Darstellungen,
pp.252–9, 280; Mamone, ‘Arte e spettacolo’, pp.79–80; Otto G Schindler, ‘Zur Kremser
“Komödiantenszene” im Stammbuch des Malergesellen Ferdinand Simmerl (1643)’, Unsere
Heimat, Zeitschrift für Landeskunde in Niederösterreich, 68 (1997), 100–112; Zielske,
‘Das McGill-Featherbook’; idem, ‘Les trois Pantalons’; Irène Mamczarz, Le masque et
l’âme: de l’improvisation à la création théâtrale (Paris: Klincksieck, Théâtre européen,
opéra, ballet, 8, 1999), pp.131–51; Guardenti, ‘The iconography of the commedia dell’arte,
Mamczarz, Le masque et l’âme, p.131.
Posner, ‘Jacques Callot’; Taviani, ‘Immagini rivoltate’, p.59.
Leik, Frühe Darstellungen, p.254.


the most characteristic costume features of their later cousins, the commedia
dell’arte Harlequins, namely their masks and patches.672 Influenced either di-
rectly, or via carnival costume, by the hairy costume of medieval stage devils,
the origins of patches as a costume device are thought to go back to an attempt
to symbolize outwardly, in visual form, the spiritual blemishes which literally
‘stain’ the characters of carnival revellers in open opposition to ‘spotless’ Chris-
tianity.673 Possible influences on other characteristic features of early Harlequin
costume can also be traced in Hellequin iconography.674 These include his al-
most invariably featherless hat, black half-face mask, the hornlike ‘wart’ on his
forehead, his wooden bat or sword, and even the wicker basket in which he
sometimes carries children on his shoulders. Attempts to demonstrate a continu-
ous line from the sannio of the classical stage to the commedia dell’arte comic
servant or zanni are unconvincing. Some authorities also reject the possibility
of unbroken continuity from the costume of early medieval devils to the spotted
and patched outfits of the commedia dell’arte Harlequin and Catholic carnival
fools. Leibbrand, for example, traces their antecedents back no further than the
fifteenth century carnival, and places them squarely within a medieval Chris-
tian, rather than pre-Christian cultish tradition.675
Hundreds of pre-1620 depictions of zanni are known, but images of Harle-
quin from this period are comparatively rare. The Recueil Fossard woodcuts
depicting Harlequin were discovered only in the 1920s.676 Although Driesen
had seen no sixteenth century depictions of Harlequin, he correctly concluded
from the written evidence that before 1600, the patches of Harlequin costume
were still irregular.677 The most reliable early depictions of Harlequins, those
bearing contemporary identification as such, confirm this. By the early eight-
eenth century, Riccoboni could take for granted his readers’ familiarity with
Harlequin’s ‘bizarre’ brilliantly multi-coloured, regularly lozenge-patched suit,
and a poem by Raparini offers a detailed and vivid description of this costume,

Holm, Solkonge og Månekejser, pp.83–149; idem, ‘The Hellequin figure in medieval
custom’, in Custom, Culture and Community in the Later Middle Ages, eds Thomas Pettit
and Leif Søndergaard (Odense: University, 1994), 105–24.
Jürgen Leibbrand, ‘Vom befleckten Leib zum “Flecklehäs”’, in Narrenfreiheit. Beiträge zur
Fastnachtsforschung, ed. Bausinger et al (Tübingen: Schloss, 1980), 139–175, pp.142–3,
159; Holm, Solkonge og Månekejser, pp.127, 139; idem, ‘The Hellequin figure’.
Holm, Solkonge og Månekejser, p.125.
Leibbrand, ‘Vom befleckten Leib’, pp.142–3.
Beijer and Duchartre, Recueil de plusieurs fragments.
Driesen, Der Ursprung des Harlekin, p.232.


by which Harlequin is still universally recognized.678 In its fully developed ver-

sion, Harlequin costume was routinely borrowed by other characters, and in this
context it serves as shorthand, for example, in an annotated list of stage characters
appended to a Divertissement written by Caylus in the 1730s, for a group of ama-
teur associates. Each of their costumes is described in considerable detail, with
the sole exception of Pistolet’s, whose complete entry is: ‘Pistolet a été joué en
Arlequin’.679 In contrast, early Harlequins typically had randomly patched cos-
tumes. The pre-1620 iconography depicts comic costume with a wide range of
patches: many or few, large or small, regularly or irregularly shaped, with round
or straight edges, dull or brightly coloured, random or marshalled into regular
patterns, sewn on with neat or untidy stitches. They may cover all or part of the
costume, which in itself may be of the loose zanni or tighter acrobatic type.
Although Harlequin’s costume evolved considerably over the centuries, there
have been few comprehensive attempts to identify and classify the depictions of
the costume of Harlequin and other comic performers in patched costume pro-
duced within the lifetime of Tristano Martinelli.680 Identification and accurate
dating of a representative sample of relevant pictures is central to effective classi-
fication of the iconography. In order to classify depictions of Harlequin it is nec-
essary to make decisions regarding the selection of pictures. This task requires
both a precise understanding of the term Harlequin, and of its applications in the
early modern period, and exemplifies at a very basic level a central concern of
theatre iconography, namely how to relate visual and written documentation. Some
early modern depictions of Harlequins and Harlequin-related costume present an
accurate reflection of contemporary stage costume, others reflect fabrications, or
distortions – intended or not – by their artists. The iconography suggests both that
comic patched costume was not confined to the Harlequin role, and that patches
are not an invariable element of Harlequin costume. It is important to avoid a
circular definition of Harlequin images which merely identifies them with their

Silvia Leoni, ‘“L’autre scene” ou Arlequin et son public’, in Arlequin et ses masques. Actes
du colloque franco-italien de Dijon 5–7 septembre 1991, eds Michel Baridon and Norbert
Jonard (Dijon: EUD, 1992), 185–96, p.189; ff.A3–A4 of the anonymous, undated and
unpaginated 46-side poem L’Arlichino, evidently a previously unrecognized earlier edition
of this poem by Raparini (1660–1726), widely known in a 236-side page second edition of
1718 partially published by Pandolfi (La commedia dell’arte, IV, pp.212–42).
Anne Claude Philippe comte de Caylus, Histoire et recueil des Lazzis, Judith Curtis and
David Trott, eds. (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, ‘Studies on Voltaire and the eighteenth
century’ no.338, 1996), p.75.
M A Katritzky, ‘Harlequin in renaissance pictures’, Renaissance Studies, 11 (1997), 381–


most characteristic costume features, but does not necessarily take account of
their artists’ original intentions. Without losing sight of these important qualifica-
tions, the starting point here is the fact that, typically, the most obvious visual
element of Harlequin costume is that it is patched and/or multi-coloured.
The iconography may be subdivided into four categories: identified Harle-
quins; dubious Harlequins; and unidentified characters who probably are Harle-
quins, either wearing Recueil Fossard-like or non-Recueil Fossard-like costume.
Pictures of comic servant types with contemporary identification as Harlequin are
rare, but they are of particular importance in studying Harlequin’s costume, and
include those whose identification may be accepted without qualification, as well
as pictures of identified Harlequins in dubious or atypical costume. The second
category includes Harlequin-related costume worn by dubious Harlequins and
definite non-Harlequins: depictions of comic characters in patched costume which
do not appear to show genuine Harlequins, either unidentified, or actually bearing
specific contemporary identification to a character other than Harlequin. Most
early depictions of comic characters in patched costume bear no contemporary
identification. Those of probable and possible Harlequins may, for the sake of
convenience, be divided, albeit not altogether precisely, into the third and fourth
categories of this iconographic classification. These are unidentified depictions of
characters in costume of the type associated with the Harlequin role in the Recueil
Fossard, and those in other types of patched costume.
Identified Harlequins include one on a dated marble tablet of 1618 now in the
Museo del Palazzo Ducale, Mantua. Its relief carving of Arlechin Comic Famos
can be identified as a depiction of Tristano Martinelli by virtue of the tablet’s
association with the flour mill Martinelli purchased in later life.681 The dedication
in an undated publication with the title Compositions de Rhetorique de Mr. Don
Arlequin enables it to be associated with a visit of Tristano Martinelli to France
around the year 1600, suggesting that the four woodcuts depicting Harlequin which
it contains are portraits of Martinelli in his stage costume [plate 15].682 The hand-

Ferrone et al, Corrispondenze, II, pl.21; Ferrone, Attori Mercanti Corsari, pl.51.
Rasi, I comici italiani, II, pp.97–100. Luigi Riccoboni reproduces a print after the titlepage
Harlequin of Compositions de Rhetorique (Histoire du theatre italien, depuis la decadence
de la comedie latine, 2 vols (Paris: Chardon, 1730–31), II, plate 1). Riccoboni’s rather free
copy in turn served as the basis for several nineteenth century illustrations purporting to
show Harlequin in authentic sixteenth century costume, for example a depiction of
Harlequin reproduced by Louis Moland (Molière et la Comédie italienne (Paris: Didier,
1867), p.55), which both Moland and Jaffei (‘Note critiche’, p.800) erroneously identify as
depicting the Gelosi company’s Simone da Bologna.


