The Venetian mask: an ancient tradition

The Venetian mask has a long history stretching back almost 1,000 years. Nobody knows for sure when or why the tradition of wearing masks began, but there is a lot of speculation. The history and origins of “the mask” is as mysterious as the mask itself. What is acknowledged to be “the truth” by many scholars and historians is that the tradition of mask wearing began in the 13th century, but then again, some say there is evidence of mask wearing as early as 1094. Without a time machine though, we will never know for sure. The tradition of mask wearing went through several different epochs too.

For example, during the 18th century you could only wear a mask from the 26 December until Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. The tradition of mask wearing came to an end when Napoleon invaded and conquered Venice in 1797, and only enjoyed a resurgence in the 1970s.

The purpose of mask wearing was to eliminate social differences between the classes so that everybody was equal for a certain period during the year. This acted as a kind of steam valve for society at general and is believed to have prevented the lower classes from getting too angry with their superiors and therefore prevented any kind of revolution. Mask wearing also allowed people to engage in otherwise “illegal” or frowned upon activities, such as gambling, and illicit affairs.

The different types of Venetian masks
There are several different types of Venetian masks. Here is a list of the original Venetian masks: the Bauta (here on the right), the Colombina, the Medico Della Peste, the Moretta or Servetta Muta, the Volto, the Pantalone, the Zanni.

That’s a lot of different types of masks – clearly you really have to know your stuff to understand what they all mean, where they all come, and of course, how to make them!

That’s why the mascherari – Venetian mask makers in English – are considered artists. Don’t worry though, everyone can make a homemade Venetian mask!

DIY Venetian masks

Venetian masks made by the professional artists can be really expensive. For example, The Magnificent Sole Lux (here on the right) costs almost a quarter of a million dollars!

That’s a bit pricey for most of us. But, of course, we can just make our own paper mache DIY Venetian mask. It’s quite easy. All you need to do is make the paper mache, apply it to your face – after you have let it cool a bit first!

Now the mask is the shape of your face, and to strength then it you add newspaper soaked in paper mache paste. You can add more layers to the mask to make it even stronger. Once you are satisfied that the mask is durable enough, let it dry, and then decorate however you want!


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