Under the Venice mask. Guide to the new exhibition of the Tsaritsyno Open-Air Museum

May 5

Tsaritsyno Open-Air Museum is presenting the new exhibition about Venice — the city turning 1600 this year. The exhibits were brought from the Correr Museum, the Glass Museum, the Palazzo Ca Rezzonico where the Museum of the 19th century Venice is located, and the Palazzo Mocenigo (the museum of textiles and costumes). The project that was conceived back in 2018, and is directed by Daria Kolpashnikova, PhD in Art History and an employee of the Tsaritsyno Open-Air Museum, and Chiara Squarcina from the Venice City Museum Foundation.

Daria Kolpashnikova, employee of the Tsaritsyno Open-Air Museum

The exhibition is located in nine halls of the Tsaritsyno Khlebny House. The lecture hall is one of them: meetings with art experts and children's classes will be held there, and a film about Russian travelers in Venice will be shown. The remaining eight halls — each in its own way — reveal the ancient city’s image through exhibits, household items of the 18th century, many of which came to Moscow for the first time.

Exploring the city

The first hall of the exhibition is dedicated to exploring Venice. Presented here are items like an ancient gondola’s bow decorated with silver forging. A rowboat gondola is a real symbol of the city and the main means of transportation along the Venetian canals. The regulations for boats manufacturing appeared in 18th century and have not changed since then. The gondola length is 11.05 meters — nothing more nothing less.

A golden lion sculpture from the Correr Museum is another symbol of the Republic of Venice displayed in this hall. The King of the Beasts is a symbol of Saint Mark, the patron of Venice. The image of the lion adorns ancient palaces, houses, and even ceremonial robes. By the way, modern Venetians also honor the lion: for example, the winners of the Venice Film Festival have been receiving the Golden Lion Award since 1949.

The exhibition is made up as a game: visitors may try on the role of an 18th century Venice resident and imagine the life of high-ranking nobles, merchants, rich ladies, and carefree partygoers who often ended their days in damp dungeons. There is an unusual map of the exhibition on the wall of the first hall. The chain of rooms on it is represented by small transparent boxes. Inside the boxes are paper silhouettes that give an idea of the theme that the hall is dedicated to. For example, there is a jester in the box corresponding to the hall dedicated to the carnival. Two routes are indicated on the map, and the visitors can go either right or left from the first hall.

The Carnival

The road to the right leads to the famous Venetian Carnival. Visitors from all over Europe were coming here in the 18th century. Wearing a carnival mask and special domino costume everyone were out to the streets — old people, children, ordinary people and high-ranking nobles. There were no rich and poor or old and young during the festival — everyone was equal. The carnival participants addressed each other exclusively as Mr. Mask or Mrs. Mask. This was the way of greeting even if something gave a person away.

One valuable exhibit of beige color stands out against the background of modern masks painted in a pleasant green — an old bautta mask that allowed carnival participants to protect themselves from recognition as much as possible. Its most outstanding detail, the beak, is meant not for aesthetics, but to distort the voice. Very small cutouts for eyes also contributed to keeping privacy. Veils and hoods were used in addition to the bauttas. The exhibit was brought from the Museum of Palazzo Mocenigo.

While a mask was enough during the daytime, in the evening people dressed up in festive costumes. Most often, participants dressed as "wild people" and characters of the commedia dell'arte — Pulcinella, Harlequin, Brigella, Columbine. The artworks from ancient books show in detail how these costumes looked.

Individual engravings display how a massive bear or bull hunt took place in St. Mark's Square on the brightest carnival day, Fat Thursday. Next, everyone was greeted on a hearty feast, corresponding to the name of this day. At the end of the meal, the eaters,armed with wooden shields and swords organized a street procession. The Venetians did this to memorize the events of mid-twelve century, when inhabitants of the cities of Grado and Aquileia were fighting for the status of a religious center. One side was supported by Pope Alexander III, the other — by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. As a result of the battle in 1162 over seven hundred Aquileian prisoners who supported the city of Grado, were taken to Venice. The Doge agreed to release the bishop of Aquileia and 12 priests in exchange for a bull and 12 pigs. The humiliated Aquileians were driven out of the city followed by the shouts of Venetian butchers who were catching and skinning cattle.

Such was Fat Thursday in Venice every year until mid-16th century, when the Doge Andrea Gritti ordered that only bullfighting should stay. It was held for another two and a half centuries until the last carnival in the history of the republic in 1797.


Once visitors learned about the carnival, gambling follows. There is a game table in the middle of the hall where guests are invited to try their luck in a card game with a virtual opponent on special touch screens.

In the 18th century, the Republic of Venice was the only state in Europe where gambling was legal. The authorities realized that it is much more profitable to legalize casinos so that their owners pay taxes. A typical scene from the gambling hall is reproduced on a huge canvas (1740-1769) by Pietro Longhi from Palazzo Mocenigo. By the way, women could only visit casinos if wearing masks.

The painting depicts a girl whose mask seems to be held by nothing — we do not see the usual ribbons going behind her ears. This is not an invention of the artist, as such masks really existed: they had a special cork inside that was held with one’s teeth. It was impossible to speak in this kind of mask and its name, “the mute maid” is an another indication of this.