coloured title page woodcut of the only known copy, in Paris, shows Harlequin
with a wooden bat through his belt, wearing a pitch-black mask and shoes, red
cap, and a pale undyed suit with patches of subdued reds, browns, fawns and
pale greens.683 Bearing in mind the facts concerning the origins of Harlequin as
a stage role, it is possible to identify all sixteenth century pictures with reliable
contemporary identification as Harlequin quite precisely: as depictions of the
actor Tristano Martinelli dating from about 1584 onwards, when the role cre-
ated by this actor first received the stage name Harlequin, and before this role
and the distinctive costume associated with it were adopted by other actors.684
The present study adds a significant image to the small canon of pre-1600
identified Harlequin pictures [plate 310]. It is a previously unknown companion
image to a much-reproduced woodcut, long accorded the status of: ‘the only
hard evidence we have that Elizabethans saw any picture of the Italian stock
characters so often mentioned in English plays and pamphlets […] the only
Italian theatrical image pre-dating 1600 that can be assigned to an English
printer’.685 This broadsheet advertisement illustrating Pantaloun & Zanie is
bound into the Bodleian Library copy of The Divels Legend. Also bound into
the same Bodleian Library volume is a companion pamphlet, a twelve-page
political pamphlet published by Thomas Gosson containing one of the earliest
English-language references to Harlequin.686 Here, Harlequin declares that, while
the Leaguers dispute, “I noble Harlequin a passing good Burbonian, will like
an Universitie lurcher, licke all the fatte from their trenchers”. A broadsheet
French version of the unillustrated English Harlequin pamphlet, also dated 1595,
is illustrated with a woodcut depicting Seignevr Harleqvin Astrologve [plate
310]. The iconographic proximity of these prints’ ‘Doctour Pantaloun’, ‘Zanie’
and ‘Harlequin’ to their Recueil Fossard counterparts, and provenance of the
pamphlets’ texts, point to the precedence of the French edition, and to Parisian,
rather than English, production for the Harlequin print and its companion. This

Sara Mamone, Firenze e Parigi, due capitali dello spettacolo per una regina: Maria de’
Medici (Milano: Silvana, 1987), fig.148.
Pace Castagno, for whom the Recueil Fossard Harlequin depicts Alberto Naselli (The Early
Commedia dell’Arte (1550–1621): The Mannerist Context (New York: Peter Lang, 1994),
Barasch, ‘Theatrical prints’, pp.27, 34; Christopher Cairns, ‘La commedia dell’arte in
Inghilterra: il “gran rifiuto” mito o realtà’, in XIX convegno internazionale. Origini della
commedia improvvisa o dell’arte, Roma 12–14 Ottobre 1995, Anagni 15 Ottobre 1995, eds
M Chiabò and F Doglio (Roma: Torre d’Orfeo, 1996), 291–302, pp.301–2.
A new pleasant and delightfull Astrologie, invented by reverend Maister Harlequin the
royall Astrologer, calculated for the Leaguers Merydian (London: Gosson, 1595), f.C3r.


latter may be the Divels Legend print itself, or, given its markedly more artisti-
cally crude workmanship by comparison with Seignevr Harleqvin Astrologve,
more likely an as yet unknown French original copied for the English edition.
The only other sixteenth century pictures in which Harlequin receives con-
temporary identification which may be accepted without qualification are cer-
tain of those in and associated with the prints of the Recueil Fossard.687 Most
notable among the Recueil Fossard prints which depict Harlequin is a series of
eighteen woodcuts in which the role features thirteen times [plate 6]. They also
include two of a sequence of six featuring Agnan Sarat’s troupe, showing Harle-
quin acting with them as a glassware dealer, a depiction of Harlequin on stilts in
a print which has been reconstructed from fragments in the Recueil Fossard,
and one of a series of woodcuts of actors in an outdoor setting [plates 9–11].688
Driesen poignantly recognized the existence of this ‘lost Harlequin print’, de-
spite not knowing any pre-1600 image of Harlequin, because his point of refer-
ence was four close variants of other woodcuts in this particular series of the as-
yet undiscovered Recueil Fossard [plate 9].689 Numerous paintings depicting
Harlequins relate compositionally to individual Recueil Fossard woodcuts.690
What is not clear is whether these paintings are simply copied from the prints,
or whether they reflect contemporary input, and earlier pictures have merely
been used as compositional aids in recording a current production. In contrast,
the Harlequin of another set of prints has no direct input from stage costume or
practice current at the time of their production, but is based solely on the icono-
graphic precedent of the Recueil Fossard Harlequin [plate 43]. Another set of
prints with French and German verse, also produced for the friendship album
market, includes one featuring Harlequin, zanni and Avra. This Harlequin wears
a bestial full-face mask and feathered cap, and appears to have a sparsely patched,
baggy costume [plate 260].
Some scholars have disputed the possibility that the depictions of Harlequin
in the Recueil Fossard and Compositions de Rhetorique can show the same
actor [plates 6–11, 14–15]. Iconographic variations are explained through various
factors, including artistic licence.691 Perhaps the differences also reflect the natural

Plates 6–11, 43–6, 48–51.
Plate 10: other impressions, Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Opera, Res.2 nos.1–2; plate 11: Hallar,
Teaterspil og tegnsprog, fig.25.
Driesen, Der Ursprung des Harlekin, pp.266–8. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, cabinets des
éstampes, E.a.79 Res. ff.48r–49v.
See, for example, plates 44–6, 48–51.
Gambelli, Arlecchino a Parigi, pp.189–91.


ageing process. In the Recueil Fossard, Harlequin has no codpiece, a tight one-
piece suit with no visible fastenings, moustache, beard and full head of hair, and
a simple face mask [plates 6–9]. By around 1600, the now 44-year-old Martinelli
is noticeably less lean, lithe and hairy, has acquired a codpiece, and wears a
jacket with lace-up front, and black shoes. His patches, although still random
and, for the most part, irregular, have more regular edges and shapes, and he has
a feather in his hat, an elaborately moulded mask and a smaller beard [plate 15].
The Harlequin of 1618, depicting Martinelli in his early sixties, wears a broadly
similar costume, although his patches are more numerous, smaller, and mostly
round in shape.692
These then, are the pictures which form the secure basis for establishing
early Harlequin costume. But others include identified depictions of Harlequin
in less typical costume. One such, in a friendship album, features three perform-
ers on a narrow stage, a violin-playing woman flanked by two dancing masked
men in uncharacteristically brightly-coloured zanni style suits, black shoes, red
stockings, and bells on the points of their shirt collars and the tips of their unu-
sual, elaborate gold and red hats. The man on the left, in a green suit, is identi-
fied as ‘Arlequin’, his companions as ‘Isabella’ and ‘Franquatripa’. This picture
relates closely to one in a British Library album which dates to 1616–18, and
may be tentatively dated to around this period.693
Hansen reproduces a ‘Harlequin’ by Wenzel Hollar after Callot, tentatively
dates it to before 1627, points out that Hollar has here wrongly labelled a copy
after Callot’s iconographically influential Zanni [plate 303], and suggests that
Hollar, himself unfamiliar with the appearance of Harlequin, was influenced in
this erroneous identification by the fact that Callot was French.694 Hansen’s
editor notes that a woodcut reproduced by Kindermann as illustrating the ballad
sheet Pickelherings Hochzeit oder der lustig singende Harlequin of 1652, which
Hansen demonstrates to be based on the same Callot engraving of a zanni, actu-
ally dates to 1752, and is thus irrelevant to an assessment of Harlequin’s early
modern costume.695 Inigo Jones’s surviving drawings for William Davenant’s
masque Britannia Triumphans (1638) include several relating to the fourth anti-
masque, which featured a mountebank and his two companions, identified as

Ferrone, Attori Mercanti Corsari, plate 51; Mamone, ‘Arte e spettacolo’, pp.77–9.
Katritzky, ‘Comic stage routines’, figs.1, 2.
Hansen, Formen der Commedia dell’Arte, pp.10, 59, 113–4 (fig.65a, right-hand figure).
Heinz Kindermann, Theatergeschichte Europas, 10 vols (Salzburg: Müller, 1957–64), III
(1959), p.367; Hansen, Formen der Commedia dell’Arte, p.44.


‘zani’ and ‘Herlikin’ in Jones’s sketches.696 Although a large and detailed sketch
shows ‘Herlikin’ in a baggy unpatched suit, a small vignette in a composite
sketch indicates what appear to be round patches on his jacket. A mid-seven-
teenth century French engraving identifies the four companions of a mounte-
bank on a trestle stage as, from left to right, Harlequin, Gazelle, Gille le Niais
and Padelle [plate 299a]. This Harlequin is depicted wearing a bowler-shaped
unfeathered hat and tight, unpatched, apparently monochrome, outfit.
The iconography suggests that the patches of Harlequin’s early costume were
irregular, and that they were only systematically regularized in the 1620s. This is
confirmed by Pier Maria Cecchini in 1628.697 Most early depictions of comic
performers in Harlequin-like costume bear no written identification of the identity
or role of the performer, and these include many images that fall into the category
of ‘dubious Harlequins’. Some early modern pictures feature seemingly anachro-
nistic appearances of costumes with regular patches. Concerning one such char-
acter, on the walls of the Trausnitz staircase, sometimes accepted698 or tentatively
accepted699 as a Harlequin, Lea agrees with Driesen700 in rejecting this identifica-
tion, noting that although his ‘tunic of large green- [in 1995 red] and-white checks
[… gives] him the appearance of a modern Harlequin; his connexion with the
Arlecchino of the sixteenth century is extremely doubtful and he probably does
not belong to the Commedia dell’arte’.701 A suggestion that he may portray a
Bavarian court fool could explain the portrait-like depiction of the features and
pushed-back mask high on his brow, and parti-coloured jacket.702 This latter com-
pares with, for example, the following item from an English college inventory of
1548: ‘A fooles coote checker Work of grene Red & White’.703

Stephen Orgel and Roy Strong, Inigo Jones, the Theatre of the Stuart Court, 2 vols
(London: Sotheby Parke Bernet & Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California,
1973), I, pp.683 (fig.344, bottom row, middle figure), 689 (fig.358).
‘L’abito adunque vorebb’ esser moderato, il quale s’è molto allontanato et a gran passi
discostato dal convenevole, posciachè, invece dei tacconi o rattoppamenti (cose proprie del
pover’ uomo) portano quasi un recamo di concertate pezzette, che li rappresentano morosi
lascivi et non servi ignoranti. … Sì che lo sconcerto dell’ habito par che indichi quello dell’
ingegno’ (quoted in Driesen, Der Ursprung des Harlekin, p.276).
Castagno, The early commedia dell’arte, p.157; Rauhut, ‘La commedia dell’arte’, p.257.
Sprengel, ‘Herr Pantalon und sein Knecht Zanni’, p.7.
Driesen, Der Ursprung des Harlekin, p.232.
Lea, Italian Popular Comedy, I, p.14.
Leik, Frühe Darstellungen, pp.70–2.
Sandra Billington, ‘Sixteenth-century drama in St John’s College, Cambridge’, Review of
English Studies, 29 (1978), 1–10, p.6.


