Commedia dell'Arte

Commedia dell'Arte

Made for the Stage

Johann Joachim Kaendler (1706-1775), Peter Reinicke (1715-1768), Johann Friedrich Eberlein (1696-1749) and Friedrich Elias Meyer (1723-1785) created entire ensembles in porcelain over the decades. The actors’ theatrical gestures and postures, expressive facials and gaily coloured costumes over tight-fitting breeches accorded particularly well with Kaendler’s interest in flowing figurines. But it wasn’t the travelling troupe themselves who served as the models for his porcelain sculptures. As was usual at the time, he had recourse to etchings by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), Jacques Callot (1592-1635) and others as his graphic sources.


The general enthusiasm for Commedia dell’Arte had long since faded by the time Kaendler created these twelve figurines in the early 1770s. That he nevertheless returned to the theme indicates just how fascinated he was by this type of acting. And as a group they are well-nigh ideal prototypes for collectors’ items stripped of all courtly connotations as a means of acquiring new custom from the aspiring wealthy middle classes.

In a departure from the Commedia dell’Arte figurines such as Harlequin and Columbine he had modelled in 1745, the new group is no longer in the skittishly flowing formal idiom of the Rococo but betrays elements of the now ascendant classicism. Kaendler places his actors on a square pedestal whose sides he embellishes with a moulded band of plain design. His work reports indicate that he sought in this way to align himself with the newly predominant classicist approach to art, which he saw as being a return to Classical Antiquity. He repeatedly uses the term “antique”, notably when describing the design of pedestals, clothing and the bearing of figurines. The sense of flow was much reduced in these later works, Kaendler dispensing with complex contortions and expansive gestures in favour of enclosing outlines.

These Commedia dell’Arte characters are readily identifiable nonetheless – theatre cognoscenti are not the only ones who would be glad to offer the ensemble a stage in their own four walls, thus emulating Baron Kaspar Joachim von Utz, the protagonist in the novel “Utz” by Bruce Chatwin. He regularly directed his Commedia dell’Arte figurines in stage performances in his flat in Prague. Peter Strang impressively captured the gist of the book with his figurine  of “The Collector” – an act of lasting testimony to “Utz”.