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Commedia dell'Arte figurine

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Italy (probably Northern Italian, made)

  • Date:

    late 19th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (makers)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Lead-glazed earthenware

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John James

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This figurine of Columbine 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 slapstick 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.

Columbina, as she was called in Italy, was the lady's maid who became known as Columbine in France and England. In her native country she had gone by other names including Franceschina, Smeraldina, Oliva, Nespola, Spinetta, Ricciolina, Corallina, Diamantina and Lisetta. Her relationship with Harlequin was the central romantic interest in Commedia plays, which show Columbine in love with the rascally Harlequin, though she is always aware of his faults and makes attempts to change him. Columbine's costume was originally designed as a counterpart to Harlequin's, the material a patchwork of multi-coloured diamond shapes, but here she wears a more traditional bodice and skirt.

Physical description

Ceramic figurine of the Commedia dell'Arte 'Columbine', painted in underglaze colours. She wears a black mask, a black and yellow tricorn hat, a white low cut blouse, a black bodice, a pink skirt with magenta peplum and floral decoration, a white apron, white tights and black buckled shoes. She 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.

Place of Origin

Italy (probably Northern Italian, made)


late 19th century (made)


Unknown (makers)

Materials and Techniques

Lead-glazed earthenware

Marks and inscriptions

Yellow mark inside


Height: 19.3 cm maximum, Width: 8.0 cm maximum, Depth: 10.0 cm maximum, Width: 9.0 cm maximum of base, Depth: 8.7 cm maximum depth of base, Height: 4.2 cm maximum height of base

Descriptive line

Figurine of the Commedia dell'Arte character Columbine, lead-glazed earthenware, Northern Italian, late 19th century


Earthenware; Lead glaze


Moulding; Firing (heating); Painting; Glazing (coating)


Entertainment & Leisure; Figures & Decorative ceramics; Ceramics


Theatre and Performance Collection

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