The Art and Fantasy of Concealment with Masquerade Masks in Venice
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Exotic Colour of the Mask in Venice

Exotic Colour of the Mask in Venice

Visions PR hosts a Halloween Party

Masks and fancy dress have always held a fascination for me.
As a child, I favoured the Pantomime principal boy of a Peter Pan, Robin Hood or a Dick Whiten-ton, in sassy boots and hose, after all they always seemed to have more fun and adventure than any passive princess, perpetually imprisoned in a tower waiting for her prince to rescue her.

There followed numerous Halloween costumes, from a vampire bat for a Halloween party I organised as a graphic design student in Leicester, titled, “Hammer Horrors Presents”, to the little red devil I became for a professional Halloween Party I organised and hosted for a Visions PR client, the black cat outfit for a Floridian Halloween party, while on holiday, to the many Fancy dress prizes I won, one as a leopard, and another, while living in Tenerife.

There I dressed in a black catsuit, with an elaborate and sumptuous feathered mask, only for the editor of the local paper to “kindly” wreck any hopes I harboured of gaining social acceptance there, with his newspaper headline, that accompanied a picture of me in my scantily clad and yet again, racy outfit:
“Lock up your husbands, wives of Los Gigantes, there is a bird of prey on the loose!”


I have since strutted my stuff at famous Carnivals in Santa Cruz, in the Canaries, to one in Panama City, South America, so when the opportunity arose, to attend one of the most amazing masquerade Carnivals in the world, and once more don a fantasy outfit and mask, it was an opportunity not to be missed. Especially as the Venetian Carnival takes the masquerade to an entirely new dimension, where fantasy and concealment are part of a tradition that is seeped  in centuries of history and culture.





When visiting Venice and embracing the true spirit of the Carnival, especially when attending the Glass Slippers Ball on Saturday, February 9th 2018, at the historic and palatial Santa Chiara, one of the most important pre requisites of any outfit, is the all important masquerade mask.

Traditionally, mask wearing dates back to 1300s, in Venice, and although the practice frizzled out about 1797, a group of artists, re-introduced the art of mask making, in 1979. This helped to revive the ancient tradition and boost the Carnival into the theatrical experience it has become today, that attracts visitors from around the world, who visit to enjoy the masked balls and to parade along the streets.


The Colour and Fantasy of the Masquerade Masks in Venice

The Colour and Fantasy of the Masquerade Masks in Venice


Even if your visit does not involve the Carnival, purchasing a hand made masque from a reputable dealer in Venice as a souvenir, or a piece of art, is well worth considering. However, to ensure you choose a quality mask, and so avoid being bamboozled into cheaper options, when inundated by the numerous choices available in front of the San Marco Square, it is best to do some homework first.

So do browse some of the famous mask shops, and for an experience not to be missed, shop at the famous La Bottega dei Mascereri, in the very heart of the Rialto market, at the base of Rialto Bridge.
Run by renown artists Sergio and Massimo Boldrin, who are always happy to offer advice, these creative brothers have been instrumental in the revival of mask making and wearing.

They have also taken the art of mask making one step further by delving into the world of Commedia dell’ arte, replicating characters such as the Arlecchino, the Harlequin, Zanni the clown and Pantalone, the Venetian merchant.

The theatrically quality masks have graced many fashion shows, festivals and films e.g. Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, as well as being honoured in the pages of the New York Times, and Conde Nast Traveler. They are always available to explain what techniques and materials are used in the construction of their masks and to help you choose a piece that is perfect for you.

All are welcome for Carnival

All are welcome for Carnival

For a wider selection of all things associated with the Carnival, try Ca’ Macana Mask Shop and Workshop, where you can find a selection of costumes, masks and garments, many in leather, and featuring both character and animal versions. Interestingly you can also attend a two and half hour workshop at Ca’ Macana, where you can meet the local artist and create your own mask to remind you of your visit to this enchanted city. Shorter workshops conducted in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish instruct on the history of masks, the theatre and the Carnival in Venice,

Another must visit is to Alberto Sarria’s Traditional Masks and Marionettes that have operated since 1980 and specialise in a particular style of traditional mask. A particular favourite, is a long concealing angular mask, designed to hide a persons identity and social status, from the general public. Called a Bauta, it is the most popular and traditional Venetian mask, found in a variety of colours and styles, as well as the more updated and original versions e.g. an abstract Picasso type, and others composed from the tickets from the world famous Venetian Opera House. A spectacle to behold are the handmade Marionettes or puppets that hang from the windows and ceilings, of this colourful store, featuring intricately designed historic characters from the Venetian theatre. Alberto will offer advice and assistance on choosing a mask to suit you.

If you are looking for special gifts for family and friends, you can do no better than peruse the fine antiques and artefacts at Cavalier Fine Antiques and Masks, on San Marco Square in Santo Stefano. Owned by father and son, Gianni and Alberto Cavalier, who specialise in intricately carved wooden masks, painted in a fine gold or silver overlay, unique to their store, that really can be classed as fine art and meant for ornamental purposes only. Look out for their speciality, an antique lamp called a Moretti, that is finely carved in wood and covered again in a gold or silver overlay.

Another unique and interesting combination is found at Ivan Minio Traditional Masks and Photography, in the Cannaregio district, where Ivan, a local mask maker and photographer offers a selection of both moderately priced masks and his own quality images of Venice. Expect to find unique mask designs that could be decorated with playing cards, or photographs, and even a sinister replicate of a character called the Plague Doctor, based on a real mask with a long beak-like nose, that was worn by Doctors who treated the plague in the 1300s. Aromatic herbs stuffed into the beak like cavity were thought to protect the wearer from inhaling any spores that could spread the plague.


So do be adventurous and explore beyond the typical souvenir shops, that cram every street in Venice, to the sumptuous and highly creative artistic stores and in so doing, truly enhance your pleasure when mask shopping. What better way to dip into the history and past of Venice than by meeting local artists and discovering more about the history of mask making.

Written by:
Vivienne Sharman-Lewis

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