Fabulous Carnival Venice Masks

 

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Venetian Masks, Ccarnival Masks

       Our company is specialized on a hand-made paper mache carnival masks manufacture which is based on an Old-Italian tradition from Venice and Modena. All masquerade masks are an original pieces. Unlike many other companies, we place emphasis on a knowledgeable approach to the manufacturing of the theater masks "commedia dell'arte". We have started the production after thorough studies of extant resources and after consultations with experts. Our production schedule includes all the basic types (see the appendix), many of which were developed from extant renderings.
Besides that, we also make different colour and artistic variations of these basic types, but we always respect the authentic character of the masks. A great deal of the range of our products consists of whole-face Venetian masks that offer an endless number of variations. All types of the masquerade masks  are functional, however they can be also used as an elegant decoration.


One of the oldest hypothesises find a direct connection between the comedy dell’arte and a traditional Old-Roman and South-Italian theater, maintained by medieval wandering tumblers. This conception is however missing factual arguments.

Another theory emphasizes connection between the Comedy and a medieval theater. There is one figure that deserves a special attention in this context: a Devil, undoubted akin to Harlequin.

The emergence of the comedy dell’arte relates to the Italian Carnival, where certain theatrical components appear (face masks, types, informality, clownery) that we can find in the Comedy too. This influence is indisputable. But also other people’s theatrical performances, as well as charlatans with their helpers had an effect on the new theater.

The originator of the Comedy is sometimes considered to be a Venetian Andrea Calmo (1510 – 1571), very productive poet, playwriter and actor. Together with the classical antique comedies he wrote, according to Ruzant, also informal comedies; he remade both his works and works of Machiavelli. The collective character of the comedy dell’arte implies that the plays were not written by individuals. However, there must have been one strong personality responsible for the birth of the Comedy, when the right conditions for the succesfull beginning arised. So, what the comedy dell’arte ensued from? It is a bunch of different elements. Observers of farces brought their enthusiasm, experiences, routines and procedures. Italian lands provided types and language. Most probably, the theatrical people’s performances of different kinds, including religious theater and the tradition of mummery, components of Carnival and dramaticaly intensive life, especially on marketplaces, merged with literacy.

The first troupes of the new theater, that improved the improvisation and established the system of masks, existed from the middle of the 16th century until about the middle of the 17th century. They were usually called a collective name, similar to academies of that time. These labellings expressed unity, discipline and enthusiasm. From the years 1545 – 1584, there are just fragmentary notes about different troupes. Some troupeswere performing at squares and non-aristocratic courtyards both an improvised comedy and regular texts. From where came these founders of the comedy dell’arte? They were educated townsfolk associated with craftsmen,with theatrical predispositions, they were undoubtedly young people who had a passion for theater, a lot of them were descendants of jugglers and clowns from the square and carnival. These comedians were already living off the theater. They were showing regular comedies, pastorales, tragicomedies and small forms ; they were performing according to the text for a sophisticated audience, but also for a public that did not understand various verbal subtleties. For those, they were putting in gags that became a stand-alone and often dominant component of this theater.

There are a few clues in the matutinal developement of the comedy dell’arte. In 1545, a groupe of citizens of Padua constituted a first troupe that was conducted by sir Maffio de Padua (Maphio dei Re’detto Zanini). The number of similar reports from different parts of the northern Italy was later increasing. From the year 1568, there is the first record about a performance that had already characteristic traits of the new theater and that influenced in short time the whole Europe.

 

Venetian masks history

 

Professional troupes were formed, with regard to the contemporary needs, under protection of northitalian courts in Modena, Mantov, Parma, where the ancestry of Geste, Gonzaga-Nevers, Farnese were traditionally suporting theater.And, above all, in the free atmospere of Venice. The new form of the theater gradually expelled other Italian comedy genres. Even editing a big quantity of bookish comedies did not changed this reality.The novelty of the comedy dell’arte consisted in a profesional organisation, in an accession of women – actresses and, above all, in the way of performing. Meeting of Lombardic troupes with fair performers in vivacious and noisy Neapol had a big influence on this.In the 17th century, the comedy dell’arte was a center not just a theater life, but also a social life.

