Venetian Masquerade Masks

The Venetian masquerade masks were (and are) an essential element of disguise during the Carnival of Venice.

In 1004, the carnival was already mentioned in a charter by the Doge Vital Faliero Doni, and in 1269 the Venetian Senate had determined the day before Lent as a day of official celebration for the Carnival.

These masks and the carnival costumes allowed all Venetians, whatever their social status was, to participate in the festivities.

From the 13th century, there were specialized manufacturers of these masks, with the first maschereri school established in 1271.

On April 10, 1436, Doge Foscari gave these manufacturers of masks their own status as a profession. By 1771, there were officially 12 manufacturers of Venetian masks, employing 31 workers, and their products had become famous throughout Europe.

However, by 1600, with the excessive use of wearing masks, even outside of the carnival, laws were passed in order to limit their use.

Later, due to the anonymity the masks provided, the festivities were banned by Napoleon Bonaparte for several years and then re-authorized again by the Austrians when the region become part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Venetian Masquerade Masks

PHOTO: A Venetian shop window of different masks.

To make a mask, the manufacturers must first create a clay mold, where the model of the mask is imprinted.

This mold is put in a wooden box into which the plaster is poured. Then, once the plaster mold is dry, the manufacturers stick bits of paper into the whole, starting from the edges.

Then, once the paper hardens, it can be detached from the plaster mold, and the shape of the mask is created. Finally, the mask is decorated with paint, feathers, gilding, crystals, etc.

Nowadays, there is a huge selection of masks to choose from. The cheapest masks are carton or plastic masks, usually not manufactured locally.

The ones that are made locally, are those that are designed by Venetian paper-mask artisans. It is easy to recognize these locally made paper masks, with the markings at the back of the mask.

These mask are also much stronger than the others, and can normally be bend strongly without breaking.

Most often, however, the Venetian masks are (handmade) from other materials, such as leather, iron, or ceramics.

Historically, the most famous masks were as follows:

La Moretta

Moretta mask, worn by women, is a small oval mask of black velvet, pierced by two large eye holes.

The mask features a button on the location of the mouth, which allows the wearer to hold the mask. However, the person who wore it, couldn’t speak, remaining silent. Moretta is generally worn with a veil and a wide-brimmed hat.

Le Volto / Larva

Name for the Larva masks comes from the Latin word meaning “mask” or “ghost”, and it is one of the oldest carnival masks in Venice.

The mask, worn by men, is usually white and made out of fine waxed canvas, making it lightweight and easy to wear. In addition, the masks wide opening at the bottom allows the wearer to talk, drink and eat easily, preserving perfect anonymity.

The masks of the Commedia Dell’Arte

In the eighteenth century new masks inspired by the characters of the commedia dell ‘arte which are appearing here are some examples:

Doctor Balanzone,
Pulcinella, and
Plague doctor.

There are many types of masks, including ones that are made to be worn, and those that are primarily for decoration.

One of the popular mask makers is called “Ca ‘del Sol” (translating as “house of the sun”), located in the sestiere of Castello.