Balli di Sfessania  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Balli di Sfessania[1] (c. 1622) is an album of etchings by the French printmaker Jacques Callot. The large series depicts commedia dell'arte figures in a simple, caricature-like style. They were made in his years in Florence.

These prints celebrate Commedia dell'arte's blatant eroticism, with protruding phalli, spears posed with the anticipation of a comic ream, and grossly exaggerated masks that mix the bestial with human.

It was not long after this that [Callot] produced his fets of grotesques, the Balli (or dancers), the Gobbi (or hunchbacks), and the Beggars. The first of these sets, called in the title Balli, or Cucurucu consists of twenty-four small plates, each of them containing two comic characters in grotesque attitudes, with groups of smaller figures in the distance. Beneath the two prominent figures are their names, now unintelligible, but at that time no doubt well known on the comic stage at Florence. Thus, in the couple given in our cut No. 165, which is taken from the fourth plate of the series, the personage to the left is named Smaraolo Cornuto, which means fimply Smaraolo the cuckold; and the one on the right is called Ratfa di Boio. In the original the background is occupied by a street, full of spectators, looking on at a dance of pantaloons, round one who is mounted on stilts and playing on the tabour. --History of Caricature and Grotesque in Literature and Art

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