The nature of the buffone

Writing during the latter part of the European jester’s heyday, Giulio Landi (1498-1579) defined the buffone as one without limits to their laughter.  It is an interesting definition of fools, complemented by others both more and less favourable.  See, for example, two earlier Italian writers, the poet Ariosto, and Tommaso Garzoni.  

Il buffone è quello, che nelle cose ridicole e gioconde eccede i termini la ragione, e nel dirle, e nell’ascoltarle: costui non ha osservatione alcuna delle persone ne del tempo, ne del luogo, ne del motteggiare, ne di qual si voglia circospettione sopra le cose ridicole, dicedole, o ascoltadole: percioche il buffo ne cosi nelle cose gravi, e severe, come nelle ridicole, ride, e sforzasi di far ridere, e sempre si studia di eccitar’altrui le risa, come egli le ha sempre nelle labra.


… one who in things that are ridiculous and pleasurable exceeds reason, both in saying and in hearing them.  He has not respect at all either for the person, the time or the saying, nor for when it is appropriate to cease ridiculous things, either saying them or hearing them. Thus the buffone, even in serious and grave matters, as in the silliest, always laughs and tries to get others to laugh, and he always studies how to raise laughter in others, just as he has one always at his lips.


Source: Giulio Landi (1498-1579), Le attioni morali (Venice: Gabriel Giolito de’ Ferrari, 1564), p. 402, translated in Evelyn Welch, ‘Painting as performance in the Italian Renaissance court’, in Campbell, Stephen J. ed., Artists at Court: Image-making and Identity 1300-1550 (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 2015), p. 29.


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