The Salons: La Guirlande de Julie, revisited


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La Guirlande de Julie

La Guirlande de Julie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Salons are often looked upon as a French institution when in fact Italians brought salons to France.  However, although the salon was imported, it became a French institution and it never fully disappeared.  Gertrude Stein’s home: 28, rue de Fleurus, was a salon.

Madame de Rambouillet

“l’incomparable Arthénice” (Arthénice is an anagram of Catherine)
l’honnête homme

Born in Rome to Jean de Vivonne (marquis of Pisani [1530-1599]) and Giulia Savelli, Madame de Rambouillet (1588-1665), the wife of Charles d’Angennes, marquis de Rambouillet (1577–1652), opened the first famous seventeenth-century French salon.  Salons were a gathering place for various distinguished persons: aristocrats of all ranks, cardinals (Richelieu), Louis XIII (at least once), and l’honnête homme, who could be a bourgeoisFor the most part, habituées (regulars) were well-educated men and women who shared an interest in literature, philosophy and music.  Moreover, they were witty.  L’incomparable Arthénice, an anagram of Catherine, established the first and the best of salons and received her guests every Saturday.  On fine summer days, they had a cadeau (literally a gift) which was an outing in the countryside: une fête champêtre.

L’Hôtel de Rambouillet

rue Saint-Honoré
rue Saint-Thomas-du-Louvre
la ruelle (the side of a bed)

Catherine de Vivonne, marquise de Rambouillet, lived in a private house, then called un hôtel particulier, l’Hôtel de Rambouillet, rue Saint-Honoré.  But l’Hôtel relocated in 1618. Its new address was rue Saint-Thomas-du-Louvre.  Arthénice received her guests in her blue room, la chambre bleue d’Arthénice.  She usually sat in bed and her guests, la crème de la crème of French society, gathered in a ruelle (literally a narrow back street), one side of the bed.  Bedrooms were very large in the best homes of the seventeenth century and beds were canopied beds featuring somptuous drapes that were drawn closed at night, especially on wintry days.

Salons are remembered as places where anything crude was quickly rejected.  Only the purest French could be spoken in a salon and one’s manners had to be refined.  A male guest was, at the very least, an honnête homme.  French galanterie is a sturdy institution dating back to medieval courtly love.  It reached a summit in seventeenth-century French salons.

Giovanni Battista Guarini & Honoré d’Urfée

Il Pastor fido

However, seventeenth-century salons were not always as they had been at l’Hôtel de Rambouillet.  Some salon habitué(e)s were people who made believe they were not what they seemed.  The salonniers and salonnières, gave themselves new names and, at one point, the aficionados of salons were so influenced by Guarini’s Il Pastor fido, a pastoral set in Arcadia and published in Venice in 1590 and, later, by Honoré d’Urfée’s L’Astrée (1607-1627), that they played shepherds and shepherdesses (see Pastoral, Wikipedia).  Fantasy took over.

As well, salons are one of the birthplaces of feminism.  Medieval courtly love was revived and revised, and women started looking upon themselves as “précieuses.”  They were précieuses, of course, everyone is, but not so précieuses that they could not call a chair a chair.  Chairs became “commodités de la conversation.”  A comfortable armchair does facilitate conversation, but… Préciosité, was not one of the better moments of la querelle des femmes, the woman question (the term “querelle des femmes” was first used in 1450). 

In some cases, women kept suitors waiting for several years, before marrying.  The Duc de Montausier (1610–1690), courted Julie d’Angennes (1607-1671), Madame de Rambouillet’s daughter, from 1631 until 1645, before she consented to marry him. She was 38 when she married Montausier.  The couple had one daughter.

La Guirlande de Julie: a gift

62 madrigals (poems)
flowers representing facets of love (allegory)

Out of this courtship, a book emerged, entitled La Guirlande de JulieIt was given as a present to Julie in 1641 and contained sixty-two madrigals (poems not songs), each featuring a flower.  The collection of poems is therefore allegorical, or symbolic.  Montausier wrote sixteen of the madrigals (the poetic rather than musical form), but the preparation of the book was a bit of a contest disguised as a game.  Among the authors are Racan, Tallemant des Réaux and others.  The challenge consisted in finding the “pointe” or conceit, a clever and witty way of saving “little nothings.”

Only the finest authors contributed madrigaux to the collection.  The Guirlande‘s calligraphist was famed Nicolas Jarry and each flower was painted by Nicolas Robert on vellum. It is an illuminated manuscript.  The book is now housed at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) and can be read and looked at online at Gallica BnF.  Many can also be seen at Bridgeman Images.


Source and Resources

(Photo credit: Bridgeman and BnF, Paris)


My kindest regards to all of you.


Marie-Nicole Lemieux (b. 1975): “À Chloris”
Reynaldo Hahn (August 9, 1874 – January 28, 1947)
on a poem by Théophile Gautier (30 August 1811 – 23 October 1872)
Frain-Irene-La-Guirlande-De-Julie-Livre-836443603_ML© Micheline Walker
October 2, 2011
revised on 30 July 2014
(Photo credit: Google images) 

Love in the Salons: a Glimpse


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Bucolic Scenes (Photo credit: Google images)

Other than polite and witty conversation, the main activity of salonniers and salonnières (salonists) was writing.  They had been influenced by Giovanni Battista Guarini’s (1538-1612) Il Pastor Fido (1590), a pastoral tragicomedy, and Honoré d’Urfé’s L’Astrée (1607-1628), a lengthy novel featuring shepherds and shepherdesses living in bucolic settings resembling Il Pastor Fido‘s Arcadia.

Salonniers and salonnières wrote abundantly and love was their favourite topic.  Among the books they wrote, we know about La Guirlande de Julie.  It was a gift to Julie d’Angennes, Madame de Rambouillet’s daughter, and contained sixty-two madrigals each of which compared Julie to a flower.  According to the rules of Préciosité, a movement born in Salons, women looked upon themselves as precious or précieuses.  Moreover, Préciosité had banished unrefined behaviour, in general, and unrefined courtship, in particular. So the Duc de Montausier courted Julie d’Angennes for fourteen years before she consented to marry him.


Carte du Tendre (the map of love)

This map was included in Mademoiselle de Scudéry’s novel: Clélie.

Moreover, as we will now see, love was subjected to various rules.  For instance, Madeleine de Scudéry (1607-1701) described the towns, villages and rivers of her Arcadia, called Tendre.  A map of the pays de Tendre was actually designed.  It was probably drawn by François Chauveau (1613-1676).

Madeleine de Scudéry (1607-1701) had been a member of l’Hôtel de Rambouillet, the first famous salon of seventeenth-century France.  But as the Marquise de Rambouillet grew older, salonniers and salonnières started to gather every Saturday at the home of Madeleine de Scudéry whose pseudonym was Sapho.  Thus was born the Société du samedi (Saturday Society).  It flourished during the second half of the seventeenth century, called le Grand Siècle (the Great Century), the age of Louis XIV (1638-1715), the Sun King.

Sapho was well educated and a prolific writer.  Madeleine de Scudéry’s longest work is Artamène, ou le Grand Cyrus (10 vols., 1648–53), but la Carte de Tendre was featured in Clélie (10 vols., 1654–61).

Clearly outlined on the Carte de Tendre are three forms of love each depicted as towns on the side of three rivers: Inclinaison (inclination), Estime (esteem) and Reconnaissance (gratitude).  So love had three forms:  inclinaison, estime, reconnaissance. There were villages along the way, all of which were allegorical: Jolis-vers (lovely poems), Billet-doux (love letter) and others.

If lovers allowed themselves to enter untamed passion, they sailed on a dangerous sea, called Mer dangeureuse.  However, if passions were restrained, love could be a source of happiness.  Interestingly, although she had a gentleman-friend, Paul Pelisson, Mademoiselle de Scudéry never married.

As may be expected, Mademoiselle de Scudéry’s Carte de Tendre was satirized.  In fact, Molière (1622-1673) wrote his first Parisian play on the Précieuses: Les Précieuses ridicules (1659).  By 1659, the Précieuses had much too high an opinion of themselves.  Molière’s comedy was a slight blow to the movement, but the one-act play was a great success and Molière went on to bigger and better things, including a personal friendship with Louis XIV.

Passions were abundantly discussed in seventeenth-century France.  Both Descartes and Pascal contributed a treatise on passion.  Descartes wrote a treatise on the Passions de l’âme (The Passions of the Soul) and Pascal, a Discourse on the Passion of Love.

However, passionate love was never so dangerous than in Madame de La Fayette’s La Princesse de Clèves (1678), a psychological novel in which love is viewed as a source of endless pain.  It feeds on jealousy as does Phèdre’s love for Hippolyte.  Interestingly, dramatist Jean Racine‘s (1639-1699) Phèdre, a tragedy, was first performed in 1678, the year Madame de La Fayette (1634-1693) published, anonymously, La Princesse de Clèves.


