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Golden punchinelle, France 19th century
Inv. no. 0030
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Engraving, France c. 1650
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2014-10-17
Polichinelle rattle
Just like the Russian figure Petrushka,  the English Mr. Punch and the Dutch Jan Klaassen, this French Polichinelle was originally based on an Italian character: Pulcinella.
Pulcinella is a clumsy character from the Italian Commedia dell’Arte, a traditional form of theatre from the 17th and 18th century.  Travelling Italian puppeteers introduced Pulcinella all over Europe. It didn’t take long before the silly clown was also immensely popular outside Italy. Over time, many European countries developed their own Pulcinella, with their own distinct native characteristics.   
It’s quite easy to recognize the traditionally hunch-backed and hook-nosed Pulcinella in this French rattle. Most of the Punchinelle rattles known today were produced in France.  Here, ‘La comédie Italienne’ was an immensely popular form of political and social satire after the 17th century. In spite of this success, the Italian puppeteers were banned from France between 1697 en 1716 by Louis XIV, because he considered their shows too offensive.

The satirical Italian puppet theatre would remain popular in France all through the 19th century, with Punchinelle as its principal and most well-known character. It is therefore no coincidence that all the Punchinelle rattles from the Keijser Collection were produced in the 19th century. 

In these rattles Punchinelle wears the Napoleonic period tricorne hat, topped by a whistle. A connection can be made to French satire prints from this period, depicting emperor Napoleon III as Punchinelle.
Over the course of the 19th century, Punchinelle was gradually replaced by Guignol, a character that can be seen as his provincial but equally silly half-brother.

Sources:

Hersey, M., Collecting Baby Rattles and Teethers. Iola 1998: p. 105.
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/483732/puppetry/28726/Styles-of-puppet-theatre#ref398560
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/127742/commedia-dellarte
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/248602/Guignol

For more information:

See object descriptions Inv. Nrs.  0030, 0100 and 0101
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