(Attributed to ) Nicolas Bollery
French, 1550-60/ 1630


SN 688, oil on canvas.
From "The Pages".

Born in Paris, son of the painter Jérôme Bollery, was married twice; There were 4 children from each marriage. His two nephews, Jean and Jacques Blanchard, were also successful artists, with Jacques serving as Nicolas’ apprentice for 5 years. He is thought to have been a representative of the 2nd School of Fontainebleau from 1600-1620.

Not much is known about this artist – even the spelling of his name varies. Sometimes it is “Baullery.” He is known to have collaborated with other artists, and he painted masquerades and festivals, but after 45 years of work, possibly 4 paintings and a few designs are known as his.

There has been controversy over the authorship of this painting because it overlaps several schools. It has been attributed to French, Flemish, even Italian artists. In 1998, however, Dr Mitchell Merling gave it to Bollery.

This is a stock scene from the Commedia dell’Arte. The lecherous character Pantalone followed the 2 young women, and is now paying the price: his pocket is being picked by a gypsy “fortune-teller,” who pretends to read his palm, while the other distracts him by playing with his false beard. The presence of the old procuress carrying a child (at left), identifies the young women as prostitutes. They wear distinctive hats known as “berns,” and which may also be seen in old books and engravings of c1565-1590, when gypsy subjects were popular throughout Europe. Berns were made from circles of thin wood, wrapped in yards of narrow cloth strips.

Mannerism remained the dominant style in France until the end of the 16th c., when a transitional phase – with its new note of naturalism, reflected here – took hold. In this example of early French Baroque, ¾-length figures seem very close to us as they loom out of their dark plain background. The light is soft and flattering, bringing out the instense color to highly decorative effect. The painting is similar in feeling to Vouet’s Mars and Venus, in that the figures look like a series of colored silhouettes.

The Commedia dell’Arte has fascinated audiences since its emergence in Italy in the 16th c. Numerous troupes of these highly professional actors roamed the countryside, and eventually nobility competed to become their patrons. Their popularity lasted through the 18th c, and their legacy is a lasting one. From Pantalone (who became Pantaloon) we take our word “pants.” From Harlequin’s batte we get our word “slapstick,” and “zany” comes directly from the Italian word “zanni,” which referred to the Commedia clowns. For 18th c. examples, check out the series in Gallery 16, The Disguises of Harlequin, by Ferretti.

Museum Label:
The Actors
c. 1595/1605

Artist: Attributed to Nicolas Bollery
French, c. 1560-1630

Oil on canvas, 46 9/16 x 58 1/4 in. (118.3 x 147.9 cm)

The Actors seems to be one of the earliest treatments of a major theme in 17th-century art, that of wily women duping an "innocent" man. In this painting, two gypsy women, recognized by their costumes, trick a theatrical buffoon, or zanni. One of the gypsies, wearing the garb of a prostitute, reaches for the purse of the actor while the other distracts him. The retinue of accomplishes also includes a procuress with a child. The theme of deceit became common in art and theatre during this period. It is best exemplified in famous paintings by Caravaggio and Georges de la Tour. While the artist of this painting is not known with certainty, the work is currently attributed to the late Mannerist artist Nicolas Bollery. He was described by his contemporaries as "an artist in Paris...painter of night scenes, animals, masquerades, Mardi-Gras, similar festivities...in somewhat the style of Bassano."

Museum purchase, 1955, SN688