Sources and Resources


Airs de Cour – French Court Music from the 17th Century
Antoine Boësset


© Micheline Walker
October 4, 2011
(revised, 29 July 2014)

Bergamo: Arlecchino & Brighella


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Brighella Onklejoe, 2012

OnkleJoe, 2012

The Power of One Character

The character featured above is Brighella. As we know, Beaumarchais‘ Figaro is the culmination of the commedia dell’arte‘s Brighella. However, as Figaro, Brighella is no longer a “thief, a bully, and an intriguer.”[i] He is a clever and relatively good zanni, but he nevertheless wrestles Susanna away from Count Almaviva and becomes a national hero. Interestingly, although a bevy of French Enlightenment philosophes, from Montesquieu, to Voltaire, Diderot, Jean le Rond d’AlembertRousseau, etc. wrote thousands of pages on the societal ills of l’Ancien RégimeFigaro, one fictional character, drove the message home.

To what extent the Count had a droit du seigneur, i.e. the right to be the first man to sleep with the bride, we cannot know. The Church was very powerful, so I doubt very much that this “right” was listed in law books. It may have been a case of entitlement.

About Bergamo…

Bergamo:  Arlecchino and Brighella

Bergamo: the Birthplace of Harlequin and Brighella

Brighella‘s importance is due not only to the role he ends up playing in France, as Figaro, but he is also connected to Bergamo, an area of current Northern Italy located near Milan. Bergamo is the birthplace of Arlecchino (Arlequin, Harlequin) and Brighella. Similarly, French dramatist Beaumarchais’ plays are the birthplace of a French Brighella, our Figaro, who differs from the commedia dell’arte‘s Brighella, but not that much.

Bergamo remembered: Debussy and Fauré

Which takes us to music. I will mention two composers. The first is Claude Debussy (22 August 1862 – 25 March 1918), who composed the lovely Suite bergamasque. The second, in alphabetical order, is Gabriel Fauré’s (12 May 1845 – 4 November 1924), the composer of Masques et Bergamasques. These are compositions inspired by the commedia dell’arte and written not long before Picasso started to paint Arlequins and guitars, or related instruments. The influence of the commedia dell’arte on French dramatists, comedians, artists and composers is considerable.

The Comédie italienne in France

In fact, France long had both its Comédie française and its Comédie italienne (until the second half of the nineteenth century). Italian comedians were driven out of France in 1697, because of a play entitled La Fausse [false] Prude. This play was offensive to Louis XIV‘s second wife, Madame de Maintenon. However, the Italians were soon recalled (in 1716). The plays of Marivaux (4 February 1688 – 12 February 1763) and Beaumarchais (24 January 1732 – 18 May 1799) are eloquent testimonials concerning the commedia dell’arte‘s influence on the history of French theatre.

Brighella’s Appearance and Gait

Brighella’s “wears a white shirt, black pants with a green tassel hanging from the side, a white cap, a belt with a purse, and a dagger.” His mask “is accented with a hooked nose, fleshy cheeks, and large eyebrows. He conveys a cynical-mawkish appearance.” (See Brighella.) He is a first among zanni and is never outdone. Zanni may originate in the lower classes, but without zanni, there may not be a happy ending to comedy. Brighella is smarter than Arlecchino (see Brighella, Wikipedia).

Distinguishing commedia dell’arte characters from one another includes the manner in which they move, which indicates they were professionals actors.

“Brighella’s weight is placed on a bent leg. The other is extended, lightly touching the ground. His elbows are up with his hands spread out. Whether or not he is moving, his feet are constantly moving, dancing back and forth. Like Arlecchino, his back is curved at the lumbar region. When Brighella walks, his head stays in place, but his legs come up to the side and his torso sways from side to side. It is a very soft walk, similar to tip-toeing, the difference being that his legs are spread.” (See Brighella.)

Brighella, by Maurice Sand

Brighella, by Maurice Sand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Brighella’s Legacy

Wikipedia lists the names of characters modelled on Brighella. It’s impressive. By and large, Brighella’s descendants are gentler than their ancestor. The list includes Scapino, Mezzetino, Mascarille, Sganarelle, Turlupin, Figaro, etc. Brighella-Sganarelle is Leporello in Mozart’s Don Giovanni (K 527).

Molière (1722 – 1673) was both an actor and a dramatist. He therefore played the following Brighella associated roles:


There is conflicting information regarding Brighella. According to some sources, he is a villain who fizzles out. Yet, if Figaro is heir to Brighella, he is clever and swift, but he is not a villain. It could be that Watteau‘s Fêtes galantes depictions of figures from the commedia dell’arte transformed Brighella and that the comédie larmoyante (the tearful comedy) and bourgeois drama reshaped the original Brighella, though not completely. I’ll remember him as an ancestor to Figaro. Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro and Rossini’s Barber of Seville. I suspect figures from the commedia dell’arte will remain a favourite with artists and composers: Debussy, Fauré, Mozart, Rossini…

And we close the commedia dell’arte series. Characters may reappear. They’re everywhere. For quick information, I suggest, listed under sources and resources, below.

My kindest regards to all of you.

La Flûte de Brighella

La Flûte de Brighella, by Enrico Brunelleshi (Photo credit: Christie’s)


Brighella, by Enrico Brunelleschi

Brighella, by Enrico Brunelleschi (Photo credit: Google Images)


Sources and Resources


[i] “Brighella,” Phyllis Hartnoll, ed., The Oxford Companion to the Theatre3rd Edition (London: Oxford University Press, 1967 [1951]).

Claude Debussy (22 August 1862 – 25 March 1918)
Suite bergamasque (1905)
1. Prélude
2. Minuet
3. Clair de lune

Claudio Arrau (6 February 1903 – 9 June 1991), piano (superb performance)

A Twenty Frank banknote, 1997

A twenty-franc banknote, from 1997, depicting Debussy (Caption & photo credit: Wikipedia)

© Micheline Walker
July 23, 2014


Molière’s Tartuffe & Northrop Frye


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Elmire, by Tammy Grimes
Elmire, Tartuffe, by Tammy Grimes, 1977; costume by Zack Brown

This post is based on an article originally posted on 7 January 2012. In its earlier version, it had to do with Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism.[i] However, I used Molière‘s Le Tartuffe as an example. This time, the emphasis is on Molière’s Tartuffe

Northrop Frye: a Conceptual Framework

Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays was published by Northrop Frye in 1957. In his Polemical Introduction, Frye emphasizes the importance of approaching literature with “a conceptual framework,”[ii] so one can uncover a literary work’s organizing principles. In this regard, Frye refers to Aristotle’s Poetics (c. 335 BCE). However, he also reveals archetypes shared by comedy from the plays of Greek dramatists Aristophanes (c. 446 BCE – c. 386 BCE) and Menander (c. 341/92 BCE – c. 290 BCE) to Beaumarchais. (See list Greek dramatists in Ancient Greek Comedy, Wikipedia.)

Comedy: the characters as “archetypes”

Frye describes comedy as we know it. It is a genre where a young couple, or young couples, have to overcome obstacles, in order to marry. They are usually opposed by a pater familias, a descendent of the heavy father of Roman New Comedy[iii] (Plautus [c. 254 –184 BCE] and Terence [195/185 –159 BCE]), to the more buffoon-like stock characters of the commedia dell’arte. Usually the young lovers (Mariane and Valère) are helped by servants, suivant-e-s, valets, confident-e-s,[iv] friends, siblings, a mother (Elmire) or, at times, an avuncular (good uncle) figure such as Le Tartuffe‘s Cléante. (Le Tartuffe is the title of the play and Tartuffe, the name of the impostor who goes to prison at the end of the play). In Le Tartuffe, we have a complete cast.

The Plot: all’s well that ends well

Comedy has its archetypal figures and it is an “all’s-well-that-ends-well” narrative, but theories can be reductive. No two trees are alike. Therefore, although we require “a conceptual framework,” the goal is not merely to state that an author is using or not using a customary narrative and archetypal figures. In the case of Le Tartuffe, the impostor feigns devotion, yet covets Orgon’s wife and is also in possession of incriminating information. In such circumstances, dramatists may use a deus ex machina to bring about the traditional happy ending of comedy. Therefore, Le Tartuffe is both the same as other comedies and unique.

Molière’s Le Tartuffe: the hypocrite

A play-within-a-play: the discovery

For instance, in Molière’s Le Tartuffe, Tartuffe who feigns piety, has so bewitched a vulnerable Orgon, the heavy father, that members of his family have to put on a little play-within-the-play to show Orgon, the comedy’s father, that Tartuffe is a hypocrite and that, far from turning his back on the pleasures of the flesh, he is “gros et gras” (“big and fat;” Act I, sc. iv) and wants to seduce Orgon’s wife, and nearly succeeds.