One could go to jail for gambling debts. The penitentiary system of the 18th century Venice is presented in a separate hall decorated in dark and gloomy colors. One of the exhibits is the first edition of “The Story of my Escape from Prison” by famous Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova that was included in his autobiography “The Story of My Life”. You can also see artworks dedicated to imprisonment from other ancient publications.

A dungeon in the palace of the Doge, head of the Venetian Republic, was considered one of the most terrible prisons. Because of the lead roof, the room was unspeakably hot during day time and very cold at night.

Convents were another form of imprisonment. A painting by Pietro Longhi from the Carlo Goldoni Museum is dedicated to it. The artist depicted nuns visited by their relatives: young girls are behind bars, and their relatives — on the other side entertaining them with puppets shows. It was a custom in Venice for young girls to visit on her wedding day their sisters or childhood friends kept in a convent. Given that many lay sisters of convents were staying there contrary to their free will (for example, girls without dowry), this custom can be called cruel. It is unlikely that all the novices humbly accepted the fact that the fate of their free sisters is so strikingly different from their own.

At the grandee's

If you go back to the first hall and turn left, you can find yourself visiting a rich nobleman. This room contains costumes of the middle of the 18th century from the Palazzo Mocenigo, Museum and Study Centre for the History of Textiles and Costumes, mirrors from the Palazzo Ca Rezzonico, the Museum of Venice of the 18th century, and glass fake fruits from the Museum of Glass. The master glassblowers on the island of Murano near Venice were considered the best in Europe from the 15th to the 18th century.

Few items of fake fruits, an incredible value and rarity, survived to our days. At formal receptions it was a usual joke: fake fruits were mixed with real ones that were very expensive and luxurious delicacy. Both the fake items and the costumes are very fragile. Usually, museums are reluctant to agree to their transportation. The journey of this hall’s exhibits was not an easy task.

It all started with measuring the exhibits in museums and making climate boxes of wood and other materials for them (they were degreased and checked for the absence of pest beetles). Then many layers of special paper were placed in the boxes. Carefully packed, one by one, the glass fruits were put into niches cut in the foam. The clothing exhibits at the Palazzo Mocenigo, Museum and Study Centre for the History of Textiles and Costumes, were also treated very carefully: each fold was lined with paper so that no item would crumple or lose its shape.

Then the boxes were carefully placed in a truck where certain temperature and humidity maintained inside. The truck equipped with special pneumatic soft suspension drove at a certain speed and was accompanied by a security car. Air transportation was out of the question: take-off and landing is always a risk for fragile exhibits.

In a lady's boudoir

We go further and find ourselves in a lady's boudoir. Here we can see shoes, a whalebone corset, Venetian lace, a veiled mask from the Palazzo Mocenigo, Museum and Study Centre for the History of Textiles and Costumes. Opposite them is a portrait of Elisabetta Querini Valliere, wife of Doge Silvestro Valliere, the last crowned Dogaressa and a philanthropist. The canvas was brought from the Correr Museum. Next to it is a page from a fashion magazine showing a winter outfit. The museum staff admits that Elisabetta may well be a model: the same facial features, and the magazine was published during her life.

Rich Venetians received guests and teachers in their boudoirs. These women were very educated, self-willed, and always strived for independence. They ran their own pharmacies, perfume shops, publishing houses, and much more.

In the grandee's office

In the grandee's office you will be greeted by a huge canvas from the Correr Museum — a portrait of Admiral Jacopo Gradenigo by an unknown artist. Venice in the 18th century was a maritime power. It was called the mistress of the seas, and naval commanders were very important persons in its history.

By the way, paintings are treated most carefully at the exhibition. The amount of permissible light must be measured in rooms. According to the rules of museum storage, individual works should not be lighted too much, so that they do not fade. Therefore, windows in the halls are covered with special curtains that do not let the light in, and the windows themselves are film-covered.

There is also a glass pistol — a vessel for Venetian liqueur, which nuns infused using petals of roses, as well as various jugs from the Museum of Glass. Guests may open some drawers containing lace, Murano glass, sandalwood planks, or semi-precious stones (for example, rock crystal or lapis lazuli). The contents of the drawers are decorative and the items can be touched. In the past, such things were brought by Venetian merchants from all over the world and sold in other countries.

The Russian Hall

The design of the next hall refers to the Grape Gate of the Tsaritsyno Park. The reminder of Russia is not accidental: Venetian merchants loved to come here very much. The multimedia installation will tell you in detail how it was seen by travelers.

Relations between Russia and the Republic of Venice, which were interrupted only once during the Time of Troubles (1598-1613), had a rich history. In the 18th century, Venetian artists, architects, musicians and artists were coming to Russia, and many of them worked for the imperial family. Before that, Peter the Great sent his entourage to Venice to study seamanship.

Venetians especially admired Russian holidays as incredibly luxurious and stunning. In the hall there are cannons from the Ostankino museum manor house, from which salutes were firing. There is also a portrait of Countess Sheremeteva in a masquerade costume of Bellona, the ancient Roman goddess of war (by Johann Ligotsky) and festive gold dishes from the State Historical Museum collection.

The exhibition is held as part of the open art festival “Cherry Forest”.

Source: mos.ru

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