 

Stable-base, fixed types (tipi fisis) are one of the specific components of the comedy dell’arte. In the expert terminology, they are called masks (maschere), even if a personage does not use a face mask. Grotesque types show, in caricatured exaggeration, a human attribute, psychical or physical or a combination of both. In the theater, there grew up a range of types observed in real life but also those created by an imagination and without a direct connection with life and era. While creating these types, a decisive factor is a class position of an author and a structure of an audience to which the play is dedicated.

Components of the commedia dell’arte

One of the perceptions from the process of acquainting with the comedy dell’arte is the idea that a performance of the comedy dell’arte was mostly a pantomimic or ballet piece. (This perception arose probably in the 19th century in England, France and Denmark when some comedians played a pantomimic performances with the figures of the comedy dell’arte and used their names without a direct connection.) In reality, performances were lively motional and rich in rapid speech, in plays on words and various phrases.The real comedy dell’arte has a few unseparable components that frame a conclusive complex.

Improvisation was a very important and attractive component. However, for it’s volatileness there are just a few co-temporary mentions of it.

Lazzi – the word itself provokes a joyful, comic reaction of an audience. The origin of the word lazzi (a singular in Italian is lazzo) is not clear. In the clear form it means a stage trick, a gag, a short joke, a mim’s scene, sometimes just and idea etc. There are two kinds of lazzi – a spoken one and a played one. Lazzi became an important element of comedy dell’arte, a flash point of a stage performance. Moreover, actors had a chance to make a show of their knowledge of literature. There are preserved compilations of various comic ideas, sentences, aphorisms, long equivoques, and also lyrical professions of love, disillusions or love jag. Actors were reading a lot and picking out quotations for their handbooks for the practices. The collection was accumulating and descended in actor’s families from generation to generation.

Speech was an integral ingredient of a play. From the early stage of the theater there are convincing confirmations of this fact.Venetian masks In the theater dell’arte, dialects are of a big importance. They guaranteed a popularity. Though other components of the comedy were liberating, dialects (in Italy) were remaining and became a continual connecting link with a plebeian environment. Many comic situations rose from using dialects that differ from each other - conversings understand each other badly or not at all.

 

Commedia dell’arte masks history

 

Comedy dell’arte is an Italian theater form based on improvisation and fixed types of figures, with a use of comic masks. The first troupes of the new theater, that improved improvisation and established the system of masks, existed from the middle of the 16th century to the middle of the 18th century.

A face mask was taken from the carnival, where it was a common item. But it is documented from an older era as well, before the comedy dell’arte, from a traditional theater.

Today, a face with its muscle movements is considered to be an important chance to reflect a state of mind. That may be carried out with a film and TV detail. However, in a theater only the people sitting in the first lines can be watching the face-play.

Comedy dell’arte is an Italian theater form based on improvisation and fixed types of figures, with a use of comic masks. The first troupes of the new theater, that improved improvisation and established the system of masks, existed from the middle of the 16th century to the middle of the 18th century.

Concentrating on the expression of the face, an actor often misses out the movements of the body. But even body itself expresses psychical changes. A mask is silent when a body is not talking. If the body limbers up, the mask speaks volumes more then a neat face without a mask. That is why motion is so important in the comedy dell’arte. Italian actors were playing with the whole body excercised even in acrobatic feats.

Only the comic personages were wearing face masks. Neither lovers, nor women had masks on. 

The oldest masks in the comedy dell’arte were outrageously grotesque, they were demonizing, later subtilizing.

They were covering the whole face, except lips and chin. Masks were made from a skin that was stretched on a wooden mould, or from a wax millboard . Their colour was usually brown or black. The first masks workroom is mentioned in the middle of the 16th century in Modena; this workroom was supplying the carnival and comedy dell’arte with masks.

Masks were rising and dying away according to the season and conditions, but the origin of the basic masks of the comedy dell’arte is tangible. The basic masks of the old lords and servants – though not in the improved shape that was given by profesional theater – appeared already in the square with jokers, helpers of charlatans and others, in the carnival or in the simple forms of the popular theater. Masks of the commedia dell’arte were developing, sometimes they were receding from the stage and some of them disapeared completely, for instance the mask of the Captain. They lived on the stage as long as they had something to say. The fixed types were not, however, limiting the creative actor’s work. They were the base for fenovation, enriching and formation of the personage. The fixed type was not an obstruction, but it was a resourceful instrument allowing a free play.

