MUSEUMS / Curator's choice: Theatre Museum

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The design for the costume is in pen, ink and watercolour and was for a grotesque gentleman in the French court ballet Ballet du Serieux et du Grotesque. It was performed at the court of King Louis XIII, who was a great supporter of, and participant in, court ballet. He actually danced in this particular ballet at the Louvre and the Hotel de Ville in February 1627, but I don't think he would have played this particular role.

In the 1620s these ballets tended to be either political or racy satirical works, based on the modes and manners of the time. This particular one was a satire distorting and exaggerating the everyday aspects of life.

Under the hat, with its blue brim and red ostrich feathers, the dancer's arms emerge as ears resting on the petals. The circular design at the top was probably a spyhole for the dancer. This illustration was fascinating for me because, when I held it up to the light, I could see another image of the same costume. When it was conserved and the backsheet removed, stuck on the back was another sheet showing the back side of the same costume and it was inscribed 'derriere du gentilhomme grotesque', which allowed us to attribute it to this particular ballet.

This illustration, part of a volume of about 200 designs, was discovered in 1986, in a private library in Germany. We managed to purchase about 60 of them and this is one of 22 from the ballet. The colours are very fresh and it's a kind of reference volume as costumes were always being changed.

Jim Fowler is deputy head of the Theatre Museum, Russell St, Covent Gdn, London WC2 (071-836 2330)

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