Masks of the world  – Masks of the Venetian  Carnival

Masks of the world – Masks of the Venetian Carnival

Masks of the world  – Masks of the Venetian  Carnival


At Hand2Hand, we are fascinated with the stories and myths that surround many ethnical, cultural and local products from around the world. We will be digging in to symbolisms and origins of some of the best-known world masks in our blog series – “Masks of the World.

In our first blog entry, we are exploring the masks of the beautiful, lust and secretive Venetian Carnival.

The history of the Venetian Carnival

It is said that the Venetian carnival was first held in the year of 1162 short after a victory from the “Serenissima Repubblica” against the Patriarch of Aquileia – Ulrico di Treven. In honor of this victory the city folk gathered in the San Marco Square and started to dance and celebrate. This festival got quite popular in the 18th Century, where it encouraged lust and pleasure. However, in 1797 under the ruling of the King of Austria the festival and the use of the said masks was completely forbidden.

The Carnival would then reappear in the 19th century but only in private and secretive parties, held by the rich and powerful of Venice. An ode to the pleasures of the flesh and devoted to the lust and sin that would not be accepted in the daylight.

Finally, after centuries of absence, the Italian government decided to bring back the Venetian Carnival in 1979 and make it an official event, held every year.

Since then about 3 million visitors go to Venice to take part on the beautiful carnival. One of the most important events held during the Carnival is the “la maschera più bella” (the most beautiful mask) which is judged by a panel of costume and fashion designers.

The origin of the Masks

Masks have always been an important part of the Venetian Carnival. People were allowed to use them from the festival of Santo Stefano and the start of Carnival at midnight of Shrove day.

Venetian masks can be made of wood, porcelain, leather or using the original glass technique. The original masks were very simple in design and had a symbolic and practical function. Most Italian masks nowadays are made of gesso and gold leaf and are hand painted using natural feathers and gems around the eyes and mouth of the mask.

This makes the masks rather expensive when compared to the wide spread and much cheaper masks made by American factories.

However, you do want to go for the real deal, as nothing compares to those beautiful and mysterious looking masks.

History has forgotten the motive for the wearing of the earliest masks in Venice. Some scholars agree that covering one face’s in public was done to fight the most rigid hierarchy in European history.

But alas with masks came laws. One law dated back to 1339 forbade Venetians from wearing vulgar masks when visiting convents. This law also forbade painting one’s face or wearing a false beard or wig.

Near the end of the republic the use of masks in daily life was severely restricted.

The different masks of the Carnival

Several types of masks are used nowadays in the Venice Carnival.

The first one is the Bauta. This mask is often heavily gilded tough originally simple stark white, which is designed to cover one’s entire face in a very comfortable way. This traditional grotesque piece of art was characterized by the inclusion of a long nose. The mask beak like chin was designed to enable the wearer to eat, drink and talk.


The Colombiana also known as Columbine or Colombino is a half-mask that only covers the wearer’s eyes, nose and upper cheeks. It is often decorated with gold, silver, crystals and feathers.


The Medico della peste or the Plague Doctor as the name implies was based on the masks that the doctors who tended for the patients infected with the black plague whore. This mask has a typical long beak that resembles a bird’s beak covering the entire face and even the eyes. It was originally conceived to help stop the spreading of diseases.


The Moretta or the dark one was a small strapless black velvet mask with wide eyeholes and no lips or mouth worn by patrician women. It derived from the visard mask invented in France in the 16th century.


The Volvo or larva is the iconic modern Venetian mask, it is often white and also frequently gilded and decorated and is commonly used with a tricorn hat and large jacket.


The Pantalone is another classic from the Italian stage is represented as a sad old man with an oversized nose.


The Arlecchino or the Harlequin is a character of the Commedia. He is meant to be a kindred rebel noble lacking any reason and full of emotion. He is also portrayed as a peasant, a servant and even a slave. His originally wooden black half-mask depicts him as having a short, blunt, ape-like nose, a rounded beard, and always a “bump” upon his forehead meant to signify a devil’s horn.


And finally, the Zanni, another stage classic. His mask is a half mask in leather with very long nose with reverse curve towards the end. It is said that the longer the nose the stupid this person is.


Hope you liked our blog entry about the beautiful venetian masks. And don’t forget even if you can’t attend the Venice carnival you can buy one of these masks starting this June through the bring to me app.