Unmasking the Heart

James H. Johnson

in Venice Incognito

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780520267718
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520948624 | DOI:
Unmasking the Heart

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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For the critics of commedia dell’arte, carnival masks and their spinoffs in the theater were part of a wider circle of wickedness that stretched from the concrete to the unseen. To them, there was a direct connection between hiding one’s face and covering one’s heart. This chapter discusses the association of masking to disclosing one’s heart. In his magnum opus, Tomaso Garzoni pointed the association of the mask to the excesses of the carnival. Of all the professions, Garzoni claimed that mask making was founded by Satan. For him, masks were the visible remnant of original sin. Masks were argued to bring out the worst in people. They inspired impious words and riotous actions. They debase the good and caused the vulgar to reach beyond their station. The masks were also linked with hypocrisy where the deceit was real but the disguise was invisible. In the late sixteenth century, tying carnival masks to dishonesty was a characteristic of the age. Central to this were the associations of masks to Satan, while on the other side the link was between God, unmasking, and honesty. In the iconography of the time, bestial features and deformed bodies were classic symbols of deceit, while flawless bodies and visible hearts were representative of immaculate virtue.

Keywords: commedia dell’arte; carnival masks; hiding one’s face; covering one’s heart; Tomaso Garzoni; dishonesty; visible hearts

Chapter.  2440 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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