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Antoine Watteau - Gilles

von Alexandra Tuschka

The young man in the oversized suit looks sadly out of the screen. Isn't he supposed to be entertaining us? Why isn't he cracking a joke?

"Gilles" was the common name in France for a clown, a buffoon, probably named after the acrobat Gilles le Niais, who was famous in the 17th century. At the time of its creation, this character was linked to "Pierrot", the figure of the clueless fool, which is why the painting is also known by this alternative title. The latter belongs to the ancestral characters of the "comedia dell'arte", as do four others of the characters shown here: we can see the doctor on the donkey, the lovers Leandro and Isabella, and the captain. All are in the background and seem to be communicating with each other - not with Gilles but possibly through him.

The discrepancy between the assigned role of Kaspar and the real mood of the person is obvious. It has been discussed whether in the melancholic protagonist is meant a self-portrait of the painter, whether here is a portrait of a colleague or friend, or whether Gilles arose from the imagination and has a representative character. The elongated format is unusual for the painter.

It is conceivable that the work was intended to dress the notice board to a theater to whet the appetite for the actual play. However, it could also have served as an advertisement for the "parades" - short sketches before the actual play, in which a donkey, to underline Gilles' stupidity - was often led across the stage.

Antoine Watteau - Gilles

Oil on canvas, 1718 - 1720, 184.5 x 49.5 cm, Musée de Louvre in Paris


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