Antoine Watteau's The Italian Comedians presents fifteen figures arranged on stone steps and dressed in costumes typical of the commedia dell'arte theater. The Italian comedians were extremely popular performers whose fame rested on the audience's recognition of stock characters. Their plays were often greatly exaggerated by pantomime, gesture, and innuendo. Pierrot, dressed in shimmering white satin, stands in the center of the composition. Pierrot was a naive clown whose declarations of love were rejected by Flaminia, the heroine, placed to his left. Other well–known characters are Scaramouche, dressed in yellow and black, whose sweeping arm gesture presents Pierrot to the audience; on the left are Mezzetin, another clown who flirts with Sylvia, the ingénue, and Harlequin, the adventurer, shown with a black face in his red and green diamond–cut costume.
The garland of flowers in the foreground steps suggests the actors are taking a bow after their performance; however the members united here were probably Watteau's own invention, and connected to a specific play or troupe. This tension between illusion and reality is typical of Watteau and influenced a generation of his followers to explore the relationships between painting and theater.