BRONZE. Height about 2 6/25 inches.
PLATE XIX.--No. 1.
GOOD in execution, this little bronze represents one of those buffoons whom the Latins called sanniones. Their occupation was to create laughter with the aid of pantomime. The present one is entirely nude, and displays a phallus of gigantic proportions. His bald and bearded head inclines above his right shoulder. He is making an expressive grimace, and carrying the fore finger of his left hand to his mouth. His other hand is closed, with the exception of the thumb, which is passed between the fore and middle finger. This indecent gesture is still in our own day called "making the fig." The expression is common in early every country of Europe. In England the phrase "don't care a fig" is well known, and Shakespeare speaks of the "Italian Ficco" more than once. Nurses now-a-days may often be seen threatening children with the sign, little thinking of the origin and true meaning of the symbol.
To Mercury was consecrated the first fig--and to Priapus the virginity of a young girl. Is this analogy the origin of the denomination given to this immodest gesture?
The ancient Southern peoples, and especially the Greeks, held pantomime in high esteem. The art was transmitted to the Romans, and perpetuated
through all the south of Europe; it is especially carried to a great point of perfection in Sicily and Naples. At Naples, the stage understands how to turn to profit the theory of the art of pantomime. The Neapolitan punchinello is entrusted with the principal part. This character, of which the type is the "laughing, censorship of manners," is of the greatest antiquity, and the little figure we are explaining may be considered as a veritable punchinello; for irk all times, and among all nations, persons have been found who, under the mask of buffoonery, have arrogated to themselves the right of saying anything and everything.
As for the particular and local character of the Neapolitan punchinello, his origin may be said to date from the middle ages. At the time when the House of Anjou occupied the throne, there was a French governor at Naples, of sombre and atrabilious mood. He had in his service a domestic born at Acerra, a little town situated on the western side of Mount Vesuvius, whose inhabitants still dress like the punchinello, that is to say, wearing a Calabrian hat of the shape of a sugar-loaf and without any brim, their only clothing being drawers of commodious width and a shirt above, bound round the loins in the form of a blouse.
This servant was called Paolo Ciniello. He was a buffoon, witty, gluttonous, and cowardly. His master was very fond of his repartees, which were full of naïveté, wit, and good sense. In moments of ill-humour he was in the habit of calling for him, and not being able to repeat his name except with great difficulty, he called him Poulchinelle, of which the Italians made Pulcinella.
No. 2, a little figure in bronze, found at Pompeii, is another mimic-buffoon who is balancing his head and arms with great nonchalance, after this manner of the Chinese pagods. His two forefingers are stretched out, and seem to form a pair of horns.