Ceramic figurine of the Commedia dell'Arte 'Columbine', painted in underglaze colours. She wears a black mask, black and yellow tricorn hat, white low cut blouse, black bodice, pink skirt with magenta peplum and floral decoration, white apron, white tights and black buckled shoes. She stands on a base with four integral feet, decorated with two comedy masks and rococo style shell-like patterns and modelled details. Base has a decorative band of laurel leaves painted green.
This figurine of Columbine is one of a set representing various characters from the Italian knockabout comedy called the Commedia dell'Arte, or 'artistic comedy'. This was the popular improvised type of comedy which flourished in Italy from the 16th to the 18th centuries and had an impact on theatre throughout Europe, especially France. Commedia plays were acted along pre-arranged scenarios but relied on the performers' ability for improvisation and ensured their popularity with a mixture of knockabout comedy, acrobatic leaping and romantic interest. Various visiting Italian troupes performed in France in the 16th century where their type of theatre was called the Comédie-Italienne. By the 17th century however their plays were being performed largely in French, and by the 18th century Commedia dell'Arte was a recognised part of the French theatre.
Columbina, as she was known in Italy, was the lady's maid who became known as Columbine in France and England. In her native country she had gone by other names including Franceschina, Smeraldina, Oliva, Nespola, Spinetta, Ricciolina, Corallina, Diamantina and Lisetta. Her relationship with Harlequin was the central romantic interest in Commedia plays, showing Columbine in love with the rascal Harlequin but always aware of his faults and attempting to change him. Columbine's costume was traditionally designed as a counterpart to Harlequin's, the material a patchwork of multi-coloured diamond shapes.