The Culture of Masks and Costume
Pietro Longhi’s work entitled Masked Party in a Courtyard is a perfect example of the nobility’s uses for masks and costume. It is clear that masks had a dual purpose by allowing one to observe a level of formality while also concealing one’s true self so that one may act and speak freely. James Johnson addresses this attitude of the time writing, “It was about forgetting the past and suspending the future, escaping behind the blankness of the mask, and minding the muse of pleasure.” In Longhi’s painting, men and women are dressed in the standard costume of the day, a tabàro and baùta, and are seen at a party conversing and drinking coffee. The central noblewoman and the woman to her left are uncovered, which suggests a belief in the security of their social status as well as in their surroundings. Upon closer examination, one observes that while these women’s faces are bare, they both wear black veils signifying they are married. It is unclear whether this scene would have taken place in public or not. It’s likely the scene was in a public area as a certain level of formality is arguably present. Most of the men in this image still retain their masks and the one who does not is largely faced away from the viewer. The masks these men wear and the refusal to address the viewer allow them to maintain a distance and level of formality with the viewer but also provide them the opportunity to interact freely with the other guests in the scene. Here, the viewer is to understand that the message behind the mask was one of hidden freedom so that one could act and speak freely without disturbing the peace.