Pantalone, The Venetian Carnival character


Pantalone is one of the most famous principal characters of Commedia dell’arte, and the Italian Carnival, but what are his origins, and what does he represent? The character was born in Venice around the first half of the sixteenth century and has origins in the Comedy of Professional Artists. Pantalone represented the typical greedy, lustful, old and avaricious merchant; it’s no wonder that his name has been traditionally given to males of the wealthy families in the Serenissima, the Republic of San Marco.


His origins go back a few centuries; he was already famous in 1568 thanks to its presence in a piece of artwork supposedly staged in the court of Bavaria. Pantalone believes that everything can be bought and sold. He loves money and spends his time chasing after young girls, and trying to marry off his daughter to a wealthy man. It was Carlo Goldoni who later toned down Pantalone’s comic aspect, turning him into a level-headed, conservative, wise old man, as seen in the comedies I rusteghi and Sior Todero brontolon.

The reasons for his name are uncertain: it’s thought that his name derives from the patron saint of Venice, Saint Pantaleon or from the expression “pianta-leone”, which refers to the act in which soldiers and rich Venetian merchants traditionally put up a flag featuring lions in every conquered or acquired territory. It has likewise been suggested that it could derive from the trousers he wore from the very beginning (in Italian, “pantaloni” right means trousers).

From the very beginning, his costume was made up of tight black trousers, a red waistcoat, slippers, a long loose black coat, a dark brown mask with a protruding hooked nose, a small sword and a bag containing money. The change in the color of his tights and/or cloak to black is supposedly considered as a sign of mourning when Negroponte was captured by the Turks from the Venetians. 


Characterized by an ungraceful build, his character derives from the figure of the Venetian merchant of the sixteenth century, as depicted in many Venetian, Reinassance Venetian paintings. Always loved and greatly appreciated in Venice, Pantalone represented business accumen and a flair for business, typical of the Venetian bourgeoisie who was starting to take on power during this time of change.

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