Especially if you are for the first time in Venice, you might feel overwhelmed by the stores selling self-declared original Murano glass and carnival masks. Actually, most of them sell phoney merchandise manufactured far far away. If you want to enjoy the Carnival and are shopping for masks in Venice, here are some pieces of advice.
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The mask-makers, called mascherari, were a trade union whose deed of incorporation dates back to 1436. The historical typical masks have names and often are referred to jobs. The most recognizable is the one worn by the plague doctors that used the long-beaked mask to avoid being infected.
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It didn’t originate as a carnival mask, of course, but today is produced plentiful. Another common mask is the bauta that was not a carnival mask either. In fact, men wore it when taking part anonymously to decision-making events. Originally white, today it can be painted as wished. The volto is a quite upsetting one as it is a basic face (from which the Italian name) that covers the whole visage of the wearer giving them the appearance of a ghost. It goes with a cloak and a tricorn.
Another category includes the masks of the Commedia dell’Arte. Arlecchino, Colombina, and Pantalone are essential characters of the Italian stage who wear a mask all the time to make the audience recognize them immediately. Maybe, among them the most beautiful mask is Zanni. A leather half-mask with a nose whose length reveals the poor acumen of the character.
A great display of some modern Venetian masks is available in Eyes Wide Shut, the last film of the great American director Stanley Kubrick. At the mysterious party where the protagonist was able to sneak in, the guests wore masks specially made for the film by two excellent Venice workshops. Start your shopping spree from here. One is Ca’ Macana near Campo San Barnaba in the Dorsoduro district. In addition to the beautiful products, they also teach how to make your own mask or decorate one (courses for kids are available, too).
Pic from the movie Eyes Wide Shut
The other mask-maker who provided props for the Kubrick film is Kartaruga whose main venue, Il Canovaccio, is in Calle delle Bande and is dedicated to masks and their creation; Kartaruga Atelier is the shop with the close-by mask-making workshop in Calle del Paradiso; finally, the Kartaruga Gift Shop is in Calle della Bissa. Kartaruga also offers workshops on making and decorating masks.
We won’t overlook other noteworthy ateliers such as Ca’ Del Sol near San Zaccaria (costumes for rental, too); Peter Pan in the charming Campo Santa Maria Mater Domini; Gli Amici di Pierrot in the Rialto area.