Venetian masks play a very big role in Venice’s history and still to this day, there is an opportunity to celebrate the history with the annual Venice carnival. With revellers coming out in masks to celebrate the history, why exactly is the Venice carnival such a big thing?
Why Did Venetians Wear Masks?
This mask-wearing tradition was established hundreds of years before modern Venetians started celebrating the tradition. Following in the ancestor’s footsteps they would brandish the mask just for carnival season.
Originally Venetian masks were worn to protect the wearers’ identity allowing them to do or be who they wanted to be. They could simply change their social status for a night if they wished, allowing noblemen to attend lavish balls and men to become ladies whilst remaining anonymous.
When Did They Wear Venetian Masks?
Whilst nowadays masks are worn once a year for carnival season, back then masks were worn throughout the year. However, there was a time limit on when they could wear them. After years of allowing Venetians to wear masks at any time of year, a new law came into place which stipulated they could only wear the masks from 26th December until the end of Carnival season, Shrove Tuesday.
Three Types Of Masks
As you may have seen there are all different kinds of Venetian masks available and there are 3 main types to note in Venetian tradition.
White masks are very popular as they are so simple and unassuming. It neutralises the wearer’s identity whilst still maintaining natural features.
Commedia dell’arte Masks
These masks clearly represent the different characters in the famous theatre performances between 16th and 18th century. For the commedia dell’arte performances you will always have common characters in each which include:
Harlequin / Arlecchino
The Arlechhino mask was typically only half a mask which covered only one side of the face and featured arched eyebrows and a short but wide nose. The harlequin is known to be a bit of a trickster and would be the character who pretends to be the fool in the story.
Arlecchina / Colombina
The Arlecchina is the female version of the Arlecchino which also had a mask that covered half of the face. However, the Arlecchina was usually represented as a servant but always turned out to be the most intelligent character in the story.
The Pierrot represents the classic sad clown and in most productions falls in love with Arlecchina. Featuring a white mask with a black tear drop.
Pantalone is portrayed as an old man who is usually a horrible shopkeeper. His mask features thick eyebrows and a beaked nose.
Carnival masks feature striking bold and colourful designs, to mark the special occasion of carnival season. These fantastically decorated masks are the epitome of a carnival featuring different types of embellishments such as jewels, feathers and usually accompanied by gold or silver trims.