Characters associated with Harlequin by Raparini include ‘Pasquino, Tabarino/

Tortellino, Naccherino/Gradelino, Mezzettino/ Bertolino, Fagiuolino’.704 Identi-
fied depictions of non-Harlequins in patched or parti-coloured Harlequin-type
costume proliferate from the mid-seventeenth century, and include comic menser-
vants such as Brigantin, Mezetin, Trivelin, Tracagnino, Trufaldino, Trufaltin and
Zan Muzzina, as well as the maid Spinetina [plate 299].705 Earlier examples of
this type of costume appear to be worn by, for example, a Trastulo of 1589 and a
Bagatino of c.1618 [plates 38, 294]. Such identified depictions are invaluable
comparative material for interpreting depictions of dubious early Harlequins, such
as an apparently sixteenth century painting of a concert, in which the figure on the
right is in zanni costume [plate 230]. The patches of the figure on the left are not
random or irregular, as in the known depictions of Tristano Martinelli, but nearer
to the regular rhomboids worn by Harlequin a century later. The possibility is that
he is not a Harlequin at all, but one of the countless other servant types who sprang
up towards the end of the sixteenth century, for many of which we have no docu-
mentation regarding their costume. This is supported by the colouring of his cos-
tume, sombre ochres and dark reds rather than the bright rainbow colours tradi-
tionally associated with Harlequin. Even more regular are the diamond-shaped
patches on the hose of a lute-playing mask standing to the right centre foreground
of a Carnival, another costume which relates to that worn by Brambilla’s Trastulo
of 1589, and which, due to its date of around 1600, cannot be that of Harlequin
[plates 179, 38]. In plate 177, also attributed to Frederick van Valckenborch, the
extreme left-hand figure of the foreground group, a male in a black half mask, red
cap and grey suit, wears a cloak with Harlequin-like pale blue and pink patches.
At first glance, a painting which, judging from the costumes, artefacts and
style, could well be located in Florence around 1570, appears to present another
seemingly anachronistic depiction of Harlequin’s post-Martinelli costume [plate
62].706 However, in the Stradanus print of the same composition, the equivalent

Raparini, L’Arlichino (s.d.), f.D3v; the much longer 1718 edition quoted by Giulia Campos
(‘L’“Arlichino” di Giorgio Maria Raparini’, Giornale storico della letteratura italiana, 102
(1933), 165–223, p.221), adds ‘Trufaldino/ […] Polpettino, Nespolino/ […] Trappolino,
Zaccagnino/ Trivellino, Traccagnino/Passerino, Bagatino/Bagolino, Temellino/Fagottino,
Pedrolino/Fritellino, Talacchino’.
Duchartre, The Italian Comedy, p.158; Nicoll, The World of Harlequin, pls.44, 114, 115;
idem, Masks, Mimes and Miracles, figs.196–8, 221.
My 1991 association of the costume with that of Harlequin is accepted by some subsequent
writers (M A Katritzky, ‘How did the commedia dell’arte cross the Alps to Bavaria?’, Theatre
Research International, 16 (1991), 201–15, pl.VI; Leik, Frühe Darstellungen, p.28 n.37).


character, the central servant in the group of three actors in the right background,
wears zanni costume [plate 29]. Several possibilities could account for the ap-
parent anachronism of a Harlequin in a pre-1584 picture. It could be a post-
1584 copy of the Stradanus print, and the Harlequin character a modification of
the copyist. Alternatively, perhaps the comic servant is not Tristano Martinelli
playing Harlequin, but another actor, in a servant role of another name, whose
costume coincidentally appears similar to post-Martinelli versions of the Harle-
quin costume. It seems much less likely that the painting depicts Martinelli be-
fore the mid-1580s; even though he may have evolved elements of the Harle-
quin costume in his decade on the stage before the role received its name in
France, and innovative stage costumes introduced by his sister-in-law, the actress
Angelica Alberghini, in the early 1580s, include one decorated with feathers and
other ornaments.707
Some iconographic identifications of Harlequins are controversial, other are
simply erroneous [plates 1, 265].708 Comic types who bear only a superficial
resemblance to Harlequin include the xylophone player in the right centre fore-
ground of Caulery’s signed Hamburg panel, Carnival [plate 73]. He is unmasked,
and his neutrally coloured garment has grey, rather than brightly coloured,
patches. A tentative identification of the second figure from the left in the paint-
ing I giocatori di morra, as an ‘off-duty Harlequin’, is unconvincing.709 A class
of painted maiolica dishes known as arlecchino feature characters in commedia-
related costumes. Manufactured at Montelupo, west of Florence, their hugely
popular designs remained constant for many decades. Although production
peaked around the period 1620–40, when examples were exported as far afield
as Virginia, the genre clearly has its origins in the late sixteenth century.710 Berti
records the existence of at least one dish depicting what he identifies as a Harle-
quin, but the figures featured on commonly reproduced examples include only
the comic masked servants zanni and Brighella, as well as the commedia dell’arte

For ‘una comediante […] mascare, e l’abito suo non è da zani, ma d’ormesino di vari colori
e cappelletti molto garbati carichi di pennacchi e altri ornamenti; la qual nuova non è però
della gasetta’, Florence, Archivio di Stato, letter of 5 January 1582: quoted in Solerti and
Lanza, ‘Il teatro ferrarese’, p.169.
For example, of a figure in plate 265 (Paul C Castagno, ‘Grotesque images of early
commedia dell’arte iconography’, Theatre History Studies, 12 (1992), 45–65, pl.14).
Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena (Leik, Frühe Darstellungen, pp.238–40, fig.A147).
Beverly Straube, ‘European ceramics in the New World: the Jamestown example’, Ceramics
in America, 1 (2001), 47–71.


master, military captains and innamorati. Despite their generic name, these dishes
appear to have little direct bearing on the early iconography of Harlequin.711
A particular iconographical puzzle is presented by plate 12. Many of its
comic types seem close to those of Recueil Fossard woodcuts, in both pose and
costume. But the costumes of the two comedians identified by Duchartre as
possible Harlequins bear little resemblance to those of the Recueil Fossard
Harlequins.712 Although identification as a ‘Harlequin’ of the figure standing in
the left background of the picture (wearing a black three-quarter mask, buff suit
and bright red feathered hat) may be dismissed, an assessment of the signifi-
cance of the foreground ‘Harlequin’ is more problematic. He stands next to
Pantalone, in a black three-quarter mask, with a pale buff feathered pudding-
basin cap, and a pale grey suit of the loose zanni type with smallish irregular
patches on it, mostly buff, but including several bright red, green and white ones
on his sleeve and upper body. Although his costume is sparsely patched and
baggy, Sterling agrees in identifying it as ‘the oldest known version of Harle-
quin’s costume’, and some authorities compare it to the tight costume of the
Recueil Fossard Harlequin.713 Duchartre identifies this figure as a portrait of
Zan Ganassa in Harlequin costume, and by extension names Ganassa as the
creator of the Harlequin role. His interpretation has been superseded by more
recent scholarship, but this figure is still widely accepted as a depiction of Har-
lequin or Zan Ganassa, although often with reservations.714
The evolution of certain iconographic motifs demonstrates that, in general,
depictions of the Italian comedians borrowed from previous art, becoming pro-
gressively stereotyped as artistic conventions increasingly overrode considera-
tions of realism. An understanding of this process, fundamental to an interpreta-
tion of the iconography and its theatrical significance, requires the considera-
tion of as wide a range as possible of compositionally and stylistically related

Jeanne Giacomotti, Catalogue des majoliques des musées nationaux (Paris: Musées
Nationaux, 1974), fig.1310 (*zanni and female lover; *identified by their captions only as
masked figures); Fausto Berti, The Montelupo Ceramics. From Sixteenth to Eighteenth
Centuries (Firenze, 1986), pp.39–40 and figs.112 (*Brighella), 113 (*zanni and *Pantalone),
116 (*zanni and male lover or soldier); F. Berti and Gianna Pasquinelli, Antiche Maioliche di
Montelupo Secoli XIV–XVIII (Pisa, 1984), 94 (identified as a mask of Harlequin, not
illustrated). My thanks to Timothy Wilson for bringing these dishes to my attention.
Duchartre, The Italian Comedy, pp.83–4.
McDowell, An Iconographical Study, pp.85, xxviii, cx; Sterling, ‘Early paintings’, p.20;
Leik, Frühe Darstellungen, p.193.
Gambelli, Arlecchino a Parigi, pp.144, 153.


