Floating City

Annabelle Willey

Masculine Venetian Mask

Black Masculine Venetian Mask. Courtesy of redskytrader.com

Feminine Venetian Mask

Black Feminine Venetian Mask, Courtesy of Annabelle Willey

Masking became an integral component of Venetian life, it helped to unite the Venetians with a common activity and served as a tourist attraction that helped the economy. The large tourist draw that Venice experienced turned it into what Gilbert Burnet called, “the city of pleasure.” Venetians used masking as a way to escape from the realities of their lives and experience life as someone else, this was a draw for tourists who also wanted to experience a different way of living.

            Experiencing masking first-hand gave me a small taste of what it must have been like for the Venetians who would spend as long as six months out of the year wearing a mask and dressing to convey a completely new identity. However, being that the practice was quite foreign to me, I felt almost like a tourist in Venice during the masking rituals. Venetians would often dress in a way that made them look as though they were members of a different class. I experienced a similar feeling when I wore two different masks. The first mask was very masculine and conveyed an identity of a soldier or lower class man. The second mask had an air of femininity and sophistication that made me feel much more important and wealthy. I can imagine that the transition I felt moving from one mask to other may have been what Venetians experienced as they transitioned from their true identities to their masking identities. Wearing two masks that conveyed such different identities changed the way I viewed myself while wearing them. For example, the way I carried myself when wearing the masculine mask included stomping steps, when I wore the feminine mask I walked in a way that was more reminiscent of gliding. This illustrates that there is a clear link between physical appearance and identity, when wearing the different masks I felt differently about how I should be acting. Venetians used masking as an opportunity to act in the way that they felt other classes acted, whether this be conveying their masked identities in a positive light or a negative one. If lower class Venetians considered the Patricians to be obnoxious, they may have dressed as Patricians and acted extremely loud and distastefully to cast a negative light of the Patrician class. When I examined each mask before interacting while wearing it, I decided to conduct myself in the way I thought the mask looked. It was interesting to see the differences in my perception of each mask versus how my classmates perceived the identities of the masks when it was their turn to wear them.

            The masking exercise we did in class gave me an understanding of how the Venetians carry out their masking rituals. However, I draw more parallels from how the Venetians and tourists visiting Venice must have felt to my own experiences on Halloween where I underwent a more full immersion as an alternate character, supplementing the mask with different clothing and being in an environment where others were more fully immersed in their new identities. With this being said, I believe that wearing masks was only a portion of the Venetian transformation of identity. The Venetians fully immersed themselves by adding costumes and a festive environment to their experience wearing masks. It was all of these details that were a draw for tourists as they had the opportunity to take on new identities during their visits to Venice, experiencing life in a way similar to how I felt on Halloween as a child. 

Annabelle Willey