This mask, typical of the Venetian tradition was considered an ideal disguise for those wishing to be incognito. The costume was an ample, all enveloping black silk cloak and a cape of black lace hung from a black tri-cornered hat covering the top torso of the person. The mask was fixed to the hat and because of its shape, it allowed the wearer to eat, drink and breathe freely and provided total anonymity to either a man or woman.
Arlecchino’s mask has very ancient origins and has undergone many changes over the ages. Probably from medieval times, he represents the evolution of jester devils. His mask typically shows prominent cheekbones, a flattened upturned nose and hollowed cheeks.
This man servant is a lazy-bones but also a busy body, a mixture of cunning and ingeniousness, of awkwardness and grace. His costume is made up of a jacket with multicolored patches and a belt from which is suspended a long loaf of bread (to defend his master).
Pantalone’s mask had an accentuated hooked nose and a beetling, furrowed brow. A curious pointed beard would sprout out from under the mask. Completing the picture of the first old man called the Magnifico, his red costume consisted of long tights, a wool cap, long black cape and on his feet, black pumps.
Pantalone was the rich, old merchant. Old, however, did not mean having one foot in the grave in Renaissance Italy. Perruci liked to describe him as apuer centum ann onum (a hundred year old boy) precisely because despite aches and pains, this character at times gave his audience a breath of youth, and he was still capable of making advances to a young woman.
The mask of II Capitano represented all that is diabolic and animal-like. His mask is adorned with a huge nose and scowling brow.
Known as Capitan Fracasso (fright) or Capitan Spaventa (smash), he was a roistering, bragging soldier of fortune. His costume was in garishly bright colors and he wore a plumed hat. He carried a fearful sword with its inevitable rust and spider webs, the only trophy he had to show for the blood thirsty duels he supposedly had fought.
The original character, Peppe Nappa, dates back to the second half of the 16th century. He was originally a valet but he differs radically from other valets or servants of the Commedia. He is a young personable and trustworthy individual who could be a charming lover if necessary. He did not wear a mask and had a heavily powdered face to give him great play of facial expression.
As time progressed, a chalky white mask was developed for the player, Pierrot.
Commedia deli Arte character, par excellence, this character lives on as the master clown of all times. His mask, with its beaked nose and mole combined with his white costume tend to make him look rather like a rooster. Supposedly, Pulcinella originated as a broken down castrato who had been incubated by a hen.
These ancient masks from the Commedia dell Arte personify the servants of the masters. They are the heirs of mountain dwellers who emigrated to Venice to find jobs. The Zanni usually wear large coats, baggy trousers, brimmed hats adorned with plumes and animals’ tails. The masks have animal-bird like features with huge hooked noses of varying lengths.
One of the first women to be accepted in to the theatre, Columbina was reluctant to cover her lovely features with a mask and so the small half-mask, or loup, was designed especially for her. She was the mischievous and charming serving wench of the commedia...a comic character who was not always a mirror of virtue. Her name lives on to this day as all half masks are referred to as Columbina masks.
II Medico Della Peste
In the terrible plague of 1630, it was written that doctors put on a peculiar costume. The black full cape was made of a waxed canvas so that infectious vapouri could not pass through. He wore a large brimmed encompassing hat and white gloves. Further protection came in the mask with its eyeglasses and its huge beak stuffed with disinfectant herbs. This, then, is not a carnival costume but rather a symbol of the fatal epidemic in Venice.
Carnivale in medieval times and later during the Renaissance transformed the town of Venice into one vast theatre with room for each person to act out his chosen role without restraint. Thanks to the rebirth of Carnivale in the later part of the twentieth century, the skilled crafts of the master mask-maker that seemed destined to die out now flourishes anew. Creating beautiful illusions with feathers, fabrics, and jewels, the fantasy continues.
Venice...the mask of the World