Hidden under a table, Orgon, the pater familias is made to see Tartuffe trying to seduce his wife and realizes, too late, that he has been fooled. Orgon’s daughter will not have to marry Tartuffe, but Orgon cannot get rid of the impostor, because Tartuffe is privy to knowledge that could cause Orgon to be thrown in jail.

Tartuffe dans la pièce du même nom de Molière. Gouache (XVIIIe siècle) de Fesch et Whirsker. Archives Larbor

Tartuffe dans la pièce du même nom de Molière. Gouache (XVIIIe siècle) de Fesch et Whirsker. (Photo credit: Larousse)

 (Please click on the images in order to enlarge them.)

Monsieur Loyal, Edmond Geffroy

Monsieur Loyal, by Edmond Geffroy

The Deus ex machina or divine intervention

At the beginning of Act V, sc. iv, a huissier (a bailiff), Monsieur Loyal, depicted above, comes to notify Orgon that Tartuffe now owns Orgon’s house. Fortunately, given the conventions of comedy, the family will be saved. An exempt, or deus ex machina, arrives just in time, an instance of kairos* (the right timing) and an element of fairy tales, to tell the family that Tartuffe is a villain who will be thrown in jail. Orgon is saved by an insightful “Prince.”

*For the Greeks of Antiquity, time was kairos (the moment; vertical),
chronos (the duration; horizontal),
and aeon (eternity).

Therefore, Tartuffe is a play where characters favouring the traditional marriage of comedy have very little power. It is therefore a problematical play because it stretches the “all’s-well-that-ends-well” to its limits. Molière wrote several problematical plays. In the “Figaro trilogy,” Figaro can oust Bégearss, but Tartuffe owns Orgon’s House. There is no salvation from within the comedy itself, yet comedies have a happy ending. The young couple, Orgon’s daughter Mariane and Valère, must be free to marry.

The Pharmakos

Northrop Frye writes that “[t]he pharmakos is neither innocent nor guilty.”[v] Pharmakos is the Greek word for “scapegoat.” In Ancient Greece, the pharmakos was often sacrificed. In Molière’s Le Tartuffe, the pharmakos is not sacrificed, but he is vilified, although he is not entirely to blame. In Le Tartuffe, the villain has been empowered by Orgon, the father in the comedy. Orgon has let himself be blinded by his own needs. Therefore, the removal of the pharmakos is somewhat ritualistic. Tartuffe is a scapegoat.

In fact, there is nothing pious about Tartuffe, except in Orgon’s eyes and in the eyes of Orgon’s mother, Madame Pernelle. If everyone else sees Tartuffe as he is, Orgon is in dire need of Tartuffe. Tartuffe can lift (lever) sins away. What he says to Elmire, who does not want to sin by making love with Tartuffe, is evidence of seventeenth-century Jesuit casuistry (see Casuistry, or how to sin without sinning).

Si ce n’est que le Ciel qu’à mes vœux l’on oppose,
Lever un tel obstacle est à moi peu de chose,
Et cela ne doit pas retenir votre cœur.
If it’s only God that opposes my desire,
I’ll think up a way to make him conspire,
And that need not restrain your heart, my dear
(Act IV, sc. v)


Since he can make arrangements with God, Tartuffe allows Orgon to be tyrannical with impunity. Orgon’s family convinces the pater familias to hide under the table so he can hear and see his “frère,” as he calls Tartuffe, attempt to seduce his wife Elmire. So Orgon crouches under the table, shielded by the tablecloth, a makeshift curtain, and, to his profound dismay, he learns the truth. He is so surprised that he has difficulty rescuing his poor wife.

Orgon has therefore learned the truth, but too late. Monsieur Loyal, beautifully depicted by Edmond Geffroy (20 July 1804 – 1895), an artist, actor, and member (sociétaire) of the Comédie-Française, is at the door ready to collect all of Orgon’s possessions Tartuffe has appropriated. Fortunately, a “Prince,” has seen the truth so Tartuffe, not Orgon, is arrested by l’Exempt. This allows members of Orgon’s family and servants (zanni) to be reunited at the end of the play.

Scene from Tartuffe  Jacobus Buys

Scene from Tartuffe, by
Jacobus Buys (Photo credit: Google images)


Sources and Resources

Northrop Frye

Northrop Frye, CC, FRSC (14 July 1912 – 23 January 1991) was born in Sherbrooke, Quebec. He was raised in New Brunswick, studied in Toronto (Victoria College, University of Toronto) and at Oxford (Merton College). He became a minister in the United Church, and then spent most of his life teaching at the University of Toronto (Victoria College), where he was an inspiration to his students as he has been to me.

He wrote his thesis on William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827), one of English literature’s most fascinating figures.  Entitled Fearful Symmetry, Frye’s thesis was published in 1947, but he has published numerous other studies, all of which are listed in Wikipedia’s entry on Northrop Frye.

[i] Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton, 1973 [1957]).

[ii] See Commedia dell’arte, Wikipedia.

[iii] “commedia erudita.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 21 Jul. 2014. <>.

[iv] Frye, op. cit., p. 15.

[v] Frye, op. cit., p. 41.

Jean-Philippe Rameau – Pièces de clavecin en concert N° 5 (La Forqueray) / Il Giardino Armonico

Elmire & Tartuffe

Elmire & Tartuffe (Photo credit: Googles images)

© Micheline Walker
January 7th, 2012
revised 20 July 2014

Beaumarchais’ Trilogy: The Guilty Mother


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Tartuffe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Molière’s Tartuffe, by Edmond Geffroy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Ah! pour être dévot, je n’en suis pas moins homme[.]” (Act III. Sc. 3)
(“Yes, I may be devout, but I am still a man.”)

“Because they portray the abuse of power by aristocrats and related themes, both plays were censored; as a result, the character of Figaro—adroit, irrepressible, insubordinate—has accrued much symbolic value over the centuries. His name was adopted by a leading French newspaper, Le Figaro.”[I]

The Rehabilitation of Sentiment

The Drame bourgeois (bourgeois drama)
The Rehabilitation of sentiment (Rousseau, mainly)

In 1767, Beaumarchais wrote his Essai sur le genre dramatique sérieux (online BnF) FR (“Essay on the Genre of Serious Drama). Serious drama is also named drame bourgeois,” (bourgeois drama), a theatrical genre that is neither tragedy nor comedy, but it has a happy ending in The Guilty Mother; or, the other Tartuffe, also entitled The other Tartuffe; or, the Guilty Mother.

Denis Diderot, Louis-Michel van Loo

Denis Diderot, Louis-Michel van Loo, 1767 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Le Drame bourgeois: Denis Diderot’s & Beaucharmais

Beaumarchais is often credited with having created le drame bourgeois, or bourgeois drama. However, the idea was encyclopédiste Denis Diderot ‘s (5 October 1713 – 31 July 1784). Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert (16 November 1717 – 29 October 1783) are the co-founders of the Encyclopédie. The creation of bourgeois drama was not a rejection of the solidly-entrenched commedia dell’arte. However, a new aesthetics had arisen, associated with:

Reason vs Sentiment: The Primacy of Reason

Beginning with Descartes’ Discours de la Méthode (1637), reason had prevailed over sentiment. However, reason’s hegemony had been challenged by Blaise Pascal (19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662). According to Pascal, there were deux entrées de l’âme, or two entrances to the soul and to persuasion: l’esprit de finesse (intuition, instinct) and l’esprit de géométrie (reason) (Pensées; published posthumously. Immanuel Kant (22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804) would also call reason into question in The Critique of Pure Reason  (1781).

Portrait de Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, by Jean-Marc Nattier

Portrait de Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, by Jean-Marc Nattier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Figaro remains

In the case of the character Figaro, a zanni, the die is cast: Alea iacta est. (See Alea iacta est, Wikipedia.) The moment he stepped on the stage, Figaro became a permanent symbol of débrouillardise (“resourcefulness,” [but the meaning is lost in translation]). Le Figaro, a newspaper, or newspapers, is named after Beaumarchais’ Figaro.

Figaro remains a clever valet, a zanni, throughout the Figaro trilogy, put particularly in the Marriage of Figaro. In the Preface (online FR) to The Guilty Mother; or, the other Tartuffe, Beaumarchais explains that he, Beaumarchais, has aged and that Figaro himself has also aged, not to mention Beaumarchais’ audience. (See L’Autre Tartuffe ou La Mère coupable [EBook #34841] FR.)

