I just returned from a wonderful trip to the Mediterranean, one stop was in Venice. I have been there before but did not really have a chance to see what I wanted as we were on a guided tour. This time my husband an I went in on the Vaporetta, ( water boat) and strolled at our own speed seeing all the wonderful sights Venice has to offer.
One thing I saw every place we went were the Venetian masks. They were just beautiful, such works of art! I came home wanting to paint my own and so I did.
Here is a little history about the masks. Venetian masks have a long history of protecting their wearer's identity. Made for centuries in Venice, these characteristic masks were formed from papier-mâché and decorated with fur, fabric, gems, or ribbons.
The wearing of masks had an important social purpose of keeping every citizen equal. A servant wearing a mask could be taken as a nobleman. As a result, the identity in daily life became paramount to daily activity, everyone wanted to conceal who they were. Venetian masks have a long history of protecting their wearer's identity during promiscuous or decadent activities.
Officials could question citizens without fear of their true identity being discovered and the citizens could answer without fear of retribution. One could make deals secretly. The moral of these people could be maintained through the use of the masks. Everyone was equal and everyone had a voice. Gambling went on all day and night in the streets and houses, even in convents. Women's clothing became more revealing; the general public, while publicly condemned, embraced homosexuality. Even the nuns and monks of the clergy, dressed in the latest imported creations, wore masks and engaged in the same acts as the majority of their fellow citizens. As a result of the concealment of identity people naturally found themselves taking advantage of the situation. The society grew ever more decadent. The vast amount of travelers coming through the city meant that sexual promiscuity was ordinary and acceptable.
The Republic fell into a state of luxury, apathy, and moral decay. Eventually the wearing of masks in daily life was banned and limited only to certain months of the year. During the last year of the Republic's existence, this period extended for over three months from December 26. After the 1100s, the masquerade went through periods of being outlawed by the Catholic Church, especially during holy days. Their policy lead to eventual acceptance when they declared the months between Christmas and Shrove Tuesday free for Venetian mask - attired decadence. the pre-Lent celebration.
The first law regulating the use of masks dates back to the 13-century, but nobody knows when the Venetians actually started wearing them as a part of every day life. This all ended with the fall of the Venetian Republic, at the end of the 18th century. Before that, the law allowed for masks to be worn for most of the year.
Masks have always been a central feature of the Venetian carnival; traditionally people were allowed to wear them between the festival of Santo Stefano (St. Stephen's Day, December 26) at the start of the carnival season and midnight of Shrove Tuesday. They have always been around Venice. As masks were also allowed during Ascension and from October 5 to Christmas, people could spend a large proportion of the year in disguise.
The modern celebration of Carnival has reinvigorated the art and craft of making Venetian masks. The traditional method involves sculpting a form out of clay as a base for the mask. Most masks are made from papier-mâché’. This plaster material is layered over the base, dries, and gets removed to form the basic mask. Then the artist will paint designs in all colors and gold and silver, they will add feathers faux fur, rhinestones, gold charms silk ribbons bird feathers sequins, and anything else that takes their fancy!
After the fall of the Venetian Republic, mask making did go into a period of recession, but has enjoyed a renaissance since the 1970's and today when visiting Venice, there are masks on every street corner and they are purchased by tourists from all around the world.
Below are some photos I took on my trip to Venice in June 2011. The vendors are all over the place with beautiful masks.
Here are the ones I have made. The patterns for these will be up on my website: http://www.sharonteal-coray.com/