A mask (type) was represented by one actor and just in exceptional cases he was alternated. There are records about actors who played their personages until an old age and they were known under their names. That is also why we have reports about a perfect interpretation of certain types by some artists. When a famous personator of Harlequin, G. D. Biancolelli, died in Paris, there was news going around the town: Arlequin est mort.

The exterior or the masks is imitated from life. People with certain attributes usually have similar appearance. A certain physical feature is usually associated with certain psychical character. This experience is often reflected in the figures of the comedy dell’arte. That is why a mask is represented by an actor of a long, dry stature, other one by a small person. It is a big advantage of a mask that it is not necessary to be explaining too many things, because the attributes are well known. Its costume, face mask, and perhaps a physical size determine the key in which the mask will be playing. 

Masks are distinguished by name, a costume, a face mask, a special way of speaking and special mimic stylization and specialities of acting. The basic groupes of types in the comedy dell’arte are comic types- old lords and servants, and non-comic types – lovers (plus some other personages subsidiary or random).

At the comic types, which are the most important ones in the comedy dell’arte, we can observe that they are not by far steady or fixed; their solidarity with collective is loosening. It was very common in the case of outstanding actors – soloist, stars. But we also have testimony to the fact that an audience was protesting when the interpretation of a personage was too freed 

Commedia dell’arte masks history
Basic characters of the Commedia dell’arte

Harlequin (Arlecchino)

He is the king of the stage of the comedy dell’arte. This figure held an interest of many authors who wrote books about him. Harlequin is a shabby-genteel farmer, coming from the mountain valley of Bergamo in his clothes with patches. Originally he was wearing a black mask which looked like something eather animal or devilish (carnival performances). He is the second one, the simple-minded and clumsy of the couple of servants. In Venice, Harlequin’s speech, highland dialect, gesture, mimicry and costume smoothes.Gradually, the right-down dunce turns into a nice fumbler who wins the audience’s favour. Slow mentally, his body is suprisingly spry. He is an artist who retrains later, under the influence of the surrounding, in a dancer. Harlequin is a minion of the audience. The public watches his instinctive behaviour of a child, who thinks over after he acts. He is awkward and clumsy, he gets into situations when he is helplessly looking around and waiting, what bad is going to come out for him. This childish quandary was getting over the audience; it was shining over the caginess of his colleague Brighella, who was acting with cold forethought. Harlequin changed temperamentally both at home and abroad, gradually he lost the original simpleness and started reacting swiftly on new situations. Harleqiun’s costume was at the beginning of his era a white blouse and long, loose pants, later all sewn over with random, coloured patches. He was wearing a malleable felt hat with a hare’s tail which signalized a boggler. At the French court, the costume has formalized. It was tight-fitting, the patches took the form of triangles and later diamonds, which were arranged in a symetrical pattern. Harlequin’s mask was dark, sometimes made of two parts, with little holes for eyes and a bulge on the forehead.

Pedrolino

He is an early age zanni, his later variation is pierot. He is a lonely person and gloom-ridden lover. He gets into troubles for his frankness. Sleeping while walking, he is an embodiment of innocence and ingenousness. He wears a baggy jacket with a very large falling collar going from his neck to his shoulder. He has long legs that waggle helplessly.

Brighella

(In Italian la briga – fight, trouble) is historically younger figure of the comedy dell’arte; he appears later, when Harlequin and Pantalone are performing already. He embodies the type of a smart peasant, cunning and tricksy, who came to the town to make his living. He is a world-wise, inventive, adaptable to each situation which may bring a benefit for him. He can dissimulate friendliness and in no time draw the sward. He is a servant for everything, but he serves to his master just as far as he gets paid.An original Brighella’s costume is a baggy linen dress which was beeing used in the countryside and in which one also his partner came on the stage. It was completed with a short white cloak, a little cap and tights and yellow shoes. The whole dress was decorated with green ornaments on the edges. The mask was of an olive green colour, with black disarranged beard.Brighella’s relatives are Scapino, Mezzetino, Flautino, Pasquariello and others, but non of them was living on the stage of the comedy dell’arte as intensively and long as Harlequin.