pictures, not all of which depict Harlequin types. The relative rarity of early
depictions of Harlequin provides an opportunity to examine another aspect of
this process, and highlights the iconographic influence on later depictions of
masked performers of certain widely circulated prints. The most important of
these in relation to early pictures of Harlequin are the Recueil Fossard wood-
cuts and six prints which do not depict Harlequin.715 Similarities between
Momper’s drawings of January and February and an engraving after Toeput
may be due to direct influence from the engraving to Momper’s drawings [plates
128–30].716 Collaert’s engravings after Momper are reasonably faithful direct
copies of Momper’s drawings, although the right-hand comedian in Collaert’s
February has lost altogether the few Harlequin-like patches his suit displays in
the drawing [plates 269–70]. Some comic groups of plates 125 and 135 are
close to those of these prints, although their Harlequins exhibit affinities with
that of the Recueil Fossard woodcuts [plate 9]. Section II.ii.g associates plate
125 with Sebastian Vrancx, and relates it to a large group of other paintings, of
which several also show compositional affinities with plates 269–70 as well as
depicting Harlequins close to that of plate 9.717 The comic types in plate 280,
which depicts a Harlequin similar to that of plate 9, also relate to those in plate
125, although they have little in common with those of Collaert’s prints.
De Jode’s print also seems to have exercised an influence on two further
paintings depicting Harlequin.718 The dottore of plate 158 is similar to that of
the print, although its Pantalone has strong affinities both with the Recueil
Fossard’s Segnor Pantalon and the Magnificus of the Goltzius print, and its
Harlequin too seems close to that of the Recueil Fossard woodcuts.719 The
compositional parallels between the comic performers in the de Jode print and
plate 157 are striking, but here too, there are also parallels with the main series
of Recueil Fossard woodcuts. The Harlequin, in particular, is in virtually iden-
tical pose to one in plate 6. The comedians in a further painting in this group,
plate 184, also include a Harlequin, but are too indistinct to allow compositional
comparison of this nature. Further works depicting Harlequins which may be
associated with Vrancx or his circle include one in which Pantalone and his
courtesan, and a second couple both in exotic costume, are preceded by a string-

Plates 6, 9, 64–5, 130, 240, 269–70.
Section II.iii.g, pp.171ff.
Plates 105, 107, 221, see above, pp.133ff.
Plates 130, 157–8.
Plates 6, 130, 240.


playing zanni, and followed by a Harlequin; a Carnival whose strutting Harle-

quin is close to that of Village and party, and the dated Harlequin and his chil-
dren of 1623.720 All these pictures feature a figure wearing Harlequin costume
of the type familiar from the Recueil Fossard woodcuts, namely a black half
mask, black purse on a belt, small featherless cap, and tightly fitting pale suit
with irregular patches randomly sewn on to it. The three Drottningholm panels,
for example, reveal the cap to be red, the shoes pale or buff, the suit typically
white, and the patches, sewn on with rough stitches, red, green, yellow and
brown [plates 48–50].
The Harlequin of a painting more distantly related to this group, through the
lute-playing zanni in the right foreground, is directly to the left of this zanni
[plate 135]. Extraordinary features of this picture, set in a grand northern square,
include the line of matachins preceding a mounted Pantalone from left to right,
whose final destination is the top of a tall column being scaled by several of
their number, and the oversized camel ridden by a cello-playing Pantalone in
the right foreground.721 An early seventeenth century miniature from a Flemish
friendship album features a carnival masquerader in this type of Harlequin cos-
tume, but with the addition of a pale neck ruff.722 Such balls were not uncom-
mon for larger pictures at that time, and indoor student masquerades were to
become a popular subject in eighteenth century albums. However, it is excep-
tional for an early seventeenth century friendship album illustration to depict
either indoor carnival celebrations or Harlequin costume. There are, for exam-
ple, no Harlequins in the numerous depictions of carnival mummers or actors
aiding mountebanks in friendship album illustrations of the period 1570–1620,
which typically feature commedia dell’arte-related costume.723

Plates 46, 101, 107.
Denis van Alsloot (c.1570–1628), to whose circle this painting was attributed when it came
on to the art market in 1990, is the artist of a Carnival on the ice (Katritzky, ‘Harlequin’,
pl.5) known in at least ten painted versions. These paintings feature a comic character in
patched costume, sometimes with a monkey on his back, with masked ice-dancing couples,
the men in curious braided costumes, perhaps a type of moresco costume. This latter
costume, and neither that of the Harlequin-like character in patched costume, nor, as has
been previously suggested (Hugo Morley-Fletcher, Meissen Porcelain in Colour (London:
Ferndale, 1979), p.18), a Callot print, served as the pattern for the costume of one of the
earliest commercially produced coloured porcelain commedia dell’arte figurines, Johann
Gottlieb Kirchner’s so-called ‘Harlequin’ of c.1725 for the Meissen factory in Dresden.
Katritzky, ‘Harlequin’, p.414, pl.13
Katritzky, ‘The mountebank’; eadem, ‘Was commedia dell’arte performed by mounte-
banks? (see also bibliography).


Apart from the interrelated images discussed above, I know of only very few
other groups of early depictions of unidentified characters in patched costume.
One includes several of a large group of carnival dance scenes by the Francken
clan, of which plate 205 is perhaps the earliest and finest.724 In this, Harlequin
wears a tight-fitting white suit and wide-brimmed, unfeathered white hat, the
suit covered with smallish round patches of buff, green and red. In plate 198, his
jacket is baggy, but all these Harlequins are distinguished by holding a musical
instrument, wearing a wide-brimmed, unfeathered hat and having patches in the
shape of small spots. A similar costume features in plates 113–16. The cos-
tumed characters, a group of four in the right-hand foreground, are a masked
man in a black suit with a white ruff and red undershirt, with a foxtail, carrying
a giant grill-pan and wearing a string of sausages slung over one shoulder and
leading a woman, also with sausages around her neck, followed by a masked
boy playing a rommelpot, or friction drum, and preceded by a drum-playing boy
in a brightly patchworked white suit reminiscent of the type worn by early Har-
lequins [plates 114–6]. An undated print features actors on a stage, two in baggy
patched costume [plate 301].
Several further groups of early seventeenth century Flemish paintings depict
comic masks in patched costume with significant differences to that of the Recueil
Fossard woodcut Harlequins. A group of northern urban carnival scenes, one
dated 1605, features masked characters in baggy suits with jigsaw-shaped patches
or dark hose and patched jackets.725 Most of these pictures feature a masked,
tambourine-playing female between two masked males at the extreme left. In
plates 81–2 the left-hand male wears dark hose, but his jacket is patched, Harle-
quin fashion. In plates 86–8, his place in the trio is taken by an old master type,
and another character, to the right of the trio, wears an unusual variation of
patched costume. His pale suit is covered all over with bright irregular jigsaw
shaped patches, proportionally larger in plate 86 than in other paintings of this
type. This distinctive patched costume also features in a depiction of a village
festival where the Harlequin is accompanied by only one other mask, and their
role is unclear [plate 136]. Several groups of pictures feature Harlequin types
with brightly coloured roundish patches. In many society dance scenes associ-
ated with the Francken clan, the Harlequins wear baggy jackets, and they often
hold a musical instrument, wear a wide-brimmed unfeathered hat and have

Plates 186, 193–6, 198, 204–5; on these paintings, see also section II.iii.d, pp.154ff.
Plates 81–3, 86, 88, 136; on these paintings, see also section II.ii.g, pp.128ff.


patches in the shape of small brightly coloured spots.726 Round patches also fea-
ture in several of a group of early seventeenth century winter carnival scenes
associated with Vrancx.727
‘Arlechign’ (Moena, Bassa Val di Fassa) and ‘arlechini’ (Montalbiano,
Valfloriana) are traditional figures in the modern carnival celebrations of the
Italian Alps. Their costumes tend to feature bright patches on a white base,
rather than any more recent version of Harlequin’s stage costume, which sug-
gests to some authorities that they may derive directly from renaissance Harle-
quin costume, or even predate the commedia dell’arte.728 The relationship of
carnival costumes, whether in modern usage or depicted in renaissance or medi-
eval pictures, to those of the comic stage, cannot simply be summed up by as-
suming that while many carnival revellers adopted popular stage costumes as
their disguise, other carnival costumes pre-date those of the commedia dell’arte.
Mutual influences and modifications, both to the costumes themselves and to
the names by which they are known, have contributed to interrelationships of
extreme complexity between carnival and stage costume. It is clear that by no
means all early modern depictions of comic characters in patched and/or multi-
coloured costume are of Harlequins, nor, for whatever reason, do all depictions
of Harlequins show them in such costume. Some early depictions of figures in
costume of the type associated with Harlequin reflect specific performances by
Martinelli himself, some are general evocations of contemporary stage practice
or folk customs, others are based solely on iconographic precedents. Many of
these pictures draw heavily on detailed knowledge of previous art for their set-
tings, and for the poses and costumes of their Harlequins.
I have noted similarities between Tempesta’s two prints of February and a
group of paintings, including Village and party, whose Harlequin, although he
brandishes an egg and a tambourine rather than a dagger and a hat, seems
iconographically close to those featured in the Recueil Fossard woodcuts.729
Similar Harlequins appear in other paintings.730 One such is plate 50, one of a

