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  • Writer's pictureRobin Yong

Pierrot in Love 戀愛中の皮埃羅



From his beginnings in stock comedies and pantomimes in the nineteenth century, Pierrot—the melancholic clown with the loose blouse and white face—emerged to become the embodiment of a particular strain of artistic sentiment: sensitive, melancholic, and fundamentally alone, playful and daring through the subversion of language while hinting at the delicate and facile nature of gender. Pierrot expresses himself slowly and subtly in the liminal space beyond words.


As a standard character, Pierrot may be traced back to Molière and Don Juan, also known as The Feast of the Stone. Molière played the part of Sganarelle at the play's debut performance in February 1660 at the Palais-Royal theater in Paris. A peasant figure named Pierrot makes an appearance in the play's second act as Charlotte's fiancé.

In 1637, Cardinal Richelieu founded the Palais-Royal theater, located in the east wing of the building. By 1662, an Italian commedia dell'arte troop was performing alongside Molière's acting company at the same location. Among them was Domenicio Biancolelli, who was already well-known for his roles as the erratic and humorous Harlequin.


The commedia dell'arte, which originated in Italy, was a popular kind of theater in seventeenth-century France. In reality, Sganarelle's persona was heavily influenced by Italian comedians. Because Molière and Biancolelli were working so closely together, the commedia dell'arte quickly adopted Pierrot into their repertory as a result of the interaction and cross-pollination between the troupes. When the Pierrot family was ordered to leave France in 1697, they had already made a name for themselves in the Italian comedic theater.


Pierrot therefore took on a second life in Italy, and returned to France anew when the Italian troupes were permitted to return to the country over the following decade. The figure started to emerge on stage in European cities outside of Italy and France during the eighteenth century, albeit frequently in small and somewhat different roles. He was usually presented as stupid and fumbling for comic effect, losing sight of the core of the character—his unfulfilled love for Columbine, who prefers Harlequin. Before Pierrot gained prominence and started to influence other artistic mediums, it was the 1800s. He became a symbol and muse for authors and painters.


Pierrot was usually portrayed as downhearted over his unrequited love for Columbine, but she in turn loved someone else, Harlequin. Both Pierrot and Harlequin competed for the love of Columbine, but her heart belonged to only one of them.

Pierrot's persona evolved from buffoonery to becoming an emblem of the disenfranchised. He was sympathetic to the causes of several cultural movements: Modernists transformed him into a silent, estranged observer of the secrets of human existence; Decadents transformed him into a disillusioned enemy of idealism; and Symbolists regarded him as a lone sufferer.


A Pierrette is, in the theatre, a female Pierrot.


This is a streetside portrait of Pierrot and Pierrette, taken on the busy streets of Venice during the Carnevale...

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