Venice incognito: masks in the serene republic by James H. Johnson

By James H. Johnson

The total city is disguised, declared a French vacationer of eighteenth-century Venice. And, certainly, maskers of all ranks--nobles, clergy, imposters, seducers, con men--could be stumbled on blending at each point of Venetian society. Even a pious nun donned a masks and male dresses for her liaison with the libertine Casanova. In Venice Incognito, James H. Johnson deals a lively research of covering during this carnival-loving urban. He attracts on a wealth of fabric to discover the realm view of maskers, either in the course of and outdoors of carnival, and reconstructs their good judgment: overlaying the face in public used to be a uniquely Venetian reaction to 1 of the main inflexible type hierarchies in eu heritage. This brilliant account is going past universal perspectives that covering used to be approximately forgetting the previous and minding the foundation of delight to provide clean perception into the historic development of id.

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Today, carnivalesque can describe an attitude, a frame of mind, a joyously subversive stance toward authority in general. ”5 Such readings carry assumptions about how eighteenth-century Venetians conceived of identity. By disguising appearances and exposing hierarchies as arbitrary, masks purportedly revealed a universal impulse for equality. Revelers’ behavior, the logic goes, expressed a self-conception at odds with their inherited status. “ ‘Buon giorno, siora mascara’ was an egalitarian greeting that leveled social barriers,”she writes.

An Englishman on the grand tour was especially amused by six men in lawyers’ garb “with very scurvy gowns and weather-beaten wigs” who seized strangers in the crowd and told them they faced charges. The joke was apparently popular. Twentyfive years later, in 1759, two commoners dressed as attorneys went through the streets loudly complaining about the judicial system. 16 This was just the sort of cheek that visitors hoped to see when they came to Venice: a great anonymous frolic in which all participated as equals.

Venetians crowded into the small square before the ducal palace and usually spilled into the piazza in front of St. Mark’s. Guilds processed carrying identifying banners, with the butchers and blacksmiths managing bulls near the front. Workers from the shipyards followed, their faces blackened or masked, carrying blunt swords and wooden sticks. When all were assembled, a palace door opened above. Magistrates, legislators, and other dignitaries filed out to take seats on the colonnaded balcony, a procession that took half an hour.

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