Glazed figurine of the Commedia dell'Arte character 'Harlequin'. He wears a black mask, belted tunic and trousers in yellow, tan and green triangular shapes, maroon shoes with gold buckles and a white hat with a green feather to the right side. He is leaning forward slightly with both hands on his hips. He 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 Harlequin is one of a set representing 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.
Harlequin was the young lover of Columbine whose original patched suit of various fabrics developed into the familiar outfit of multi-coloured diamond shapes. In Italy Arlecchino was a quick-witted but unscrupulous servant; in France he was a pretty simpleton, a languishing lover and a romantic magician, but in England he became the star of 18th century pantomime.