Once upon a time in Italy during the Plague…


Creating a story/characters/world is a game in itself. Most of the time a sentence springs in your head and then you start to unclew it like a woollen ball, wondering all the time where it will lead you to. This one started with an eccentric idea of playing chess at the cemetery. Before I knew my characters’ origins I started to look for some  basic idea that would unite them and give a reason to the whole story. The missing “key” was unexpectedly found in a Venetian carnival and its artful masks. It is known that masks not only conceal, but sometimes unveil the unspoken secrets of the ones who wear them.

The Girl hides behind a small dark velvet oval called moretta, a traditional mask of Venetian women, worn all the year round. Traditionally, a moretta had no hole for a mouth to speak through and was kept in place by means of a button sewed from the inside that a wearer clamped with her teeth. Such an inflicted muteness added an air of mystery to a stranger, who only communicated with graceful language of gestures. However, that essential part was surrendered to a better visual readability. By that (I must confess, an undeliberate action at that time) I stepped back in history and turned a moretta into its ancestor – a French visard. There is no much to say about the Girl based on her mask; only that despite her appearance she is already a grown-up and has her grim secrets to keep.

One more side of life that featured masks profoundly was Commedia dell’arte – an Italian theatre, born in the second half of the 16th century. There, actors hand no script to follow, but improvised the lines right on the stage, based on knowledge of their characters’ essential traits and a vague plot-line (a wonderful example of character development, is it not?). Every character had a descriptive mask, except a leading one. Therefore the Boy, being a main character of the story, wears no mask, but rather a make-up of a Pierrot, together with a frilled collaret inherited from the same role. His mask is gentle, unforgivably naive and is often eaten by guilt because of things that are truly not his fault. He is a moon’s favourite, who has no clue what is really going on around him, always looking for a game to play, always abandoning himself in merry-making.

The Plague Bat has probably the most famous mask – the Medico Della Peste mask also known as the Plague Doctor mask. What nowadays has become a carnival decoration was born as a grim necessity during the times when the ghastly disease was sweeping through Europe. It served as a protection to doctors, who treated the sick, and was distinguished by glassy lenses, obscuring eye-sockets, and a menacing crooked beak, stuffed with herbs that shun the lethal fumes of decay. The mask of Plague Bat is literally grown into its skin – a sign of its unpersonalization, an indifferent cruelty of a heartless device.

Now you know the meaning of masks suddenly the insane game of chess between two children at the graveyard makes sense. What if there is a Plague ravishing on at their family home? What if the girl tries to obscure death by a game like ladies of Giovanni Boccaccio did? And are Plague bats really bats and not the metamorphosis of Boy’s shattered mind, broken by the loss of his sister; a sinister echo of all the fantasies, born to protect innocence from the cruelty of reality, shoots of those were sown by C.S. Lewis’ fair and just Narnia and hallucinogenic Wonderland of Lewis Carroll.

It is up to you to choose your answers. The masks keep their silence.

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Used tools: Adobe Photoshop(for the concept art and frames), Adobe Flash (for editing, according to the assignment criteria)
Biblio- and Visual- graphy

Istoria Venetsianskih MasokYour Guide To Venetian Carnival MasksWeb Gallery of Art