Pulcinella

 

Immediately after Arlecchino (the Harlequin), Pulcinella is among the most famous “masks” of the Commedia dell’Arte, and consequently of the traditional Italian carnival. The character’s origin is as muddled as it gets, but it probably appeared in an early form as early as the fourth century b.C. in burlesque stage plays in Imperial Rome.

The first role of Pulcinella was as a silly servant, but the current identity of the character was established by the actor Silvio Fiorillo in the early years of the XVI century, taking the inspiration for the name and the look from an obscure painting depicting a sunburnt farmer from Napoli named Puccio d’Aniello. Pulcinella took upon itself the traditional character of local peasants, lazy, hungry and downtrodden, yet ingenuous and always ready to laugh behind the backs of the powers that be. The modern Pulcinella mantains all of this, becoming the very symbol of Napoli. It is such a beloved character that the town in the early 1700s built a whole theatre just to stage Pulcinella plays. In fact, its local identity is so strong to overshadow its possibilities as a carnival mask: this is why you will be hard pressed to find this character in modern parades.