Scene from Tartuffe  Jacobus Buys

Scene from Tartuffe, by Jacobus Buys (Photo credit: Google images)

The Guilty Mother, a drame bourgeois

In other words, The Guilty Mother; or, the other Tartuffe (c. 1791-2) differs from The Barber of Seville (1775) and the Marriage of Figaro (1784). The Guilty Mother; or, the other Tartuffe is a bourgeois drama EN (a middle-class tragedy), or drame bourgeois EN. However, all three plays belong to the Age of Enlightenment. In the first two instalments of the “Figaro trilogy,” Figaro opposes the supposed privilege of the seigneur to be the first man to sleep with the bride. As for The Guilty Mother, the play is consistent with the rehabilitation of sentiment, inaugurated by Rousseau. Finally, all three plays respect the conventions of comedy as a genre, including The Guilty Mother.

First Performance & Synopsis

The Guilty Mother was to be produced by the Comédiens français in 1791, but disagreements arose between the Comédiens and Beaumarchais that caused the play not to be staged until the following year, at the Théâtre du Marais on 26 June 1792.

The Cast

The cast includes the Count, Almaviva, the Countess (the former Rosina of the The Barber of Seville), Figaro, Suzanne, Bégearss and a notary, maître Fal. Bégearss is an Irishman, a Tartuffe, a hypocrite and a swindler. Bégearss is an alazônor the blocking character of the play. Tartuffe is a comedy by French dramatist Molière (1622 – 1673). The play was first performed in 1664, but was revised twice before it was deemed morally acceptable. It was therefore rewritten twice over a period of five years (1664 – 1669).

The Synopsis

Léon, the illegitimate son of the Countess
Chérubin, Léon’s father
The incriminating jewel box (a cassette in Molière)
All’s well that ends well
The usurper/impostor: Bégearss, a Tartuffe
Florestine, the illegitimate daughter of the Count

More than twenty years have elapsed since Figaro married Susanna and both are employed by the Count and Countess Almaviva, the Countess being the Rosina of The Barber of Seville. During the Count’s absence, a prolonged absence, Rosina, the Countess, and Chérubin, a page, spent a night together. She then felt guilty and told Chérubin that what they had done was wrong. Chérubin  therefore joined the army in order to be killed. However, he wrote to the Countess to express his love and regrets. The Countess could not part with Chérubin’s letter and had it inserted in the hidden bottom of a jewellery box.

After spleeping with Chérubin, Rosina, the Countess, discovered she was pregnant and gave birth to Léon who is now twenty. The Count and Countess are mourning the death of their son, in a duel, and has a second son, Léon, but he suspects Léon is not his son. Meanwhile, however, the Count has also fathered an illegitimate child, a daughter named Florestine. She lives in her father’s house as his ward and godchild. She does not know she is the Count’s daughter until Bégearss tells her as well as the entire family. Florestine is devastated because she and Léon are in love, but may be brother and sister. In such a case, a marriage would not be possible.

The Count and the yet ill-informed Countess both think Florestine should marry Bégearss, a major in the Spanish military. To ensure he is the sole heir to the Count’s fortune, Bégearss is making arrangements for Léon to leave for Malta, accompanied by Figaro. As noted above, Bégearss is a Tartuffe (a hypocrite and a swindler), hence the subtitle of Beaumarchais’ drame bourgeoisThe other Tartuffe.

Le personnage de Tartuffe, Fesch et Whirsker (Photo credit: Larousse)

(Please click on the image to enlarge it)

(Censors condemn Molière’s Tartuffe)

Tartuffe is a character created by Molière (1622 – 1673). He feigns devotion yet tries to seduce Elmire, Orgon or the pater familias‘ wife, and also gains a stranglehold on Orgon himself. Molière’s Tartuffe is in possession of incriminating  information a friend has entrusted to him. This information is hidden in a “cassette” (= Rosina’s jewellery box), but Orgon turns the cassette over to Tartuffe. It could ruin the family.

Back to The Guilty Mother

Figaro manages to take the Count’s money to Monsieur Fal, the Count’s notary, but Bégearss has gone to get it. Léon and Florestine wish to marry, which is how comedies should end, but this is not possible because they may be brother and sister. Bégearss has given the Count the letter that confirms the Count’s suspicions regarding his wife’s infidelity. Léon is not his son. It is not known, however, that Florestine is the Count’s lovechild and that there is no consanguinity between the innamorati.

At some point, Figaro, the notary, Monsieur Fal, and Bégearss return. Bégearss has the money, but Figaro will not let him keep it. The Count is now willing to forgive the Countess, who has fainted with grief when he rebuked her. Therefore, this drame bourgeois has a happy ending. Bégearss has been unmasked and the Count realizes he loves the Countess. The Count and Countess adopt Léon and Florestine and the two free to marry. All’s well that ends well (comedy) and the deceiver (Bégearss) is deceived: le trompeur trompé.


Beaumarchais (Photo credit: Google images)


The drame bourgeois (middle-class tragedy) should be as it is called: bourgeois, or middle-class, but the Count is an aristocrat. Consequently, one senses a small degree of dissonance. The Guilty Mother is sentimental. Léon and Florestine cry when their fate is known, i.e. their being related and, therefore, not able to marry. Moreover, the Countess faints as the truth is revealed and the count rebukes her. It could therefore be said that there is Sturm und Drang to Beaumarchais’ sentimentality rather than a tinge of the “galant” style (empfindsamer Stil). I am borrowing this term from the history of music.

Yet the play is consistent with the Age of Enlightenment’s “growing importance of sentiment[II] and it therefore belongs to the same category as Denis Diderot’s Entretiens sur le Fils naturel.

The Drame Bourgeois: The English Connection

comédie larmoyante (“tearful comedies”) 
Samuel Richardson
Laurence Sterne
The Third Earl of Shaftesbury

The drame bourgeois can be associated with Nivelle de la Chaussée‘s comédie larmoyante (1735), or “tearful comedies.” It finds some of its origins in a very sentimental form of drama. But, Beaumarchais’ plays can also be associated with the plays of Pierre de Marivaux, the foremost dramatist of eighteenth-century France, the author of Arlequin poli par l’amour, but, more importantly, the creator of Le Jeu de l’amour et du hasard (The Game of Love and Chance; 1730). Marivaux makes use of the stock characters of the commedia dell’arte.

However, Denis Diderot (5 October 1713 – 31 July 1784) was an admirer of both Samuel Richardson and Laurence Sterne, the author of “Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.” He was influenced by them. Richardson wrote Pamela; Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740) and Diderot, his Entretiens sur le Fils Naturel, ou les Épreuves de la vertu (1757; produced in 1771). In 1745, Diderot translated the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury‘s Inquiry concerning Virtue (L’Essai sur le mérite et la vertu). English actor David Garrick (from Garrigues) was a favourite during the French Enlightenment.


Enlightenment ideologies run through the Figaro trilogy. The first two instalments are rooted in the topsy-turvy world of the Roman Saturnalia and the raucous revelry of the Greek kōmos. Comedy is subversive, as is a revolution. Moreover, the final play is a response to the growing importance assigned to sentiment. The two-year (1752-54) Querelle des Bouffons (“Quarrel of the Comic Actors;”) attests to the requirements of sentiment. Moreover, Pergolesi‘s La Serva padrona, an intermezzo, or musical equivalent of the theatrical interlude, a servant is mistress, which is carnivalesque.

In the plays of eighteenth-century French dramatist Pierre de Marivaux (4 February 1688 – 12 February 1763), it seems no one is as he or she appears. This aesthetics also forms the basic plot of Mozart’s K. 588, Così van tutte (Women are all the same).

But the real link between each play of the Figaro trilogy is the combative Figaro, born in the commedia dell’arte.

I wish you all a fine weekend.



  1. L’Autre Tartuffe ou La Mère coupable [EBook #34841] FR
  2. Entretiens sur le Fils Naturel, ou les Épreuves de la vertu, Internet Archives, FR
  3. Le Fils naturel (Larousse), FR
  4. Le Personnage de Tartuffe Fesch et Whirsker (photo) Larousse
  5. Tartuffe, full text EN
  6. Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (translation by Diderot, in 1845) EN & FR
  7. Diderot Archives
  8. Excerpts from Marivaux are a Gutenberg project [EBook #12504] EN


[I] “Figaro.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 15 Jul. 2014.
[II] “French literature.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 15 Jul. 2014.>.   
Les Noces de Figaro, Mozart

Les Noces de Figaro, Mozart (Photo credit: Google images)

© Micheline Walker
July 18, 2014


The Figaro Trilogy


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Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (24 January 1732 – 18 May 1799) had recruited men who fought in the American Revolutionary War  and had also supplied arms to American revolutionaries.

One of his recruits was Pierre-Charles L’Enfant (9 August 1754 – 14 June 1825), an architect and engineer who designed the Washington National Mall. L’Enfant was dismissed and replaced by Andrew Ellicott (24 January 1754 – 28 August 1820) who criticized L’Enfant Plan and Pierre-Charles L’Enfant. In 1902, the McMillan Commission did away with Andrew Ellicott’s revisions. The Washington Mall was redesigned using L’Enfant Plan.

