Her passport picture was a reproduction of her painted portrait – in Marchesa Casati’s time you could pass the border like that without a detour to the police station. Now, as physical identities are more stringently regulated, I see only one (legal) way for women to bring their character into their ID papers – makeup.
Character (or kharaktḗr, if you want to go for the fancier Greek term) originally meant ‘to engrave’, to create a fixed appearance. In the world of ancient theater, where actors would always employ masks to indicate what roles they were playing, the immutable character of the hero, carved by years of tradition into a set form, resided in the mask. To put it simply.
But as the mask passed through the carnivals of Venice, it has come to us with hints of concealment and dissimulation which have gradually become attached to the idea of makeup too. And during most of my childhood I believed only in that last association.
It was an artist friend of mine who first promted me to look back to the ancients in reconsidering the meaning of surfaces willfully manipulated into other shapes. Witness to her morning routine and the so-called artificial transformation of her face from intimate to public, watching her sharpen lines with a pencil and accentuate shadows with the brush just as she would subsequently do to a canvas portrait, I began to consider makeup the tool of character-assertion the Greeks had long before found in the mask.
Needless to add that, like any other dull-looking woman, once I brought lipsticks and blushes and powders to my playground and figured what harmony of shades works on my face, makeup turned into a defining part of me. As a means to give the outern self an appearance congruent to the identity everyone can mould freely in the privacy of their inner selves, it probably has no rival. Clothing one could do without in a far larger number of situations.
So women have makeup to make up a visible character – I always wondered if there’s any equivalent for men?
‘Infinite Variety – the Life and Legend of Marchesa Casati’, S.D. Ryersson and M.O. Yaccarino
Patricia Beykrat – the Roving Aesthete