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Picturing a World

Nocturnal Commedia

Companies of traveling players performed Commedia dell'arte outdoors, a topic that can be explored from many angles—at what venues? to what sized audience? in what legal or illicit circumstances? What interests me most in Watteau's depiction of a troupe is the lighting by torch and moonlight. Remember Snout's question in A Midsummer Night's Dream, III, i: "Doth the moon shine that night we play our play?"

How much could be seen by how many spectators would vary immensely by how full the moon was on a given night, and whether the sky was clear. Torches would illuminate in a small area and add glaring, smoky focal points. But, oh, but what else could be going on off in the darkness—that's for the writer to visualize!


For a Watteau Abecedario for specialists, click here.


For more about Commedia dell'arte with images of paintings, prints, figurines, and photogrpahs, click here.


If you can find it, a fascinating book is Lynne Lawner, Harlequin on the Moon: Commedia dell'arte and the Visual Arts.


A final bonus tip: For you artists, Seven Tips for Painting Moonlight. The seventh—Trust your memory more than photos—it works for writers, too.

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