The name of our company, Pulcinella Press,
derives from Fred Marcellino’s fondness for Commedia dell’Arte, the form of “street theatre” associated primarily with the Italian Renaissance. As an avid ballet-goer, he was enchanted by Pulcinella,
a work choreographed for The New York City Ballet by George Balanchine. Marcellino often depicted Commedia stock characters in his album covers, book jackets and children’s book illustrations. In fact, our logo is a silhouetted version of the suspected villain appearing as a jack-in-the box in The Steadfast Tin Soldier.
The artist chose to dress this character in the traditional costume of Pulcinella.
Commedia dell’Arte was based on the interaction of stock characters which originated in the streets and marketplaces of Italy in the early 15th century. Its roots can be traced back to Ancient Greece and Rome. Groups of actors, acrobats and mimes performed improvisational skits for the general amusement, sometimes forming troupes which in later years traveled throughout Europe. Some of the figures in the Commedia tradition are Arlechino (Harlequin), Colombina and Pantalone. Many dramatists, notably Goldoni and Moliere, incorporated Commedia plot lines into their work, and artists like Watteau, Cezanne and Picasso repeatedly painted the characters.
Within the colorful Commedia universe, Pulcinella was an oddly endearing character in spite of his many flaws. His first name means “little chicken” in Italian, while Cetrulo, his rarely used second name, means “stupid.” Scholars claim that his personna is the most ancient of the entire Commedia cast. In Renaissance street pageantry, Pulcinella was the burlesque representative of the working class of Naples, identified by his long, baggy white blouse with a leather belt at the waist, and his white sugar-loaf hat. He was known as Polichinelle in France, Petrushka in Russia, and Punch in England. His body-language featured a low-to-the-ground stride, which could erupt into surprisingly acrobatic tours-de-force, while his verbal expressions were largely confined to chicken-like squawks and high-pitched peeps. Pulcinella has been described as being “either stupid pretending to be clever, or clever pretending to be stupid.”
Some of the Commedia plot lines featuring Pulcinella can be easily recognized in twentieth-century humor, most notably in the work of Charlie Chaplin and The Marx Brothers. Pulcinella tries to start a fight, then refuses to follow through when seriously threatened. He pretends to be a doctor, then injures the patient far beyond his original complaint. He solicits the services of a prostitute, then tries to renegotiate her price down to a penny. Innumerable humorists and clowns have derived skits from this fund of material for centuries.
At the end of his life, Fred Marcellino was engaged in the creation of a sequel to his best-selling children’s book, I, Crocodile.
The action of the new story was to take place in Venice during Carnivale, affording him an opportunity to combine his beloved crocodile character with Venetian imagery. Ever since his year in that fabled city as a young Fulbright scholar, its rich visual history had remained a focal point for much of his work. He was particularly delighted to have the chance to explore Commedia dell’Arte costumery. Sadly, he died having completed only half of the illustrations planned.