Carnival: the ten Italian traditional masks

Carnival: the ten Italian traditional masks

What could be better than a handful of confetti and a colorful mask to ward off the cold and darkness of winter? Carnival is one of the most loved festivals by young and old alike all over the world. Masks are the main characters and in Italy they have been used in plays and festivals since prehistoric times. Each Region of Italy has his typical mask, created for the puppet theater or for the Italian “Commedia dell’Arte” – a form of Italian theatre of the 16th century – or conceived as a symbol of celebration.

Italian traditional masks carnival

Italian traditional masks

Here are the ten most popular Italian masks:
1) Arlecchino: Arlecchino, one of the most popular Italian masks, is native to Bergamo, in the Region of Lombardy. Arlecchino is a character of the “Commedia dell’Arte”, and has been inspired by a farmer on one hand, and by the French medieval devil Hellequin on the other. Legend has it, however, that Arlecchino is so poor that his friends during Carnival usually give him pieces of their costumes: this is the reason why he has a colorful dress.

2) Pulcinella: The mask of Pulcinella, officially created by the actor Silvio Fiorillo in the Sixteenth century, was inspired by Maccus, a servant of the “Antellanae” a popular show in the Ancient Rome. Maccus had a big nose and a wide white shirt. Pulcinella is the symbol of opposites coexistence: he is both a liar and altruist, lazy and ready for anything to satisfy his constant hunger, he is a poor servant and also a fighter in the struggle for a better life.


Pulcinella [Photo credits giullong]

3) Pantalone: Pantalone represents the typical Venetian merchant of the 1500’s and he is part of the Venetian theatrical and artistic scene. He is old and mean and he wears a long black chimere and red tights.

4) Colombina: Colombina is another Venetian mask of the ”Commedia dell’Arte”. She is a servant, Arlecchino’s wife, and often becomes the focus of her master Pantalone’s attentions. She doesn’t wear a mask, she wears a headset and a blue and white striped dress, a white apron and red stockings.

5) Burlamacco: He is the symbol of the Carnival of Viareggio, and he has been created by Umberto Bonetti, an artist of Viareggio, as a set of typical elements of the Italian Commedia dell’Arte’s masks: a checkered suit that comes from Arlecchino, a pom-pom such such as Pierrot, a wide ruff that comes from Captain Spaventa, a red hat as Rugantino and a black cloak such as Baldanzone. His name comes from the “Burlamacca”, a canal running through Viareggio.


Burlamacco [Photo credits Marcello Alinari]

6) Capitan Spaventa: Capitan Spaventa is an Eleventh century traditional Italian mask. He has a yellow and orange striped dress, a broad hat decorated with colored feathers, boots and a long sword. It ‘a reckless swordsman, and he usually teases the other officials.

7) Balanzone: Born in Bologna, he is a boaster and know-it-all doctor. Dressed in black with the uniform of the University of Bologna’s professors, he usually gives advices to other masks.

8) Pierrot: The original name of this mask is “Pedrolino”, and he is one of the servants of the “Commedia dell’Arte”. Later the character became part of French theatre companies with the name of Pierrot. Here, he left the playful personality to meet the French taste, becoming a melancholy and sad mime who falls in love with the moon.



9) Rugantino: Rugantino is a character in the popular Roman theater, and his name comes from the dialect word “ruganza” (arrogance). He is young, arrogant and provocative, and is dressed as a policeman even though it is actually the bandits leader.
10) Brighella: Brighella comes from Bergamo too, he has no scruples, is sly and liar, and is the head of servants but also does many other dishonest jobs. He wears a jacket and a pair of trousers decorated with green gallons, green shoes with black pom-poms, a white and green cloak, black mask and hat. He is often the antagonist of Arlecchino.