Children and teenagers travelling to Venice are often already familiar with La Serenissima thanks to two books, Carnival at Candlelight (2006) by Mary Pope Osborne and The Thief Lord (published in 2000 in German and translated in 2002 into English) by Cornelia Funke.
The first belongs to the Magic Tree House books; Jack and Annie have to save Venice from a high tide with the help of a winged lion they fly on and a book of magic rhymes that allows them to escape from the prison of the Doge’s Palace through the Bridge of Sighs and to carry out their mission.
The second book is about two orphaned German brothers, Prosper and young Bo who reach Venice after the death of their mother and join a ‘gang’ of orphan Venetian kids living in an old cinema theatre. All children visiting Venice remember the name of this cinema, Stella, where the ‘sky’ is an old faded, blue tapestry with golden threads glittering in the darkness. Scipio, the masked leader, is the Thief Lord, who steals from the rich to help his friends.
This book was adapted into a film in 2006, all children visiting Venice remember how Scipio wore a black pointed mask.
Well, this mask was produced in Venice, in a well-known mask atelier just behind Campo San Zaccaria in the Castello district.
Ca’ del Sol, ‘the House of the Sun’ is the name of this mask atelier and shop with relaxing classical music playing in the background, and it was opened by Hamid who many years ago reached Venice from Persia to study architecture and finally settled in the lagoon becoming a ‘mascherer’, a mask maker.
He chose as name for his atelier the equivalent Italian word to the Persian word sun changing it into Venetian dialect. In Persian sun is a common name and definition for important places, for galleries, it implies light and energy; the name was transformed into Venetian by dropping the final vowel as normally in our dialect so the new name of the house of sun become even easier to pronounce.
I asked Hamid which is his favourite mask. He replied ‘the Bauta’ with no hesitation.
I was surprised, I had imagined one of all those beautiful coloured ones displayed in his shop, but not the plain, white bauta. He prefers ‘the simplest one, for several reasons, it is the oldest Venetian mask, dating back to the end of the 13th Century and yet still it is so modern’. Hamid is interested in forms, concepts and contrasts.
‘The bauta mask is so square and so different from all principles that governed the middle ages, so very Renaissance, creating thus a contrast between the mask and the time it was invented’.
During a mask demonstration Hamid engages children’s attention with an introduction to the ancient art of mask making, the fascinating story behind masks and the history of the Venetian Carnival.
He will show with his skilled hand movements the stages of the mask making process, step by step, starting by modelling a face in clay, pouring liquid plaster to obtain a mould, filling it with papier-mâché and glue, then smoothing with sand paper the rough and uneven surface of the mask and finally the slow procedure of decorating it.
Genuine and authentic masks require passion, devotion, research, craftsmanship and time.
Hamid loves masks because papier-mâché is an inexpensive material, the result however is of great esthetic value, once again a contrast; masks are the integration of the bi-dimensional art of painting and the three-dimensional art of architecture as masks occupy real space, so again contrast.
In the second part of the demonstration a funny presentation of different Venetian and Italian masks will entertain young visitors as they will become models.
Maybe masks reveal more of us than what we believe; choosing a mask reveals what subconsiously we would like to be; when wearing a mask our real nature resurfaces, unless we pretend we are our mask.
Let it be Carnival and learn more of authentic Venetian traditions on a guided tour.