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Carnival in Venice is never a mundane event, but rather is always characterised by quality handmade masks and costume parades and floats that leave the public speechless. It is a time of the year that transports participants to another time. The Venetian carnival, in fact, is perhaps second only to that of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, attracting many tourists every year from all over Italy and the world.
Enthusiasts find it exciting and rich, both in terms of the scenic elements and the joy that permeates and involves the entire historic city. It is clear from the off that it is a different kind of carnival, owing to the fact that the masks are the true protagonists and are there to be admired, showing off their best profile.
In this guide, we will reveal the most sought-after Venetian masks for the 2023 carnival, as well as sifting through the history of these splendid objects and the profile of the masterful artisans who create them.
Who are the main artisans
Today as in the past, the ancient technique of mask production is scrupulously performed by artisans with great attention to detail. Indeed, the process is entirely carried out by hand, using only a few simple materials. No use is made of chemically derived products or machinery, with almost no use of tools.
The craftsmen we want to introduce to you are part of Original Venice Shop and go by the name of Maurizio and Giovanni.
Maurizio has been working in Venice in the production of masks for more than 25 years. Having graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, he worked for some time in the ambitious restoration of the La Fenice theatre.
During his studies, he discovered a passion for the art of Venetian papier-mâché masks and specialised in this field, working for some of the most famous and historic workshops in Venice. Over the years, he has honed a personal style that moves away from commercial principles.
Giovanni, on the other hand, nurtured a passion for this world from a young age when, while wandering around the city, he would admire its splendid shops. From the outset, therefore, he decided to work with a Venetian master to make the traditional techniques of mask processing his own.
Begun as a passion, this art has become his work and his daily life. His style can be traced back to Venetian classicism, characterised by gold and silver decoration of the faces, always carried out exclusively by hand.
Venetian masks as they are produced
As already mentioned, only the hands and very few tools are used to make traditional Venetian masks.
The first step in their creation is to sculpt a mass of clay - this represents the most creative part for a craftsman. Next, plaster powder is mixed with water and the mixture is poured onto the clay sculpture.
After about an hour and a half, the plaster dries and takes on a hard and resistant texture. This will be the mould that serves to obtain the shape of the original sculpture.
After the mould is freed from the underlying sculpture (which breaks into pieces and must be thrown away), it is greased with Vaseline and lined with several layers of absorbent paper soaked with a mixture of water and glue. This process gives life to the so-called "cartalana" which, after drying, retains the shape of the mould.
Three layers of paper are usually used and for these steps the only tools employed are the craftsman's fingers. Once completely dry, the light and flexible mask can be extracted from the mould.
One of the final steps is to open holes for the eyes, and then prepare the mask for its final decoration by covering it in various layers of white acrylic tempera, to form a blank canvas for the craftsman's creative touch.
The decorations can be made from various different materials and techniques at the expert craftsmen's discretion.
The History of Venetian Masks
In the city of Venice, in ancient times, it was not only customary to wear masks for the carnival, but also at other times of the year and holidays. In total, these fantastic objects took centre stage for around six months of the year in the city.
It was therefore common for faces and personalities to be hidden behind a mask that, in the jargon, was known as a "larva" when worn with a specific disguise called a "bauta". Among these we find nobles, prostitutes, informers, villagers and even the Doge of Venice himself.
In ancient times, therefore, it seems there should have been numerous artisans in Venice tasked with creating a variety of masks of different styles and shapes, following traditional techniques. In fact, according to sources dating back to 1773, it seems that there were only twelve shops in the city comprising a total of thirty-six artisans.
Nevertheless, since the 1200s, precise laws had been in place regulating the manufacture of masks, as craftsmen denounced the presence of black market productions that were damaging to their art and profession.
A severe blow to mask production came in 1774 with the closure of the legal gambling house of the Serenissima, a place that obliged those who went there to cover their faces with a special mask. This event caused a sharp drop in production, as a result of decreased demand.
Subsequently, the problems faced by craftsmen were further aggravated. After the Republic ended in 1797, the Venetian carnival tradition was severely limited by the Austrian government.
The most desired Venetian masks for Carnival 2023
As we have seen from the long history that characterises the carnival of Venice, at this particular time of year the city takes on a new appearance, characterised by a traditional landscape in which the different "actors" play a leading role, thanks to this celebration's most well-known and traditional accessory: the Venetian mask.
The union between the carnival and the mask has lasted for over a thousand years and seems to have no end in sight. For the next edition, Original Venice Shop would like to recommend the 5 most sought-aftermasks for 2023.
We have brought together diverse creations from our artisans to help you in choosing the perfect look to participate in one of the most famous events in the world. Each of the products described represents an authentic certified artisan work that is made directly in Venice. In addition, each mask is fully wearable and comes equipped with laces for this purpose.
The first Venetian mask we present is made of papier-mâché and features elegant metal decorations. It is a product made entirely by hand by expert craftsmen.
Its creation follows the ancient Venetian carnival mask tradition in that it is entirely made by hand, as has been the case for centuries. Sonetto is a mask that enables you to wear an original, typical and authentic product.
Another mask that features among the most sought-after models this year is Burano. Completely handmade and decorated by master craftsmen, its characteristics reflect the centuries-old tradition of Venetian workshops.
This mask is characterised by a fantastic elasticity that provides for an excellent fit and durability. It also lends itself well to use in theatre.
Crafted in artisanal leather, the mask has been hand-decorated by expert craftsmen.
Bauta Secret Party
This mask was produced by hand and in papier-mâché. It represents a true Venetian luxury mask and is a traditional model that comes provided with a certificate that guarantees its origins.
Red & Black Diamond Owl
The last mask in this list is characterised by a decoration comprising red and black diamonds on a white background, embellished with gold details. These details have been completely handmade and are the work of the unique creativity of Venetian craftsmen.