The Figaro Trilogy

The Barber of Seville (1773; 1775)
The Marriage of Figaro (written in 1778, performed in 1784, published in 1785)
The Guilty Mother (1791; 1966[opera])
The Marriage of Figaro as the centrepiece of Beaumarchais’ “Figaro trilogy” 
Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro (K 492) (1786)

The Marriage of Figaro (1784)

At an early point in his life, Beaumarchais did recruit men willing to join the Americans in their struggle for independence, but he is known mainly as the author of the Figaro trilogy, which consists of three plays: The Barber of Seville (1775), The Marriage of Figaro  (1784), and The Guilty Mother (1791).

A problematical comedy

the second instalment in the Figaro trilogy
Accepted for production in 1778 (Comédie-Française)
Vilification of French aristocracy: condemned by Louis XVI
Revised: change of location
Performed in France in 1784
Published in France in 1785

The Marriage of Figaro is the second instalment in Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy, but constitutes the centrepiece of Beaumarchais’ trilogy. It was written in 1778 and accepted for production by the Comédie-Française in 1781. However, as first written, it vilified French aristocracy and so shocked Louis XVI that he banned the production of the play.

The play was problematical because Count Almaviva, who marries Rosina in The Barber of Seville, or the Futile Precaution (1778), wants to consummate Figaro’s marriage to Susanna, Figaro’s bride. Beaumarchais revised the play and moved the action to Spain. Ironically, Count Almaviva wanted to avail himself of a right he had abolished: “the feudal droit du seigneur, the right of the lord of the manor to sleep with his servant’s bride on her wedding night.”[I]  

The Marriage of Figaro is a comedy inspired by the commedia dell’arte. Given the conventions of comedy, the Count’s plans will therefore be foiled. The innmorati will be helped not only by clever zanni and other servants, but also by Rosina, Almaviva’s wife, whose marriage to the Count, a philanderer, did not end altogether “well.” The play also features a redeeming discovery. The Count wants Figaro to marry Marcellina, Bartolo’s housekeeper, but it turns out that Figaro is the love child of Marcellina and Bartolo. One does not marry one’s mother. Bartolo therefore proposes marriage to Marcellina. There will be two weddings, which is not uncommon in comedy.


The Marriage of Figaro’s Cherubino,[II] a character reminiscent of Cupid, the mythological god of desire, could be called a lazzi. He is forever in love and gets into trouble. However, he also provides comic relief as do lazzi in the commedia dell’arte. Lazzi are stand-up comics. In Passion Plays, comic interludes were inserted between the acts. The same stratagem can also be used inside comedy. Some “comic” is always at the ready not only to “fill in,” but also to support zanni (servants, one of whom is clever, but the second, clumsy).

As part of the props, we have incriminating letters and, in the case of the Barber of Seville, the Count, disguised as Lindoro, a name borrowed from the commedia dell’arte, we have musicians serenading Rosina. Guitars are inextricably linked with the commedia dell’arte. They are a prop that Watteau and Picasso, Picasso especially, depicted abundantly.

Moreover, to fool the Count, the Countess dresses as Susanna, Figaro’s bride-to-be, while Susanna dresses as the Countess. Therefore, when the Count courts Susanna, he is in fact courting his wife. He reveals his plans to seduce Susanna, but finds Rosina attractive. It is quite normal in comedies for the alazôn, the Count, to undo himself, except that comedy is kind. Cross-dressing is also a frequent  device in comedy and is rooted in the topsy-turvy world of the Roman Saturnalia, not to mention the last days of l’ancien régime.

Beaumarchais and the Revolution  

After Beaumarchais relocated The Marriage of Figaro, “[t]he feudal droit du seigneurbecame a distant right and wrong. Louis XVI lifted the ban on the production of The Marriage of Figaro and the play was performed by the Comédiens français ordinaires du Roi, on Tuesday, 27 April 1784, and the text was published in 1785. Yet the play remained problematical. Although The Marriage of Figaro is a Shakespearean “all’s well that ends well,” the conventional ending, or dénouement, of comedies, in the Marriage of Figaro, this ending seems a little theatrical.

First, the Barber of Seville‘s Rosina has married a philanderer. Second, Georges Danton commented that Beaumarchais’ Marriage of Figaro had “killed off the nobility.” (See The Marriage of Figaro, play, Wikipedia). Jesus of Nazareth might have said “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matthew 1:5-7) Georges Danton voted in favour of the execution of Louis XVI. (See Georges Danton, Wikipedia.)

Mozart’s Le nozze de Figaro (1786)

Beaumarchais or Pierre de Beaumarchais’ Marriage of Figaro was made famous by Mozart‘s (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791) Nozze di Figaro, a four-act opera buffa, or comic opera, composed in 1785 on a libretto (the text) by Lorenzo da Ponte (10 March 1749 – 17 August 1838). Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro) premiered in Vienna at the Burgtheateron 1 May 1786. It has remained a favourite opera often associated with Mozart only, not Pierre de Beaumarchais.

The Barber of Seville, or The Futile Precaution

The Barber of Seville, or The Useless Precaution (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Barber of Seville (1775)

The Barber of Seville; or, the Useless Precaution[III] was performed and published in 1775 as Le Barbier de Séville; ou, la précaution inutile. It is the first play in Beaumarchais Figaro’ trilogy. The play was written in 1773, but it was not performed until 23 February 1775, when it premiered at the Comédie-Française in the Tuileries. Although I have prepared a point by point description of the plot of The Barber of Seville, I am quoting Britannica’s summary. Simply add the name Lindoro, a guitar, and a few suspicious letters. The Count first dresses as a poor student named Lindoro.

“Rosine (known as Rosina in the opera), the ward of Dr. Bartholo, is kept locked in her room by Bartholo because he plans to marry her, though she despises him. Young Count Almaviva loves her from afar and uses various disguises, including one as Alonzo, a substitute music teacher, in his attempts to win her. Bartholo’s roguish barber Figaro is part of the plot against him. Indeed, it is Figaro who steals the key to Rosine’s room for Almaviva. Unfortunately, Almaviva is in his disguise as Alonzo when he meets Rosine. Though in love with “Alonzo,” Rosine is convinced by the suspicious Bartholo that Alonzo intends to steal her away and sell her to a wicked count. Disappointed, she agrees to wed Bartholo that very night. All of Figaro’s ingenuity is required to substitute Count Almaviva for Bartholo at the wedding ceremony.”[IV]
Portrait of Gioachino Rossini in 1820, International Museum and Library of Music, Bologna

Portrait of Gioachino Rossini in 1820, International Museum and Library of Music, Bologna (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1816)

In 1816, Le Barbier de Séville; ou, la précaution inutile (four acts)[V] was made into a two-act opera by Giaochino Rossini on a libretto by Cesare Sterbini. The Barber of Seville, or the Futile Precaution or Il barbiere di Siviglia, ossia L’inutile precauzione premiered on 20 February 1816 at the Teatro Argentina, in Rome.

Beaumarchais’ Guilty Mother (1792)

The Guilty Mother, subtitled The other Tartuffe (La Mère coupable ou l’autre Tartuffe), a play in five acts, is the final part of the Figaro trilogy. Tartuffe is a play by Molière. The character Tartuffe feigns devotion. The Guilty Mother was completed in 1791, but not performed until 1792 at the Théâtre du Marais. The French Revolution had gained impetus, which made it necessary for Beaumarchais to take away his title from Count Almaviva. The Guilty Mother will be discussed in a later post.

Marius Milhaud‘s The Guilty mother or La Mère coupable (1966)

The Guilty Mother or The other Tartuffe was set to music: an opera in three acts (Op. 412), by Marius Milhaud, to a libretto by Madeleine Milhaud. It is the final instalment in Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy and was first performed at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, on 13 June 1966. (See La Mère coupable [The Guilty mother], Wikipedia.)

Jean-Antoine Watteau‘s Italian comedy.

The Rebirth of Brighella and the Birth of Figaro

Figaro is heir to the commedia dell’arte‘s Brighella, a zanni. He joins Pedrolino-Pierrot, Harlequin, Scapino, and other zanni. In fact, Figaro himself joins the rank of the zanni. As portrayed above, he looks like Harlequin, but he may disguised as Harlequin. Figaro is an iconic figure in France. To be precise, Figaro is an institution: a newspaper, founded in 1826 and published in Paris. Le Figaro is the second-largest paper in France. It takes its motto from Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy:

“Sans la liberté de blâmer, il n’est point d’éloge flatteur.”
(“Without the freedom to criticise, there is no true praise.”)



