It is said that the Carnival of Venice was started from a loss of the “Repubblica della Serenissima”, Venice’s previous name, against the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico in the year 1162.
In the honour of this loss, the people started to dance and make reunions in San Marco Square. Apparently, this festival started on that period and become official in the renaissance.
Masks have long been a main feature of the Venetian carnival. There is very little evidence explaining the motive for the earliest mask wearing in Venice. One scholar argues that covering the face in public was a uniquely Venetian response to one of the most rigid class hierarchies in European history.
During Carnivale the masks served an important social purpose of keeping every citizen on an equal playing field. Masked, a servant could be mistaken for a nobleman – or vice versa. State inquisitors and spies could question citizens without fear of their true identity being discovered (and citizens could answer without fear of retribution).
The morale of the people was maintained through the use of masks – for with no faces, everyone had voices. As a result of the concealment of identity, however, people naturally found themselves taking advantage of the situation. The society grew ever more decadent. The immense amount of travelers coming through the city meant that sexual promiscuity was commonplace and acceptable. Gambling went on all day and night in the streets and houses, even in convents.
Venetian masks can be made in leather or with the original papier-mache technique. The original masks were rather simple in design and decoration. They often had a symbolic and practical function.
One style of Venetian masks is the Bauta. It is a “mask which covers the whole face, with a stubborn chin line, no mouth, and lots of gilding”. One may find masks sold as Bautas that cover only the upper part of the face from the forehead to the nose and upper cheeks, thereby concealing identity but enabling the wearer to talk and eat or drink easily. It tends to be the main type of mask worn during the Carnival.
I have created a number of masks using a traditional paper mache base. I have decorated them using gesso and acrylic paint.
The swan mask has been trimmed away to cover only half the face and a beak fashioned from paper clay. It was then covered with paint and feathers. I have given the beak a more stylized finish by adding decorative swirls in gold paint.
The white and gold mask features a raised pattern that was achieve by piping paper clay onto the mask. It was then painted and finished with a pearlising coat.
The harlequin or arlecchino in italian, mask is a tradtional design featuring a diamond shaped lattice pattern in varying colour scheme.
- Arsenale Editrice
Venetian Masks and the Commedia del Arte
2010 ISBN: 978-8877433411