Every year, just before the Catholic holiday Lent approaches, the streets around Italy are sprinkled with rainbow confetti. Costumed celebrations and parades, or just random gatherings in the local piazza, are part of the fun. While children are the focus, in some places, everyone joins in the masquerade. It is the expressively jubilant and transitional nature of Carnevale that overtakes every corner to fill the air with exuberance before a period of restraint begins.
And, the masks emerge!
Venetian masks have been around since the beginning of the Carnevale itself. The masks were originally worn to hide the identity of the wearer and bring anonymity so that those from every social class could mingle and enjoy the festivities. However, to distinguish the social classes masks could be given ornate details and outlandish accessories to accompany them. Today each mask still holds historical meaning and intriguing stories that adorn every brush stroke and detail that goes into them just as they did in the 17th century.
In their luxury, Venetian masks are made of leather, porcelain or glass; but today most are papier-mâché of hand painted gesso. Designers of the masks can spend countless hours stitching beading, lace or even feathers into the ornate accessory. Most of the masks fall into one of the main six types and have escalated in intricacy throughout the years. Yet, there is also the “low” production too – for every couture creation, there is also a street option. At local accessories stores, you can find inexpensive masks that have their own beauty and impact.
The beauty of the masks lies in the ability to create how you view yourself to the outside world. Just as every inch of a personal brand is unique, each element of a mask is a selection of showing the authentic design of your inner self. The masks of Carnevale are not a time for simplicity, but rather a heightened escapade of originality with the cover of anonymity. Bright oranges and reds accompany cerulean feathers and emeralds to transform a blank canvas into that of innumerable beauty. Whether you are choosing the full coverage of a bauta, arlechhio or moretta design or the more playful antics of the colombina, each mask is a representation of self – or an escape from one.
It still amazes me how the element of design can not only capture the individualistic nature of self, but how it can completely transcend time. Carnevale masks intrigue and delight my imagination.