The Venice Carnival is one of the most spectacular and famous symbols of the Lagoon City and it doesn’t need many clarifications. While who is behind the event, creating those mervellous masks, often remains anonymous.
With this reportage, we want you to descover the magic world of ‘Mascareri’, so are called the artisans who build the papier-machè masks for Carnival. These are the inheritors of a secular tradition, which dates back to 400 A.D., and that, still nowadays, represents the most living part of the quality Venetian handicrafts.
Visiting their shops , laboratories of fantasy and creativity, is also the occasion to understand what the masking art means to Venice. An old custom, a collective rite, that used to overcome differences between rich and poor, because the mask hid the face, making people unrecognizable so that everyone looked the same. Once upon a time, Venitians used to mask for many occasions, not only for Carnival, but also for their leader’s (called Doge) election, for any party event, when they gambled and for love meetings.
In 1400 A.D., the papier-machè mask was so popular that the Doge Foscari granted a particular law to the ‘Mascareri’.
Many traditional maskings are still worn today starting from the Bauta, that comprehends a white mask called Larva, a black tricorne hat and a heavy cloack of the same colour. Or the Moretta made of black velvet; Gnaga which looks like a cat or the Civetta which only covers the eyes. And then the Plague Doctor, rapped up in a black mantel, with a large brim hat, hid hands holding a stick not to touch the pestilents’ clothes. The face was covered by glasses and by a white mask with a big and prominent nose to contain spices and mixes of medical erbs which protected from the Plague.
In the 1980s, after 200 years of oblivion (when, in 1797, the Venitian Republic ended, masking was prohibited by the new governors), the Carnival of Venice started living again and with it the art of building masks.
In that precise moment, Mario Belloni, with other students from the Architecture Faculty,opened a workshop, called Cà Macana, close to Campo San Barnaba. A fantastic place where we can admire papier-marchè and leather masks of all kinds: small, huge, simple, exaggerated, inspired by the characters of the Art Commedy or products of pure fantasy.
On walls and shelves there are Baute and Morette, Civette with sprinkles and coloured feathers; faces with incredible expressions, that makes the workshop a sort of fantastic stage.
Here, we can also discover techniques and handmade working and painting materials. A chalk calque is separated from the original clay mould and dressed with different layers of sticky papaer lines. Once dry, the papier-machè mask is taken off from the calque and with a scalpel the artisan cuts off eyes, nostrils , mouth and he refines the outlines.
Then , he also applies a first colour stratum and he proceeds with the decoration. The Cà Macana masks have been protagonists in many theaters and they have been commmissioned by famous film makers.
In the workshop Papier-machè, in Sestiere Castello, Stefano Gottardo and his collabourers create classy and modern masks inspired by Picasso, Kandinsky and Modigliani. They are all unique pieces, because the moulding process requires precision and skills.
Still in Sestriere Castello, in Fondamenta dell’Osmarin, 4964, there is Cà del Sol, Hamid Seddighi’s shop, another famous artisan of persian origins, but living in Venice for many years, who creates mervellous traditional masks, made of leather, ceramics or with starched lace . They are all handpaintd and embellished with ribbons and crystals or coverd with a golden leaf.
Here we can buy the Venice traditional masks, the ones inspired by the Art Comedy ( Arlequin, Colombina, Pantalone etc…) or more fantastic models. It is also very plesant watching Hamid working and teaching his art to adults and children, during the classes he organises . At the end of his classes, everyone goes home with their own mask.
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