Columbine and Pantalone

Various artists/makers

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 538

The Meissen factory started producing small-scale sculpture shortly after its founding in 1710. These early works were made in red stoneware, as the technical mastery of porcelain had not yet been achieved (see catalog entry for 54.147.66). Once porcelain was developed for commercial production, small- scale figures were made beginning around 1713, most of which were either copies of or derived from Chinese prototypes.[1] The few exceptions included several figures depicting characters from the commedia dell’arte[2] or figures of dwarfs that date to the mid-1720s.[3]

The project to produce large-scale animals for the Japanese Palace (see 1988.294.1) in the early 1730s reflected the factory’s first serious and organized commitment to the production of sculpture, and it subsequently absorbed all of the factory’s resources in this genre until the project was abandoned in 1736. By that date, the highly talented German modeler Johann Joachim Kändler (1706–1775) had elevated the status of sculpture at the factory, and his successes in modeling figures and integrating a sculptural component into tablewares were to define the factory’s production for the next two decades. After the production of animals for the Japanese Palace ceased, Kändler turned his attention to small-scale figures, many of which depicted either characters from the Italian comedy or figures from European fashionable society engaged in various pursuits.

It is logical to assume that the choice of commedia dell’arte characters as a major focus for porcelain sculpture was due to the enduring popularity of the type of theatrical entertainment that it depicted. Traveling troupes of Italian comedy actors frequently performed in Dresden during the early eighteenth century, and beginning in the early 1720s, Dresden court spectacles often included members of the court dressed in the costumes of the commedia dell’arte.[4] The appeal of the commedia dell’arte remained undiminished during the reign of August III (1696–1763), elector of Saxony, king of Poland, who in 1738 enlisted a troupe of Italian comedy actors to perform in both Dresden and Warsaw. The status of the commedia dell’arte in Dresden was reinforced by the troupe’s performance at the wedding festivities of the elector’s daughter Maria Amalia (1724–1760) to Charles III (1716–1788), king of Spain.[5]

This figure group is one of Kändler’s earliest depictions of characters from the commedia dell’arte. The two figures are traditionally identified as Columbine and Pantalone, two of the stock characters of the Italian comedy often portrayed together. Pantalone was an elderly Venetian merchant known for his greedy and lustful nature, while Columbine was a coquettish and sharp-witted female servant.[6] However, while Kändler’s description of a slightly later version of this group lists the male figure as Pantalone, the female figure is not identified by name, suggesting that it might not have been intended to represent Columbine. It has also been noted that the dress of the female figure does not correspond to that of a servant, and thus, the figure may represent an actress or a lady in masquerade.[7]

In Kändler’s composition, the seated female holds a mask in one hand behind her back, while she offers Pantalone a flower with the other. The standing figure of Pantalone bows in her direction, and he is depicted with his customary cap, long pointed beard, and the flowing robe of a Venetian merchant. It has been observed by Meredith Chilton that the engraving of Pantalone from 1618 to 1619 by French Baroque printmaker Jacques Callot (1592–1635) provided the model for many of the subsequent depictions of this figure,[8] and Kändler’s Pantalone is clearly rooted in Callot’s portrayal.

In addition, Kändler may have used the German engraver and publisher Christoph Weigel’s (1654–1725) engraving Troupe of Italian Comedians (1723) as a source for the basic compositional format for this group,[9] although it appears that he did not depend on printed sources for the majority of his commedia dell’arte figures and groups.

Kändler’s group, Pantalone with an Actress, as it is now often designated, clearly proved to be very popular, and by 1738 the molds used to produce the pieces had been compromised from overuse.[10] Therefore, a new version was created by Kändler with changes to the female figure, in particular; she has been given a different hairstyle and a more complex costume, and she now holds the mask in front of her and plays with Pantalone’s beard with her other hand. The group was further revised in 1741 when the female’s hairstyle and costume were again modified to make them fashionably current, while the figure of Pantalone remained essentially unchanged.[11] While it is not known precisely when the model represented by the Museum’s group was introduced, it is customarily dated to about 1736; thus, the model was revised twice in a five-year period, which is unusual. The plaster molds used to make figures absorbed the moisture from the raw porcelain paste and thus deteriorated with repeated use, and it has been estimated by Alfred Ziffer that the molds could be used between twenty and thirty times before needing to be remade.[12] Consequently, the evident popularity of the group necessitated new molds, providing Kändler with opportunities to revise and update certain details. This model in its three variants reflects the appeal of figures drawn from the commedia dell’arte, which was to furnish Kändler with a wide range of subjects into the 1760s.[13]

(For key to shortened references see bibliography in Munger, European Porcelain in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018)

1 Melitta Kunze- Köllensperger in Pietsch and Banz 2010, p. 167, no. 9.
2 Chilton 2001, p. 292, no. 69.
3 Kunze- Köllensperger in Pietsch and Banz 2010, p. 182, no. 40.
4 Chilton 2001, pp. 166–78.
5 Ibid., p. 191.
6 For a fuller description of these two characters and their attributes, see ibid., pp. 50–55, 65–69. 7 Ibid., p. 304.
8 Ibid., p. 106 and fig. 166. The print appeared in Riccoboni 1728, pl. 3 (ill. in Chilton 2001, fig. 316). 9 Chilton 2001, pp. 187–89, fig. 305.
10 I. Menzhausen 1993, p. 124.
11 Alfred Ziffer in Pietsch and Banz 2010, pp. 316–17, no. 349. Compare examples 64.101.92 and 1982.60.301 for these variants of composition.
12 Ziffer 2010, p. 64.
13 For examples, see Ziffer in Celebrating Kaendler 2006, pp. 167–79, nos. 30–32.

Columbine and Pantalone, Meissen Manufactory (German, 1710–present), Hard-paste porcelain decorated in polychrome enamels, gold, German, Meissen

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