Pantalone
Old Man (his old name is Magnifico – magnificent, magnificence) using the Venetian dialect. He is a head-piece, swaggering, exhibiting his potence until he goes into a gout attack or gasps for breath. With his typical cupidity, focus on women and other attributes inadequate to the sedate age, he is a grateful laughing stock. However, he is not a trembling old-fellow; on the extant drawings usually his tall stature contrasts with his opposite – the doctor. Pantalone’s costume consists of long, red, tight-fitting pants and a short, tight-fitting jacket of the same colour. He has a money pouch and sometimes a dagger at his belt, a loose black cloak – zimarra, and a bonnet on his head. He was wearing a dark half-face mask with accented features, a prominent nose and a white beard stretched on the chin, so that the tufts shook ludicrously when Pantalone was talking. Pantalone was a very important personage in the early stage of the comedy dell’arte. The actor who assumes this role should know perfectly the Venetian dialect.

Il dottore
Personages of the comedy dell’arte are often coupled and thus there are two old men as well. The other one is Il dottore, also an early type. Pedant from a literary comedy, he came with his cod erudition to the new theater as a distinctive gabber from Bologna. His figure in the comedy dell’arte usually relates to a scholastic profession like a philosopher, jurist, astronomer etc. Dottore is full of sentences, he often spits out latin quotations which he confuses. He knows a lot, but his knowledge misses any logic and in spite of his scholarship he is simple-minded and foolish in practical life. The cheerfulness in the meetings of Dottore-Zanni insisted in the fact that Zanni has a mother wit and overmasters the life routine, whereas Dottore is full of knowledge which is unprocessed. The doctor’s costume is basically a costume of a Bologna jurist, modified just a little for the theater. Doctor’s mask is unusual. It covers the nose and forehead only. Cheeks are thus revealed, often reddened to show Il dottore’s fondness for the bottle.

Zanni
The main figures on the stage of the comedy dell’arte are zanni, servants, comic personages par excellence. There are many theories about the origin of this generic name. Most probably it was transformed from the name Giovanni in the North-Italian dialect. In the northern set-up (the Venetian), they are both from Bergamo, in the southern one from Neapoli. The first zanni is more active, developing the involution; he does not teem with many positive characteristics. The second one is a gum-sucker, the instrument of the first one. One is cunning and one is foolish; only this couple can show the variability. Both types are optimistic, their plan is to trick the old ones and please the youth. The North-Italian couple Brighell – Arlecchino is from poor Bergamo, it’s female opposite was the couple Zagna-Fentesca.

Pulcinella
A southern Zanni, from the 17th century the king of Neapolitan and Roman stages. Originally he was a fozy, clumsy peasant who came to work to Naples and acclimatized himself there. Even from the titles of some southitalian screenplays, the colourfulness of Pulcinella’s repertoire is apparent: he is a lover, a fastidious lady, a joker and spy, a purler, a racker etc. He practises all sorts of professions and in contrast to Lombardic scenarios he usually performs solo, without a fellow. His traits are partially influenced by his nothern mate Harlequin but he shows rather a grim humour and his laziness and esuriency is especially pointed out. He has become a minion of people, they pamper him even with all his weaknesses. Compared with nothern fellows, the southern zannis are slightly less inteligent. Pulcinella usually represents a character of a comic old man which is not featured very often. He has a lover, a fiancée or a guarrelsome wife and bushelful of kids (pulcinellini), both his own and stepped, who he takes care of. Pulcinella has developed from an unwieldy impotent person to a cunning servant which determines the main tone of a story. In Naples Pulcinella is considered to be sort of living newspaper, all remarkable that happened during the day he was glossing in the evening. This personage was a source and a protagonist of a special repertoire of small forms. If was a various mixture of songs, sketches, lazzis etc. called „la pulcinaletta“. He was so popular that he got beyond the theater personage and entered everyday life. We can find his footprints not only in Naples, but also in famous carnevals in Rome and Venice. Pulcinella’s costume, much like costumes of other zannis from the first period, is composed of a light, loose linen blouse belted with a rope and light tights, later a hat, sometimes a humpback and a huge, warped belly which he has developed in France. He wears a black half-face mask with a hooked nose that gives him a bird-like look; sometimes he uses a murrey make up. From time to time he has a thymion on his forehead, just like his nothern fellow. Pulcinella, Capitano and Scaramuccia formed a Neapolitan trio which was showing traits of southern Italians.

