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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Europe 1600-1815, Room 2a

Mask

1700-1725 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This moulded leather mask for the character of Pulcinella dates from the early 18th century and was used by an Italian Commedia dell'arte troupe. Pulcinella was traditionally a stupid servant, recognisable from his big beaky nose, hunchback and the wart on his forehead. The character developed in the 17th century, becoming more interesting and more diverse. By the time this mask was made, he was not necessarily a servant, but might be a peasant, a dentist, a physician, a painter or a soldier. The mask also changed. Whereas earlier versions had a moustache and beard hiding most of the actor's face, this is a half-mask. While some of the old Commedia dell'arte characters were adopted in England into a type of early pantomime called a 'harlequinade', Pulcinella was not. However he has survived in the UK in the form of Mr Punch in Punch and Judy shows.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
This mask was produced using a process of moulding leather known as ‘cuir bouilli’. By this process, tanned leather is soaked in water until it becomes highly pliable. The leather can then be moulded by hand in a press or over wooden forms. This mask would have been moulded over a wooden form. An example of such a wooden form (used to produce Harlequin masks) can be found in the collections of the Palais Galliera, in its Bibliothèque-musée de l'Opéra - MUSEE-34 (1).
Brief Description
Moulded leather mask, upper portion of a man's face with hooked nose, probably Pulcinella from Commedia dell'Arte, Italy, early 18th century
Physical Description
Moulded leather mask depicting the upper portion of a face with a distinctive protruding nose and a lump on the left temple. Two round eyeholes have been cut out of the leather and there is a tie attached to one side of the mask.
Dimensions
  • Height: 17.5cm (approximate maximum)
  • Width: 14cm (approximate maximum)
  • Depth: 13cm (approximate maximum)
Credit line
Given by Charles R Beard
Object history
In his article 'A "Pulcinella" Mask' (The Connoisseur, January 1930), the donor, Charles R. Beard describes the mask as 'recently acquired in London, but its earlier history is unknown.'



Another mask, taken from the same mould, was recorded as being in the Mariano Andreu Collection, where it is attributed as being for a Neopolitan Pulcinella but what evidence this is based upon is unknown.



The Palais Galliera holds two similarly-produced leather masks for the character of Harlequin (Arlequin) in its Bibliothèque-musée de l'Opéra. Numbers: BMO MUS 297 (2) & BMO MUSEE-35 (1) They also have the accompanying wooden mould used to produce one of the masks: MUSEE-34 (1). The workmanship of these masks is comparatively crude in comparison to the V&A's mask.
Subject depicted
Summary
This moulded leather mask for the character of Pulcinella dates from the early 18th century and was used by an Italian Commedia dell'arte troupe. Pulcinella was traditionally a stupid servant, recognisable from his big beaky nose, hunchback and the wart on his forehead. The character developed in the 17th century, becoming more interesting and more diverse. By the time this mask was made, he was not necessarily a servant, but might be a peasant, a dentist, a physician, a painter or a soldier. The mask also changed. Whereas earlier versions had a moustache and beard hiding most of the actor's face, this is a half-mask. While some of the old Commedia dell'arte characters were adopted in England into a type of early pantomime called a 'harlequinade', Pulcinella was not. However he has survived in the UK in the form of Mr Punch in Punch and Judy shows.
Bibliographic Reference
'A "Pulcinella" Mask', an article by the donor, Charles R. Beard, was published in The Connoisseur, January 1930.
Collection
Accession Number
W.60-1929

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record createdJuly 1, 2009
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