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Gondolas, masks and prints: how to view a large-scale exposition about the life of Venetians in the 18th century, tells its curator Daria Kolpashnikova.

The Tsaritsyno Museum-Reserve opens a new exhibition dedicated to Venice, the city that turns 1600 this year. The exhibits were brought from the Correr Museum, the Glass Museum, Palazzo Ca Rezzonico, where the Museum of Venice of the 18th century is located, and Palazzo Mocenigo (museum of textiles and costumes). The project, conceived back in 2018, has two curators – Daria Kolpashnikova, Ph.D. in art history, an employee of the Tsaritsyno Museum-Reserve, and Chiara Squarcina (Fund of Venice City Museums).

The exhibition is located in nine halls of the Tsaritsyn Bread House. One of them is a lecture: there will be meetings with experts in the field of art and children’s activities, a film about Russian travelers in Venice will be shown. The remaining eight – each in their own way – reveal the image of the ancient city through the exhibits, household items of the 18th century, many of which came to Moscow for the first time.

Acquaintance with the city

The first room for guests to enter is dedicated to getting to know Venice. Here are collected objects like the nose of an old gondola, decorated with silver forging. The rowing boat gondola is a real symbol of the city, the main means of transportation along the Venetian canals. In the 18th century, the regulations for its manufacture appeared, which have not changed since then. The length of the gondola to this day is 11.05 meters – no more, no less.

Another symbol of the Venetian Republic that can be seen in this room is the golden lion sculpture from the Correr Museum. The king of beasts is a symbol of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice. The image of a lion is found in 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 awarded the Golden Lion since 1949.

The exhibition, built on the principle of a game, allows guests to try on the role of a resident of Venice in the 18th century and imagine how high-ranking nobles, businesslike merchants, wealthy ladies and careless revelers who often ended their days in damp dungeons lived. On the wall of the first hall there is an unusual map of the exposition. Each subsequent hall on it is represented by a small transparent box. Inside the boxes there are paper silhouettes that give an idea of ​​the theme the hall is dedicated to. For example, in the box corresponding to the hall dedicated to the carnival, there is a jester. There are two routes on the map, and from the first hall, viewers can go right or left.


The road to the right leads to the famous Venice Carnival. Guests from all over Europe came here in the 18th century. After putting on a carnival mask and a special domino costume, everyone went out into the streets – old people, children, ordinary people, high-ranking gentlemen. During the holiday, there were no rich and poor, old and young – everyone was equal. The participants of the carnival addressed each other exclusively as “Mr. Mask” or “Mrs. Mask”. Even if a person was recognizable for some reason, he was still greeted only in this way.

Against the background of the installation of modern masks, painted in a pleasant green, one valuable beige exhibit stands out – an old bout mask, which allowed the carnival participant to protect himself as much as possible from recognition. Its most prominent detail, the beak, is needed not for aesthetics, but for distorting the voice. Promoted incognito preservation and very small eye cutouts. In addition to the bow, veils and hoods were used. The exhibit was brought from the museum of the Palazzo Mocenigo.

If during the day it was possible to limit ourselves to only one mask, then in the evening they dressed up in festive costumes. Most often, the participants dressed up as “wild people” and characters from the commedia dell’arte – Pulcinella, Harlequin, Brighella, Columbine. How these costumes looked is described in detail by illustrations from old books.

Selected engravings show how on the brightest carnival day, Fat Thursday, a massive bear or bull hunt took place in Piazza San Marco. After her, a hearty feast, corresponding to the name of this day, awaited everyone. At the end of the meal, eaters armed with wooden shields and swords staged a street procession. The Venetians did this in memory of the events of the mid-12th century, when the inhabitants of the cities of Grado and Aquileia were at odds with 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, more than seven hundred Aquilean prisoners were taken to Venice, which supported Grado. The Doge agreed to release the bishop of Aquileia and 12 priests in exchange for a bull and 12 pigs. The humiliated Aquileans were driven out of the city to the shouts of the Venetian butchers, who caught cattle and skinned carcasses.

This was Fat Thursday in Venice every year until the middle of the 16th century, when the Doge Andrea Gritti ordered to leave only bullfighting. It was held for another two and a half centuries – until the last carnival in the history of the republic in 1797.


After the carnival – gambling. There is a gambling table in the middle of the hall, at which guests are invited to try their luck by playing 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 a gambling hall is reproduced by a huge canvas (1740–1769) by Pietro Longhi from Palazzo Mocenigo. Women, by the way, could only be in the casino wearing masks.

The painting depicts a girl whose mask seems to be holding on to nothing – we do not see the usual ribbons extending behind the ears. This is not an invention of the artist, such masks really existed: from the inside they had a special cork, with which it could be held by the teeth. It was impossible to speak in a mask of this type, which is reflected in its name – “dumb servant.”

For gambling debts, you could go to jail. A separate room, made in muted gloomy shades, is dedicated to the penitentiary system of Venice in the 18th century. One of the exhibits is the first edition of “The Story of My Prison Break” by the famous Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova, which was included in the autobiography “The Story of My Life”. You can also see illustrations of the conclusion from other old editions.

