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November 21, 2008

Mother and child with Harlequin


Who are these people? And what’s going on?

It was painted in the 18th century by an unknown Flemish painter.

Harlequin and his cohorts, Pantaloon and Columbine among them, were popular figures in the 18th Century, before Top of the Pops. They were part of a theatrical combo who worked under the rules of the Comedia dell’Arte, an Italian manifesto which aimed to bring the raunchiness back to the theatre which, by the 16th century, had become very formal and staid.

In some stories Columbina married Harlequin, and indeed this could be the case here ,judging by the progeny. Or could it be that the figure on the right is the husband and father, and Harlequin is the lover – or indeed the real father. I guess we’ll never know.

And what about the figure on the right? It looks almost like it could have been added at a later date.


Whoever painted this was still in the dark about proportions. It’s odd that for all the artist’s skill of looking and seeing and putting down a likeness they omitted to notice that a baby’s head is significantly larger, in proportion to its body, than that of an adult.

This was a trait often seen in the 13th and 14th Century, when artists still had to work out the intricacies of proportion and perspective.


Madonna and child, Giotto c1320, tempura on panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Posted by john at November 21, 2008 10:52 AM