Reading The Story of My Life by Giacomo Casanova set me off on a browse of the beautiful masks famously worn during the Carnival of Venice. These masks were originally used to celebrate the victory of the Most Serene Republic of Venice against Ulrich II of Aquileia and his failed attempt to bring the city under German rule circa 1162. By the time Casanova was living in the city in the middle of the 18th century, citizens were allowed to wear masks for up to six months which enabled the wearer to indulge in an excess of food, wine and partying, and to mix freely with those of other classes. The masks also provided anonymity for those seeking to indulge in a bit of sexual shenanigans. Such hedonistic pleasures led Venice to gain its reputation as a strict yet deeply licentious city.
But back to Casanova who was much more than just a bed-hopping sex beast. He was a soldier, a musician, a dabbler in the dark arts, a novelist, a spy and eventually a librarian to Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein at his castle in Bohemia. Casanova also spent time in the Piombi prison for “public outrages against the holy religion.” Quite incredibly, he escaped from this jail situated in the upper floors of the Doge’s palace by climbing through the roof in 1756. He then fled to Paris where he set up a lottery to raise money for the French army. Casanova was a rather ingenious man and I think it fair to say throughout his life he quite literally donned various “masks” like an actor as he tried out the different roles he played. The real Casanova only became apparent when he sat down to write his memoirs when working as a librarian in Dux.
These gorgeous handmade paper mache masks are inspired by many of the traditional designs worn in Venice during Casanova’s era. They are for sale and though expensive, are utterly beautiful.
‘Damask Noble Man.’
Via Original Venice and Pinterest.