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The mask of Pulcinella

Pucinella is one of the most famous masks from Southern Italy.

It originated in the 17th century when it is recorded in many illustrations. Still some of these would seem to suggest it derives from the atellan tradition and specifically from characters such as Macco and Dosseno, with whom it shares a characteristic humpback, paunch and a touch of nastiness.

Pucinella’s costume recalls the one worn by the zanni. He wears a baggy white shirt gathered tightly into a black belt, which hangs over trousers that look ready to fall down at any moment. His is a clean-shaven, black mask, with tiny beady eyes and a hooked nose, which makes his voice shrill and squeaky. Some actors and puppeteers have used a particular instrument known as “sgherlo” or “pivetta” to produce this unusual voice. The hooked nose and voice, resembling a chick (in Italian “pulcino”), also seem to have influenced the choice of name.

The character belongs to the zanni group even if he is more complex. He is a stupid servant type but on occasion he possesses the common sense and intelligence of ordinary folk. He is a mixture of vitality and restlessness, sadness and a readiness to show his amazement when faced with anything new.

Traditionally Silvio Fiorillo, who lived in the second part of the 16th century and was a member of the Accesi troupe, invented this mask. Following Fiorillo, the next actor to play the part successfully was Antonio Petito (1822-‘76), who bestowed the character with greater psychological realism.

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