Sunday, 4 January 2009

CITY IN DISGUISE

I remember the very first time, eleven years ago, that we walked along a shopping street in Venice.

"Oh, look!" I said, "Masks!" Two shops further on there was another mask shop and then another and another...

Lest I be thought to exaggerate, I should say that only every other shop in Venice sells masks: the shops in between invariably being given over to selling glass -- although, even then, they may well be selling a few masks as well!

You simply cannot move through Venice without seeing masks but - except for Carnevale (the frolicsome celebrations preceding the beginning of Lent) they are almost always only displayed in shop windows and hardly ever worn!

Originally, masks was not limited to the period of Carnival, but would have been used on numerous occasions as a device to hide the wearer's identity and, possibly, his or her social status: thus allowing a freer interaction with others who might well be of a social - or marital - status that would normally be prohibited by convention. The lover, the thief, the spy might all don the anonymity, license and safety of the mask.

This origin has since been subverted into (at best) a highly attractive and decorative art-form and (at worst) an excuse for peddling cheap tourist-tat.

The masks that were once a common feature of daily life in the grande caffès of the Piazza San Marco were styled after characters from the 16th Century Italian tradition of improvisational theatre, the Commedia dell'Arte ('The Comedy of Artists'); today they are exotic confections of feathers, lace, beads, sequins and other fripperies and can assume the likeness of anyone or anything in the natural (or unnatural) world or, indeed, any region whatsoever within the limitless territory of the human imagination...





You can read more about the history of the Venetian mask - and buy one for yourself (thus saving the bother and expense of having to go to Venice!) at The Venetian Mask Shop.


Images: Brian Sibley & David Weeks © 2006/8 Click on images to enlarge

For more Venice imagery, visit my website to view the album Venice Observed and then follow the links at the foot of that page to three further albums of photographs.


7 comments:

Boll Weavil said...

The mask shops seem to proliferate as the shoe shops do in England but whereas you might where shoes occasionally here, I've never seen anyone actually buying or wearing a mask in Venice.Many brightly-lit and inviting shops seem to display signs asking you not to even photograph them.How do they all make a living !
SKINTST:The situation, in early January, of having spent all your real money on very expensive but enjoyable,seasonal fripperies and your plastic money on 'sale' items you wouldn't give house room to at any other time of year.And so back to work....

Brian Sibley said...

Masks are worn by some visitors over New Year and many masks are sold - not to be worn - but as object d'art to be hung on the sitting-room wall as a souvenir of having visited Venice - especially during Carnevale... Of course, many of the masks that proliferate are, in fact, unwearable!

At the time of Stanley Kubrik's Eyes Wide Shut, there were at least half-a-dozen mask shops claiming to be the sole suppliers of Tom and Nicole's masks...

LisaH said...

If people have difficulty keeping the masks on, I suppose the best thing to use would be.... masking tape!
My favourite earrings are a silver pair I bought in Stratford-Upon-Avon many years ago, depicting 'Comedy' and 'Tragedy'. One of these days I'd like to have a couple of masks to put up on the wall.
Copingsl: All the thoughts and emotions that are hidden behind the human masks that are our faces.

Good Dog said...

Brian,

Seeing all these wonderful photographs in this and the earlier posts takes me back to a late January holiday, walking the streets, arm in arm with my little lovely. I even forgave her when she forgot to set her watch to European time and kept me waiting an hour at the Rialto.

Anyway, having been away in Devon for Christmas, I've just been catching up on past posts and... good grief, how is your jaw? I hope you're feeling better now.

Brian Sibley said...

LISAH - "Masking tape"!! Ha ha!!

You'll have to wait to get your masks until the Euro is in better condition - otherwise it'd be Tragedy and Tragedy!

GOOD DOG - Thanks for the concern... Jaw holding up OK now, but very painful in the extreme cold and the urge to yawn is great -- but to be avoided at all costs!

Boll Weavil said...

I'm going to have to read over my responses occasionally before posting - the spelling gets worse !
This calls for...
DESSESCE : A very large typo that you missed because you were too busy deciding whether the sentence needed a comma or not.A recent example came to me by text when I enquired what food I should take to a party "We will just be eating nipples and a few crisps". Can't put THAT one down to predictive text I'm afraid....

LisaH said...

Boll - maybe they got the idea for the 'titbits' from watching 'I'm a Celebrity, get me out of here'.