Venetian Masks are associated with the Venice Carnival which began on 26th December and finished on Shrove Tuesday, which meant it lasted for more than two months. The Carnival was known as one of the most sumptuous and extravagant events in the world, but did you know that it was only part of the period where mask wearing was permitted?
A Venetian Mask, also known as masquerade masks, main purpose is to conceal the wearer’s face and even portray different emotions depending on the mask worn. It was easy for noblemen to disguise themselves as merchants or even adventurers allowing them to go to lavish balls without being detected.
However, it was due to the anonymity of the mask wearing that they soon were limited to be worn during the carnival season. A poor man got close enough to the King at that time that he could actually cause harm to him, which soon made wearing masks all year round against the law.
Masks were typically made from leather or porcelain and usually had exaggerated features such as long pointy nose, rounded brow and even sharp cheekbones. Masks were accompanied by elaborate costumes, each different to portray particular character traits or emotions to protect the wearers identity. Masks were seen derived from characters from Italy’s Commedia dell’arte theatre and are still found in modern theatre, film and television today.
Some of the more popular Venetian masks include:
Arlecchino (the “harlequin”) was a zany trickster and one of the staple characters of Commedia dell’arte. The masks features ape like features with a large round brow and a stout nose which conveys the characters simple nature. The Arlecchino is recognised by its bump that sticks out in the forehead which is thought to represent the devil’s horn and mischievous nature.
Medico della peste
Medico della peste (the “plague doctor”), this mask is different from the Arlecchino as it didn’t evolve from theatre but from medicine. The plague mask was originally work by French doctors which they hoped would spare them from the deadly disease. The mask consists of a long nose, black cloak and white gloves. The long nose was used to store herbs to stop the horrendous smell from the disease, and the eye holes were filled with crystals to prevent catching it.
The Bauta mask was the most popular of all the Venetian Masks. Consisting of a white masks and a black cloak, the Bauta was regulated by the government as citizens were required to wear the outfit to conceal their identity when voting on political issues and participating in events that require equality.