The Commedia dell’arte
Bartolo is a dottore
Lindoro is one of the names innamorati used in the commedia dell’arte
Figaro is a Brighella (a zanni in the commedia dell’arte, who helps the innamorati overcome obstacles to their marriage)
The guitar is an essential prop
Letters are used all the time: false, anonymous, incriminating…
Sources and Resources
  • The Marriage of Figaro is an Online Library of Liberty, full text EN
  • Le Mariage de Figaro is a Gutenberg Project [EBook #20577] FR
  • Male innamorati are called: Arsenio, Aurielo, Cinthio, Fabrizio, Flavio, Fedelindo, Florindo, Leandro, Lelio, Lindoro, Mario, Ortensio, Ottavio, Sireno, often the son of Pantalone, Silvio, Tristano
  • Female innamorati are called: Angelica, Aurelia, Beatrice, Bianchetta, Celia, Clarice, Clori, Cinzio, Emilia, Eularia, Flaminia, Florinda, Filesia, Filli, often the daughter of Pantalone, Isabella, Lavinia, Lidia, Orazio, Ortensia, Silvia, Turchetta, Vittoria 
  • Brighella
  • Maurice Sand, Masques et bouffons (comédie italienne), 1860
Flûte de Brighella, Henrico Brunelleschi  (Photo credit: Christi'e)

Flûte de Brighella, Enrico Brunelleschi
(Photo credit: Christie’s) (This image cannot be enlarged.)


[I] Watteau depicted Mezzetino, a zanni, playing the guitar. The guitar is also a major motif in Picasso’s art.

[II] See Commedia dell’arte, Wikipedia, under Subjects.
[III] “The Barber of Seville.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 13 Jul. 2014.
The Count also calls himself Lindoro.
[IV] Op. cit.
[V] Op. cit.
Gioachino Rossini : The Barber Of Seville – Overture 
My kindest regards to all of you. 
© Micheline Walker
July 13, 2014

Figaro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Picasso in Paris


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Olga, 1923

Olga, 1923

(All images may be enlarged by clicking on them.)

Picasso[i] had several relationships, but he was a husband to Russian ballerina Olga Kokhlova (17 June 1891 – 11 February 1955). He met Olga during the production of the Ballets RussesParade (1917)In the early years of the twentieth century, there was no better creative milieu in Paris than Sergei Diaghilev‘s (1872 –1929) Ballets Russes. The Russian impresario recruited the most talented individuals of his days and, among them, Pablo Picasso (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973). When he was employed by Sergei Diaghilev, Picasso was mixing with le tout Paris, or the cream of Parisian society.

The Legend Begins

Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes

Érik Satie (composer)
Jean Cocteau (writer)
Ernest Ansermet (conductor)
Manuel de Falla (composer)
Léonide Massine (choreographer)
Igor Stravinsky (composer)
Léon Bakst (costume and set designer)
Alexandre Benois (costume and set designer)
Marius Petipa (choreographer)
Michel Fokine (choreographer)
Vaslav Nijinsky (ballet dancer and choreographer)
Pablo Picasso (set and costume designer)

Parade (1917) 

For instance, the production of the ballet Parade (1917) brought together composer Érik Satie (17 May 1866 – 1 July 1925), legendary writer and future filmmaker Jean Cocteau (5 July 1889 –11 October 1963) and choreographer Léonide Massine (9 August 1896 – 15 March 1979).

Érik Satie (17 May 1866 – 1 July 1925) was one of the main composers of his era. Beginning in 1888, Satie composed the Gymnopédies.[ii] Jean Cocteau is the author of the 1929 novel Les Enfants terribles, which he would transform into a film in 1950.[iii] Finally, when it premièred at Paris’ Théâtre du Châtelet, on 18 May 1917, Parade was conducted by Ernest Ansermet (11 November 1883 – 20 February 1969) who founded l’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (1918).

Shown below is Parade‘s curtain, Picasso’s largest work. It features the nimble Harlequin, a recurring figure in Picasso’s artwork,  portrayed here in the artist’s first work as costume and set designer. Parade‘s curtain also features Greek mythology’s winged horse Pegasus. Later in Picasso’s career, mythology, the Minotaur in particular, would be a motif.

 (Please click on the images to enlarge them.)

The Legend Continues…

The Three-Cornered Hat (1919)

In 1919, Ernest Ansermet would conduct Manuel de Falla‘s (23 November 1876 – 14 November 1946) El Sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat or Le Tricorne), a Ballets Russes production choreographed by Léonide Massine with costumes and set designed by Pablo Picasso. The Three-Cornered Hat premièred in London at the Alhambra Theatre, on 22 July 1919.

Pulchinella (1920)

Pulcinella (Polichinelle) is a zanni from la commedia dell’arte. Igor Stravinsky composed the music. The ballet was choreographed by Léonide Massine, who also wrote the ballet’s libretto (the text), and Pablo Picasso designed the costumes and the set. Pulchinella was first performed on 15 May 1920 under the baton of Ernest Ansermet at the Paris Opera (Palais Garnier).

The Ballets Russes would also employ costume and set designers Léon Bakst and Alexandre Benois (both Russian) and choreographers Marius Petipa and Michel Fokine. However, the Ballets Russes had no greater star than Polish ballet dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky (12 March 1889/1890 [Kiev]– 8 April 1950).


Diaghilev was at times a little too punctilious, but his contribution to what composer Richard Wagner called Gesamtkunstwerk (total art) is exemplary. The Ballets Russes defined an entire era of the twentieth century and Pablo Picasso’s work with the company gave enormous impetus to his career.

Allow me to quote the UK Guardian (Luke Jennings; 10 May 2010), on the Ballets Russes:

This was more than just a dance company; it was a creative movement which, from its inception, drew to itself the greatest musical, theatrical and artistic talents of the day.

American writer Gertrude Stein lived here with her brother Leo and then with Alice B. Toklas. She received numerous artists and writers from 1903 to 1938.

Americans in Paris: Gertrude Stein

On 4 April 2013, I posted an article entitled Henri Matisse: an Eclectic Modernist. It refers to Picasso’s acquaintance with Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, members of Stein’s family, and the Cone sisters. The next two paragraphs are therefore somewhat repetitive. Yet, it should be mentioned that Picasso’s most fervent aficionados and promoters were Americans in Paris. He owes much of his  relatively early success to Leo Stein and his sister Gertrude Stein (3 February 1874 – 27 July 1946). In fact, we could start a whole new series entitled: Americans in Paris. These Americans were wealthy and became patrons to the Impressionists and all that was avant-gardiste in Paris: Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism, etc.

Gertrude Stein was a salonnièreFew addresses are as famous as 27, rue de Fleurus, Paris 6. An invitation to 27, rue de Fleurus, Stein’s home and that of her lover, Alice B. Toklas, was almost as much a privilege in twentieth-century Paris as entrée to Madame Geoffrin‘s Parisian salon had been in the eighteenth century.

Madame Stein is the Gertrude Stein of “a rose is a rose is a rose” who entitled her 1933 autobiography The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. As for Alice B. Toklas, Stein’s lover, she is the author of the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook of the famous hashish cookies. Born in 1877, Alice died in poverty, the victim of greed, on 7 March 1967, aged 89. (See Henri Matisse: an Eclectic Modernist.)

Olga Kokhlova

Olga Kokhlova was a socialite and therefore facilitated Picasso’s introduction to Paris’ world of music, design, choreography, dance, and literature. The two married on 18 May 1917 and, three years after Parade, on 4 February 1921, Olga gave birth to Picasso’s first son, Paulo, depicted above as Harlequin and Pierrot (Pedrolino), Commedia dell’arte figures.

Picasso’s marriage to Olga (17 June 1891 – on 11 February 1955) was not a happy union. It seems the two were not suited for one another. In 1927, Picasso entered into a relationship with another woman. Olga left in 1935 and, as is well known, Picasso refused to divorce her because he would have had to give her half of his belongings, including his paintings. That was not acceptable to him. (See Olga Khokhlova, Wikipedia.)

Harlequin, always…

But let us return to Harlequin. In 1906, Picasso depicted him as dead (see below). At that point, reports of Harlequin’s death were premature. Picasso continued to depict Harlequin and other characters from the Commedia dell’arte, which makes him heir to Jean-Antoine Watteau (baptised 10 October 1684 – 18 July 1721).

However, Picasso’s settings of Commedia dell’arte figures are less ethereal than Watteau’s bucolic fêtes galantes. Yet both artists drew part of their subject matter from Italian comedy and from ballet, without portraying disorderly buffoons. Picasso was also influenced by seventeenth-century Spanish artists Diego Velásquez – “Las Meninas” – and El Greco.

In short, despite a failed marriage, Paris was kind to Picasso who remembered Harlequin and other characters from the Commedia dell’arte.

I apologize for not posting more often. The problem is a long and disabling episode of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Kind regards to all of you.


Sources and Resources


[i] “Pablo Picasso”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 07 Jul. 2014

[ii] Érik Satie was one of “les Six,” probably named “les Six” after the Russian “les Cinq.” The “Six” are Emmanuel Chabrier, Claude DebussyGabriel Fauré, Maurice Ravel, Érik Satie, and Richard Strauss.

