Casa Museo di Arlecchino – Oneta, Italy - Atlas Obscura

Casa Museo di Arlecchino (Harlequin) is located in four rooms of Palazzo Grataroli, a stately building dating back to the 14th century. The Grataroli family commissioned several frescoes to embellish the walls of their palace. Not all survived the test of time, but those that did survive are interesting, to say the least, and they can be found in the room called Camera Picta. 

The fresco that occupies the largest wall represents a jousting tournament in which the Grataroli family wins over rival families from the valley.  Patron saints venerated in the area can be recognized on the other walls of Camera Picta.  Of these, the fresco called “Martirio di San Simonino” (Martyrdom of Saint Simonino) is particularly gruesome, with open wounds covering the saint’s body, and blood spouting from the severed penis.

The most famous fresco in Palazzo Grataroli, however, is “Homo Selvadego” (Wild Man), depicting a muscular, hirsute man brandishing a gnarly club.  Above this primitive figure is a banner that reads, “Chi no è de chortesia, non intraghi inchasa mia. Se ge venes un poltro(n), ce darò col mio baston.” (“He who is not of courtesy, do not enter my house. If a lazybones comes here, I will beat him with my club.”) He was not erudite or sophisticated, but he was in touch with nature and embodied vitality and resilience. 

Although locally, Homo Selvadego was seen as someone to admire, urbanites perceived him as ignorant and rude, characteristics that were passed on to a mask called Zanni. With Commedia dell’Arte during the 16th century, Zanni underwent some rework. Toning down harshness and vulgarity, a new mask was born: Harlequin. The multicolored, patchworked costume that Harlequin is famous for also has roots in the more modest costume worn by Zanni, who was poor and had to patch up his white costume with whatever piece of fabric he managed to find.  These patches multiplied until Harlequin arrived on the scene with a costume entirely made of colorful patches. 

The museum has displays of wooden masks traditional of Commedia dell’Arte and several paintings and statuettes of Harlequin. At the back of Camera Picta is a living room furnished with traditional straw chairs in front of a fireplace, the mask of Harlequin on the mantel, and an antique costume sitting by the window. Reproductions of old prints hanging on the walls show Zanni in vulgar and embarrassing situations.

Know Before You Go

At the back of the museum, there's a restaurant that serves excellent traditional food and local wine.  Booking recommended.

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September 27, 2021

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