Friday, June 11, 2010


I thought it would be fun and interesting to post a series I did for a story written by Rosalind Laker, called Venetian Mask, which was published in Readers Digest in 1993.These are all oil paintings and they hark back to an earlier era in illustration. The story features a gutsy heroine, a dramatic rescue and tons of wonderful period detail to help the reader feel immersed in the time. I had been in Venice eight years earlier and had taken the photograph of the great piazza at night. Of course the people in Comedia Del Arte costumes weren't there. One of the wonderful things about working on an historical project is to learn about things I didn't know about before, such as the characters of the Comedia del Arte, a very early form of street theater, which dates back I think to before the Rennaisance. I learned that people regularly went out at night wearing masks and this allowed them to behave in ways they couldn't normally act if people knew who they were. The lower classes could sometimes infiltrate the high society if they were good actors and vice versa.  The masks themselves were very specific and not just random disguises. The oldest and most common type, the Bauta, is shown here on the second from right figure. It was always worn with the lacy mantle, tri-corner hat  and long, concealing cloak. To me it looks very skull-like and creepy. In this scene, four of the main characters meet in Piazza San Marco at the beginning of Carnivale. They are all dressed as specific Comedia characters, I think the woman on the left is Harlequina, I don't recall what the man is and the other woman is Columbina. This story also takes place at the time of Vivaldi and is really the high point of Venetian culture. This, being the title page, was spread across two pages, with some type over it. I'm going to be posting all five of the illustrations from this story over the next few days. A note about the process of creating this series. As usual, I did sketches and then hired models and costumes. Because I was paying for all that, I wanted to keep the costs affordable, so I used only four models! I'm in some of the scenes, too. The other thing of interest is that I set up all the scenes and shot them in Black & white film in just two hours at Bob Osonitsch studio in New York. The prevailing thinking was, these are paintings and the photos are just reference help. Things are different now. I hope you enjoy a look back at these vintage images.
Please leave your comments!


Eleni Konstantine said...

Fantastic James!

James Griffin said...

Eleni, I'm so glad you liked this. I'm never sure how the older work will be received. It's nice to give the a viewing after all these years. Thanks,