[iii] Among other films and various works, we owe Jean Cocteau his 1946 Beauty and the Beast, but he is better known for his 1929 novel and 1950 film Les Enfants terribles.

Manuel de Falla (23 November 1876 – 14 November 1946)
El Sombrero de tres picos
Joven Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid (Sergio Alapont, director)
© Micheline Walker
July 8, 2014



Picasso’s Harlequin


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Harlequin with his hands crossed (Jacinto Salvado), 1923

Harlequin with his hands crossed (Jacinto Salvado), 1923


“Harlequin with his hands crossed,” featured above, could well be Picasso’s finest Harlequin. He is not wearing his lozenges. In fact, the colours have bled. Nor is there a mask, except a reminder. Harlequin’s brow is floured.

In the Harlequin featured to the left, no mask is suggested, but the lines are somewhat thicker, barely. The painting is also dated 1923. These two depictions of the Harlequin therefore follow the production of Stravinsky‘s Pulcinella, first performed in 1920. Both characters are zanni, or servants, but Harlequin is the smarter zanno. Picasso’s depictions of Harlequin do not show a theatrical Harlequin. Picasso’s Harlequins are off-stage and the artist’s depictions are portraits of distinguished individuals. It is difficult to associate these Picasso Harlequins with British Harlequinades.

Harlequin as motif: A Family HArlequin

Harlequin is a significant motif in Picasso’s work where he is sometimes pictured with his family. He is also an element of Picasso’s “Mother and Child” motif. In other depictions of Harlequin, a male adult may accompany a child. Picasso also portrayed Harlequin on his death bed.


Picasso was versatile where his techniques are concerned: oil, gouache, watercolours, india ink. Each technique conveys a meaning to the artwork.


The Commedia dell’arte zanni are very smart. They may have a love interest. For instance Arlequin loves Columbine who is also Pedrolino’s love interest. But their main function is to help the innamorati overcome obstacles to their marriage. This requires not only physical agility, but a cunning mind. Zanni have to devise stratagems.


Picasso’s Harlequins dress a little differently from earlier Harlequins. They often wear a collapsed ruff, mixing Pierrot and Harlequin characteristics. This cross-dressing adds piquancy to Picasso’s art. At times, Arlecchino can only be distinguished by his fallen ruff and slender figure.

A World View

In short, a world view is expressed in Picasso’s Harlequins. His Harlequins are consistent with one another. Picasso’s Harlequins do not cry. But they are very human, not marionettes. And they have a family.


I am offering a very small sampling of Picasso’s Harlequins, but they are true representatives of Picasso’s Harlequins. By clicking on the titles of the various artwork, you will be provided with technical details.


Stravinsky’s ballet Petrushka (Ballets Russes; 1910-11) shows a somewhat clownish Harlequin-like figure, but it is not Harlequin. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, writers, artists, composers found inspiration in their country’s folklore, which very often was shared by other nations and cultures.

Ballets Russes

Igor Stravinsky and Pablo Picasso were both commissioned to create ballets for Sergei Diaghilev using their respective talents. Picasso drew a number of costumes and designed sets. Both worked on the production of Pulcinella (Polichinelle; Ballets Russes, 1920). It was a Golden Age.

As for Picasso, he found much of his inspiration in the commedia dell’arte and in particular, in the Harlequin.

This is a humble offering.

My kindest regards to all of you.

Jorge Donn (25 February 1947 – 30 November 1992)

© Micheline Walker
July 3, 2014 




Arlecchino, Arlequin, Harlequin


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Pierrot and Harlequin, Mardi-Gras. 1888

Pierrot and Harlequin, Mardi Gras, by Paul Cézanne, 1888


Atellana comedy
Passion Plays

Arlecchino, as we know him, is a stock character dating back to seventeenth-century Commedia dell’arteHe also has origins in the atellana farce of Roman antiquity (4th century BCE). In fact, the use of stock characters is a feature of the atellana. Moreover Commedia dell’arte characters could be borrowed from commedia erudita. Molière‘s (1622 – 1673) Miser or L’Avare (1668) was borrowed from Plautus‘ (c. 254 – 184 BCE) Auluraria (The Pot of Gold).

However, in European countries, comedy has more immediate origins. It emerged as a brief mirthful form, a mere interlude, during lengthy medieval Passion PlaysMystery Plays and Miracle Plays. Passion Plays were extremely long, so interludes, comedy, were inserted between the “acts” to keep the audience entertained. These became popular and eventually secularized the religious plays. However, Passion Plays have not disappeared totally. For instance, the Oberammergau Passion Play (Bavaria) has been performed since 1634, keeping alive the birthplace of farces and tom-foolery.


Hellequin, Herla, Elking
Tirstano Martinelli, the first Harlequin
Zanni (servants)
British harlequinades (eighteenth-century)

It would appear that the commedia dell’arte’s Arlecchino (Harlequin) was also culled out of Passion Plays, where he was a devil: Hellequin, Herla, Erlking and other spellings and names. The origin of the name is attested by 11th-century chronicler Orderic Vitalis (1075 – c. 1142). The name Harlequin was picked up in France by Tristano Martinelli, the first actor to play Harlequin. (See Harlequin, Wikipedia.)[i] Tristano played the role of Harlequin from the 1580s until his death in 1630. At this point, Harlequin became a stock character, an archetype, in the Commedia dell’arte. Given that the success of the Commedia dell’arte performances depended on an actor’s skills, we can presume Tristano was a fine comedian.

Arlecchino (Arlequin, Harlequin) is a zanno, a servant whose function was called Sannio in the Atellana, Roman farcical comedies. There were many zanni, (Brighella, Pulchinello, Mezzetin, Truffadino, Beltrame, and others). Their role was to help the young lovers of comedy overcome obstacles to their marriage. This plot is consistent with the “all’s well that ends well” of all comedies. We have already met the blocking characters of the commedia dell’arte. Pantalone is the foremost. But his role may be played by Il Dottore, or Il Capitano, or some other figure. 

Although a zanno has the same function from play to play, as do blocking characters, the alazôn, zanni otherwise differ from one another. For instance, Arlecchino, a zanno, is different from Pierrot. Harlequin is not the growingly sadder clown of Romantic and pantomimic incarnations. He is not Jean-Gaspard Deburau‘s Battiste, nor is he Jean-Louis Barrault‘s Baptiste. He is the clever, nimble, but clownish zanno.

Harlequin’s Characteristics

Arlecchino is, in fact, the most astute and nimble of zanni or servants. He is an acrobat. This is one of his main attributes. Moreover, he wears a costume of his own, another distinguishing factor.

At first, the Harlequin wore a black half mask and a somewhat loose costume on which diamond-shaped coloured patches had been sewn. He would then wear a tight-fitting chequered costume mixing two or several colours. Paul Cézanne‘s (1839–1906) Harlequin is dressed in black and red, but Pablo Picasso changes the colours worn by his numerous Harlequins.

Harlequin leaning (Harlequin accoudé), by Picasso, 1901

Harlequin leaning (Harlequin accoudé), by Picasso, 1901

Les Deux Saltimbanques, Two Acrobats, by Picasso , 1901

Les Deux Saltimbanques (Two Acrobats), by Picasso, 1901

Arlequin’s Progress

the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in France 
I Gelosi

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Italians were very popular at the French court and so was Harlequin. As of 1570-71, Commedia dell’arte actors were summoned by the King of France to perform in royal residences. In 1577, the Italians were called to Blois by Henri III during an assembly of Parliament. The famous I Gelosi (The Jealous Ones; 1569-1604) “was the first troupe to be patronized by nobility: in 1574 and 1577 they performed for the king of France.” (See I Gelosi, Wikipedia.) La Commedia dell’arte most famous performers in seventeenth-century France were Isabella and Francesco Andreini. Isabella died in childbirth (1604), but her son’s troupe, the Compagnia dei Fedeli would be invited to perform at Louis XIII’s court.

In short, in the seventeenth century, Harlequin was in France. In fact, at one point, les Italiens shared quarters with Molière at the Petit-Bourbon, a theatre. Matters changed in 1697, when the commedia performed a “fausse prude” (false prude) scenario that offended Madame de Maintenon (27 November 1635 – 15 April 1719), Louis XIV‘s second wife. In French seventeenth-century representations, Pierrot loved Columbine who loved Harlequin (Arlecchino).

