Saturday, January 24, 2015

Mask hunting in Venice: the profane to benefit the sacred

A beautiful mask from Ca' Del Sol-Venice

Yesterday, I went to Venice specifically in search of the perfect Carnevale mask. On my route through town, I stopped by every authentic Venetian mask shop along my path. Still, none of the masks I saw or tried on met what I was looking for. Then, in the late afternoon, when my walk took me to Ca’ Del Sol—the shop I had most wanted to visit—I was greeted by a Torno Subito-Be Right Back sign hanging from a hook on the shop’s door. Peeking through the storefront window and passed a wall of Commedia dell’arte masks, I saw two electricians doing what electricians do. I knew subito or right back wouldn't be the case. I also knew I wouldn’t have time to return to Venice for shopping before Carnevale began. So, I turned my back on the shop, crossed over a narrow bridge, and entered Ca’ Del Sol’s workshop which sits across the canal from their store. Inside, a mask maker set down her needle and thread, while another continued to apply light strokes of gold paint onto papier maché. They listened to my request to visit their shop, and then gently asked if I could come back the next day. When I told them I had come in from the mainland, one of the artisans offered to telephone the owner. Within a few minutes, the owner arrived and kindly accompanied me back across the bridge, unlocked the door and invited me to browse around. Except for the electricians, I had this masked wonderland to myself.  
Vetrata Vivarini - Basilica SS. Giovanni e Paolo-Venezia

Dark blue was the tone I was looking for, and after trying on a few masks decorated with Swarovski crystals, others with delicate lace, many with colorful plumes, I chose the one in the photo. I’ll wear it to a benefit Masquerade Ball—Galà di Carnevale—which I’m very much looking forward to. It’s my first ever formal masked ball, and what makes it more special is that funds raised during the event will be used to continue the restoration work on the 15th century Vivarini stain glass windows which grace the Basilica dei SS. Giovanni e Paolo in Venice.

An evening of fun, food, dancing and fund raising! A profane celebration to benefit a sacred work of art. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Carnevale.

I thank Ca' Del Sol for accommodating me and for being so helpful and professional. I especially thank them for continuing the tradition of making authentic Venetian masks. Should you find yourself in Venice, their shop is well worth a visit. You might want to attend one of their mask making workshops, too!


  1. Have been to Venice multiple times when you can still see confetti embedded in the treads of the Accademia bridge, but never during Carnevale.
    It must have been a very special evening!

    1. Hi, Alexa.
      You really should make a trip to Venice during Carnevale. It's a treat. And our evening was one to remember! It was a lot of fun walking around the city without being recognized by friends, too. My husband and I, dressed in our masks, walked up behind a group of his colleagues who were having an after work aperitivo at our favorite cafè in the Piazza. Well, they didn't recognize us until my husband ordered his favorite cocktail, a special kind of spritz made from a mix he and his colleagues invented awhile back. They and the bartender took a second and then a third look our way, and then started laughing. I can see why masks were so popular and widely worn in Venice during the Renaissance.