This house, that according to an age-old tradition is Harlequin’s, testifies an important cultural and historical heritage. It was built in the fifteenth century and was situated in a privileged position in the medieval suburb of Oneta (San Giovanni Bianco), in this way every strategic control over movements in the ancient “Via Mercatorum” was possible. This fact made it extremely important for the whole fifteenth century at least, when, before the Priula road was created, there were no other ways of communication between Bergamo and the bottom of the valley. Anyway the great importance of the house was due to the fact that it was the original house of the powerful family of Gratarolis. Already in the XV century this family had great riches in Venice thank to its most eneterprising members who ha emigrated there to work as artists and craftsmen. The owners lived far away from the native suburb but the house in Oneta di Arlecchino was the symbol of the power they had acquired and of the ambition which spurred them on further social targets. The decoration of the noble “camera picta” situated at the first floor of the house, seemed to have the same function. There the frescoes of the late XV century (maybe made by the Baschenis from Averara) show the famous gestures of the Gratarolis, especially in the allegory of a ritual knight tourney. Around them, as if they were complaint and submissive spectators, there are the heraldic symbols of the most important families of Brembana Valley.
The themes drawn from the popular religion as the Lord, the Saints and the Madonna give a sacred character to the investiture that aims at consolidating the autocratic protagonism of the Gratarolis. This is naturally furher evidence of the fact that here the Gratarolis were the lords (XV century). It is therefore interesting to look into the tradition which dates back Harlequin’s origin in Brembana Valley to this same period. One must bear in mind that Harlequin, a mad and clumsy character, is “servant” on the stage as the people of high Brembana Valley were servants in reality. At that time, the people living in the Venetian capital used to do the most humble and tiring labours. For example the societes of “Porters” (porters and dockers) and the more famous societies of “Post Couriers” belong to this time and to these places. It’s fairly probable that the Gratarolis, who lived in Venice, had servants coming from Brembana Valley so that the latter could take care of the properties the Gratarolis had in Oneta (San Giovanni Bianco).
One can therefore suppose that just one of these servants, endowed with a particular “vis comica” could have represented on the stage what he was in reality but in a clumsier manner. The “comedy of art”, at that time very popular in fairs and aquares, used to represent popular and sarcastic themes withius using written tests; on the contrary the sources were simples plots, even in form of drafts. The characters enriched them using their sudden inspiration. In this way the repertory of the “comedy of art” was open to continuous enrichments meeting the audience’s tastes.
In this context Harlequin’s interpretation, enriched by a licentious and sharp comic spirit which did not outrage the Venetian pide, was well accepted. It even elevated a secondary mask to the role of the main character. The supposition is even more fascinating if one thinks that just in the second half of the sixteenth century, after his first brilliant appearances in Italy at the courts of the Gonzagas and the Estensis, a centain Alberto Ganassa, coming from the area of Bergamo, became the most contended actor representing Harlequin. He was invited by the kings of France (Charles IX and Caterina dè Medici) and of Spain (Philip II). The Ganassa (Arlecchino) really lived in our suburbs and neither they were rich or noble since their family name appeared in sale notarial acts only in the witness list. Even if all these singns do not contradict but give value to the assumption of tradition, they certainly are fragmentary and cannot be considered as irrefutable evidences. The truth contained in every old tradition aims at backing the popular voice according to which Harlequin’s origins to be found in Oneta. Moreover Harlequin’s personality slips to every attempt of historical identification and takes an affable universal comic spirit.