History of Venetian Masks and How they are made

Today, we will share

  • History of Venetian Masks
  • Why Venetian Masks are worn;
  • Types of Venetian masks; and
  • How they are made.

Venetian masks are a very old tradition of the people in Venice. They have been around for hundreds of years and they are mostly worn during the carnival of Venice.

History of Venetian masks

Most people believed mask production and wearing started in 1162 after the Republic of Venice had a great victory against the patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico di Treven. After the victory people gathered in San Marco Square and with time this festival official.

  • A law in 1268 forbidden masked people from playing certain games. A law prohibited masked people from gambling to hide their identity.
  • In 1339, the Republic’s lawmakers banned wearing of a mask at night
  • In 1436, placed mask makers under the same regulations as painters. The statutes set forth strict rules about the education and advancement of apprentices and journeymen and stipulated the conditions under which masks could be produced and sold in the city. (lauramorelli.com)
  • In 1458, masked men aren't allowed to enter female monasteries.
  • Eventually, in the 17th century, the festival was some kind of way to save the image that people had about Venice.
  • In 1797 the Republic of Venice fell, and both Carnival and masks were banned
  • In the 18th century, this festival became quite popular. Near the end of the 18th century, the wearing Venetian masks were strictly restricted
  • By the 18th century, Venetians were allowed to wear masks for six months a year. And they took advantage! Black velvet masks, for example, would be worn in houses of ill repute especially gambling parlors to shield their owners' identities. (walksofitaly.com)
  • In the 19th century, the masks were just worn in private parties.

After a very long absence of these masks, they made a comeback in 1979 when the Italian government decided to bring back the traditional carnival of Venice. The Venetian masks play a vital role in the tourism industry as about 3 million people visited Venice in the year of Carnival.

Gold Venetian Masks

Why Venetian Masks are worn

Their function is not limited to the carnival of Venice, the masks have been used for several other occasions.

  • People who wore these masks do it in a purpose to hide their identity or social class.
  • With the mask, one could interact freely with other people without worrying about his or her social status. The rich and the poor would interact without worries, something that was not very common in the day to day activities. The masks were very useful for different reasons some of them being a romantic encounter while others just used the masks to conduct their criminal activities.
  • Some Venetian masks are unique and can be identified easily because of their design which features bright colors such as using gold leaf or silver leaf. The decorations of the masks are usually in the baroque style. There are different types of masks, some cover the whole face while others cover just some parts of the face. 

Types of Venetian masks

There are different types of these masks and they are all in different designs. People wore these masks did it because of different reasons and we are going to explore these types of masks and why the masks were worn.

  • Bauta. This type of masks covers the whole face and people who wore them mostly wanted to preserve their anonymity. The masks were in most cases accompanied by a cape of the color red as well as a tricorn. These masks were very common in the 18th century that they had to be regulated by the Venetian government. The masks were a must wear during the decision making of some political events as every citizen of Venice was required to act as an anonymous peer. This guaranteed a free, equal, and secret ballot in the democracy back then. Wearing weapons along with the masks as a crime and police had every right to enforce.
  • Columbina. The mask was decorated with silver, gold, crystals, and some feathers. To wear the mask you had to tie with a ribbon but some of the masks had a baton that made things a little bit easier. These masks came to popularity because of a famous actress of the same name who had this mask made as she did not want her beautiful face all covered or so she said.
  • Plague doctor mask. This mask is one of the most recognizable Venetian masks because of the long beak that it usually has. This unique design originated from a French physician who used to wear this mask when he was treating victims of plagues. The mask is usually white and it has round eyes usually covered by discs giving this mask a special effect. In this modern world, the masks are just a part of decoration and not worn by the doctors for any of their services.
  • Morreta. This mask is not as popular in the modern days as it used to before 1760. The mask was more feminine than most masks.
  • Volto (Larva). It is thought that the word larva means ghosts. The mask allowed a person to basic things like eating and drinking without necessarily removing the mask. They are light and comfortable to wear.

Those are just but a few masks, there are more such as Brighella, La Raffiana, Scaramuccia, and Arlecchino. 

How Venetian masks are made

In our modern world, the Venetian masks still play a vital role in the tourism industry in Venice. The traditional masks available are not enough so more has to be made to be enough for everyone.

Most designers start making these masks with clay form that is used to make a plaster cast. This plaster cast can be used for a very long time to form a basic Venetian mask.

The wet paper pulp is usually pressed over the plaster cast and then left to the air to dry. Once the paper is dry it will retain the shape of the plaster cast. The mask maker cuts the holes and other facial features exactly how they are supposed to be. After everything is set, the mask is then hand-painted using tempera paints.

The mask makers usually have a variety of workbenches and paintbrushes to paint out the details in a perfect way. Some of the mask makers complete the mask by covering it with polish, gloss, or wax to impart a shiny finish.

Why did plague doctors wear bird masks

Plague Mask

Besides show masks, you might see bird masks that are worn by ancient plague doctors. These plague masks were thought to be useful in defending noxious air that caused the plague in the 1600s. The masks had beaks that stored herbs, spices, and flowers which are scented and give the wrong impression that the doctors are not breathing the toxic air.

As the disease was transmitted to humans through fleas in other infected mammals like rats rather than airborne,  the masks had little use in preventing the plague and only scared the patients being treated by plague doctors.

Efforts have been made to get the information as accurate and updated as possible. If you found any incorrect information with credible source, please send it via the contact us form
Sky Hoon
Italy Lover. He travel to Europe a few times and loved Italy for its unique language and culture. He loved the idea of Italian food focusing on original taste of the ingredient.
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