“Lynne Lawner’s extraordinary volume Harlequin on the Moon rescues commedia from the picturesque purgatory of romantic fantasy and restores its characters to the lascivious, sensual, grotesque, cruel, absurd and dangerously political terrain where they have always thrived.
Lawner has achieved this welcome resurrection by presenting the creatures of commedia in the full glory of their visual history. She has assembled a fascinating collection of sketches, engravings, paintings and photographs that put Harlequin and his compatriots in the kaleidoscopic context imagined by artists from Giandomenico Tiepolo and Jacques Callot to Edward Hopper and Julie Taymor.
Lawner’s lushly illustrated book is full of images that invite the reader to reassess the meaning of theatrical clowning on almost every page. Her choices are inspired and her captions are full of delightful details. Instead of writing a traditional book of theatre history or theory, Lawner has put together a text that brings commedia to life in a structure that is analogous to its performance. Sometimes the flashy illustrations overwhelm the narrative, like a strutting Columbina. At other times factual details elicit a silent gasp of astonishment, like the entertaining monologues of the doddering Dottore. And for variety of tone, Lawner includes excerpts from historic documents that provide useful background information.
The laws of gender, logic, and biology are shattered…Like a ribald commedia performance, Lawner’s book is full of comic lazzi, physical bits of highly theatrical actions invented by the actors to enliven their performance. The volume’s best illustrations capture these lazzi on the page in a way that gives the illusion of comedy…Lawner’s writing clarifies the political as well as the artistic dimension of Harlequin’s heritage. …Harlequin on the Moon shows the characters of commedia with all their contradictions, warts, and unpredictability.”
Ron Jenkins, American Theatre Magazine, January 1999,
“Send in The Clowns: A Lush Illustrated History Resurrects Commedia”
“…fascinating collection of sketches, engravings, paintings and photographs…” — American Theatre
Commedia dell’Arte originated (probably) in sixteenth-century Italy, and has been around ever since. It has added characters and changed names with changing countries, but its basic pattern runs through painting, circus, all forms of theater, and on into cinema. It will probably reach outer space in time. The characters have become archetypes; their antics are infinitely variable, and their relationships fluid enough to give artists the to convert them into sad or merry symbols at will. Ms. Lawner’s history of the genre makes a pretty, amusing book that is also informative. — The Atlantic Monthly, Phoebe Lou Adams
The Commedia dell’Arte has a long history. Invented in the Renaissance as a popular entertainment, it has survived to the present day in experimental theatre and in Punch and Judy shows. The characters of Harlequin, Columbine and Pierrot have inspired artists from Tiepolo and Watteau to Picasso and Hockney, and composers from Schumann to Stravinsky. Playwrights have also been stimulated by these fanciful characters, including Shakespeare and Moliere. Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes created Petrushka and Parade – music by Satie, choregraphy by Massine – and Nijinksy danced harlequin in The Carnival in 1910. The curious interaction of the Commedia dell’Arte and the visual arts, the history of the whole strange concept and its lasting inspiration – ‘the first modern theatre’ – are closely studied in this copiously illustrated work. — Kirkus UK
“Eighteenth century marionette theatres showing Harlequin and his merry crew are rarities which frankly only turn up in the great auction houses. But in Harlequin on the Moon Lynne Lawner shows pictures of these miraculous things among 100 fine illustrations all of which present the many faces of Harlequin. For collectors, the wide-range covered by the author sets the mind reeling. Obviously, few readers will be able to afford an original Picasso painting of Harlequin – a figure he was very keen on and which he painted many times – but that matters very little since the excitement which runs like an electric pulse through this fine book shows Harlequin and friends in many different forms…. Harlequin on the Moon is so filled with inspiring things and images that it is hard to know which thing to linger over next.”
Birmingham Post, “Beauty that Lies in the Grotesque: Antiques Editor Richard Edmonds Unmasks a Wealth of Treasures”
Dancing Times magazine (UK), in March 1999 issue, describes Lynne Lawner’s Harlequin on the Moon as “erudite, but very accessible. The text is richly illustrated with varied visual imagery….This fascinating book is warmly recommended to all those who are interested in theatre and its history.”
Even if you don’t actually read Lynne Lawner’s fascinating study on commedia dell’arte, Harlequin on the Moon, there are enough pictures in this lavishly illustrated volume to keep your eyes engaged for weeks on end. The characters of Harlequin, Pierrot, and Columbina come alive in a generous helping of sketches, engravings, paintings, photographs, and film stills heretofore uncollected in such a comprehensive and enlightening way. From Tiepolo to Picasso, from Hopper to Hockney, from Nadar to Marcel Carné’s “Les Enfants du Paradis”, these stock figures have captured the imaginations of many artists. But do read the text, which bristles with fascinating information and insights. — Stagebill, February, 1999