Room 1. The first installation is formed of memories, documents, items and images accompanying the research development of the neutral mask from the first theatrical events associated with the Vieux Colombier theatre (1914) in Paris, directed by Jacques Copeau and Charles Dullin. The historic itinerary continues between the two wars until the meeting between the French mime artist, Jacques Lecoq, and sculptor Amleto Sartori at the Teatro dell’Università di Padova (1947-48). From that meeting sprang the neutral mask, the “mother of all masks”, now used in the most representative theatre schools in the world, and forming the basis for research for all the masks made since then by Amleto and Donato Sartori and by the Centro Maschere e Strutture Gestuali. A large installation called “The forest of masks” exhibits the “helmet-masks” produced over the past 80 years by Amleto and Donato Sartori, from the making of 75 masks for Aeschylus’s trilogy, “Oresteia”, by Jean-Louis Barrault – performed at the International Festival of Bordeaux (1955) and subsequently at the Théâtre Marigny in Paris – to those made by Donato, the son, for Aeschylus’s same work as directed by Peter Okskarson at the Folkteatern in Gävle, Sweden (2002). The room also contains examples of studies of physiognomics, executed by Sartori on the basis of G.B. Della Porta’s treatise of 1586, in which the reference to decipher the essence of man remained the examination of the forms of animals and characters attributed to them. Zoomorphism became a fundamental principle for investigating physical features and character, and this was exemplified in drawings and sculptures by the artist.
Room 2. In this sector, the subject of medieval masks as used by popular theatre and in folklore of pagan origins is explored. Entitled “The shamanic voyage” (a flight through the barriers separating the dimensions between life and death), the itinerary in this room presents a series of theatrical events based around the figures of Hellequin, Herlakin, Alichino; a diabolical figure present in popular legend in northern countries of the Middle Ages. From the middle of the first millennium, chronicles, ballads and documents bare witness to the belief in this mythical infernal creature, leading the souls of the dead not into the other dimension, the definitive home beyond the bridge of Hellebrun, or the “pons subtilis” or the Dantesque river crossed by the demonic Charon with his lugubrious cargo, but into the earthly dimension: hence, visible, palpable souls (revenants). Myths, sagas and legends on these themes have for centuries populated the fantasy and folklore of entire populations, raising reasonable doubts as to the Italian origins of the typical mask of the teatro dell’arte: the Harlequin with a thousand faces. From the iconography, one can make a link between Harlequin and the Celtic Pantheon. And it is this subject that has for some years (1996-2003) occupied Donato Sartori, in a search for the roots of the mask of Harlequin with the collaboration of the Folkteatern in Gävle, Sweden, and of its director, Peter Oskarson. This room also has on display figures from shadow theatre, drawings and works of various forms and techniques.
Room 3. This part of the exhibition bears witness to the love of Amleto Sartori for the Veneto theatre of Angelo Beolco, called Il Ruzante, and the works he produced. A love, this, that dates back to before the 1950s, from the meeting between Sartori and the exponents of the Teatro dell’Università di Padova – the director, Gianfranco De Bosio, the historian, Ludovico Zorzi, and Giovanni Calendoli, head of the theatre faculty at the University of Padua. It was in these years that the fame of his masks became known not only in Italy but above all in Europe, then enjoying a fertile post-war cultural re-awakening. Jean-Louis Barrault wanted to experiment with Amleto Sartori’s leather masks firstly in the commedia dell’arte for a performance at the Théâtre Marigny in Paris, and then for the “Oresteia”. Subsequently, many of the most representative European theatres turned to Sartori, including the Ensemble Theatre of Essen in Germany, for “Des Ruzante Rede, so er vom Schlachtfeld kommen”, the first play to be staged by Brecht’s pupil, Peter Palitzsch (1960-61). The itinerary continues with masks, studies, drawings and designs made by Sartori for the Commedia dell’Arte between the post-war years and today.
