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Pulcinella
This is the Neapolitan Commedia dell'arte costume par excellence. It originates, despite opinions to the contrary, in Campania, the region whose capital is Naples, and which has a long comic tradition.

It was there, at Atella, in Roman times, that the farces with the earliest fixed character types were born, and it is from these, Maccus, Pappus, Bucco and Dossenus, that Pulcinella derives his character. He is often hunch-backed like Dossenus, with a beaked nose like Maecus, a gigantic mouth like Bucco and insatiably hungry like Pappus. These physical traits combine to make him look rather like a rooster (a hooked nose, in fact, was defined by the ancients as pullus gallinaceus) which does make one think that his name might have originated there, with pullicino, a dialect version o pulcino, the word for a chick.

Bragaglia, in his famous dissertation on the Neapolitan masked costumes, quotes a comic versifier who would have Pulcinella originate as a broken-down castrato (it was the era) who had been incubated by a hen. This, at least was how the "poet" explained away the associated dimness of Pulcinella. Often, though, his name is accompanied by another epithet, Cetrulo. This Neapolitan word actually means "cucumber" and cucumber-like colours are a part of this costume, bringing a clearly comic effect. With his big nose, his voice like a mother hen and his silly clowning, this failed charlatan, layabout, travelling player and acrobat appeared in many theatrical sketches and made the painter Giandomenico Tiepolo love him so much that he painted his portrait, or portraits galore, since Tiepolo painted them on all the walls and ceilings of Villa Zianigo. Today they can be seen in the Museum of the Eighteenth Century, Ca' Rezzonico, in Venice. Tiepolo's Pulcinella is rather more rapacious to look at, than we have described. His cap is in the form of a truncated cone, well starched, with a wide and flowing tunic in various shades of white, set against a background of joyful Venetian light. Venice, home of the ephimeral, must have had many a flesh and blood Pulcinella as guest, but the one documented visit took place in the year 1738.

In a strange manuscript to be seen today in the Querini Stampalia Library, there is a written plea from Pulcinella to the Doge, Marco Foscarini, who had banned all puppet shows from St. Mark's Square. Pulcinella sets aside his beloved Neapolitan and, in a parody of the Latin of a pettifogging lawyer, he pleads his case for these little wooden actors. We do not know the outcome of this respectful petition, but the`choice of advocate is a true witness to the great popularity that Pulcinella enjoyed even in Venice.

 
 
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