Venice Masks

I always wondered who makes these masks? What is their history? Why do they look scary? When I went to Venice with my family a few years back, we went inside a store that had all kinds of Venice masks. As I saw them up close, I realized that they were not as scary as I thought they were. They had a lot of interesting designs and a lot of work put into them. The owner of the store let me try one on and you totally see yourself as a different person. I always wanted to go to a masquerade and wear one, maybe one day I can go back to Venice and go to their festival! I thought I would share with everyone an article that I found that gives a brief history of these interesting masks: 

The Venice Carnival is the most largest Venetian festival, a sparkling cocktail of tradition, entertainment, history and transgression in this unique city and a festival that attracts thousands of people from all around the world every year. The Carnival has very old origins, in fact it celebrates the passage from winter into spring, a time when seemingly anything is possible, including the illusion where the most humble of classes become the most powerful by wearing masks on their faces. The official start of the Venice Carnival dates back to 1296, when the Senate of the Republic made the Carnival official with an edict declaring the day before Lent a public holiday. After an interruption lasting almost two centuries, the tradition of Carnival was rediscovered by the Municipality in 1980 and since then it has taken place every year with huge success.

Parts of the carnival traditions reach back to pre-Christian times. The ancient Roman festival of the Saturnalia is a probable origin of the Italian Carnival. The Saturnalia may be based on the Greek Dionysia and Oriental festivals. While medieval pageants and festivals such as Corpus Christi were church sanctioned celebrations, carnival was a representation of medieval folk culture. Many local carnival customs are also based on local pre-Christian rituals, for example the elaborate rites involving masked figures in the Swabian-Alemannic carnival. In Christianity, the most famous traditions, including parades and masquerading, are first attested from medieval Italy. The carnival of Venice was for a long time the most famous carnival. From Italy, carnival traditions spread to Spain, Portugal, and France. From France, they spread to the Rhineland of Germany, and to New Orleans. From Spain and Portugal, they spread to Latin America. Many other areas have developed their own traditions.

The original Venetian masks were rather simple in design and decoration and they often had a symbolic and practical function. Venetian masks were used to hide and protect their wearer’s identity during promiscuous or decadent activities, but they became also the symbol of transgression and freedom from the severe social rules imposed by the Serenissima Republic. Venetian masks were often used to protect gamblers from giving away indiscrete looks, especially to avoid their creditors, or by “barnaboti” noblemen who went banrupt, begging on street corners.

Masks were allowed from the day after Christmas, which marked the beginning of the Venetian Carnival, to Shrove Tuesday which marked its end, but were forbidden during religious feasts. As well as during the Carnival period, Venetians wore masks during the fortnight of the Ascension, and ended up wearing it, with a few exceptions, half-way through June. During all major events, such as official banquets or other celebrations of the Serenissima Republic, was permitted  to wear a mask and a cloak.

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7 thoughts on “Venice Masks

  1. Hi,
    Very interesting facts about the masks. I have only ever been to one Masked Ball, many years ago now, but I must say it was a lot of fun, at midnight everyone took off their mask. I hired my whole outfit including the mask for the night, as did a lot of other people, some had to take off their mask early unfortunately to eat. 😀

    I love the masks you have in your photos, I especially like the last one, very nice.

  2. My daughter has always had a fascination with the masks and has a collection on her wall at home. She is marrying in February and honeymooning in Venice, to coincide with her birthday, Valentine’s Day and, of course, Carnival.

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