Friday, January 31, 2014

Figure of the Day: Pulcinella, 1755

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Pulcinella and his rival/buddy Scaramouche were and are a staple of the Italian Commedia dell’arte long before he traveled to England where he became known as Punch. As such, he’s been a common theme in the arts for centuries. Here’s an example of an Eighteenth Century depiction of Pulcinella which shows his transition from Italian valet to voice of the British people/murderous scamp.

The figure we see here has been very badly damaged. It was found in the grounds of Holland House, the London house of Sir Charles Hanbury-Williams, who was the British Envoy at Dresden Court in Germany. In 1748, Hanbury-Williams was presented with a host of diplomatic gifts of Meissen porcelain which he kept at Holland House. Three years later, he lent examples of these Meissen pieces to the Chelsea factory in order for them to be copies. This was likely one of those pieces.

Pulcinella stands in his typical dancing pose, with his right arm and left leg raised (the former missing, and the latter broken at the ankle). As usual, he is depicted with his very pronounced hump, a pointed hat and mask, and his trademark hooked nose.

As I mentioned, this was found at Holland House. However, it’s a miracle that it survived. This figure was among several artifacts discovered in the rubble of the house after it was bombed in 1940 during the Second World War. It’s just further proof that Punch always beats the Devil.

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