Plates 186, 193–6, 198, 204–5.
Plates 113, 116.
Cesare Poppi, ‘Il sesso degli angeli: strutture simboliche e riti di passaggio nei carnevali
dell’arco alpino’, 149–97, pp.178ff; Renato Morelli, ‘Antropologia visiva e carnevali
tradizionali dell’arco alpino’, 199–251, p.207; both in Il Carnevale: dalla tradizione
Arcaica alla traduzione colta del Rinascimento, ed. M Chiabò and Federico Doglio (Roma:
Centro studi sul teatro medioevale e rinascimentale, 1990).
Plates 9, 64–5, 71–2. On these paintings, see also section II.ii.d, pp.124ff.
Plates 50, 101, 281.


group of paintings relating closely to Recueil Fossard woodcuts, of which sev-

eral feature Harlequin.731 Another Harlequin close to this group is in plate 221,
which relates to several interrelated groups of later paintings of comic types
with close iconographic affinities, especially apparent in their Harlequins and
matachins.732 In the previous section, the broadness of the range of artists of
different nationality and ability who depicted the roles under consideration, those
of the buffone and the matachin, supported the conclusion that depictions of
these roles tend to reflect genuine performance practice rather than artistic stere-
otypes. The troupe with which the first Harlequin performed is known to have
visited the Low Countries from as early as 1576. This analysis of early depic-
tions of Harlequin suggests that, where their artists are identifiable, they are,
overwhelmingly, Antwerp-based, or have strong connections with Antwerp.

III.iv Composite, multiple and serial images

III.iv.a Introduction
This study seeks to demonstrate the relevance of contextualizing the early
commedia-related iconographic record. Overwhelmingly, these images are not
isolated, but belong to groups. Several overlapping categories of composite,
multiple and serial images relating to the early commedia dell’arte can be iden-
tified. The clearest are iconographic variants, series of stock types, and serial or
composite sequences arguably relating to a specific performance or troupe. This
leaves a large body of less easily categorized multiple images. The importance
of iconographic variants has been considered in some detail in section II, which
discusses and demonstrates their use in the art-historical analysis of selected
iconographic motifs of theatre-historical significance. Two collective icono-
graphic sources worthy of greater attention in this context than they are given
here are early modern printed books,733 and the prints and drawings of friend-
ship albums. My recent publications identify friendship album images as one of
the most substantial early modern sources of commedia-related iconography.734

Plates 44–51; on these paintings, see also section II.iii.f, pp.161ff.
Plates 105, 107, 125, 139–45.
An overview is indicated by Leik (Frühe Darstellungen, pp.222ff).
Some of the examples here reproduced are identified as friendship album pictures only in
the index. On theatre iconography in albums see bibliography (Katritzky).


Many series of prints and drawings include two or more commedia-related

images, which benefit from being considered in relation to each other. Exam-
ples of these are January and February from Momper’s drawings of the months,
and the prints derived from them, Italia and Francia after Hans von Aachen,
and three of a series of engravings by de Passe after Vrancx.735 Later series of
illustrations of stock types, such as that produced by François Joullain to illus-
trate Riccoboni’s Histoire du théâtre italien of 1730, form the basis for the
illustrations of numerous histories of the commedia dell’arte. But early series
of this nature have attracted little attention. Images which may be loosely in-
cluded in this category include the three stock types illustrated on a late six-
teenth century glass goblet, and Callot’s prints of The three Italian comedians
[plates 302–4, 339]. The 1592 edition of Gli inganni includes two woodcuts
each depicting four individually framed full-length stock figures, including Zanni,
Pantalone, the dottore and the tedesco.736 More comprehensive series of stock
types may also be identified in Brambilla’s games board of 1589, Minaggio’s
feather pictures of c.1618, Callot’s Balli engravings, a group of five Recueil
Fossard woodcuts, Pietro Bertelli’s costume plates, de Gheyn’s Mascarades
and Martinelli’s Compositions.737 Apart from the Recueil Fossard prints and
Martinelli volume, all these series also include depictions of characters other
than commedia dell’arte stock types, and Callot’s series is particularly contro-
As well as the main series of woodcuts [plate 6], the Recueil Fossard con-
tains a series of five woodcuts which may be regarded as a series of stock types
[plate 9]. Each features two named commedia stock types, each standing on its
own small individual grassy hump. There are quatrains in decorative oval
cartouches under three of these pairs, namely Francatrippa/Harlequin, Segnor
Pantalon/ Zany Corneto and La Donna Isabella/Pantalon Inamorato, but not
under the other two, namely Pantalon/Messere Dotour, which is hand coloured,
and Francisquina/ Il Signor Horacio. Variant impressions of four of these fig-
ures, as four separate images, are in Paris.738 The main costume prints for

Plates 2–5, 128–9, 151–3, 269–72, 282, 288.
Pandolfi, La commedia dell’arte, II, p.336; Clubb, ‘Pictures for the reader’, pp.266, 274.
Plates 2–5, 9, 14–15, 38, 293–4, 319, 319b.
Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, cabinets des éstampes, Ea.79 Res. fols 48r–49v: Messere
Dotour, f.48r (Stockholm Recueil Fossard variant, NM.2219/1904, right-hand side; see
also Duchartre, The Italian Comedy, p.198, RHS; the Paris print includes the accompanying
quatrain, missing from the Stockholm version); Segnor Pantalon, 48v (Stockholm
NM.2226/1904, LHS; Duchartre, The Italian Comedy, p.331, lower print); Zani Corneto,


Boissard’s and de Gheyn’s Mascarades have been variously dismissed as irrel-

evant to the stage, and hailed as central to early commedia dell’arte iconogra-
phy [plate 319].739 They may most usefully be regarded as what their title de-
clares them to be, that is masquerade costumes, and their main relevance to the
commedia dell’arte is simply that some of them show a heavy debt to the cos-
tumes of commedia stock types of their time.
Some of the most significant serial or composite sequences possibly relate
to specific troupes, performances or plays. These include the 100 Corsini Album
title page illustrations [plates 243–7]. Series of woodcuts, such as those noted
above, illustrating early editions of Vecchi’s L’Anfiparnasso, Briccio’s Pantalone
Imbertonao, and Gonzaga’s Gli Inganni, demonstrate some problems of inter-
preting such images.740 Some series lend themselves to arrangement into quasi-
‘visual scenarios’, possibly intended to have a similar mnemonic function for
spectators to that which the written scenarios had for the actors. Their analysis
yields information concerning troupe make-up, cast lists and cast interrelation-
ships, sets, props, performance practice and acting units, plots, lazzi, and the
non-verbal spectacle and mime content of commedia dell’arte performances,
during the period before professional entertainers branched into the increas-

49r (NM.2226/1904, RHS; Duchartre, The Italian Comedy, p.331, upper print);
Francatrippa, 49v (NM.2218/1904, LHS; Duchartre, p.178, the Paris print completes the
partially illegible quatrain of the Recueil Fossard impression). A second depiction of
Harlequin is one of three woodcuts from or closely associated with this series in the
Bibliothèque de l’Arsénal, Paris: vol.200, Francisquina (n.2), Il Signor Horacio (n.3),
Harlequin (n.4, reproduced: Holm, Solkonge og Månekejser, p.15); no.5 in this volume is a
second impression of Recueil Fossard woodcut NM.2213 (Harlequin, Zany Cornetto). See
also Driesen, Der Ursprung des Harlekin, pp.266–8; Jaffei, ‘Note critiche’, p.810.
For McDowell, the ninth plate of the series depicts an inamorata with a ‘disguised Zanni’ or
‘a figure in a Brighella costume disguised as an Innamorata’ (An Iconographical Study,
pp.96–7). Stella Mary Newton, Renaissance Theatre Costume and the Sense of the Historic
Past (London: Rapp & Whiting, 1975), p.260: ‘of the engravings by van Gheyn bound in
the Boissard volume […] none really portrays commedia dell’arte costume’. Christian W
Thomsen, Leopoldskron: frühe Historie, die Ära Reinhardt, das Salzburg Seminar (Siegen:
Vorländer, 1983), pp.74, 77: ‘we enter the world of Harlequin and Commedia dell’arte in
Reinhardt’s collection with Jaques de Gheyn II and his series The Masks, which consists of
ten engravings from around 1600 […] the series connotes Commedia dell’arte put into a
Dutch context of life’. On de Gheyn, see also: Leik, Frühe Darstellungen, p.205; Barasch,
‘Theatrical prints’.
Lea, ‘The bibliography of the commedia dell’arte, pp.28–9; eadem, Italian Popular
Comedy, I, p.214; Clubb, ‘Pictures for the reader’; Krogh, ‘Italienske maskekomedies’,


ingly rigidly separated specializations that led to modern drama, opera, ballet,
and circus. Two such series are the sixteen ceiling frieze frescoes and twenty-
nine walls of staircase frescoes of the 1570s at Trausnitz Castle [plates 20–3].
As well as being considered in relation to each other, they require consideration
in the context of the didactic aims of the much larger decorative scheme of
which they form part. Few, perhaps none, of the surviving written scenarios
correspond exactly with working scenarios actually used by players in the prepa-
ration of specific performances. The ‘visual scenarios’ which can be reconstructed
from such pictorial series are at an even greater remove from actual perform-
ances, and have to be interpreted in this light. Even so, much information is to
be gained by identification and comparative analysis of commedia-related mul-
tiple and serial images. This section presents three brief case studies along these

