While in Venice, it is absolutely impossible to not notice all the masks. They are everywhere, and if you don't see them in a store window, you will see them moving around on a pole carried around in Saint Mark's Square. For the life of me, I couldn't remember EXACTLY what the mask-fetish was all about.
At first, I thought maybe it had to do with the Medico della peste. It's that mask with a long beak and is a very bizarre-looking mask. (See below. In fact, you can just skip all these words and scroll to the photos if you're not interested in the lesson today.) It's mentioned several times in Dan Brown's, "Inferno." And since much of the setting in that book takes place in Venice, I thought maybe this is what all the hoopla was about. Not remembering or knowing too much about the Carnival, the Medico della peste was the first thing that came to mind.
The Medico della peste was used as a method of preventing the spread of disease. The striking design originates from 17th-century French physician Charles de Lorme. The mask is often white, consisting of a hollow beak and round eyeholes covered with crystal discs, creating a bespectacled effect. It's use as a carnival mask is entirely a modern convention, and today these masks are often much more decorative.
The plague doctors who followed De Lorme's example wore the usual black hat and long black cloak as well as the mask, white gloves and a stick (so as to be able to move patients without having to come into physical contact with them). They hoped these precautions would prevent them from contracting the disease.
It is said that the Carnival of Venice was started from a victory of the "Serenissima Repubblica" against the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico in the year 1162. In the honor of this victory, the people started to dance and make reunions in San Marco Square. Apparently, this festival started on that period and became official in the Renaissance. However, under the rule of the King of Austria, the festival was outlawed entirely in 1797 and the use of masks became strictly forbidden.
After a long absence, the Carnival returned to operate in 1979. The Italian government decided to bring back the history and culture of Venice, and sought to use the traditional Carnival as the centerpiece of its efforts. The redevelopment of the masks began as the pursuit of some Venetian college students for the tourist trade. Today, approximately 3 million visitors come to Venice every year for Carnival. One of the most important events is the contest for la maschera più bella ("the most beautiful mask") placed at the last weekend of the Carnival and juried by a panel of international costume and fashion designers.
There are many types of masks:
and, of course,
Now, we can go shopping. Here's only one shop window of about a gazillion in Venice displaying their masks. Because most of them have signs that say, "NO PHOTOS," please don't tell anyone I took this photo ! Besides, I didn't see a sign that said NO PHOTOS in this window.
So, what would you buy from this souvenir stand ?