“Mascheroni” along Canal Grande
In his “Mémoires” of 15th-century Italy, French chronicler Philippe de Commynes (1445-1517) once declared Canal Grande was “the most beautiful street in the world, flanked by beautiful buildings, all along the entire city”.
Indeed, on both sides of the wonderful waterway there were – as there still are – a number of “mascheroni”, large grotesque masks that decorate the top of doors leading into the magnificent palaces of Venice: “large and tall [buildings], made in stone, old ones completely decorated; others […] with a façade in white marble from Istria, one hundred miles away.”
The masks represent men and monsters with male and female features, and sometimes portray the owners of the buildings they “guard”, the
dark palazzi filled with unfathomable treasures that Russian author Joseph Brodsky (1946-1990) mentioned in his essay “Watermark”, dedicated to Venice.
The overall feeling, Brodsky continues,
was mythological, cyclopic, to be precise: I’d entered that infinity I beheld on the steps of the [stazione] and now was moving among its inhabitants, along the bevy of dormant cyclopses reclining in black water, now and then raising and lowering an eyelid (J. Brodsky, “Watermark”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1992).
Here is a selection of the Canal Grande “mascheroni”.