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History of Venetian Carnival Masks

Pietro Longhi, The Rhinoceros, 1751, National Gallery, London, UK, detail. Wikimedia Commons.

History

History of Venetian Carnival Masks

It is not a surprise that every carnival, regardless of its country origin or other characteristics, is traditionally associated with Venetian carnival masks. Being a primary sign of a carnival, the mask has an interesting history connected with old Venice traditions. Learn the key information about the history of Venice mask.

A selection of Venetian carnival masks. Wikimedia Commons.

First of all, Venetian masks can be analyzed through the prism of Venice traditions and customs rooted in need of hiding personality and making everyone equal. Basically, the Venice carnival mask is connected with the Carnival of Venice as one of the most important and famous carnivals all over the world. However, being worn in Venice, Italy, masks can be marked as the way to hide the personality of people who wore them during different activities. Later, the masks were actively used during the Venice Carnival, in particular. 

Basing on the history of Italy, the citizens, especially Venetians, enjoyed comparatively high standards of living. What is more important, the city was characterized by inequality among its citizens connected with the level of income. In this way, in the frames of a small city, people created their unique tradition to use masks both during different activities and in daily life in order to hide personality and enjoy some level of privacy. 

The Venetian carnival tradition is most famous for its distinctive masks. Wikimedia Commons.

Besides, masks were perceived as the way to make every citizen equal regardless of his or her financial position, class, or status. Everyone was equal while wearing the mask. People could talk about everything they wanted, discuss everything, and do not have a fear of being judged. As a result, Venice became the city where people were practically allowed to do everything they wanted that marked it as free and decadent with the element of moral decline.

Thus, citizens decided to emphasize some periods when wearing the mask was not allowed that referred to all the months except for the ones between Christmas and Shrove Tuesday. It marked the period for organizing the Venice Carnival when people again took their masks and enjoyed the level of privacy. Concerning the material for making the masks, it is important to admit paper-mache as the basis and fabric, furs, feather as additional decorations. In general, making Venetian masks during the period of the Carnival related to the art and craft that required high preparation of the participants. With time, the popularity of Venetian carnival masks grew that marks their implementation into different national holidays and events all over the world.

Concerning different types of all Venetian masks, it is important to highlight two main groups: commedia dell’arte masks and carnival ones. 

Jan Miel, Commedia dell’arte Troupe on a Wagon in a Town Square, 1640. Wikimedia Commons.

The first group is connected to the form of a theater, including acrobatics, playing, and even juggling. The actors of the plays wore typical masks according to different regions that represented the traditions and culture of different areas. It is interesting to admit that while male actors mostly wore masks, female ones did not. Among the most famous characters, we should emphasize Arlecchino as a comic image from the Italian Commedia dell’Arte. 

Traditionally, male actors who played Arlecchino wore black masks with a red spot on the forehead.

Venetian Carnival Masks
Arlecchino’s half-mask is painted black with an ape-like nose and a “bump” to signify a devil’s horn. Wikimedia Commons.

Besides, Brighella can be highlighted as a masked character and a friend of Arlecchino. He wore a green half-mask that pointed to his villain nature, referring to greed and lust for money. Basically, there were a lot of characters who had their own style of masks connected with the role of a character in the play and its personal characteristics.

The second group of Venetian masks relates to the more traditional types of Venetian Mask. In fact, such masks were used by the citizens during the period of Carnival regardless of their social class and status. Bauta can be marked as a very popular mask in the Carnival for hiding identity and class. It is important to admit that the mask allowed its wearer to express freely his or her ideas, thoughts, and even emotions that often referred to interpersonal relations. To add more, this type of mask was also used by authoritative people in order to visit the Carnival without the attention of other people.

Masks at the Carnival of Venice, with the Bauta mask shown on the left. Wikimedia Commons.

The origins of the name “bauta” are still under the question concerning different ideas about German word meaning protect or Italian one that relates to a scary creature. Alongside Bauta, Venice Carnival is famous for the masks named Dama that refers directly to the females who also wore expensive clothes and jewels. It is true to say that nowadays, this type of mask is the most widely worn all over the world due to its chic and elegance.

Gatto is an interesting type of Venice mask referring to the image of the cat represented through the outlook of the mask. Since cats were rare creatures in Venice, they became represented through the masks. And finally, Jester can be emphasized as a special mask representing a particular kind of a clown in Venice. Being rooted in ancient theaters, Jester as either male or female character was associated with European Middle Ages. Referring to the role of Jester, it can be defined as a fool gifted with childlike madness. In this way, this type of mask was used by disabled people in Europe in order to gain some money pretending being mad.

To sum up, although being quite popular nowadays all over the world, Venetian masks have a long history rooted in the culture and social order in ancient Venice. 

Venetian Carnival Masks
Masquerade ball at the Carnival of Venice. Wikimedia Commons.

In this way, already known for us masks used for carnivals were used even for everyday life that was necessary for the citizens with high financial and status inequality. Mask was the opportunity to enjoy the freedom and some privacy that allowed more than people usually did without masks. Besides, the post represents different types of Venice masks, starting for the most luxurious to the ones representing clowns. Being connected with the theater and different actors playing the roles of different characters, masks were used as an essential element of the play. 

Venetian Carnival Masks
Woman wearing a moretta.
Pietro Longhi, The Rhinoceros, 1751, National Gallery, London, UK, detail. Wikimedia Commons.

In case of Venice Carnival, masks were the representation of special art and craft in Venice following different types of masks for both males and females. Thus, rooted in the old history of Italy, nowadays Venice masks can be seen all over the world during different balls, gatherings, and other activities that make a unique part of Venice culture accepted by millions of people.

Thornie Longmuir

Thornie Longmuir is a SEO specialist and content creator. Since 2007, he has been working in the field of information technology and internet communications for the website WritingCheap.com. Now, he practices search engine optimization (SEO) for sites, as well as for leading advertising companies such as Google AdWords and Facebook. He tries to present the articles in a simple and understandable language. He reveals relevant topics and fundamental principles for creating, advertising, and promoting websites on the Internet. The main part of the published material is designed for beginners who want to learn how to develop and promote web projects on their own.

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