Storia delle Maschere di Carnevale

The History of Harlequin

Arlecchino 1 Ciminaghi

It seems that the oldest carnival mask is Harlequin. From Bergamo, soon became the Venetian mask par excellence thanks to Carlo Goldoni, who turned in his comedy ” Harlequin, Servant of Two Masters,” a servant stupid to a smart, mischievous and winning person almost diabolical .. Therefore linked to its origin.


The root of the Harlequin’s name comes from Germany:”Hölle König,” translated into “Helleking”, then “Harlequin” that mean “King of Hell.”

The Harlequin mask originated from the fusion of two traditions: the “fiendish popular characters traditional French” on the one hand, and the “Zanni” from Bergamo other.
For the agricultural rituals, as early as the twelfth century, Orderico Vitale in his “Ecclesiastical History” tells of a “familia Herlechini”, a procession of dead souls guided by this demon / giant.
A demon still better known by a name that closely resembles that of Harlequin was the ‘”Alichino” Dante’s Inferno that appears as the head of a group diabolical.
Even in Roman pagan it was believed throughout the central and northern Europe that in the “dark” period (winter) of the year and during special holidays, such as Walpurgis Night, a Wild Hunt composed of spirits of the dead, ran for heaven and on earth, headed by a pantheon of gods according to the place. This Wild Hunt later became the host of restless dead (the “damned”) under Christianity. The names are numerous to describe this ride scary. Initially, Hellequins – or Herlequins – were the women who rode with the goddess of death, Hel, during night hunts. But passing in French culture, Hel became a man, the king Herla or Herlequin, a nature spirit masked, inherited from the Italian “Commedia dell’Arte”, that retain only the appearance of the costume of the character.

Over time, in fact, the appearance and meaning demonic become less and less important, and the Zanni Harlequin becomes a little ‘clumsy, almost sounded: “Son Arlechin batòcio, orbo de na recia e sordo de un’ocio” (understood as batocio clapper of the bell), sometimes clever, sometimes silly. Harlequin character is thus a direct descendant of Zanni (Zanni, as Zuan, is a version of the Venetian name Gianni) from which it inherits the demonic mask (though often mask Zanni was represented white) and the tunic large farmer’s from Venice and Bergamo.

The Harlequin ‘s “theatrical career” was founded in the mid sixteenth century with the actor from Bergamo Alberto Naselli (or perhaps Alberto Gavazzi) known as “Zan Ganassa” who  brought the “Commedia dell’Arte” in Spain and France.
Among the Italian masks, Harlequin is certainly the best known and popular. He has an extravagant and reckless character. He invents tricks and jokes against the greedy and stingy bosses of which is at the service, but did not give a fine. Harlequin is not stupid, maybe a bit ‘naive, sometimes maybe a little’ silly, but full of fantasy and imagination. Certainly he is not made for the job. Harlequin is the nicest of all the masks. Even today, from theater stages to the carnival, he captivates and entertains audiences of children and beyond.


His famous and traditional costume is composed of a black mask and a dress made of shiny and bright multicolored patches.
A legend explains what is the origin of the colored Harlequin’s dress. It is said that Harlequin was a child who was part of a very poor family. On the occasion of Carnival in school, the teacher decided to organize a party, to which, however, the child was the only one not able to participate because he could not afford a costume appropriate.  His classmates came to his help moved by solidarity. They led to the mother of Harlequin a piece of cloth of her dress. With all those little pieces, the poor child’s mother made a dress original, which was characterized by its many shades. Harlequin was the most admired kid on the feast day of Carnival.

In the collective imagination Harlequin is Carnival. The colors of his costume reminiscent the confetti that invade the sky in the carnival days. I like to imagine Harlequin that run between a street and the other in Venice.  Maybe he is a bit clumsy and awkward, but always cheerful. We are all a bit Harlequin in our heart and maybe that’s why we love so much this mask.

By Giorgia Zatta

Sources: ;


Le manifestazioni potrebbero subire cambiamenti, pertanto vi consigliamo di verificare l’evento contattando direttamente gli enti organizzatori. non è responsabile di eventuali modifiche delle date dei singoli eventi.

Categorie Notizie