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A characteristic mask from Naples that identifies with the radiance and sympathy of Southern Italy, infusing joy with its vivacity and lightheartedness. It is interesting that this jolly, cheerful and slightly deceiving character entered into the heart of the great painter Giandomenico Tiepolo, who dedicated many frescoes to the individual.

A typical Campania mask whose origin seems to be linked to Atella, which was one of the oldest Oscan cities to have acquired the title of Roman civitas, and due to the Fabula Atellana (Atellan Farce)it is also considered one of the original sites of ancient theater. It is from precisely these areas that some subjects, whose names are often placed side by side with Pulcinella for their similarity to the mask, go back to: Maccus characterized by a nose in the form of a beak, Dossenus identified by an obvious hump, Bucco known for his huge mouth and finally Pappus known for his gluttony and indomitable hunger.

Pulcinella is the result of a combination of all these peculiarities. The origin of the name seems to derive from the ancient definition of a hooked nose pullus gallinaceus which makes him look like a chicken, a pullicino in Neapolitan dialect (pulcino in Italian meaning chick). Many consider Pulcinella the younger brother of Arlecchino (Harlequin), as both are descendants of the ancient peasant father Zani-Giuà, even if the Neapolitan mask turns out to be forty or fifty years younger than of the Venetian one.

The costume includes a white shirt worn over wide white trousers that are tied to the waist with lace or rope. The face is covered by a black mask that hides the forehead, nose and part of the cheeks; in spite of being covered, a gigantic curved nose and very small eyes are clearly visible, and a particularly shrill voice, defined as a brooding hen, recalls the cry of a chicken (and therefore by association of a chick).

This comic character embodies the joy of living with the a tendency to do nothing, inclined to spend the day earning a living thanks to his ability to improvise and be a jester, accompanied by a guitar or mandolin. He makes great use of gestures and mime, a bit like Arlecchino, and is very agile and acrobatic. In the Commedia dell'Arte this mask (whose creator seems to be the Neapolitan Silvio Fiorillo) partly originates from the figure of a former farmer who moved to the city to become a servant-laborer, with the characteristic face burnt by the sun (the black mask), although it also seems to belong to the "macabre dances" of the carnival parades.

Images gallery

Maschera Pulcinella.
Incisione tratta da Francesco Bertelli, Carnevale italiano mascherato, Venezia, 1642.

Published: Saturday, 02 March 2019 — Updated: Saturday, 02 March 2019