Ceramic figurine of the Commedia dell'Arte character 'Mezzetin' in a white belted tunic with green frogging, white trousers, magenta shoes, brown purse on belt, white neck ruff and soft white floppy hat. His right arm is held up at chest height, with his hand held to his chest, his left arm is down by his side. He stands on a base with four integral feet, decorated with two comedy masks and rococo style shell-like patterns and modelled details. The base has a decorative band of laurel leaves painted green and other details highlighted in ochre.
This figurine of Mezzetin, probably produced in the second half of the 19th century, 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.
Mezzetin was one of the stock characters of Commedia dell'Arte. His name meant 'half measure' and in accordance with this variable character he could be a deceived or a deceiving husband, and could serve his master with devotion or take bribes and betray him. Although not a character who became assimilated into British pantomime, he was well known in France in the 18th century and is the subject of a painting by Watteau dated 1718-1720.