Room 4. The third centenary of the birth of Goldoni could not fail to include a space dedicated to the art of the mask in the theatre of the great Venetian dramatist and to the continued development and revision of his most famous work, “Arlecchino servitore di due padroni”, interpreted for over 40 years by Ferruccio Soleri under the direction of Strehler and with the mask made by Donato Sartori. This room is entirely dedicated to the extraordinary history of the Commedia dell’Arte: documents, images, drawings, masks, the historic costume of Harlequin, sketches and drawings accompanied by photographic and video documentation of the two Paduan sculptors. The exhibition follows the various steps of the artistic life of the Sartori with the Giorgio Strehler and Paolo Grassi’s Piccolo Teatro di Milano, initiated in 1951 with Carlo Goldoni’s “L’amante militare”, performed by Marcello Moretti, who appeared for the first time with a papier-mâché mask made for him by Amleto Sartori, abandoning the usual mask painted on the face. The association continued and the papier-mâché masks were replaced by the others in leather that have made the Sartori famous throughout the world. Strehler himself recalls for the ‘“Arlecchino servitore di due padroni” that Moretti chose a “cat type” of mask. And since then, it is always this mask that has been used, and we all undertook a long study to rediscover the mask and the adventure of the Commedia dell’Arte. But it was Amleto who first “rediscovered” the technique of “making masks”, which had also vanished as to its poetic and artistic connotations. To make these first masks, Sartori worked hard, looking back in time, without a teacher, on a trial and error basis’. Following the premature death of his father at the age of just 46, the son, Donato, inherited the cultural, artistic and technical heritage, perfecting, broadening and adapting it to the necessities of contemporary productions. The association with Strehler continued subsequently with the creation of masks for the works of Brecht, Goldoni and Pirandello. The route through the room is completed with the display of some masks from the commedia in some way linked with the Piccolo Teatro (such as the “Pulcinella” by Eduardo de Filippo) or simply that have come under its influence. The Piccolo Teatro di Milano has loaned the historic costume of Ferruccio Soleri, while the Casa Goldoni in Venice has loaned the costume of Marcello Moretti and the two masks displayed here.
Room 5. This room contains the “gesture structures” or “total masks” made by Donato Sartori over the years through many experiences in seminars and workshops held around the world: from Venezuela to Mexico City and Cuba, Copenhagen to Brussels and Paris. The first ideas of this new type of sculpture appeared during the seminar-workshop Donato Sartori held for the Biennale di Venezia in 1976 at Mirano, with the collaboration of students and works of the highly polluted factories of the area. The expressiveness of lacerated bodies, hung up and covered with professional masks or protective masks (such as anti-gas ones) became, with the assistance of the gesture and action, the visual language of a communication of social character. The sculpture have lost any simply aesthetic sense and assumed another of a creative and communicative character.
Room 6. This darkened room contains some works from the most recent research and projects of Donato Sartori and of the Centro Maschere e Strutture Gestuali on the theme of “urban maskings”, a sort of ephemeral modification of city areas – squares, roads, buildings, public monuments, churches – realised through an installation of polychrome fibres completely altering their usual appearance. We rediscover here two ancient concepts – ritual and feast – that have always permeated the history of the creativity of man within society. Initiation, propitiatory and fertility rites, birth and death, are just some of the moments marked by that tribal rituality from which many of the creative expressions in the various human cultures have sprung. Forms and colours, trance and participation constitute the mix that makes the creative human energy explode, drawing it into a sort of collective drunkenness, of joy and festivity. And festivities are all those more or less spontaneous occasions manifesting a desire for communication through the liberation of the senses and the breaking through the everyday dimension of life. The stimulus to participate, to “join together”, although changed today after losing its religious or propitiatory motivation, continues nevertheless to exist; it is fundamentally to human nature and is profoundly rooted in the collective consciousness. Thus, the urban fittings set out by Donato Sartori with his “maskings” invites the public to play, to take part in a sort of great ‘join-in-the-fun game’. Gesture, image and sound are the elements reproposing a new use of urban space for a spectator public becoming a protagonist in a collective action, in a new tribal rite. Venice, 1980, St Mark’s Square: the first and most astonishing example of urban masking, with the collaboration of the Biennale di Venezia with the Carnevale del Teatro directed by Maurizio Scaparro. This was followed (amongst the many cities of the world) by: Naples, Maschio Angioino (1980); Florence, Piazza della Signoria (1981); Nancy, Place Stanislas (1982); Copenhagen, Town Square (1984); Rio de Janeiro (1995); and the recent installation in Oporto, Portugal. From this arises the retrospective of films, starting with Venice and continuing with the most representative and emblematic visions of the other cities involved: an installation of monitors bearing witness, through films, videos, images, the evolution of the mask in contemporary theatre and visual arts, as well as the long and passionate involvement of the Sartori and the Centro Maschere e Strutture Gestuali.
This exhibition has been planned and curated by Donato Sartori, Paola Piizzi and Paolo Trombetta. All the works on display are from the prestigious Sartori Collection, which also constitutes the Museo Internazionale della Maschera Amleto e Donato Sartori in Abano Terme, inaugurated last year by Nobel Prizewinner Dario Fo and Franca Rame who, for the occasion, performed “Maschere Pupazzi e Uomini dipinti”, some excerpts of which are screened in this exhibition.