This seventeenth century finding shows Tristano Martinelli (Marcaria 1557, Mantova 1630) dressed up as Harlequin standing next to a mill, symbol of well being, a condition the character has painfully reached after a life of hard work. Martinelli is one of the most important protagonists of the Commedia dell’Arte.
He worked with companies, some of them patronised by the Duke of Mantua Vincenzo Gonzaga. According to twentieth century studies it was Martinelli who invented the character of Harlequin, by merging the popular character of Zanni, a silly servant who performed labour, from the tradition of Bergamo and Venice, with a more charming demon from North European tales. This demon, Herla or Herla King, is the leader of an infernal gang. Martinelli thus created the character of the wise servant, his costume made of multicoloured patches and a masque with animal-like features.Martinelli made Harlequin immortal in courts around Europe.