TITLE: Commedia dell’Arte Brighella
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Europe
COUNTRY: Italy
ETHNICITY: Italian
DESCRIPTION: Brighella Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Commedia dell’Arte; Carnival
AGE: 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment; elastic strap

The Commedia dell’Arte was a form of public entertainment that succeeded the classical Roman theater in Italy.  Like classical theater, Commedia performers wore leather masks to represent stock characters and often performed in amphitheaters to large audiences.  However, the Commedia differed in having only a very basic plot sketch, with most of the lines invented extemporaneously by the actors.  The Commedia‘s ability to stay topical and its frequent resort to vulgar humor, combined with the considerable talent of Italian troupes that traveled throughout Europe, made this form of theater extremely popular throughout the early 17th to late 19th centuries. Masked actors had to compensate for their inability to convey facial emotion through posture, gesture, and vocal nuance.

Brighella was long among the most popular stock characters of the Commedia. Brighella was generally portrayed as an amoral opportunist. He could be a thief, a hustler, a jack-of-all-trades, and a layabout.  His mask was always represented with a cruel hooked nose or a slightly piggish rounded nose, and usually a beard and mustache.

This specific Brighella comes of unknown provenance. Based on its design, manufacture, and condition, it was probably made by a skilled Italian maker in the 1960s or 1970s.

To learn more about Commedia dell’Arte, see Pierre Louis Duchartre, The Italian Comedy (Dover Pubs., 1966).