Masks

The Venetian mask is a tradition that speaks to the clash between human culture and human nature. The fact that we would create a world in which we have to hide our identity to feel truly free bears consideration.

Would you behave the same way if no one could recognize you? is our “acceptable” identity the true mask hiding who we really are, our lives themselves a masquerade?

The idea of culturally acceptable anonymity is a unique part of Venetian history. Throughout human history masks are frequently used for ceremonial or entertainment purposes but in Venice you see “masked life” during the medical era become a tradition that afforded residents privacy and a form of freedom from social convention and status. People donned masks to conduct business, private liaisons and get from A to B without being seen.

Photocredit: Lane Oliveri

Photocredit: Lane Oliveri

It makes sense, this watery labyrinthian city is small and privacy almost impossible. It would be easy to feel trapped on this island in the lagoon without the ability to let loose now and then, the freedom to go about unrecognized.

Venice was the thriving center of trade and commerce in the world and its affluent citizens less inhibited than your average medieval folk. This practice of cheating social constraints led to, (prepare to be shocked…) women wearing more revealing clothing (here we go with the bare shoulders again?), homosexuality becoming fairly accepted, gambling was rampant and promiscuity commonplace.

Photocredit: Lane Oliveri

Photocredit: Lane Oliveri

The tradition of masquerade apparently spawned such widespread hedonism in the opulent Venetian Republic that eventually the Roman Catholic Church restricted the use of masks more and more until this practice was constrained to certain days and festivals. Now the masks are reserved for Carnival and playful parties.

Photocredit: Lane Oliveri

Photocredit: Lane Oliveri

We met a local artisan who continues a family tradition of mask making. Each intricate piece is carefully hand painted and the designs range widely in color and concept, the workshop is neatly organized but overflowing with exquisite trims and materials.

Photocredit: Left: Lane Oliveri, Middle Ruth Feldhan, Right: Lane Oliveri

Photocredit: Left: Lane Oliveri, Middle Ruth Feldhan, Right: Lane Oliveri

Photocredit: Lane Oliveri

Photocredit: Lane Oliveri

It’s fascinating to watch the artist apply tedious details rendering each mask a one of a kind work of art in it’s own right.

Photocredit: Lane Oliveri

Photocredit: Lane Oliveri

Photocredit: Ruth Feldhan

Photocredit: Ruth Feldhan

Photocredit: Ruth Feldhan

Photocredit: Ruth Feldhan

Photo Credit Left: Lane Oliveri Right: Ruth Feldhan

Photo Credit Left: Lane Oliveri Right: Ruth Feldhan

Venice by nature retains a subtle air of mystery with its maze of canals and twisting narrow streets full of clandestine possibilities. The Venetian Mask is a holdout from the city’s decadent past, a time when it’s people claimed at will the liberty of anonymity.

From what we hear, they made wicked good use of it.