Carnival in Italy: discover the most famous masks of the Italian tradition!

The main traditional Italian masks. With a small concession to the sins of gluttony!

Carnival in Italy: discover the most famous masks of the Italian tradition!

Date of publication: 15/02/2017

Ready to celebrate Italian carnival? Every region has its own traditions and masks. Do you know how they came about? Almost all of them are from the Commedia dell’Arte!

The Commedia dell’Arte brought the extraordinary ability of Italian actors to the whole of Europe from the sixteenth century: this was a new way of interpreting theatre, founded on irreverent humour and on the ability of the companies to act without a fixed script. Each actor improvised their own part, following a simple plot that provided only a framework for the scene. It is from the performances of these actors that the masks were born: Harlequin, Pulcinella, Colombina and all the others!

Italian carnival: the most famous masks

Veneto, the house of Colombina and Pantaloon

Colombina e Pantalone, maschere del Veneto

These Venetian masks were born in the sixteenth century. Pantaloon represents a merchant who is attached to money and is always in search of romantic adventures. Colombina is his servant, often the object of unwanted attentions. Pantaloon and Colombina were often the protagonists of three-character scenes, along with Harlequin as the third wheel: this cunning servant was jealous of the attentions of Pantaloon, being himself more or less secretly in love with Colombina!

Both characters are distinguished by sixteenth-century costumes – opulent for Pantaloon, more commonplace for Colombina.

The wines of Pantaloon and Colombina

For Pantaloon an austere Merlot Cabernet Veneto 2015 “Collection”: structured, full, with an important body, a truly aristocratic wine! Colombina, on the other hand, warrants a Prosecco: sparkling, cheerful, difficult to pin down with a definition. Energy in its pure form, just like the shrewd Colombina!

Lombardy, where Harlequin is king

Arlecchino, i colori della Lombardia

The character of Harlequin derives from the Zanni character of the Commedia dell’Arte: a sly and determined character, impossible to control. The astute servant of a thousand masters, at times an accomplice in their wrongdoings, at times an adversary in amorous disputes. The character of Harlequin originates in Bergamo: it seems that his multi-coloured costume was born out of necessity. The mother of Harlequin did not have enough fabric to create a costume for carnival; so as not to disappoint her son, she sewed together pieces of fabric creating the multi-coloured outfit that everybody recognises!

The wine of Harlequin

For Harlequin let’s uncork a Bonarda DOC 2015 Oltrepò Pavese “Etichetta Oro”: versatile like him, with the spirit of a hot-blooded peasant, suited to every meal and able to surprise with an unexpected zest.

Piedmont, Gianduja

Gianduja, simbolo del Piemonte

He represents the pragmatic character of the people of Piedmont: ready to have fun, but also ready to roll up his sleeves to get down to work. Unlike the other carnival characters, Gianduja - a contraction of Gioan dla Doja, Giovanni del Boccale, in Piedmontese - was born as a marionette in the late eighteenth century. Over the course of time he assumed a patriotic value, fighting without arms but with a sharp spirit to affirm the ideal of a united Italy.

The wine of Gianduja

Gianduja drinks the Dolcetto DOC Piemonte 2015, the truest expression of the land of Piedmont: an unmistakable protagonist of tradition! Excellent paired with pasta served with wild boar ragu. And to finish a meal rich in the perfumes of Piedmont, how can one resist the fragrance of the exceptionally sweet Paste di Meliga (Maize Macaroons)?

Emilia Romagna, at the court of Balanzone

Balanzone, il dotto fanfarone emiliano

The Bolognese Balanzone is always ready to talk: he is an old professor who is in love with his own voice, the protagonist of extremely long discourses full of citations and Latinisms (very often erroneous and farcical). He loves to give advice: especially when it isn’t asked for! His classic costume is a black toga, like the professors of the Bologna study: the mask that characterises him has a large nose and dark, thick eyebrows. He has all the credentials to become the quintessential pompous ass!

A wine for Balanzone

It can only be a Lambrusco! Ambassador for Emilia Romagna across the world, it is the most consumed sparkling red wine in Europe: ideal for watering down the pedantic character of our Balanzone, it has all the spirit of a land that gives a smile.

Campania, Pulcinella

Pulcinella, profumi di Campania

One of the most well-known masks in the world, Pulcinella appears in the first shows of the Commedia dell’Arte in the sixteenth century in Naples and had great success. By bringing his adventures to the whole of Italy, he ended up meeting Harlequin, who became his antagonist in some scenes. Pulcinella is shrewd and greedy, a rebel who will do anything to fill his stomach. His costume is extremely simple: white shirt and trousers, a black mask with an enormous nose and a white hat.

Something Mediterranean

Enchanting perfumes of the Mediterranean: tomatoes and basil, the fruits of a rich and marvellous earth. A classic pasta with a legendary condiment, or tantalising sundried tomatoes preserved in oil, with added capers for an even more characteristic taste.

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