Various artists/makers

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 533

This female figure from the commedia dell'arte has been published as Columbine,[1] the clever and promiscuous servant girl who was the most prominent of the female commedia dell'arte characters. However, the lozenge-patterned dress of the porcelain figure identifies her as Harlequine, the female equivalent of Harlequin, the ignorant yet cunning male servant customarily depicted as a character primarily as a result of masquerade balls as a result of masquerade balls, which called for couples to have matching costumes.[2]

Harlequine is depicted carrying the slapstick that was the primary accessory of Harlequin, and her raised hand forms the gesture of mano cornuta, the classic reference in Italy to infidelity. The elongated, graceful, and expressive pose of the figure is characteristic of the work of Franz Anton Bustelli, who, along with Kändler at Meissen, is considered one of the finest porcelain modelers of the eighteenth century. Bustelli created sixteen Italian Comedy figures in the years 1759–60, but it is likely that his Harlequine and matching Harlequin were modeled as early as 1757, thus representing his first efforts in this genre. Most of Bustelli's Comédie Italienne figures were created in pairs, with poses and gestures conceived as communication between the two characters, and the often somewhat exaggerated theatricality of an individual figure is explained when viewed with its mate.

The extent to which Bustelli's compositions were based on prints remains the subject of debate, but two eighteenth-century prints may have influenced the pose of his Harlequine. One is an etching by Watteau with additional engraved work by Charles Simmoneau entitled LesHabits sont italiens, in which a woman dressed as Harlequine has her left hand on her hip, while her raised proper right hand touched her cap.[3] The second print, which is even closer in pose and spirit to the porcelain figure, is an engraving by Georg Friedrich Schmidt after Nicolas Lancret's Le Théâtre italien.[4] While this Harlequine has no slapstick, does not make the gesture for a cuckold, and wears a mask, she exhibits the same elegant dance-like pose suggesting movement that distinguishes Bustelli's porcelain figure.


1. Clare Le Corbeiller, "German Porcelain of the Eighteenth Century," The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 47, no. 4 (Spring 1990), pp. 46–47.
2. Meredith Chilton, Harlequin Unmasked: The Commedia dell'Arte and Porcelain Sculpture (New Haven, 2001), p. 71.
3. Victor I. Carlson in David P. Becker et al., Regency to Empire: French Printmaking, 1715–1814, exh. cat., Baltimore Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Baltimore, 1984), pp. 48–49, no. 2, ill.
4. Ulrich Pietsch, Die figürliche Meissner Porzellanplastik von Gottlieb Kirchner und Johann Joachim Kaendler: Bestandskatalog der Porzellansammlung Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (Munich, 2006), p. 74.

Harlequina, Nymphenburg Porcelain Manufactory (German, 1747–present), Hard-paste porcelain, German, Nymphenburg

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