Commedia dell’arte troupe, probably depicting Isabella Andreini and the Compagnia dei Gelosi, oil painting by unknown artist, c. 1580; in the Musée Carnavalet, Paris

Commedia dell’arte troupe, probably depicting Isabella Andreini and the Compagnia dei Gelosi, oil painting by unknown artist, c. 1580; in the Musée Carnavalet, Paris (Photo credit: Britannica)


British Harlequinades: Pantomime & Slapstick

Pulcinella (Polichinelle, Punchinella)
“Punch and Judy”
a new scenario

In eighteenth-century Britain, John Rich[ii] (1682 – 26 November 1761, the son of one of the owners of Drury Lane Theatre and the founder of Covent Garden Theatre (Royal Opera House) performed the above-mentioned harlequinades in which “he combined a classical fable with a grotesque story in Commedia dell’arte style involving Harlequin and his beloved Columbine.”[iii] In Britain, harlequinades, became “that part of a pantomime in which the Harlequin and clown play the principal parts.”[iv] Harlequinades also contained a Transformation Scene.[v] Associated with the British Harlequin are pantomime, slapstick comedy and puppetry. Yet, this British Harlequin is rooted in the sixteenth-century Commedia dell’arte. It seems that the best of these English clowns was played by Joseph Grimaldi (18 December 1778 – 31 May 1837).

However, British harlequinades also featured Pulcinella who originated in the seventeenth-century Commedia dell’arte but had roots in Atellana comedy and was a stock character in Neapolitan puppetry. Given his ancestry, Pulcinella could and did inspire Mister Punch of “Punch and Judy,” a puppet show. (See Harlequin, Wikipedia.)

British harlequinades differ from continental versions of Arlequin (FR) or Arlecchino.

“First, instead of being a rogue, Harlequin became the central figure and romantic lead. Secondly, the characters did not speak; this was because of the large number of French performers who played in London, following the suppression of unlicensed theatres in Paris.” (See Harlequin, Wikipedia.)

It seems harlequinades were played in “Italian Night Scenes,” following a main and serious performance. In their scenario, “Italian Night Scenes” focused on Harlequin who loved Columbine but was opposed by a greedy Pantalone, Columbine’s father. Pantalone would chase the young lovers “in league with the mischievous Clown; and the servant, Pierrot, usually involving chaotic chase scenes with a policeman.” Moreover the “night scenes” started to grow longer to the detriment of the previous performance. (See Harlequinade, Wikipedia.)

In other words, in Britain, Harlequin out-clowned Pierrot. As for Pulcinella, although he had appeared, he could not out-clown Harlequin. Furthermore Pulcinella grew into Punch (Punchinella) and, as mentioned above, he migrated to the land of puppetry. But above all, British harlequinades were hilarious: genuine slapstick. Moreover they were pantomimic as would be Jean-Gaspard Debureau‘s (Battiste) as well as Jean-Louis Barrault‘s (Baptiste). Baptiste is nimble and precise, but in England, the chaotic “chase” had begun. The last harlequinade was played in 1939.

The Ballets Russes, Stravinsky, Picasso

Sergei Diaghilev‘s enormously successful Ballets Russes were inspired by the commedia dell’arte.  Diaghilev commissioned a ballet version of Pulcinella, composed by Igor Stravinsky and choreographed by Russian-born Léonide Massine. Furthermore, Pablo Picasso, who had already painted characters from the Commedia dell’arte, Harlequin in particular, designed the original costumes and sets for the ballet (1920).

Harlequin and other members of the Commedia are associated with Pierre de Marivaux (4 February 1688 – 12 February 1763). Marivaux wrote many plays for the Comédie-Française and the Comédie-Italienne. But we are skipping Marivaux’s polished Arlequin because the discussion would be too long and too complex. We will instead look at images, Picasso’s in particular, and provide the names of innamorati, lazzi and zanni, but that will be my last post on the Commedia dell’ arte itself.  

My best regards to all of you.



Sources and Resources


[i] “Arlecchino,” Phyliss Hartnoll, ed. The Oxford Companion to the Theatre, 3rd edition (Oxford University Press, 1967 [1951])

[ii] “John Rich”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 28 Jun. 2014

[iii] Oxford English Dictionary

[iv] Early Pantomime (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

[v] The “batte,” Harlequin’s stick, became a magic wand used by a fairy to effect a change of scenery or transform the characters. It is called “trickwork.”

“commedia erudita”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 29 Jun. 2014

“Compagnia dei Gelosi”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 28 Jun. 2014

“Harlequin”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 28 Jun. 2014

“Passion play”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 28 Jun. 2014

Seated Fat Clown, by Pablo Picasso, 1905

Seated Fat Clown, by Pablo Picasso, 1905

Arlequin et Colombine

Arlequin et Colombine

© Micheline Walker
June 30, 2014

Leo Rauth’s “fin de siècle” Pierrot


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Pierrot et Colombine, by Leo Rauth

Pierrot et Colombine, by Leo Rauth, 1911 postcard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bal masque, Leo Rauth

Bal masqué, Leo Rauth (1911) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Leo Rauth’s Pierrot

Leo Rauth’s depictions of Pierrot are rooted in the Fête galante of eighteenth-century France. He is loved by Colombine and he has a floured face. He is a smidgen decadent and his costume, flowing, not baggy. This is a sign of the times. Rauth was a fin de siècle (end of century) artist and very much an aesthete. He produced stylized and very thin figures.

A “ Fin de Siècle ” Pierrot

According to Britannica, the fin de siècle was characterized by “sophistication, escapism, extreme aestheticism, world-weariness, and fashionable despair.”[i] In other words, the “mal du siècle” had survived under such headings as “world-weariness” and “fashionable despair.” However, the Pierrot had acquired new facets. He was sophisticated and elegant. Symbolism had changed him. Leo Rauth’s Pierrot is both a sad and polished Pierrot, a “dandy,” and, perhaps, a salonnier.

Jean-Gaspard Deburau (31 July 1796 – 17 June 1846) gave Pierrot his “Janus-faced aspect. (See Pedrolino, Wikipedia.) He made him into a sad clown. However, under his loose-fitting clothes, his impeccably starched ruff and his pompoms, Rauth’s Pierrot, formerly a zannia servant, had been transformed into a man-about-town, which does not preclude sadness. Rauth would bestow “fashionable despair” upon his Pierrot.

But the Pierrot is the Pierrot. We have read the scenario. His Columbine, featured at the top of this post, seems to love him. She is dancing with him. But Columbine loves the nimble Harlequin.

So, it was all a masquerade and the topsy-turvy world of the Roman Saturnalia and the Carnival season. On Shrove Tuesday, the bal masqué would end, but as depicted by Jean-Léon Gérôme (11 May 1824 – Paris, 10 January 1904), the end would not necessarily be consistent with the conventions of comedy. Gérôme’s (c. 1857-59) painting shows Pierrot wounded and perhaps dying after fighting a duel. On the right side of the painting, we see Harlequin walking away. He appears to be supporting another figure, which is confusing.

The Duel after the Masquerade, by Jean-Léon Gerome (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Duel after the Masquerade, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An Early Death

Leo Rauth (18 July 1884 – 9 January 1913) was born in Leipzig and studied art in Karlsruhe, Berlin, Vienna, Paris and Venice. His art made him an overnight celebrity. He had obviously been influenced by Jean-Antoine Watteau (baptised 10 October 1684 – 18 July 1721) whose “best known subjects were drawn from the world of Italian comedy and ballet,” as would also be the case with Leo Rauth’s Pierrot. (See Watteau, Wikipedia.)

Leo Rauth died of a pistol shot at the age of 29. News of his premature death after a dizzying three-year career sent shock waves through artistic circles. He had chosen useful art and seemed destined for a brilliant career.

Rauth died, but the Pierrot survived. In 1913, Sergei Diaghilev‘s Ballets Russes were in Paris and Pierrot was on stage dancing, not far from Harlequin and Columbine. Moreover, a young Picasso was working for the Ballets Russes. Picasso would also remember the stock characters of the commedia dell’arte. However, he would choose Harlequin as a major subject matter. Could it be the cubes? We will see…

My best regards to everyone.


[i] “fin de siècle”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 26 Jun. 2014

Ballet Russes, by August Macke, 1912 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ballet Russes, by August Macke, 1912 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ein gern gesehener Gast (A Welcome Guest), 1912

Ein gern gesehener Gast (A Welcome Guest), by Leo Rauth, 1912 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Im Rampenlicht (In the Limelight), by Leo Rauth

Im Rampenlicht (In the Limelight), by Leo Rauth, 1911 (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Arnold Schoenberg (13 September 1874 – 13 July 1951) composed a Pierrot Lunaire (Op.11) using his twelve-tone technique. If you click on Arnold Schoenberg, you might hear an excerpt from Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. Pierrot is moonstruck.

The video I have embedded is the “Clair de lune” from Debussy‘s Suite bergamasque. The pianist is Claude Helffer (18 June 1922 – 27 October 2004).

Vow of love, 1911 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Vow of love, 1911 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
© Micheline Walker
June 26, 2014
 (Please click on the image to enlarge it.)




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