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 Pierrot is a stock character of the sad clown.  Illustration: La Fleur du marécage (1885) by Odilon Redon
Pierrot is a stock character of the sad clown.
Illustration: La Fleur du marécage (1885) by Odilon Redon

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

Pierrot is a stock character of pantomime and Commedia dell'Arte whose origins are in the late seventeenth-century Italian troupe of players performing in Paris and known as the Comédie-Italienne; the name is a hypocorism of Pierre (Peter), via the suffix -ot. His character in postmodern popular culture—in poetry, fiction, the visual arts, as well as works for the stage, screen, and concert hall—is that of the sad clown, pining for love of Columbine, who usually breaks his heart and leaves him for Harlequin. Performing unmasked, with a whitened face, he wears a loose white blouse with large buttons and wide white pantaloons. Sometimes he appears with a frilled collaret and a hat, usually with a close-fitting crown and wide round brim, more rarely with a conical shape like a dunce's cap. But most frequently, since his reincarnation under Jean-Gaspard Deburau, he wears neither collar nor hat, only a black skullcap. The defining characteristic of Pierrot is his naïveté: he is seen as a fool, always the butt of pranks, yet nonetheless trusting. cl It was a generally buffoonish Pierrot that held the European stage for the first two centuries of his history. And yet early signs of a respectful, even sympathetic attitude toward the character appeared in the plays of Jean-François Regnard and in the paintings of Antoine Watteau, an attitude that would deepen in the nineteenth century, after the Romantics claimed the figure as their own. For Jules Janin and Théophile Gautier, Pierrot was not a fool but an avatar of the post-Revolutionary People, struggling, sometimes tragically, to secure a place in the bourgeois world. And subsequent artistic/cultural movements found him equally amenable to their cause: the Decadents turned him, like themselves, into a disillusioned disciple of Schopenhauer, a foe of Woman and of callow idealism; the Symbolists saw him as a lonely fellow-sufferer, crucified upon the rood of soulful sensitivity, his only friend the distant moon; the Modernists converted him into a Whistlerian subject for canvases devoted to form and color and line. In short, Pierrot became an alter-ego of the artist, specifically of the famously alienated artist of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His physical insularity; his poignant lapses into mutism, the legacy of the great mime Deburau; his white face and costume, suggesting not only innocence but the pallor of the dead; his often frustrated pursuit of Columbine, coupled with his never-to-be vanquished unworldly naïveté—all conspired to lift him out of the circumscribed world of the Commedia dell'Arte and into the larger realm of myth. Much of that mythic quality still adheres to the "sad clown" of the postmodern era.


Pierrot in poetry

And lo, in that dawn he was pierroting over,
Swinging in spirals round the fresh breasts of day.

From the posthumously published poem "The Moth That God Made Blind" by Hart Crane.

  • The american poet Ralph Chaplin wrote a series of poems collectively titled "Maybe Pierrot", in which Pierrot is used to symbolize an idealistic artist unable to fight the world's injustices.

Pierrot in classical music

  • The second part of the piano composition Carnaval written by Robert Schumann.

Pierrot in popular culture

  • American filmmaker Kenneth Anger features Pierrot in his film Rabbit's Moon.
  • Leo Sayer dressed as Pierrot on tour following the release of his first album, Silverbird.
  • The Japanese pop band Berryz Koubou's song "Kokuhaku no Funsui Hiroba" features the lyric "I am Pierrot" in reference to a girl who has just confessed her love and, having not yet received an answer, imagines the worse.
  • Novembre, a progressive metal band from Italy, has a song called "Comme Pierrot" ("Like Pierrot") on the Novembrine Waltz album.
  • Los Hermanos, a rock band from Brazil, has a song called "Pierrot" on the debut album, Los Hermanos.
  • Brindis por Pierrot (Cheers for Pierrot) is an album of the Uruguayan songwriter/singer Jaime Ross.
  • The song "The Carnival Is Over" by Australian band The Seekers features the lines "But the joys of love are fleeting / For Pierrot and Columbine."
  • Indie rock band Placebo's album Meds contains a track called "Pierrot the Clown", including the lyrics "I'll be wallowing in sorrow/Wearing a frown, like Pierrot the clown".
  • Rintaro's segment of the anime triptych Neo-Tokyo ("Labyrinth") features a somewhat sinister clown who resembles some representations of Pierrot.
  • Neil Gaiman's short story "Harlequin Valentine" features a Pierrot or "Petey" character.
  • Pierrot was a Japanese rock band active from 1994-2006.
  • Japanese musician Közi often wore a pierrot costume while a member of the visual rock band MALICE MIZER
  • Argentinean band Sui Generis mentions Pierrot in their song "Gaby"
  • "Like A Pierrot" is a unicycle challenge course on the popular Japanese show Unbeatable Banzuke. It should be noted that a word for clown in Japanese is "pierrot," and this Pierrot reference is more likely to a regular circus clown than a Commedia Del'Arte Pierrot figure.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Pierrot" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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