Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1756 Venetian sior
Subjectsior aristocrat, nobleman
Culture: Venetian
Setting: Venetian republic 18thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Favale/Alei 2003 p84
"In the midst of the crowds of masked revellers [SIC], animals and curious objects of all sorts, the eighteenth-century Serenissima slowly slipped into decadence.  Although its military and economic might had long been on the wane, in the decades after 1700 Venice was still one of the biggest and richest capitals in Europe and as such drew great numbers of visitors.  By that time most of its democratic ideals had all but dissipated as much of its wealth derived from corrupt practices.  For example, nobles and pseudo-nobles paid huge bribes in order to appear in the Golden Book, (a list of members of the nobility), [SIC] thereby replenishing the coffers of the city.  The new revenues were then recycled into public entertainments and spectacles, attracting more visitors from abroad.  In Voltaire's Candide the protagonist meets a series of sovereigns from both Christian Europe and the Orient; all had come to enjoy the general atmosphere of Carnival decadence.  By the end of the eighteenth century the entire Lagoon had been transformed into a vast port of corruption, where people from all over the world met to gamble adn enjoy sensuous and frivolous pleasures."

* Baetjer 2003-10 online
​"The Role of Venice in Eighteenth-Century Europe  While her political status steadily declined, Venice became—and has remained—a preeminent tourist destination. The city’s architecture, which is inflected by its geographic position and by the particular conditions of a maritime environment, and the wealth and richness of its painting, sculpture, and decoration attracted ever larger numbers of visitors. Special fairs were held to interest buyers in the books, glass, lace, and all manner of other locally manufactured and imported goods that were offered for sale. Many foreigners stopped in Venice on their so-called Grand Tour (international travel intended to enhance the education of prominent young adult males, particularly for the Carnival season and for the great Ascension Day festival. In addition to the fine arts, music, and theater, gambling, and other less salubrious entertainments were readily available."  [references omitted]

* Urban life in Venice online
"Venice was famous for its proximity to and reliance on water, as well as the numerous waterways that formed its streets. Dubbed the Queen of the Tides and a city married to the sea, Venice was perhaps best known for its sensational music and arts, whether it be theater performances or melodic serenades in the gondolas, as well as its citizens’ pursuit of pleasure and love.The Venetians were sprightly and eloquent, who saw things in their true light and were permitted to travel, dress, purchase, and eat as they pleased. The men walked the streets without weapons, the women without a posse of servants, and the senators without attendants; even the British women who were visiting were able to explore Venice in barges without their spouses. Sights in Venice often included “musical sailors and gay gondoliers” whose sweet melodies and passionate recitations could be heard from all throughout the city. Return of the Bucintoro to the Molo on Ascension Day, a painting by artist Giovanni Antonio Canal (1697-1768) who specialized in painting Venetian vedute or views, highlights the many gondolas that serviced Venice’s waterways.
    "Visitors to Venice often found that the people there were more concerned with attending the theater than with worldly affairs or intellectual discussions. The Venetians attended the theaters nearly every evening from six until eleven, amusing themselves with sonatas and agreeable conversation. Though removed from the intellectual realm, the Venetians did have bookseller shops and coffee houses, where one could purchase books and discuss news of all subject matters. However, not all was well in the city where “every sensation is wound up to love,” as the wicked were often able to disguise themselves among churchgoers, singing psalms and receiving pious donations, and the judicial system often ruled murder cases in favor of the murderer."

* Belloni 2003 p12-14
"Venice was an aristocratic republic, that is to say that a certain kind of democracy was effective only within the upper classes, while the ordinary people had no say in government.  Despite this, the aristocracy was always loved and admired by the people.  And so, with the wealth, power and consensus which it enjoyed, it could impose its ow lifestyle as a model for the whole of Venetian society.  So what were these Venetian nobles like?  They certainly were not fat and idle feudal landlords, and they certainly didn't live off the backs of the rest of the population!  They were merchants and adventurers who risked their riches, and often their own lives, on a daily basis on the ships which sailed for the mysterious East.  Pirates, storms, attacks by enemy fleets, strange lands: mystery and adventure!
    "These people couldn't let up even in Venice, in their own city.  Adventure for them was a way of life.
    "They therefore created a city which offered all types of adventure, in every sense of the word!"


