Floating City

Sara Ravenel

Sara Ravenel

This is a Colombina mask. It is a half mask that only covers half of the wearer's face.

Image courtesy of http://www.venicemask.eu/img/p/722-182-thickbox.jpg

Sara Ravenel

This is a volto mask, that cover the entire face. It would conceal the identity of the wearer.

Image of courtesy of http://www.telfordimports.com/venetian-masks.html

Sara Ravenel

Painting depicting Carnival and masking in ancient Venice.

Image courtesy of http://ffaasstt.swide.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Venice-Carnival-a-history-of-its-lascivious-traditions.jpg

Sara Ravenel

Picture of Carnival in modern day Venice.

Image courtesy of http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02812/AP-carnival-venice_2812828b.jpg 

I found the masking workshop to be intriguing. In the beginning, we played a game where we held cards on our head, which resembled ancient Venetian society with its rigid class structure. I had an ace card, which meant that I was at the top of the social standing, and probably a part of the nobility. I could tell that I had a high card, likely a face card, because many people approached me and wanted to talk to me. Everyone acted very graciously towards me and wanted to be my friend, because I was at the top of the social standing. It was this same feeling of being wanted and almost idolized, which compelled many Venetians, especially of the lower social classes, to dress as members of a higher social class or of the nobility for Carnival. They wanted to experience this feeling of adoration, even if it was only for the fleeting time of Carnival.

We then played a different game, in which we were paired up with a partner, and the partners would take turns walking around the room and observing each other. It was a bit odd to be observed. I felt like this game reflects how I often feel, as if I am always performing and being watched, especially at Wake, because everywhere you go, you always see someone you know, so you never have anonymity here.

 I think this feeling of always being observed, combined with the very strict social standings in ancient Venice, would make the idea of masking a very appealing one. Masking would allow citizens freedom, because it would conceal their identity and social status. In his work Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic, Johnson described the effect that masking had on loosing the social constraints of Venetian society: “Behind the mask commoners were said to mix freely with nobles, women with men, and foreigners with the locals” (15). The citizens could act more freely and interact with people of different and higher social standing. Carnival was a time when almost all rules, laws, and social customs were suspended. Burke says, that Carnival was a time of “universal liberty” or “universal madness” (“The Carnival of Venice”, 186). It was acceptable to overindulge in food, drink, and promiscuous behavior, because everyone was wearing a mask, and they were therefore anonymous to some degree. When I was masked, I felt this freedom to act as I wanted. When wearing a mask, I tended to act sillier and more carefree. It was much more relaxing walking around with a mask on and being observed, then walking around without it. A sentiment I feel the other students shared.    

It is very interesting about how we perceive ourselves and how we act so that others have a certain perception of us. Wearing a mask really helped me to understand this point, because when I was wearing a mask, I felt less inclined to act a certain way or perform, because I felt as if people were not observing me as much or almost did not know who I was. I think this is the freedom that masking gave to the Venetian citizens and why it became such a popular practice for them.  

Sara Ravenel