Mysterious and intriguing are the iconic face masks you’ll see in Venetian culture. The tradition goes back hundreds of years to when some Venetians wore masks for several months of the year in order to live anonymously. Anything you can dream up for why this could be may be true, but today we can catch the best glimpse of the masks at the the Carnival of Venice each February.
The Ca’Macana workshop in Venice is dedicated to continuing the mask-making tradition using original techniques of 800 years ago. Their works are often commissioned as they are well known for their respect of the tradition; you may have seen their work in the film, Eyes Wide Shut. Their artists continue to dream up new creations for Carnival each year while they also teach classes providing an opportunity for anyone to experience the creative tradition.
I was invited to visit one of their 2-hour classes and it was a real treat. Mirta Baratto, who was tending to the visiting mask-makers detailed the history of Venetian masks and the meaning of each style. We then learned that the base colors of any mask typically depict one of the elements: water, earth, air, fire and metal.
How the Masks are Made
Upon conception of any new mask design, a clay sculpture is produced then plaster is poured on top to create a copy. That new plaster mask is used as a master and papier-mâché is affixed to it and dried. The resulting flexible mask can then be painted and decorated; this is the stage at which our class activities began. Each person chose from dozens of different mask shapes and styles. A wide range of paint colors and decorative items were provided including ribbons, feathers, jewels, fabrics, and more, which is another thing Ca’Macana excels in. Given their deep roots in tradition, it surprised me that their artists are inspired by modern ideas as you’ll see in the futuristic mask shown below. As Mirta said, “This is the most free expression of our ideas and emotions.”
If you visit Venice, consider stopping by their workshop or taking one of their classes. Short of your memories, it may be the best souvenir you could bring home. Thank you for reading.