…Sartori father and son are two characters straight out of the Renaissance. Like the Carracci, Veneziano and Pisano dynasties. Almost always a father and son team, who pass on their skills and seem a reincarnation of each other. These two make masks, but they could equally well have erected bridges, built ships or palaces, or dyed and woven tapestries; this would not change their worth. Who is the more genial of the two? The father or the son? Without indulging in fanatic admiration, trying to trace out a ranking smacks only of chronic paranoiacs: the Sartoris are a single, unrepeatable pair. We were speaking of their trade of sculptors of masks. Personally, I have worn hundreds of their marks, in shows, during exhibitions and lessons, in congresses and universities, from Copenhagen to Paris, New York to Beijing. I can recognise the Harlequin mask of Biancolelli or the presumed one of Tristano Martinelli, the first Harlequin, with my eyes closed. It is easier for me to discover whether a mask has been created, sculpted and beaten in leather by the Sartori or whether it is an imitation. It is not a matter of hysterics but I assure you that more than once I have had to wear a mask made by imitators because of an emergency, and after a few minutes, I have been unable to carry on with the performance. It stuck to my face, rubbed against my cheeks, scratched my nose. Above all, a halting, shrill and at times dull voice emerged from the lips below the leather. Few people know, indeed, that an artist’s mask is above all an extraordinary acoustic instrument, a musical instrument that amplifies and catalyses a balance of high and deep tones. – Dario Fo
Amleto Sartori. A talented portrait sculptor but also skilled in modelling clay and casting bronze, learned the techniques of carving wood at the age of 9 in a sculptor’s workshop and at 16 gained his diploma in art. In 1939, he graduated from the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice and then specialised in marble sculpture at the Florence Accademia. He later taught plastic arts and marble sculpture at the Pietro Selvatico art school in Padua. During the Fascist period, he was prosecuted for some anti-fascist works. This experience led to a collection of poetry: “I ricordi della montagna”. In 1947-48, he was invited by the director of the theatre of the Università di Padova, Gianfranco De Bosio, to teach modelling for theatre masks; here he met Ludovico Zorzi, a scholar studying the 16th-century Paduan dramatist, Angelo Beolco, called Il Ruzante, and the French mime artist, Jacques Lecoq, there to teach mime movements and improvisation. It was from these encounters that the ideas to produce the Commedia dell’Arte masks, and the neutral masks above all, arose. Between 1947 and 1962, he dedicated himself to the study of the Commedia dell’Arte characters, but above all to the masks, exploring the characters, fixed types and categories of the theatre figures, rediscovering the manufacturing techniques used in 17th century Venice, when a corporation called “dei Maschereri” was active: this produced the masks used by the companies of the Commedia dell’Arte travelling throughout Europe. His extraordinary disposition for portraiture and deep knowledge of sculpture and wood carving soon enabled him to discover the secrets that had been lost for centuries concerning the old techniques used for the leather masks used in improvised drama. Numerous trips to Paris to the various theatre museums (the study of some models at the Musée de l’Opéra was important), the discovery of some lead moulds at the biblioteca Marciana in Venice and the visit to the makers of the Neapolitan Pulcinelli gave Amleto the means to start a rich production of masks that were very soon celebrated not only in Italy but also throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Director Giorgio Strehler discovered Sartori’s masks during some research on the characters of the Commedia dell’Arte in which the Harlequin of the moment, the great Marcello Moretti, used to paint the mask on his face with lampblack. From that moment, the Piccolo Teatro di Milano used Amleto’s masks and, later, those of Donato, for many of their productions. Invited to Paris by Jean-Louis Barrault to prepare a group of 70 masks for the entire trilogy of Aeschylus’s Oresteia, this experience represented a major opportunity for the distribution of his work, as he was henceforth commissioned by directors from around Europe to design and create masks for productions in Copenhagen, Essen, Hanover and Bordeaux. He continued teaching, studying and investigating not only the techniques used to make the masks but also their specific culture, starting from the world of ancient classical masks and moving on to those of the Italian Commedia dell’Arte of the 16th and 17th centuries and those used in the production of Goldoni.
Donato Sartori. Learned the first artistic steps constituting the precious heritage that was to form his own later experiences in his father’s workshop. After terminating his studies, he taught sculpture and history of art in various state-run schools and institutes, while at the same continuing his own experiments with leather, based on the consolidated skills passed down by his father. He produced the masks for Brecht’s “Galileo” and “Arlecchino servitore di due padroni”, performed by Ferruccio Soleri, for the “Figlio di Pulcinella” by Eduardo De Filippo, for the Teatro di Enriquez, for the school of Jacques Lecoq and for the Comédie Française in Paris. The political and cultural upheavals of 1968 influenced him to such an extent that he began experimenting with different forms and techniques, abandoning the figurative modelling of clay in favour of the creation of metal sculptures using experimental casting methods, new forms of assembling different metals, oxyacetylene welds, lasers, etc. In 1975, he formed the “Azionecritica” group with some artists and intellectuals operating between Padua and Venice. Towards the end of the 1970s, he met art critic Pierre Restany, founder of the Nouveau Réalism current in Paris, and was profoundly influenced by the sculpture of César, Tingeluy and Christo. Major art critics, such as Marchiori, Passoni, Crispolti, began showing interest in his work. Abroad, he was invited to important sculpture events, such as the Salon de la jeune sculpture in Paris, and his works were bought by the Museo d’Arte Moderna Ca’ Pesaro di Venezia, the Museo Brindisi di Spina, Art and Krafts in New York and by the museums of Tokyo and Mexico City. In 1979, he founded the Centro Maschere e Strutture Gestuali together with architect Paola Piizzi and scene-painter Paolo Trombetta. The centre works with ethnographic and anthropological masks, theatrical masks from antiquity to modern times and the most recent multi-disciplinary research on urban masking and gesture. In 1980, Donato Sartori was invited by director Maurizio Scaparro to participate in the Theatre Biennale in Venice, for which he produced the great installation-performance in St Mark’s Square called “Ambienteazione”, with the participation of almost 100,000 people. These urban maskings were repeated in other cities in Italy and abroad, each with a specific project associated with the social, cultural and architectural features of the location. Later years saw an increasing number of events in Europe, with travelling exhibitions, educational activities, installations and urban maskings requested also in the USA and in the Middle and Far East, thanks in part to the promotion undertaken by the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs within the framework of cultural exchanges between Italy and countries in Africa, or cities such as Moscow, Tokyo, Beijing, Houston or Rio de Janeiro. Between 1996 and 2002, he was invited to Sweden to direct a permanent workshop (Maskenverkstaden): here, he held seminars on the mask in theatre and undertook historic research on North European medieval masks in collaboration with university lecturers, scholars and experts. The research effected for the production of Aeschylus’s “Oresteia”, directed by Peter Oskarson was important. In order to perfect the 140 masks made using new techniques and methods of manufacture, he experiments the acoustics expected for Greek choruses in some depth. In December 2004, he inaugurated the Museo Internazionale della maschera “Amleto e Donato Sartori” di Abano Terme, opened with a world premiere performed by Dario Fo and Franca Rame. Donato Sartori currently teaches the History of Masks at the Department of Arts, Music and Theatre (DAMS) in the University of Padua, comprising a theoretical and practical workshop held in company with Paola Piizzi.