Let us pretend that we are going to the theatre!
We are, however not going to see a modern production with a mean few people in the cast, pared down scenery and costumes that might have been borrowed from a second hand shop. Oh no…we are going to the 17th century theatre!
This means that we shall have wonderful scenery, hand painted onto canvas that will unfurl with bright realism, from the ceiling; we shall have actors- and now that new fangled thing the actress! in costumes ( don’t look too closely though ) that will sparkle with jewels, froth with lace and positively dazzle with colour and texture!
And we shall have a plot that will twist and turn, stand on its head and will require many costume and scene changes, that will need fantastical effects like thunderstorms, Goddesses descending on clouds and people turning into animals.
Sounds rather like a pantomime doesn’t it?
Well of course this is where the pantomime came from ( but that is another story ).
Our performance will also need quite a few actors…crowd scenes, soldiers in regiments, nymphs and satyrs in The Gods’ train…..but hold on….isn’t this all rather labour intensive?
Ah…no…you see, a lot of the figures that you encounter won’t be drawing wages from the Company pay chest. No indeed, many of them are flat!
They are dummy board figures.
There are a few figures in the private theatre at the Chateau de Malle near Paris which were made in the early 18th century for that very place. They comprise ladies and gentleman in the finest costume of the age, in wigs and steinkirks ( cravats), panniered manteaux( frocks to us) and Fontange headdresses, ( towering confections of lace and ribbon ) and a few strange figures of little boys dressed as Pantomine characters.
These would have been placed at the back of the stage when the plot required a crowd, in the action. It didn’t matter that they didn’t move. The spectacle was all.
Some of this type of figure have managed to escape the theatre and we now find them for sale in antique shops and in collections in museums and Country Houses. They look a bit lost really…poor things. …divorced from the stage, they are a trifle, exaggerated and unreal. Just like the plays they were employed to decorate, really.
I have painted a few of them as miniatures as they are so bright and cheerful. Below is a selection of the figures from the Chateau de Malle, some of which have now gone to good homes! But maybe not as salubrious as their original one! Do think about giving a mini dummy board a good home. They take up very little room and are cheap to keep!
Note the similarity to the small children we have seen in a previous post- A Bit on the Side
These figures are not much larger and were made at roughly the same time.
Height of fashion of course!
These little figures would be wonderful additions to the miniature theatre either as extras or as figures in an audience. Equally well they would be just as at home in the dolls house or roombox as decorative firescreens ( for the summer grate remember)…or as little folk, peeping round a door or from behind a curtain. They can be purchased from www.pastmastery.com