What lured me into Venice was the masks. I expected the ornate gondolas and charming bridges, but not the scores of masks hanging in shops and dangling from peddlers’ carts. I was unaware of their significance at first, but it was clear from viewing a couple of store windows they were important to Venice’s identity.
I glanced at as many of the masks as possible, taking in their colors, eyeless expressions and designs. Just past Venice’s famous (and packed) Rialto bridge, the masks in one window display stopped me. This was the work of artists, work on a different plane than the glitter-smeared, mass produced guises targeting tourists. The colors were deeper and more macabre than any I had seen. The expressions were understated yet beautifully haunting, and they articulated more than any of the histrionic tchotchke masks.
The shop was La Bottega dei Mascareri, owned by brothers Sergio and Massimo Boldrin, who also happen to be the craftsmen behind a fair number of the masks appearing at the wanton ball Tom Cruise attends in Eyes Wide Shut.
While the Boldrin brothers’ shop has been open since 1984, the Venetian mask tradition dates back centuries. The baroque masks are associated with Venice’s Carnevale, but wearers also have appropriated the anonymity masks allow to let loose on other occasions (Eyes Wide Shut is a prime example).
The masks in La Bottega dei Mascareri range in size, style and price, including full face — the bauta — to the Colombina eye masks. Some are intended for decoration, while others come complete with ribbons to tie on the disguise. I couldn’t resist the intrigue and beauty of the masks, which are made in a small workshop right in the back of the store, so I picked up a Colombina for 13 Euros.
Most mask stores, including La Bottega dei Mascareri, prohibit photos, but I was lucky to get special permission to snap some from the one employee in the store at the time (who doubles as a mask maker and salesperson). Also, I highly encourage you to visit La Bottega dei Mascareri’s website, which is stocked with photo galleries and videos.
–Karina for TKGO