Last Saturday, we found out that Donato Sartori passed away. His father, Amleto Sartori, was responsible for reintroducing the art of leather mask making for Commedia dell’arte after World War II. Commedia was outlawed by Napoleon in 1797, and its craft traditions were lost until Amleto reverse-engineered them and shared them with the world. Donato continued his work; most of what we know about the use of masks in Commedia come from these two.
Here we have a video from 1955 showing Amleto at work. It is unfortunately in Italian and only a minute long, but it gives a good overview of his process for creating a mask out of leather.
Here we have a much longer video showing Donato and his workshop from just a few years ago. Again, it is in Italian, but you get to see many steps of the mask-making process, as well as a glimpse inside the studio that both Donato and Amleto worked from.
I got to visit that studio in 2012 when my wife was taking their mask-making workshop. It is difficult to convey just how influential the Sartoris were in the world of modern theatrical masks. We do not have much of a mask tradition here in the US, but it is very popular in Europe and Asia. My wife once bought a Balinese mask, and she told the mask-maker that it reminded her of Commedia masks. It turns out he had met Donato a few times and they shared techniques with each other.
RIP Donato Sartori (1939-2016)