The masks of Venice
Masks were often used to protect gamblers from giving away indiscrete looks, especially to avoid their creditors, or by "barnaboti" noblemen who went banrupt, begging on street corners.
The history of masks
The mask in the city of Venice
has ancient origins and was used for many months of the year. Masks were
allowed from the day after Christmas, which marked the beginning of the
Venetian Carnival, to Shrove Tuesday which marked its end, but were forbidden
during religious feasts.
As well as during the Carnival period, Venetians wore masks during the fortnight of the Ascension, and ended up wearing it, with a few exceptions, half-way through June. During all major events, such as official banquets or other celebrations of the Serenissima Republic, was permitted to wear a mask and a cloak.
From the early 14th century, new restrictive laws
started to be promulgated by the Venice Government, to stop the
relentless moral decline of the Venetian people.
This carnival legislation proscribed masqueraders at night, forbade men from entering convents dressed as women to commit "multas inhonestates" and forbade masqueraders from carrying arms or entering churches.
To restore morality in Venice and to avoid the incentive of immoral behavior of its citizens, the Republic obliged them to wear a mask only during the days of carnival and at official banquets.
Masks were produced for centuries
in Venice and
were made from papier-mâché, in many different colors and styles and decorated
with fur, fabric, gems, or ribbons.
The use of masks by both Venetians and foreign visitors during Carnival, created a demand for masks and consequently contributed to the evolution of the figure of the mask-makers, registered artisans who created and sold masks in papier maché.
The traditional Venetian masks
Another traditional mask was the moretta, an oval mask of black velvet with a veil that was usually worn by women visiting convents and was attached to the woman's face thanks to a button held between the teeth.
The Mattacino is another typical mask of Venice. He is a sort of clown, dressed in white or multi-colored, famous for firing "perfumed eggs" from slingshots to the people who was passing in the street.
But the mask found its official consecration in the theatres: with the 16th century theatre, and later with the most famous Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni, some of the most popular characters of the commedia dell'arte, the italian popular form of improvisational theater, also called "comedy of humors", became actual stereotypes, perfectly reflecting Venetian society.
Between the primary Commedia dell'Arte characters we find Pantalone, the rich and miserly merchant, Arlecchino, a funny peasant and illiterate character, acrobat and clown, always dressed with a colorful clothing, Colombina, the maidservant and eternal lover of Arlecchino, and Pulcinella, another comic servant character, as Arlecchino, typical of Naples.
Nowadays Venetian masks
re-emerged as the emblem of the Venice Carnival and most of them are made in gesso
with a gold leaf and are all hand-painted or decorated with natural feathers
and gems. During the modern Carnival Saint Mark's Square and
the other main campi of Venice
become the perfect stages for those who wish to be, at least for a few hours a
year, protagonists of another life. In fact, during the last days of
teems with people wearing all kind of masks and disguises, happily invading
streets and squares in search of fun: it’s possible to meet every kind of
costume, from the 18th century noblewomen, to the most inventive and creative
personalised modern costumes.
by Roberta Nalesso