There are numerous places in the world which celebrate what we call carnival. The oldest and perhaps grandest of these Pre-Lenten celebrations is the Carnevale di Venezia, which appears in the late 11th century and had a long run until Napoleon banned carnival completely in 1797—a ban which lasted until early in the 20th century, when Carnevale began to reappear, gaining steam every year until becoming the giant commercial success it is today.
Carnival, like the Feast of Fools that preceded it, is a “time out of time” celebration which depends in no small part on anonymity. Enter the mask.The revival of the mask tradition has thrust Venetian artisans into the celebratory limelight; this is where you go for carnival masks in modern times.
Since these traditions are also based on cultural reversal, the powerless are elected king or queen, or even, at the Feast of Fools the ugliest man was judged by his peers to become the Pope of Fools (Quasimodo was elected one, remember). I give you the current ugliest writer of these pages in his Vivo hand-crafted Venetian carnival mask:
(This picture deviates from the pictures you might see on mask or carnival websites, which generally feature the most attractive folks to model their masks. I argue authenticity is in order, thus the fleshy, hairy disaster of unpaid model you see above.)
The Construction of the Carnival Mask
The picture shows the “face” side of the mask, which is lined with a smooth layer of material so that you might be comfortable wearing it in a crowd (or, if you were a medieval sort of person, perhaps a world leader, you might demand a sturdy mask for wear during a rousing orgy in which you wouldn’t want your identity to be compromised when your mask happens to fall into a writhing mass of humanity).
The mask itself is made to mimic bronze, which would be quite heavy and likely interfere with your brain waves should you be emitting any. So it’s not bronze, but a substance unknown to me, expertly designed to look like weathered metal (traditional Venetian carnival masks were made of papier-mâché back in the old days).
Vivo provided me with the mask so that I could take a look at the construction. I have a modest collection of carnival masks, and I would say that this meets my criteria for mask construction. It’s sturdy, it’s attractive, and it looks as authentic as a home-made mask might look. It comes with a certificate of authenticity. Vivo stocks quite a few designs, in case your taste in Carnival masks is not the same as mine.
Where to buy a Vivo Carnival Mask
You can go online and access the Vivo website to see the masks and the really beautiful people who wear them. The one I’m wearing above is the Colombina Barocco Cavalli Bronze mask, just in case you have to have the one I’ll be wearing at the next Tuscan Masquerade Party. Shipping is free.
Have fun. You don’t even have to wear one of these masks. They impress folks when you just tack them to a wall.
Where else in Italy can I find out about masks?
Folks around the world have used masks to express themselves and/or the reversal of themselves. You can best find out about them in a little village in Sardinia at the Mamoiada Mask Museum.