Coviello
(a short form of „Jacoviello“ – Jacob, little Jacob) from Abruzz is Pulcinella’s fellow, much like Brighella is a fellow of Harlequin. They are also alike in characters. Coviello bosses, Pulcinella obeys. At the beginning of this personage there also was a peasant who came to a town to look for a job. At first he had attributes of a cowardly boaster, later he became a cunning servant. In southern scenarios, the zanni’s piece concentrated almost completely into Pulcinella’s part, even more than in Harlequin’s in the North. That is why Coviello’s figure did not have in the comedy dell’arte extra intense life. The early Coviello has a costume of all early zannis. Zannis’ sketches were the center of a performance. Their figures brought fame to the Italian comedy; they got in other genres – musical comedies and fine art.

Il Capitano
There is not a unified opinion on the figure of Capitano. According to some sources the figure represented a protest of the Italian nation against a foreign domination, but it might have been just a half-truth. Riccoboni says that Spaniards brought a few actors to Italy and this gave to the theater„capitanos“ who spoke a clear Spanish or a mixture of Spanish and Italian. In the 16th century, Spanish capitano was diffused in poems, prose and paintings. In Italy he came to life in Naples , the Spanish enclave, where he was the basic element of a comic piece, likewise Pantalone with his servant in the North. Whereas there is a social jitter between Pantalone and zanni, Capitano’s servant Scaramuccia makes with mimicry and comic dance fun of his boss and gradually pushes him away from the stage. Since Spaniards were cultivating this comic figure themselves or Spanish Capitano was performing with their consent (especially in Naples), he was meant to be a figure comic in general, without a direct social attack. The development of Capitano was, under the complicated political and social terms in Italy, very variegated. At the beginning Capitano was a lover, later he became a purely comic figure. Capitano has different boastful names: Matamoros, Fracasso (row) etc. He is a braggart not just in a military sphere, but also in the life on the whole. When there was time to act, a hero turned into a coward. The figure of Capitano died out, according to the Riccoboni’s testimony, before the end of the 17th century. Capitano’s costume is derived from a military uniform. When he was wearing a face mask (which was not always), it had gloomy expression with an outstanding nose and eyebrow.

Scaramuccia
is also of an Neapolitan origin. He was Capitano’s servant, later his gentler follower when Capitano’s inflatedness became antiquated. Scaramuccia’s costume does not remind anything war-like anymore. He was not wearing a face mask, he was just using a powder and expressive face-play. He was singing and playing guitar and his pantomimic sketches became famous. He was wearing a black, closefitting costume, a poncho and frilly bonnet. Scaramuccia is a plotter, shifty but also timorous. He usually serves for a master who is not of a high social scale.

Tartaglia
Another important stock character (one of the southern ones) is Tartaglia (a stammerer) whose main characteristic is stutter – a dateless resource of comicality. By slurring he was offering to his partner – an improvisator – always new themes. On a stage he usually represented a public agent: a lawyer, a druggist or a judge, but he also used to be a servant. The focus of his acting is mainly in a face-play and the speech disorder. The contents of this type was changing according as the original impuls for the typification was ebbing away: from a satyr to a little bumble, sometimes even of a intruder type. In accordance with it the costume was changing. His stature was rather small, with a paunch; his face was clean-shaven, with big glasses which served partially as a face-mask.

Fantesca or Servetta
She was the female equivalent to zanni in the comedy dell’arte. When she personated Harlequin’s wife or spouse she was sometimes wearing a costume with the typical Harlequin pattern. Otherwise she did not use any characteristic costume nor she weared a face mask, unless there was a special occasion for that. She was using literary language, like her madam. She was called Franceschina, Pasquetta, Turchetta, Ricciolina, Smeraldina, Colombina.


 

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