III.iv.b Stock types: Brambilla and Minaggio

Dionisio Minaggio was landscape gardener to the Duke of Milan. His now dis-
membered Feather Book contained 156 pictures, painstakingly built up in mo-
saic fashion, using small pieces of naturally coloured feather, many in bright
and exotic hues [plates 293–4].741 Most (112 folios), including the title page,
signed by Minaggio and dated 1618, depict birds and other natural history sub-
jects, but there are also twenty-six folios of human subjects. Of these, folios 77–
84 feature musicians, possibly professionals associated with Italian comedians,
and another fourteen folios depict the comedians themselves. Seven show one
actor, two feature two actors, one is of one actress, and four show an actor and
an actress. All but one of these twenty comici are named by role, and many of
them have been identified as actors and actresses who performed in Milan in the
1610s, the decade in which these images were produced.742
Folio 100 depicts the inamorato Leander, played by Benedetto Ricci (1592–
1620). Folio 101 shows the two comic servant roles Trapolino and Baltram, the

On the McGill feather pictures see also Gerhard R Lomer, ‘Feather pictures of the
commedia dell’arte’, Theatre Arts Monthly, 14 (1930), 807–10; Molinari, La commedia
dell’arte, pp.151–60; Claudia Burattelli, ‘I comici dell’Arte nelle tavole in piume d’uccello
di Dionisio Menaggio (1618)’, Biblioteca teatrale, 36/37 (1996), 197–212; Lawner,
Harlequin on the Moon, pp.158–9; Zielske, ‘Das McGill-Featherbook’ (who demonstrates
that Minaggio borrowed some of his poses and costumes from Callot).
By Corrigan, who provides a detailed account of Minaggio’s pictures (‘Commedia dell’arte


stage names of Giovan Battista Fiorillo and Nicolò Barbieri. Folios 102 and
108 show Policianelo and Chapitan Mata-mor, two roles created by the actor-
author Silvio Fiorillo. Folio 103 shows Dotor Campanaz, an elderly lawyer,
one of the stock master roles of the commedia dell’arte, played by Bartolomeo
Bongiavanni. Folio 104 shows Trastulo (perhaps G P Pasquarello) and Ricolina,
the maid Rizzolina, stage name of the actress Angela Lucchesi. Folio 105 shows
Mario and Flavia, secondi innamorati played by the actress Margherita Luciani
and an unknown partner. Folio 106 shows Florinda, an inamorata role played
by the actress Virginia Ramponi (b.1583). Folio 107 shows the Florentine rustic
Pombino, played by Girolamo Salimbeni. Folio 109 shows Chola Napolitano,
a comic servant role associated with the actor-dancer Aniello di Mauro. Folio
110 shows Schapin and Spineta, Francesco Gabrielli, creator of the comic serv-
ant type Scapino, and his wife Spinetta Locatelli, who played a maid (‘Spinetta’).
Folio 111 shows an unnamed actor and actress, perhaps a second portrait of
Florinda, with her stage partner, the inamorato Lelio, played by her husband
Giovan Battista Andreini. Folio 113 shows the comic servants Cietrvlo and
Bagatino, and folio 114 shows Chocholi. Cietrulo may have been a variation of
Pulcinella, also played by Silvio Fiorillo, Bagatino the unidentified actor of this
role associated with the Confidenti in 1627, and Chocholi a variant of Federico
Ricci’s Pantalone role.
Similar identification exercises have been attempted with the performers
depicted in other series of commedia-related images, notably selected wood-
cuts of the Recueil Fossard collection [plate 6]. Despite their long-standing
traditional association with the Gelosi, they are now generally identified as
Drusiano Martinelli’s troupe.743 A less well-known series of images of perform-
ers identified by role is that in Brambilla’s dated games board of 1589 [plate
38].744 Its vignettes of symbolic objects, mythological figures, street traders,
and entertainers depict enough named stock commedia types and roles to peo-
ple a troupe of comici: the old masters Pantalone and Gratiano, the comic men-
servants Trastulo, Pedrolino and Francatripe, the maid Franceschina and the
foreign military captains Todesco and Cardone. A number of further characters,
not necessarily intended to depict comici in this context, have strong associa-
tions with popular and court festivals, carnival, pastoral plays and masquerades.
These include a fool (il matto), acrobat (il saltarino), performing monkey (il
babvino), peasant (il Vilano), gypsy mother with child, ruffiana, mounted bar-

Gambelli, Arlecchino a Parigi, pp.151–3.
Katritzky, ‘Eight portraits’.


barian, Turk, ‘Time’, ‘Ignorance’, an astrologer, the shepherds Cloro and Tirse,
a satyr, Cupid, and Bacchus.
Identification of incomplete documentary material, whether iconographic
or written, with actual actors and performances is problematic.745 Despite the
problems with identification, it is here suggested that this games board is de-
picting actual actors who were at that date, namely 1589, associated with the
Gelosi troupe, some only temporarily, others on a long-term basis. The actors
from whom the Gelosi company was formed are thought to have first came
together in Mantua in 1568, with the amalgamation of two troupes led by the
prima donnas Vincenza and Flaminia; by their 1571 tour of France, the new
troupe was known as the Gelosi.746 By 1589, the Gelosi’s troupe leader was
Francesco Andreini (1548–1624), who married Isabella Canali (1562–1604) in
1578, and retired from the stage on her death in childbirth. Isabella, documented
as a Gelosi actress from 1583, rapidly became fêted throughout and beyond
Italy.747 Valuable evidence concerning the Gelosi troupe is given in the four-
teenth dialogue of Francesco Andreini’s Bravure of 1607, in which he names
the Gelosi’s stock roles, and identifies their players.748 His own role was that of
Capitano Spavento da Vall’Inferna,749 and the troupe had four innamorati and
four old men,750 the menservants Zanni and Francatrippa, played by Simone da
Bologna and Gabriele Panzanini, and the maid Franceschina (Silvia Roncagli
of Bergamo). Pierre de l’Estoile’s journal records a pamphlet of October 1603
on the Gelosi during their last French tour. This summarizes its ten touring mem-

The cast list of a court divertimento of 11 March 1577 noted by Bernardo Canigiani, the
Florentine envoy to the Ferrarese court, is remarkably similar to that of the Gelosi troupe,
but the Gelosi arrived at Blois on 25 January 1577 for an extended season (Baschet, Les
comédiens italiens, p.69), and the performance in Ferrara is thought to have been staged by
amateurs (Wolff, ‘Die Commedia dell’arte’, p.315; Ferdinando Taviani, ‘Bella d’Asia.
Torquato Tasso, gli attori e l’immortalità’, Paragone/Letteratura, 408–10 (1984), 3–76,
Stefanella Ughi, ‘Di Adriano Valerini, di Silvia Roncagli e dei Comici Gelosi’, Biblioteca
teatrale, 3 (1972), 147–54, p.150.
Gambelli, ‘Arlecchino: dalla “preistoria”’, p.42; eadem, Arlecchino a Parigi, p.152.
Pandolfi, La commedia dell’arte, I, p.375; Richards and Richards, The Commedia
dell’Arte, pp.71–2; Gambelli, Arlecchino a Parigi, pp.179–80.
He notes that on occasion he also played other roles, such as a comic Sicilian dottore, the
magician Falsirone and, in pastorals, the shepherd Corinto.
First and second inamorata (his wife Isabella Andreini and Signora Prudenzia of Verona),
first and second inamorato (Orazio Padovano and Silvia Roncagli’s husband, Adriano
Valerini of Verona); Zanobio and Piombino (both played by Girolamo Salimbeni of
Florence), Pantalone (Giulio Pasquati of Padua), Graziano (Lodovico da Bologna).


bers as two pairs of innamorati, of whom he names only Isabelle, the two old
men Pantalon and Gratian, the menservants Petrolin and Zanon, Francisquine
and ‘le fanfaron poltron Épouvante [= Francesco Andreini]’.751
1589 was the year of the Gelosi’s great success in Florence, at the wedding
festivities of Ferdinando de’ Medici to Christine de Lorraine, when the troupe’s
leading stars, Vittoria Piisimi and Isabella Andreini, enthralled the city with
their interpretations of La Zingana and La Pazzia d’Isabella, as recorded by
Giuseppe Pavoni.752 His diary praises Vittoria’s performance as La Zingana on
Saturday 6 May, and Isabella’s madness scenes on 13 May, during which she
imitated the voices and speech patterns of her fellow actors, of ‘Pantalone,
Gratiano, Zanni, Pedrolino, Francatrippe, Burattino, Capitan Cardone and
Franceschina’.753 Six of Isabella’s eight fellow-actors, all but Burattino and Zanni,
are depicted on Brambilla’s games board. Pantalone, Gratiano and Franceschina
were popular stock characters, represented by actors associated with several
different commedia dell’arte troupes of the time. But in 1589, the stage roles of
Capitano Cardone, Pedrolino and Francatrippa were still specific to Valentino
Cortesei, Giovanni Pellesini, and Gabriele Panzanini, the individual actors by
whom they were created. The connections, if any, of Valentino Cortesei, long-
time leader of the Uniti, with the Gelosi in 1589 are unclear. However, it is
possible that Andreini’s Capitano Spavento may have included elements of the
tedesco, or even that Brambilla’s todesco is a portrait of Francesco Andreini in
his stage role of Capitano Spavento.754
The Gelosi’s Dotor Graciano was Lodovico de’ Bianchi of Bologna. A ‘graciano
delle Godige Comico Geloso’ wrote to the Grand Duke of Tuscany on 6 Novem-
ber 1576, at around the time when Bianchi, who styled himself ‘il dotor Graciano
comicho geloso’ in a letter of 1585,755 and ‘Lodouico Bianchi da Bologna. Alias
Dottor Gratian partesana della vera Compagnia delli Comici Gelosi’ in 1587,756
appears to have joined the Gelosi. In 1585, his response to an invitation from the

Cited by Raymond Lebègue, ‘Les Italiens en 1604 à L’Hotel de Bourgogne’, Revue
d’histoire littéraire de la France, 40 (1933), 77–9, p.78.
Rasi, I comici italiani, II, p.243.
‘Giuseppe Pavoni’s description of the festivities in Florence, 1589 […] from the unique
printed copy of Pavoni’s “Diario” (Bologna 1589)’, in Glynn Wickham, Early English
Stages 1300–1660, 3 vols (London: Routledge, 1959–81), II.i (1963), pp.341–8 (Italian and
English); Richards and Richards, The Commedia dell’Arte, pp.74–6.
On Brambilla’s depictions of the tedesco and Cardone see also section III.iii.b, pp.215ff.
Stefanella Ughi, ‘Di Ludovico de’ Bianchi e dei Comici Gelosi’, Biblioteca teatrale, 10/11
(1974), 184–8, pp.184–5.
Rasi, I comici italiani, I, p.407.


