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.
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.
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.
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.