Harlequin: between Picasso and de Jong

Harlequines: de Jong's version and traditional Italian mask.

What do the characters in The Shooting Lesson of Folkert de Jong have in common with the Arlecchino, traditional Italian mask and Picasso?

Arlecchino is a traditional Italian mask of the popular theatre,Commedia dell’Arte. The origins of Arlecchino are not defined, but they have foundations in the Italian, French and Africa cultures. Harlequin is a young boy who lives with his poor widow mother in a region of north Italy. For the Carnival day all Harlequin’s friends were wearing beautiful and colourful costumes made by their mums. Harlequin was sad because he was the only one without a costume. His mum was too poor to buy any fabrics. Eventually his friends gave to him all the fabrics left from their costumes and his mum could tailor a super colourful and unique costume for Harlequin. That’s why his uniform looks a collage of patches of various colours. A Harlequin is an ingenuous and naive person who deceives, betrays and tells lyes to not get in trouble, often unsuccessfully. He doesn’t like studying and working, but prefers wandering around, running, doing cartwheels and skipping, being basically an acrobat. He is so poor that he can’t even buy a piece of bread, but he’s got a deep and strong wish to make his life better. He usually brings with him a wooden stick called a “batocio”. This tool is a paddle to stir food, such as polenta, but it is also very useful to help the shepherds of North Italy to put out the livestock to pasture. As we said before, Harlequin is very lazy and he definitly doesn’t use the stick to cook or to work with the livestock on the hills, but sometimes bangs the “batocio” on his enemies and friends heads. A Harlequin can be consider a saltimbanque, or acrobat. The word saltimbanque comes from the Italian words “saltare”, to leap and “banco”, bench which refers to the stage where usually acrobats perform.

In the 20th century Picassowas very interested in the figure of the saltimbanque, Picasso actually made many

Picasso Saltimbanques

paintings and etchings with the representation of saltimbanques and gypsies. Their agility and their way of joyfully living in poverty fascinated many novelists and artists of the modern age.

The characters in the Folkert de Jong sculpture, The Shooting Lesson, refer to the saltimanques painted by Picasso. Looking from a close eye to the de Jong sculpture we see that some of its characters wear the Harlequin costume, a collage of patches.


2 thoughts on “Harlequin: between Picasso and de Jong

  1. Valeria, we loved your workshop!! My five year old is still working on shadow theatres, showing hers around to all her friends and neighbours. Hold a place for us for your next workshop!!


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