The Mask of Sincerity

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:
The Mask of Sincerity

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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This chapter discusses the mask of sincerity. In the strange world of Venetian masking, where masks helped to preserve hierarchy by temporarily suspending it, masking was by and large honest. Masks generally inspired acts of deception but their more common use was closer to dissembling that to feigning. Masks were “veils of honest obscurity”. For the officials, the threat of the masks was not the identity itself but the equalizing effects of the mask. This concern was pegged on the notion that equality would undermine and cause insubordination. Subordination affirmed the solidity of the Republic and from it the society of Venice depended. Masks were argued to conceal identity but could not alter it. This is how a population that embraced masks could abhor imposture. The grumbling about equality was one thing while the outrage over those who assumed a false identity was something else altogether. To countenance masks while abominating imposture was no contradiction. Both grew from a culture that held one’s essence as inalterable. Those who challenged that belief paid dearly. In Venice, the social identity was dictated by birth. Challenges by impostors to hierarchies rooted in birth provide insight into the historical development of identity. Whether used to bear witness to the inmost conscience or to deceive shamelessly, the terms of sincerity asserted that self was a legitimate authority against dominant beliefs, traditions, and institutions. From within the constraining webs of religion, gender, rank, and community norms, the masks provided actors and people venues to survive, to cope, and to change things.

Keywords: mask of sincerity; Venetian masking; Masks; subordination; social identity; identity

Chapter.  5015 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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