Duke of Milan to act with the company of Diana was that he would not come
without his fellow Gelosi actor, Pantalone.757 In 1589 he is recorded in Milan, the
city of Brambilla’s origin (6 September), and Pistoia (21 October). Brambilla’s
Gratiano wears the standard dark broad-brimmed hat and calf-length gown of the
dottore of law or academia, familiar from depictions such as the title page illustra-
tions to Corsini Album scenarios 36, 67 and 90 [plates 245–7]. The M. Gratian of
Brambilla’s prints of 1583 wears a similar hat, but is ungowned, revealing the
garments worn beneath [plates 52–3]. The Gelosi’s Pantalone, Giulio Pasquati of
Padua is recorded from around 1567, when he was in Mantua, and was probably
with the Gelosi when he was in Vienna in 1575, and in Milan in 1585. Brambilla’s
Pantalone wears the near ankle-length, long-sleeved full gown and pudding-basin
hat typical of the Venetian merchant, and plays a lute, a possible allusion to his
weakness for serenading younger women, a popular lazzi of the commedia stage.
The role of Pedrolino was created by Giovanni Pellesini of Reggio Emilia
(c.1526–1616), husband of Vittoria Piisimi of Ferrara (‘Fioretta’), who co-starred
with Isabella in Florence in 1589. Brambilla’s depiction of Pedrolino significantly
predates the oldest previously accepted image of this mask, and establishes his
earliest known costume.758 Sposalizio del Gobbo Nan, an undated late sixteenth
century print, depicts dancing and seated wedding guests, the latter including two
named as Buratin and Pedrolin, and the right-hand figure in a woodcut from the
1597 edition of Vecchi’s L’Anfiparnasso is identified by some as Pedrolino.759
However, Nicoll deplores the absence of sixteenth century images of Pedrolino,
and refers to the title page woodcut of Croce’s La gran vittoria di Pedrolino, of
1621, as giving his ‘earliest dress’.760 Brambilla’s vignette shows Pellesini in his
mid-sixties, in the original form of Pedrolino’s costume, a variant of the typical
zanni suit. In 1575, Pedrolino led a company, which wintered in Florence, Pisa
and Lucca, whose scandalous affairs apparently hindered their return to Pisa. In
1580, the Duke of Mantua had such success with his plans to amalgamate
Pedrolino’s company with the Confidenti that Pedrolino married their leading
lady, Vittoria.761 Pellesini led the Uniti until around 1598, and formally joined the
Mantuan court troupe of Duke Vincenzo I c.1610.762 He was with Adriano Valerini

D’Ancona, Origini del teatro italiano, II, p.489.
Katritzky, ‘Eight portraits’, p.116.
Duchartre, The Italian Comedy, p.67 (signed in the plate: ‘Gio flor for’); Krogh, ‘Italienske
maskekomedies’, fig.20.
Nicoll, Masks, Mimes and Miracles, p.295; idem, The World of Harlequin, p.89.
D’Ancona, Origini del teatro italiano, II, pp.478–9.
Ferrone, Attori mercanti corsari, p.129; Burattelli, Spettacoli di corte, pp.222–3.


in around 1581, when Valerini successfully petitioned Carlo Borromeo to license

his troupe’s scenarios, and with the Gelosi on their final tour to France, where
Octavien Genêtay notes that ‘j’ay veu representer à l’hostel de Bourgogne par la
compagnie d’Isabelle et Pedrolin, la tragédie du Calyfe d’Egypte’.763 In 1613 the
poet François de Malherbe ungraciously commented of a royal command per-
formance of the now 76-year-old Pellesini and 56-year-old Tristano Martinelli at
the Louvre, that ‘neither was any longer of an age appropriate to the stage’.764
Pellesini, an archetypal example of the actor as buffone, was a much sought-after
and highly paid guest star, and his association with the Uniti is no hindrance to
identification of Brambilla’s images with the Gelosi company.765 As Pavoni’s di-
ary demonstrates, both Pellesini and his wife Vittoria acted with the Gelosi at the
Medici wedding of 1589, the year of Brambilla’s print.
It is not known whether Gabriele Panzanini, the actor who played the part of
Francatrippa for the Gelosi troupe, created the role. Brambilla’s Francatripe wears
another variant of the zanni outfit, with a longer than normal jacket over the char-
acteristic baggy trousers. This costume is very much that of the Recueil Fossard’s
Francatripa, who has been identified as a portrait of Panzanini,766 and both have
moustaches and a substantial pointed beard, although only Brambilla’s version
carries a violin [plates 6, 38]. Given the early dates of these prints, the strong
possibility is that Panzanini is portrayed both by Brambilla’s Francatripe, and in
the Recueil Fossard depiction, which Gambelli dates to the mid-1580s.
The role of the comic servant Trastulo was played and perhaps created by
Giovan Pietro Pasquarello of Florence, who accompanied Alberto Naselli to Spain
as one of his troupe’s shareholders in 1580, 1581 and 1585.767 The comic partner-

Barbieri, La supplica, pp.86–7; diary entry, 4 January 1604, quoted by Lebègue, ‘Les
Italiens en 1604’, p.77.
Baschet, Les comédiens italiens, pp.243–4: ‘ce ne sont plus âges propres au theatre’.
Renowned for bufonarie such as one with which he entertained guests at a ‘German’
banquet given by the Duke of Ferrara for Sig. Gaspare di Monte in 1582. Pedrolino,
concealed underneath a pie crust placed over a man-sized hole cut into the central table,
surprised the guests by raising his head out of the pie to speak to Pantalone (G B Rossetti,
Dello Scalco, 1584, quoted by Lea , Italian Popular Comedy, I, p.251). See also Ferrone,
Attori mercanti corsari, pp.103, 106, 109, 118. On a similar entertainment at the Munich
wedding of 1568, see Wirre, Ordentliche Beschreybung, f.54v, quoted above, p.49n.96.
Gambelli, Arlecchino a Parigi, pp.152–3.
Falconieri, ‘Commedia dell’arte en España’, pp.26, 35–6; Corrigan, ‘Commedia dell’arte
portraits’, p.179; Bernardo José García García, ‘La compañía de Ganassa en Madrid (1580–
84): tres nuevos documentos’, Journal of Hispanic Research, 1 (1993), 355–70; Sanz Ayán
and García García, ‘El “oficio de representar”’, p.485.


ship between Trastulo and Zan Ganassa praised by Lope de Vega celebrates
Pasquarello and Naselli, and it seems likely that the Trastulos of Brambilla,
Minaggio and Callot depict Pasquarello [plates 2, 38, 293].768 Brambilla’s Trastulo
wears a tight long-sleeved jerkin, short hose with the kind of diamond-shaped
patterning associated with Harlequins of later centuries, and an unbrimmed cap
with a feather, and wields a burlesque musical instrument. His costume relates to
the regular diamond-shaped patches of the hose of a lute-playing mask, standing
to the right centre foreground of a painting of c.1600 [plate 179]. This seemingly
anachronistic appearance of Harlequin’s post-Martinelli costume may in fact de-
pict Trastulo, although Minaggio’s Trastulo wears monochrome black. Pasquarello
may also have given his name to a second stock role who, as illustrated by Bertelli’s
Pascariello of 1591, wears the more conventional zanni suit of most early
commedia servants [plate 319b].769 ‘Pasquariello’ remained popular through-
out the seventeenth century, when, as testified by illustrations, including one in
Callot’s Balli, the role seems to have developed from a zanni variant into an old
master type [plate 4].770 It is unclear whether either this Pasquariello role, or
any of the ‘tanti buffoni, Trastulli e Pantaloni […] Pascariello Pettola’ of the
Neapolitan carnival of 1588, refer to the actor Pasquarello, or to imitators, or
were independent of the actor.771
The Gelosi’s Franceschina was Silvia Roncagli of Bergamo (born c.1547),
wife of the Gelosi inamorato Adriano Valerini of Verona (c.1547–92/5), who
was associated with the troupe from the 1570s. She made a name for herself as
a performer in the Gelosi’s intermedi, as noted in a letter of 1585 from Lodovico
de’ Bianchi, the Gelosi company’s Dottor Gratiano Partesana informing the Duke
of Mantua that Silvia is as necessary to the company in intermedi as in other
matters.772 By 1589, actresses were well established, and the Gelosi troupe counted
some of the most celebrated among its number. If Brambilla is depicting mem-

