Virtual Children's Books Exhibits


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Magic Lantern

2.  Les bergamasques; ou Gilles et Arlequin gourmands.
Paris: Nepveu, 1820.

In this story, Harlequin, the famous commedia del'arte character, plays mischevous tricks on Gilles, his employer's nephew. One day Gilles, who wears the flowing white costume of Pierrot, another commedia del'arte character, goes outside to watch an itinerant Savoyard entertainer with a magic lantern. To Gilles' horror, his courtship of the beautiful Columbine is the show's subject. The projection on the wall depicts his rival Harlequin winning her hand (Harlequin is wearing the black mask and patchwork costume of multi-colored diamonds).

During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Savoyards with their hurdy-gurdies, peep-shows, and magic lanterns were familiar sights on the street. Their presentations were sometimes based on local happenings and gossip, so this episode in Les bergamasques is an early example of reality-based drama. Savoyards hailed from Savoie, the region in Southeastern France by the Swiss and Italian borders.

The tab on the right-hand side of the illustration, when pulled gently, changes the picture. It is an early example of a mechanical illustration in a children's book, which is also a charming specimen of the French paper engineer's art.