Sometimes he’s more than one, he’s two. He plays two roles, sometimes for two masters: in 1748, Carlo Goldoni published Il servitore di due padroni (Servant of Two Masters). Sometimes simple-minded and uncouth, Harlequin metamorphoses, is tamed, betters himself, bedecks himself. Marivaux describes Arlequin poli par l’amour (Harlequin, refined by love, 1720) as crafty and thieving: he robs the Fairy who loves him of her wand and marries Silvia, a shepherdess.
Harlequin is a smuggler, a bootlegger. He crosses boundaries, from backstage to front of stage, from hell to earth. He’s a nomad, roaming all over the place.
According to some historians of masked balls, in tales and mystery plays in the 11th century, the devil was referred to as Harlequin, Herlequin or Hellequin – a demon from Hell. Wild Hunts, familiar throughout Europe, tore through the forests and air like demons: the Ankin Hunt (Maine), the Hannequin Hunt (Anjou), the Hennequin Hunt (Normandy), the Helquin Hunt (Anjou), the Hèletchien Hunt (Lower Normandy), the Mesnie Helquin or Herlequin (Normandy). They traversed clouds amid long, piercing cries, accompanied by winged dogs, sometimes fetching the dying or damned… The word may also be derived from Erlenkönig (Alder King), a sprite from German mythology, or perhaps “hoelenkind”, a hell-child. In Dante’s Inferno(Canto XXX) we encounter the devil Alichino.
Harlequin’s face is sometimes blackened with soot. He’s sometimes seen sporting a black leather or velvet mask, at times with two small, triangular, pointed horns, with his mouth in a sulk, slightly voluptuous and ironic.
According to Jean Starobinski (Portrait de l’artiste en saltimbanque, Skira, 1970), Picasso and Apollinaire’s harlequins (and later, those by Olga Luna) were linked to the kingdom of the dead. Picasso’s Harlequin’s Death (1905) depicts a harlequin holding a skull. Harlequins were similar to Mercury, the god who could cross over to the other world, who conducted souls in underground places, who taught the secrets of alchemy, who stole and lied, craftily, inventing weights and measures of certain musical instruments.
Writing on Picasso’s work in 1905, Guillaume Apollinaire said “harlequins live in tatters while paint gathers up, warms or whitens its colours.” For him, these androgynous harlequins “match the splendour of women; they resemble them, neither male nor female.” In his collection of poems entitled Alcools(1913), Apollinaire dedicates “Crépuscule” to the painter Marie Laurencin. He links nudity, death and water: “Brushed by the shadows of the dead / On the grass where day expires / Columbine stripped bare admires / Her body in the pond instead.” He unites strength and melancholy: “The dwarf observes with saddened pose / How Harlequin magically grows” (translated by A.S.Kline). Picasso depicts the lozenges, at times somewhat faded, of Harlequin’s costume given by Cocteau.
In Fêtes galantes (1869), Verlaine evokes Harlequin as a sardonic seducer: “That scoundrel Harlequin has seen / To the kidnapping of Columbine / And pirouettes four times.” Or else he writes “And then Harlequin / That scoundrel of sin / Fantastic, / Mad-costumed so, / His eyes a-glow, / Can’t mask it” (translated by A.S.Kline).
One of Olga Luna’s works is a vast wall of faces made of red clay or black ashes – an entire surface of worried and worrying heads, a parapet of travelling souls. And their eyes glow.
Olga Luna also paints, folds and sculpts lozenges, stars, triangles, prisms, crystal shapes and diamond tips. Harlequin’s costume and soul vary, and are gaudy and colourful. They are the very emblem of polychrome painting.
In a strange chiasmus of lines, passions and dreams cross paths, traverse one another, interlacing, weaving and conspiring.