On Lope de Vega, see: Shergold, ‘Ganassa and the “commedia dell’arte”’, pp.363–6;
Aurelia Leyva, ‘Notas sobre Alberto Naselli “Ganassa” en España (1574–1584)’, in Actas
del VI Congreso Nacional de Italianistas, Madrid 3–6 de Mayo de 1994, 2 vols (Madrid:
Universidad Complutense, 1994), II, 19–25, pp.20–1.
Shergold, ‘Ganassa and the “commedia dell’arte”’, pp.361–2.
Nicoll, Masks, Mimes and Miracles, pp.260, 289 (figs.177, 207).
Giovan Battista Del Tufo, Ritratto o modello delle grandezze, delitie e meraviglie della
nobilissima Città di Napoli, 1588 (quoted in Rasi, I comici italiani, I, pp.461–2; Posner,
‘Jacques Callot’, p.216); see also Sandberger, ‘Roland Lassus’ Beziehungen’, p.76; Nicoll,
Masks, Mimes and Miracles, p.260.
Ughi, ‘Di Adriano Valerini’, p.151; eadem, ‘Di Ludovico de’ Bianchi’, pp.184, 187.


bers of the Gelosi troupe, it is surprising that he chose to include only one fe-
male role, that of the maidservant Franceschina, although it is possible that other
females on the games board, such as the cingana or ruffiana, also portray stage
roles. The actor Battista Amorevoli of Treviso, who signed himself ‘comico
geloso detto la Francischina’ in a publication of 1578, and ‘comico confidente’
in 1584, has been suggested as the Franceschina of the Recueil Fossard wood-
cuts. 773 The date of Brambilla’s print supports an identification of his
Franceschina with Silvia Roncagli, and the fact that he depicts not the pert
young maid of plate 53, but an older woman in a long gown, with a spindle,
may reflect Roncagli’s age in 1589, of around 42. Perhaps because of its com-
monplace appearance, the maid’s costume is only rarely identifiable in depic-
tions of actresses in non-performance contexts, making Brambilla’s vignette
particularly significant.
Dionisio Minaggio and Ambrogio Brambilla were primarily concerned not
to flatter the actors with grand and showy portraits, but to record their appear-
ance and costumes. These images foreshadow a genre which was to become
popular in the following century, that of the series of stock type portraits, and
offer valuable indications concerning the costume, gestures and props of mem-
bers of Italian troupes in 1589 and c.1618.

III.iv.c Two composite prints compared

This section presents a comparative analysis of two composite prints, each in a
notable album of popular prints now in a royal collection. They are the anony-
mous and undated Burlette e schersi di commedie in the Royal Library’s Dutch
Drolls album and Ambrogio Brambilla’s Che diavolo e questo, widely known
through nine prints in the Recueil Fossard [plates 40, 315]. I have identified an
unmutilated version of these latter, which restores their previously unknown
text, and reveals them to be one composite print, three scenes across by three
scenes deep [plate 54].774 Plate 315 is four scenes across by four scenes deep,
and each of these scenes, like those of plate 54, features two or three comedians
accompanied by dialogue.775
The printer of plate 315 is recorded in the plate as Giovanni Battista de’
Rossi, active c.1640–72 in the Piazza Navona workshop of the Roman de’ Rossi

Gambelli, Arlecchino a Parigi, pp.152–3, 190; Nicoll, Masks, Mimes and Miracles, p.306.
For text, see end of section, p.254.
For text, see end of section, pp.254ff.


family of printers and publishers.776 They are known to have acquired and re-
published plates originating from a number of other sixteenth century printers’
workshops, including those of van Aelst, Salamanca, and Lorenzo Vaccari. Thus,
while G.B de’ Rossi’s death provides an ante quem, plate 315 (or the original
plate on which it is based) could well predate de’ Rossi’s activity as a printer,
and may date to the early seventeenth century. The twenty-five scenes of the two
composites can be subdivided into a number of categories. The Windsor series
(W1–W16) opens and closes with scenes in which Pantalone masquerades as a
woman; in the last scene (W16), as in the fourth of the Brambilla print (B4),
Zanni has apparently given multiple birth. Indeed, a strongly misogynous senti-
ment permeates these vignettes. The image of a man hatching eggs used in B4 is
a well-known symbol for the hen-pecked husband, often used in connection
with fools or besotted lovers. Genuine female roles feature in only three scenes
(B3, B8, W3). The bella franceschina of the music in the Windsor series (W5)
may refer to a popular pavane or dance tune with the title Che la bella
Franceschina, which in turn possibly refers to the commedia dell’arte maid,
whose most popular stage name was Franceschina. This tune is referred to in
Troiano’s account of the 1568 Munich wedding, and by Bendinelli in 1614.777
Both series are dominated by an obsession with food (B1, B6, B9; W6–7,
W11), drink (B9, W15), and ablutions (B5, B7–8; W9, W13, W16). The un-
compromising emphasis on defecation in B8, W13 and W16 reminds us that it
features in some of the most popular lazzi of the early scenarios of the commedia
dell’arte.778 While the motivating force in B1, B6, B9, W6–7, and W11 is una-
bashed gluttony, several of these scenes additionally reveal a marked sadistic
streak in the participants. This aggressive element is present in both series, com-
ing to the fore visually particularly in the violent horseplay of B1–2, W3, W7
and W14, and the over-enthusiastic ministrations of B5, B7–8, and W9. It is
also manifested verbally in the coarse, even bellicose, tone of the language of
both series. Brambilla’s scenes focus exclusively on the basic instincts and pleas-
ures common to even the least sophisticated members of the human race.
Half of the scenes of the Windsor print, however (W2–5, W8, W10, W12,
W14), form a category unrepresented by Brambilla. This is the caricaturing of
courtly pastimes and customs, and particularly its nostalgic recreations of the

On de’ Rossi, see Bellini, ‘Printmakers’, p.31; Thomas Ashby, ‘Le diverse edizioni dei
Vestigi dell’Antichità di Roma di Stefano Du Pérac’, La Bibliofilia, 16 (1915), 401–21.
Troiano, Dialoghi, f.141v; Leuchtmann, Die Münchner Fürstenhochzeit von 1568, p.414.
As emphasised by the lazzi of Guarinonius, in Die Grewel (noted above, p.196).


age of chivalry’s aristocratic pursuits, whose influence was still evident in late
sixteenth century court entertainments and festivals. Thus W2 is a burlesque on
jousting, with Pantalone, aided by Zanni, making a childish game out of the
skilful tournament contest of running at the ring. W8 features a travesty of dis-
mounted combat; the master–servant relationship is turned on its head by the
bullying Zanni and querulous Pantalone of W3, and W4 ridicules the noble
pastime of hunting, with a mule and owl standing in for the traditional horse and
falcon. W5, W10, and W12 poke fun at the courtly accomplishments of dancing
and singing. In W5, Pantalone plays the lute while Zanni and the mule parody
an elegant dance; B3, Brambilla’s dancing scene, is only superficially compara-
ble. Here Zanni provides the music, and the unseemly, barely contained lusts of
his elderly master, rather than courtly pursuits, are the butt of the joke. W14
parodies courtly romance: far from being about to commit suicide as a result of
unrequited love, the last word of the dialogue reveals, by its punning on ‘tor-
toise’ and ‘lazy-bones’, that Zanni’s spleen is merely directed at the small rep-
tile lying defenceless at his feet.
In B7 and W9, Pantalone’s sadistic tendencies are particularly apparent. He
uses some vicious-looking instruments to pull the teeth and trim the beard of a
Zanni who, despite being shaken by the experience, tries to keep up his ingrati-
ating manner in order to talk his way out of a tight corner. He turns the tables on
Pantalone in W3, and really gets his revenge in B5 and B8, with fearsomely
vicious implements. Zanni also has the upper hand in W11, where Pantalone is
reduced to an ingratiating groveller in the hope of tasting his cake. Zanni’s in-
sults never become as openly offensive as the worst of Pantalone’s. Instead, he
tends to rely on wordplay and sarcasm, and his ominous ‘lasse fa a mi messer’
is the catchphrase of both prints. Thus, despite the added ‘chivalrous’ element
in the Windsor series, unmistakable verbal and visual links are shared by the
two prints.
The discovery of plate 54 and its inscriptions has restored these Recueil
Fossard prints to a more meaningful theatrical image, and enabled art-historical
contextualization within a distinct genre of composite prints. In these nine scenes,
six commedia characters engage in some comic horseplay, or lazzi. The main
participants, a Pantalone and his two zanni, are joined in three of the nine scenes
by secondary characters: a tedesco, a girl, and an older woman. This discovery
also raises many questions. It is unclear whether these nine scenes record the
typical comic routines of mountebanks’ assistants, the uncoordinated revelry or
felicitous high jinks of costumed carnival revellers, or the jealously guarded
lazzi of some fully fledged professional troupe of commedia dell’arte actors.


Neither is it clear whether these images and their inscriptions relate to the ac-
tivities of Brambilla or his fellow members in the Accademia della Val di Blenio,
in which case Brambilla’s role in the development of the commedia dell’arte
might be more than simply one of passive observer and recorder. Beijer dis-
missed the vignettes of Brambilla’s print as ‘jeux de saltimbanques, des la