Types & Styles

Types of Venetian Masks

Venetian masks were originally designed for all sorts of entertainment and games for the ruling class as well as lower classes. The masks held a symbolic purpose of disguising ones identity but they also served more functional purposes. Many of these purposes revolved around promiscuity, crime and other illicit behavior. Others wanted to free themselves from judgment and strict moral codes.

Mask-Makers and Guilds

The creation of thousands of masks would not have been possible without dedicated Venetian mask-makers. Also known as maschereri, these artisans were official members of a guild dedicated to crafting Venetian masks. They created various styles and shapes and decorated these masks with distinct features and aesthetic designs.

Venetian Mask Styles

There are three major types of Venetian Masks—the Bauta, Larva and Moretta. The Bauta was worn by men and women and was attached to a black mantle as well as a tricorn hat. The mask itself is white and completely covers the face, making it difficult to eat and speak. This was the ideal mask for the most mischievous behavior. The Larva, or Volto, is similar to the Bauta in that it is covered in white paint. These masks were made of fine wax cloth and were lighter in nature. The wearer can comfortably eat, drink and dance while remaining anonymous. They resembled a ghost lurking in the depths of the night. The Moretta was a black mask worn by women who visited convents. They held the mask in place by biting on to a button in the mouth. This prevented them from speaking.

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Venetian masks range from half masks, full face masks as well as head masks. Each one is distinct in shape and style. Head masks are attached to head pieces and other parts of the costume while full-face masks and half-masks are detachable. Full-face masks and head-masks are also more elaborate and decorated. They were the preferred choice among the troubling types. The more the face is covered, the more mystical the wearer becomes.

A History of Masquerade Masks

Profile of Masquerade MaskDisguising one’s identity with elaborately painted masks was a significant part of the late 13th Century. Venice was the birthplace of the masquerade and the masks played a central role in society. Beginning on the day of Santo Stefano and ending at midnight of Shrove Tuesday, citizens of Venice would dress in fanciful outfits and eloquent masks to join together in celebration. As masquerade masks became increasingly popular, the mask-makers soon took up their own space in society and became members of a guild.

This became a yearly festival of the city and a whole range of masquerades took place revolving around stories of love, marriage and triumph. The Venetian youth would dress in costumes and masks and entertain the upper classes during the Venetian Carnival. Masquerade balls and elegant dinners were all part of the entertainment. Jugglers, acrobats and traveling exhibits took over the piazza and performed for the public. The sense of the unknown and the disguised allowed for everyone to come together and put aside the social standards of the time. It was a way to rid the individual of his identity so that he can act as he wishes.

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The story of the masquerade mask and the festivities, however, is not as optimistic as it seems. The earliest record of the Carnival of Venice dates back to 1268 and reveals a sense of opposition towards it. The festival of masks was a way for both the lower and uppers classes to hide their identities in order to freely participate in self-indulgent activities and mingle with the general public. From romantic encounters to murderous crimes, the streets of Venice became subversive and uncontrollable.

Venetians lived in a repressive environment during the Medieval Era, when the wearing of masks began to hold ground. As a result, the Catholic Church went through great lengths to outlaw the masquerades by establishing laws and regulations. The Church failed in banning the processions and eventually accepted the celebrations. The Catholic Church allocated a certain time period for the celebrations in accordance with religious holidays.

The months between Christmas and Shrove Tuesday were dedicated to the masquerades and eventually paved way for Carnevale. Carnevale was associated with pre-Lent traditions and the cleansing of evil spirits.

Masquerade balls and the entire culture surrounding the wearing of masks expanded to other parts of Europe, including England. The masquerades were generally held for the nobility in other parts of the continent. They enjoyed games held during the masquerade balls where guests had the opportunity to reveal each others’ identities.

The masquerade and all its glory began to lose ground during the 18th century. Venice fell under the rule of the Austrians and the celebrations eventually came to an end. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that the Carnival experienced a revival and people began to wear masquerade masks all over again. Since then, masquerade masks have become part of the artistic and craft-making culture of Italy as well as other countries. Aside from Venetian masks, there are also Mardi Gras and Harlequin masks. The masquerade mask is not only a historic and traditional part of culture but it is also a tourist attraction in modern times.

Mardi Gras Masks

Mardi Gras Masks: Celebrations in Disguise

Image of Masquerade Mardi Gras MasksMardi Gras is a pre-Lent festival that celebrates humanity in disguise on the international level. From Europe to the Caribbean and the United States to Canada, Mardi Gras is a day of celebration right before Shrove Tuesday, or Ash Wednesday. The earliest accounts of Mardi Gras took place during the 14th and 15th century in Europe.

Mardi Gras is actually a Catholic Holiday which has evolved to bigger celebrations and festivities in various parts of the world. It is quite similar to the Carnival in Venice except that it does not extend over a few months. Mardi Gras is distinct for its colorful decorations and lively spirits. The Mardi Gras mask is a symbolic and significant feature of the entire celebration.

Mardi Gras is widely recognized as a large scale festival in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mardi Gras was introduced to the United States by the French in the city of New Orleans in 1699. The French explorers arrived to town during the holiday and began to celebrate according to tradition. They wore masks in the streets and participated in processions. Over time, New Orleans became influenced by Hispanic versions of the festival but never lost the French essence.

Masks are a central feature of Mardi Gras and are worn during masked balls, street parades and night time parties. They come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colors. Mardi Gras masks tend to have some influence of Venetian half-face masks that are adorned in gems, feathers and brightly colored paint.

The idea of identity is a major theme during Mardi Gras and other similar celebrations. It is a way of concealing ones identity from friends and neighbors in order to freely participate in all sorts of activities. Mischievous behavior has been a long standing aspect of Mardi Gras and the mask helps cover the identity of such individuals. Masks are worn by Krewe members, tourists, and citizens of the city during the last hours of Fat Tuesday. It is a way of self-indulging into acts that are normally against the standard. Wearing the masks and being part of the festival embodies the idea of letting go of the flesh before Lent begins.

Wearing masks during celebrations, festivals and even rituals is a significant part of many cultures across the world. Mardi Gras masks and other types of masks are tied to pre-Christian practices and traditions in various countries. It is tied to religious practices that involve spiritual performances where the performers must communicate with the spirits. Often times, these masks are worn to get rid of evil spirits. While masquerades and other masked events have always been tied to religious practices, the nature of these celebrations has changed in modern and contemporary life.

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Masquerade Masks For Sale

The thrill and excitement of a masquerade party lies in the costumes and masks that individual’s wear. There is a sense of mystery that lurks in a masquerade full of disguised people. The most famous masquerade festivals known in history include the Venetian Carnival as well as Mardi Gras. These take place during specific times of the year and are tied to distinct traditions of culture.

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