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Le maschere umbre della Commedia dell'Arte

Carnival masks

Carnival celebrations, where the everyday gives way to fun and role transgression, have very ancient origins, possibly connected to the Latin Saturnalia held more than 2,000 years ago. Instead, the name seems to have been adopted in the Middle Ages from carnem levare (to take off the flesh) to mark the beginning of Lent on its last day. Masks and costumes appear much later, between the 15th and 16th centuries, to emphasize the festive and sparkling character of the period.

In Umbria, parades of floats and festivals are organized in various towns and villages, probably the oldest being the Carnival of Sant'Eraclio, Foligno, begun in 1542 by the Olivetan Friars of Mormonzone. A people's festival that contrasted with those organized by the nobles of the area.

Also in the sixteenth century some masks appear:



The most famous mask of the Umbrian territory has the name Bartoccio. First appearing in a text from 1521, he is an icon of the city of Perugia and represents the classic burlesque villain, well-to-do but crude, very convivial and with a distinct dialect accent. Dressed in a purple vest under a green jacket, black or brown velvet pants, smart shoes and hat, he is distinguished by his bartocciate: irreverent satires against everything that does not work in the city. Every year at Carnival, he triumphantly enters Perugia from Porta San Pietro with his wife Rosa aboard a decorated ox-drawn float and parades down Corso Vannucci: he plays, dances and sings, observing what is happening in the city's world and throwing sheets with his biting complaints into the crowd.

"Who is dead? Nasotorto! And who accompanied him? Nasoacciaccato! And who rings the bell? Chicchirichella !"

From this nursery rhyme, four Commedia dell'Arte masks were born thanks to the initiative and creativity of artist Oliverio Piacenti of Avigliano Umbro, who listened to these verses repeated by his mother since childhood.


Nasoacciaccato is the mask of the Rione Sant'Egidio: a no-nonsense, no-nonsense but also all-around hero. Sometimes quarrelsome, he is definitely a free spirit, cunning and affable. He is recognizable because he never separates himself from his cane, where he keeps his bundle, a typical large dark plaid peasant's handkerchief, hanging, where he encloses all his possessions. He is always looking for someone to cheat or perhaps wandering around with his friend and love rival Chicchirichella.


Representing the Castelluzzo Ward of Avigliano Umbro is Chicchirichella, an exuberant, creative and fun-loving vagabond, but so lazy that he fails to make full use of his qualities and potential. He lives on free emotions, unable to take responsibility to the fullest. The hallmark of this eccentric character is a feather tucked into his hat ready to write his music just when inspiration surprises him, bewitching every passerby with his morning lute and song.


Dividing the two friends and rivals, Nasoacciacato and Chicchiarella, is Rosalinda, the archetype of princesses and inspired by a person who really existed in Avigliano, in the district of Pian dell'Ara. Anyone who meets her on the street could fall hopelessly in love with her. Stalwart, free, sensitive, in her blue dresses she is bewitching and charming with her fan that she always carries. She is perpetually undecided between her suitors, Chicchirichella and Nasoacciaccato, as she awaits the inheritance of Nasotorto, her distant relative.


From the Rione della Madonna delle Grazie originates Nasostorto: a very rich man, but so stingy that he even forgoes heating, finding himself always running around chilled. never separating himself from his black woolen tasseled hat and his large white lace handkerchief. A hypochondriac, sometimes Machiavellian and even a bit unsociable, Nasotorto certainly is not great company: if you are naive, he takes advantage of you; if you are a liar, he doesn't flinch; if he comes close, money is involved. Money he administers so well, he jealously guards it in the purse he always carries.




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