The commedia dell’arte, a form of improvised theater that originated in sixteenth-century Italy, swept triumphantly through Europe for more than two centuries, and the troupes of actors played their parts on both court and vernacular stages.In the early eighteenth century, when the first comedy figures were produced in faience and in the new and much desired hard-paste porcelain, their makers could draw on a long iconographical tradition for their creations, passed down not only through the performances in which the characters became identifiable by their costumes and attributes, but also through the means of widely circulated prints.
By the mid eighteenth century, the popularity of the commedia dell’arte as a subject for representation in and on ceramics reached its zenith, and not only did the famous and lesser known porcelain producers in Germany and Austria seek to accommodate the tastes and desires of their clientele, so also did the manufacturers of porcelain and earthenware in the Netherlands, England, France, Italy and Spain. The theatrical figures and figural groups illustrated and discussed in this book, works of art in their own right, are also vivid testimony to the art and culture of an entire epoch. Intended for royalty and the upper echelons of a privileged society, the precious creations in “white gold,” as porcelain was also called, were cherished cabinet pieces; they served as splendid table decorations at royal desserts, and they were used as diplomatic gifts.
Since the time of their creation, the exquisitely modeled and finely painted figures of the commedia dell’arte have fascinated and delighted their owners and beholders. The remarkable collection assembled by Patricia and Rodes Hart gives an extraordinary overview of the quality and range of this rarefied eighteenth-century production, providing a glimpse into a world as cleverly improvised and evanescent as the commedia dell’arte itself.
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