Carnevale of Schignano: the “Bei” and the “Brut”

Bello of Schignano

One of the “bei” or “mascarun” at Schignano. Their swollen bellies – a clear sign of weath and well-being – and extravagant demeanor exemplifies those who made their fortune. Above their smooth masks, they wear a hat which is densely covered with flowers, ribbons, a feather and a small doll or toys.

Schignano, Como – in this mountain village high above the lake, two protagonists – i Bei (the beautiful) and i Brut (the ugly) – perform a theatrical display in which its origins are buried deep within history. The carved wooden masks (typically out of walnut and made by local craftsmen) of the bei and brut symbolize the disparity between the two opposites where it concerns wealth, success or beauty.

Schignano’s carnevale involves a time in the past when emigration by the men was an occurrence like the coming of seasons. While Carnevale marked the end of the old year, it also brought promise of the new one when the males left for far away places in search of work. Those who met with success are seen in the faces of the bei/belli, while the ones who lucked out are depicted in the brut/brutti.

Carnevale dei Belli e dei Brutti (bei e brut) – more at flickr

WHERE: Schignano in Val d’Intelvi (piazza S. Giovanni) – about 17 miles north of Como.
WHEN: On the Saturday and Shrove/Fat Tuesday just before Ash Wednesday.

The masks of Schignano
The wooden masks: I wish I could have tried them on but I was too shy to ask! Handsome bello (left) and ugly brutto (right) were hanging above the stand where mulled wine was being sold. It was the best we’ve tasted in all our travels. They had that sugar/clove/wine ratio just right.

Brut with an empty suitcase
Brut: there was a bunch of them, pulling pranks to onlookers (they’ll grab your hat or even grab you!). Some carried empty flasks (a gesture of self-consolation), while others toted a “gerla”, the type of shoulder basket used by grape harvesters. These are the unfortunate ones, the men who didn’t quite make it out there and returned with nothing (as depicted by this brut with an empty suitcase). In contrast to the arrogant behavior of the bei, the brut carried an air of melancholy and despair. I actually thought something was wrong with one of them when I was snapping an image but he was just playing the role!

Che diavolo vuoi?!?!
Again, one of the brut. This guy looks as if he’s saying, ‘What do you want? I have nothing!’ Note that some of them also had horns on their caps.

Bello and Brutto in Schignano
The antagonism between the beautiful and the ugly: Here, several of them were chasing each other around in circles. Both characters have cow bells strapped to their waists but the brutti wore especially enormous ones. The whole scene was a riot of noise, confetti and a thousand shutters firing all at once.

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