Kartaruga and the fascinating history of Venetian masks
by Barbara Palladino
Venice is renowned all over the world for the splendid artisanal masks that have become one of its icons, and Kartaruga is one of its leading ateliers. Here, you will find hundreds of creations: papier-mâché, traditional Commedia dell’Arte characters, lavishly decorated models painted with gold, and baroque ones with feathers and crystals.
The store was founded in the 1980s by Fabio Cecamore, who manages it to this day with his daughter Francesca. This was where many of the masks you may have seen on TV or even at the cinema were created: the one Dawid Bowie wore in the “L’Invitation Au Voyage” advertisement campaign for Louis Vuitton, those that hid Heath Ledger’s face in “Casanova”, and many more made in collaboration with the Cirque du Soleil.
However, the most famous masks by Kartaruga might be those made especially for Stanley Kubrick’s last movie, “Eyes Wide Shut”, which played a key role in the storyline and in signaling the protagonist’s evolution. Producer Jan Harlan had personally visited the atelier to handpick the unique pieces all fans will remember: the androgynous mask worn by Tom Cruise, and the one model Mandy picks in one of the film’s most iconic scenes.
The art and skill of wearing a mask have always been tied to the world of entertainment and transgression. In the 17th and 18th centuries, masks were so common in Venice they almost became a status symbol, but were sometimes also used by criminals hoping to remain anonymous. For this very reason, in 1608 they had been forbidden outside of the Carnival celebrations – but never really disappeared from Venetian salons. Today, masks are living a new golden age, bringing the spotlight back to Italy and Venice in particular, as the heart of this historical art and industry.
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