Carnival Masks – Venice
Venetian Carnival masks were originally made of papier-mâché, but these days you can find leather ones as well. The original masks were much simpler in design and decoration and they often had a symbolic and practical function. Nowadays, most masks are made with the application of gesso and gold leaf and are mostly all hand-painted and decorated with natural feathers and gems. You can buy mass-produced cheap masks in the tourist shops in Venice today and these have nothing to do with the original Venetian masks. If you want a good souvenir, go for one of the genuine ones and there are lots to choose from.
These are the different types of masks:
The Bauta is a mask which covers the whole face, with a sharp chin line and no mouth. You may find masks sold as Bautas that cover only the upper part of the face from the forehead to the nose and upper cheeks. Whilst concealing the identity of the wearer, it also enables the person to talk, eat or drink easily. This tends to be the main type of mask worn during the Carnival. Masks like this were also used on many other occasions as a means for hiding the wearer’s identity and social status. This allows the wearer to breach social classes and convention and to intermingle with whomever he or she chooses to mix with. Whilst masks can be useful in pursuit of romantic encounters or to create mischief and amusement, they could also be used for illicit or criminal activities as well. I wonder if there’s an increase in the crime rate at Carnival?
The Moretta is an oval mask of black velvet that was usually worn by women visiting convents. It orginated in France and rapidly became popular in Venice as it brought out the beauty of feminine features. The mask was finished off with a veil.
The Larva, also called the volto mask, is predominantly white, and typically Venetian. It is worn with a tricorn and cloak. The word ‘larva’ was of Latin derivation and was also used for a terrifying mask. Imagine the scary sight of a Venetian all dressed in black with a white mask and a black tricorn, flying past in the moonlight. Like the bauta, the shape of the mask allowed the bearer to breathe and drink easily, thus preserving the wearer’s anonymity at all times. These masks were made of fine wax cloth and being much lighter, they were ideal for wear as they allowed one to eat, dance or flirt.
So next time you go past a mask shop, see if you can find the different types.