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Commedia dell’ Arte

Gino Severini is an artist best remembered as a founding member of the Italian Futurist movement, although he donned numerous stylistic mantles during his long career. This ambitious eleven-color print reflects the neo-Cubism of Severini’s late career and the influence of Picasso’s 1921 Cubist masterpiece, Three Musicians, which includes three characters from the commedia dell’ arte theatrical tradition. Severini first turned to this theme around 1918, and it quickly became a staple of his artistic repertoire.

By the early twentieth century, commedia dell’ arte was experiencing a revival in ballets, plays, and vaudeville. After centuries as a popular entertainment, it had become a “classic” form of theater. Its roots, however, remained in street performances, which appealed to all classes. Itinerant actors and saltimbanques were embraced by avant-garde artists as cultural outsiders suffering for their art. The commedia dell’ arte characters, particularly the mischievous servants, or zanni, were seen as uninhibited, free spirits.

The graphic, instantly recognizable commedia costumes (particularly the diamond-shaped lozenges of the Harlequin’s suit) were the ideal foils for the fractured planes of Cubism, while the sense of mystery and fantasy of the masked characters fascinated the Surrealists.

Gino Severini
Italian, 1883–1966
Commedia dell’ Arte
Color lithograph on paper
Image: 25 3/4 x 20 in. (65.4 x 50.7 cm); sheet: 27 5/8 x 21 1/16 in. (70.1 x 53.4 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 68.176

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