I was looking at centuries old traditional piece of art, piece of Venice. So many of them all in rich colors, designs and forms. I was dazzled, completely in awe handling them, trying to look through them. I am referring to the Venetian masks. Most of them were paper mache ones, very light to hold, some slightly heavier, some with long colorful feathers, there seemed to be no end to the creativity in these pieces, no repetition in looks.
The history of these Venetian masks is equally colorful. The earliest recorded use of these masks was in 1268 during the annual celebrations of victory of the rulers then. But soon these masks were donned by prominent social figures and peasants to disguise themselves to perform unscrupulous acts, gambling. One document even describes the the practice of masked men throwing scented eggs at ladies and its prohibition by the council (Venetian Laws, 1268 May).
This art slipped into a brief oblivion from 1797 when Venice became a part of Austria. And thanks to the entrepreneurship in some undergraduate art students in 1979, the tradition was revived. Venice always was a popular tourist destination, and these masks are sought after souvenirs by most tourists. The forgotten art flourished once again.
The friendly salesman with his rough knowledge of English showed me the various types of these masks and that was a surprise for me.
– The one that covers the whole face, with a stubborn chin line, no mouth, and lots of gilding was Bauta.
– The half mask highly decorated with gold, silver, crystals and feathers, held up to the face by a baton or tied with ribbon as with most other Venetian masks was Columbine.
– The Medico Della Peste with its long beak is one of the most bizarre and recognizable of the Venetian masks.
– Moretta, popular in Venice with feminine features such as the female head. The mask is held in place by the wearer biting on a button or bit and was finished off with a veil.
– The white mask is the Larva, also called the Volto mask.
Whew! And I thought they were all the same!