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

Another form of imprisonment is monasteries. A painting by Pietro Longhi from the Carlo Goldoni House Museum is dedicated to her. The artist depicted a scene of relatives visiting nuns: young girls behind bars, their loved ones on the other side, entertaining them with performances with puppets. In Venice, there was a custom: on her wedding day, a young girl visited her sister or childhood friend, languishing in a monastery. Considering that many of the pupils of the monastery did not end up there of their own free will (for example, women without dowry were sent there), we can call this custom cruel. It is unlikely that all the pupils humbly accepted the fact that the fate of their peers in the wild is so strikingly different from their own.

The grandee

If you return to the first hall and turn left, you can be visiting a rich nobleman. This room contains costumes from the mid-18th century from Palazzo Mocenigo and the center of the history of textiles and costumes, mirrors from Palazzo Ca Rezzonico, the Museum of Venice of the 18th century, glass trompe l’oeil fruits from the Museum of Glass. Glassblowers on the island of Murano near Venice were considered the best in Europe from the 15th to the 18th century.

Trompe l’oeil fruits – incredible value and rarity – have survived in small quantities. At ceremonial receptions, the owners liked to joke: they mixed them in vases with real fruits, which were a very expensive, luxurious delicacy. Both trompe l’oeil and costumes are very fragile. Usually museums are reluctant to provide them for transportation. The travel of the exhibits from this hall turned into a complex operation.

It all started with measuring the exhibits directly in museums and making climate boxes for them made of wood and other materials (they were degreased, checked for pest beetles). Then many layers of special paper were placed in the boxes. Glass fruits, carefully packed one at a time, ended up in niches carved into the foam. The outfits-exhibits in the Palazzo Mocenigo and the Center for the Study of the History of Textiles and Costumes were also handled very carefully: each fold was laid with paper so that nothing would be crumpled and did not lose its shape.

After that, the boxes were carefully placed in a truck, inside which a certain temperature and humidity were maintained. The car, equipped with a special pneumatic soft suspension, was traveling at a certain speed and accompanied by guards. Air travel is excluded: takeoff and landing for fragile exhibits is always a risk.

In the boudoir ladies

We pass further and find ourselves in a ladies’ boudoir. Here we see shoes, a whalebone corset, Venetian lace, a mask with a veil from the Palazzo Mocenigo and the Center for the Study of the History of Textiles and Costumes. Opposite them is a portrait of Elisabetta Querini Vallière, wife of Doge Silvestro Vallière, the last crowned Dogaress, philanthropist, philanthropist. The canvas was brought from the Correr Museum. Nearby is a page from a fashion magazine showcasing winter attire. Museum staff admit that Elizabeth may well be the model: the same facial features, and the dates of the magazine’s release and her life converge.

In their boudoirs, wealthy Venetian women received guests and teachers. These women were very educated, self-willed, always striving for independence. They kept their own pharmacies, perfume shops, publishing houses, and more.

Cabinet of a Venetian nobleman

In the office of the nobleman, you will be greeted by a huge canvas, a portrait of Admiral Jacopo Gradenigo by an unknown artist from the Correr Museum. Venice in the 18th century was a maritime power, it was called the ruler of the seas, and naval leaders were very important figures in its history.

By the way, the objects of painting are treated with the greatest care at the exhibition. In the premises, the amount of permissible light must be measured. According to the rules of museum storage, individual works should not be too highlighted so that they do not fade. Therefore, the windows in the halls are closed with special shields and curtains that do not allow light to pass through, and a film is glued on the glasses themselves.

There is also a glass pistol – a vessel for Venetian liqueur, which the nuns insisted on rose petals, as well as various jugs from the Museum of Glass. Guests can look into some drawers themselves – they are filled with lace, Murano glass, sandalwood, semi-precious stones (for example, rock crystal, lapis lazuli). The contents of the boxes are decorative, so you can touch them with your hands. In the past, Venetian merchants brought such gizmos from all over the world, and also sold in other countries.

Russian hall

The decoration of the next hall refers to the Grape Gate of Tsaritsyno Park. The reminder of Russia is no coincidence: the Venetian merchants were very fond of coming here. The multimedia installation will tell you in detail how the travelers saw it.

The relationship between Russia and the Venetian Republic, which was interrupted only once during the Time of Troubles (1598-1613), had a rich history. In the 18th century, Venetian painters, architects, musicians and artists came to Russia, many worked for the imperial family. Prior to this, Peter I sent his entourage to Venice to study maritime affairs.

The Venetians especially admired Russian holidays – incredibly luxurious, stunning. The hall displays cannons from the Ostankino estate museum, from which fireworks were once fired. You can also see a portrait of Countess Sheremeteva in a masquerade costume of the ancient Roman goddess of war Bellona (by artist Johann Ligotsky) and festive gold dishes from the collection of the State Historical Museum.

The exhibition is part of the Chereshnevy Les open arts festival.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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