Carnival tradition

The soul of the Viareggio Carnival consists of the massive constructions made of papier-mâché, the material with which Viareggio’s master builders created mind-blowing floats. These paper giants, more than 20 meters tall, defy the laws of physics with their size, amazing movements, and attention to detail. The art of papier-mâché, perfected in the cast-paper technique in 1925, is an incredibly versatile expressive craft that celebrates creativity and the reuse of materials.

The art of papier-mâché

All the news in the world ends up in Viareggio. Yes, because tons of newspaper sheets kneaded with the simplest and most natural glue, water and flour, are needed to make the giant floats

The raw material of the Viareggio Carnival floats is papier-mâché. Perfected by the painter and builder from Viareggio Antonio D’Arliano in 1925, it has allowed the creation of increasingly large yet lightweight works. Clay models, plaster casts, newspaper, and flour-and-water glue are the ingredients of the greatest show of its kind. The philosophy of recovery and recycling, through a unique manual technique, forms the basis of the event.

Papier-mâché floats: giants of the Carnival

Thanks to papier-mâché, the builders of Viareggio can create real traveling theaters. Over 20 meters high and12 meters wide, the floats are designed to amaze and engage the audience during parades. The scenic impact, the care in shaping and coloring, the music, the liveliness of the costumed figures on board, and the choreography and costumes, combined with the spectacular movements that defy the laws of physics, make these constructions unique spectacles.

The joyful papier-mâché machines are made by Viareggio’s Master builders: as many as 23 artisan companies, with hundreds of people at work. The magical place, the theater of this creativity, is the Citadel where the artists of the Carnival create the great allegorical floats that parade along the promenade during Carnival. Every year, at the end of the parades, a jury compiles the rankings.

The art of papier-mâché as an expression

This artisanal technique, also applied by artists in other sectors such as set design, furniture and objects, is easy to use and can be employed in schools, from kindergarten to high school, as an autonomous expressive language. It allows the combination of multiple themes, from concept design to the supporting structure, from clay modeling to plaster casting, from paper application to coloring.

The papier-mâché technique, in an increasingly computerized society, enhances creativity by favoring manual work and the use and recovery of a “disposable” material.

How to make papier-mâché and create a figure with it

Necessary materials

  • Gray and newspaper
  • Clay
  • Glue made from water and flour
  • Plaster
  • Reeds
  • Wood
  • Wire
  • Modeling sticks
  • Paint and brushes
  • Blades (plastic or metal)

How to make a papier-mâché sculpture

  1. First, conceive, draw, and color the subject of the sketch.
  2. Build the armature that will support the clay using reeds, wood, and wire.
  3. Cover the armature with clay that will be shaped by hand and with some simple tools (like sticks).
  4. Insert blades into the clay model that will allow the two molds to detach.
  5. Using a large brush, spray plaster over the clay model, covering it completely. When the plaster has dried, removing the blades will reveal two concave molds.
  6. Apply pieces of newspaper to the concave plaster mold obtained, making them adhere well. Continue overlaying alternating layers of gray and pink paper, brushing on flour paste. Repeat the process on the other concave mold.
  7. Allow the paper applied to the plaster molds to dry thoroughly. When the paper is completely dry and hardened, detach the coverings obtained from the plaster molds.
  8. Join the two parts obtained.
  9. At this point, Burlamacco’s recipe is complete, it just takes paint, brushes, and imagination to paint the carnival mask.
Burlamacco and Ondina

Burlamacco, the official mask of the Viareggio Carnival, first appeared on a 1931 poster created by artist Uberto Bonetti, painter, graphic artist and set designer. As the symbol of the Viareggio event, it is the latest addition to the traditional masks of the Commedia dell’Arte (Comedy Art).

How was Burlamacco born?

The chessboard clothes of the Harlequin, the black cloak of Doctor Balanzone, Pierrot’s pom-pom, Rugantino’s hat and Captain Spaventa’s ruff taken apart and reassembled according to the typical futurist interpretations, are the elements of Burlamacco’s costume and contain the essential and dynamic traits of avant-garde aesthetics: Uberto Bonetti, just twenty-one years old, created a synthesis of the most recognizable and interesting elements of the traditional Commedia dell’Arte masks, giving life to an immediately successful character.

Burlamacco was presented in 1939 during a party in Florence. On that occasion Bonetti gave the character his pseudonym ‘Burlamacco’. The name was liked and easily spread for its cultured and popular assonances that recalled:

  • Buffalmacco, a 14th century Florentine painter who in Giovanni Boccaccio’s novels made fun of the gullible and defended himself from the harassment of patrons with his pranks.
  • Burlamacca, the name of the emissary canal of Lake Massaciuccoli at the mouth of which the port and then the city of Viareggio arose; in turn, the watercourse was named after the noble Burlamacchi family from Lucca.


Ondina, a symbol of summer

Burlamacco’s first appearance was on the 1931 Carnival poster. In the image he arrives from the sea, walking on the parallel piers of Viareggio, at his side a bather named Ondina, a sunny image of the summer to be spent on Viareggio’s beaches. With a swimsuit typical of 1930s fashion, she is the emblem of the bathing season, of summer, of vacationing Viareggio.

Together the two figures are icons of the two seasons of the city of Viareggio: summer and Carnival.

Uberto Bonetti

A student at the Institute of Fine Arts in Lucca under Lorenzo Viani, Uberto Bonetti (1909-1993) mainly dedicated himself to graphics and painting, although his interests and collaborations extended to architecture, cinema and fashion. In the Versilia area frequented by many personalities of Italian culture, he met Luigi Pirandello, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Primo Conti, Krimer, Curzio Malaparte and many politicians, of whom he made caricatures.

He collaborated throughout his life with the Carnival and the Viareggio Literary Prize, remaining tied to intellectuals such as Riccardo Bacchelli, Alberto Moravia, Elsa Morante, Cesare Zavattini, Eugenio Montale, and Pier Paolo Pasolini.