* Belloni 2003 p12
"The first law regulating the use of masks dates back to the 13th century, but nobody knows when the Venetians actually started wearing them as a part of everyday life.  What we do know, however, is that this all ended with the fall of the Venetian Republic, at the end of the 18th century.  Before that, the law allowed for masks to be worn for most of the year.  In the 18th century, for example, from the 5th of October to the 10th of June -- 8 months -- apart from 10 days during Advent and the 40 days of Lent."

* Barsis 1973 p206
"The freedom offered by the opportuity to wear masks was welcome indeed to citizens held under tight rein by their Republic.  For months afterward, people used the excuse of the annual carnival to continue wearing their masks -- sometimes for as long as half a year.
    "'The mask is the most convenient thing in all the world,' wrote playwright Carlo Goldoni.  'It facilitates all intrigues and daring enterprises.'  Masks served lovers as well as criminals, political plotters, and other opponents of the government."

* Favale/Alei 2003 p76-77
"Surprisingly, the masks of the commedia dell'arte were rarely worn by Venetian citizens.  Arlecchino, Pulcinella and Capitan Spaventa were theatrical personages for the stage and not the streets.  They did not relate to ordinary lives of Venetian citizens, who in reality were highly regulated by the state.  The authorities constantly sought to limit the excessive opulence of the nobles' costumes, which tended to highlight the city's inherent social inequalities.  Consequently, the mysterious-looking bautta and the more feminine moretta evolved in the eighteenth century and became the common masks of rich and poor alike.
    "The bautta was a simple mask with a large protruding beak that left the mouth partially exposed in order to facilitate breathing, speaking, eating and drinking.  It was worn with a black mantle (tabarro) and a tricorn. Since the tricorn was attached to the bautta with strings it was never removed, not even to greet or dine.  This mask, also known by the Latin larva (ghost or soul), gave its wearer a macabre, phantasmal aspect evoking that typically Carnivalesque rapport between the dead and the living.  The nobles, recognised as such because they were usually accompanied by their codeghe (lantern-bearers), must have appeared quite spectral, if not frightening, when promenading down the narrow Venetian alleyways at night wearing a bautta, their shadow-like mantles flowing behind them."

* Belloni 2003 p16
"Bautta and Volto (incognito living)  The first reference dates back to the 13th century, but its origin remains a mystery.  The etymology of the name itself is subject to controversy.  It may have the same root as 'behüten', which in German means 'to protect'.  It did, in fact, protect and perfectly disguise the identity of the men and women who wore it and therefore allowed for maximum freedom of action.  It was made up of a hood which covered the head down to the shoulders, leaving only the face free.  This hood was generally made of silk and decorated with lace which hung from the shoulders down to the waist.  The lace let the richness of the clothing of the gentlemen and the powdered chest of the ladies show through, while the hood completely disguised the identity of the person.  The part of the face left uncovered was in turn concealed with the 'volto' ('face') or 'larva'.  The form of this mask was such that it allowed the wearer to eat and drink without taking it off.  


* Belloni 2003 p16-18
"The 'Volto' and 'Bautta' (hood) parts were held together by a hat, generally a tricorn hat, which was never removed.  Every man or woman in costume was greeted, indifferently, with the title 'signora marchera' ('lady mask'), which was the most anonymous form of address.  This particular disguise was so common as to be called 'standard dress' and in time became the uniform of the Venetian nobility.
    "The people also adopted it willingly, albeit perhaps without the lace, to be able to mix with the nobles and join them at one of the many parties.  And if he or she really couldn't afford the hood, the ordinary person still wore the face, which worn alone certainly didn't constitute a completely effective disguise, but remained the absolute minimum requirement.  Wearing at least the mask had become a custom which extended to practically everyone."

* Favale/Alei 2003 p76
"The bautta was usually white and worn by men and women while the moretta was black and was an exclusively female object.  The latter was a hypnotic round mask that covered the central part of the face (mouth, nose and eyes) but left the ears, forehead, chin and hair exposed.  It was held in place not by strings or hairpins but by a bit held between the teeth.  As a result its wearer could not speak, transforming the disguise into an enchanting seductive stratagem.  Bout the bautta and moretta were worn in accompaniment with a simple mantle which often concealed a sumptuous costume to be revealed only in the privacy of a palace.  The effectiveness of Venetian masks in the 1700s therefore relied more on their suggestive allure than on luxurious materials and decorations."