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Friday, August 27, 2010

The Beautiful Venetian Masks of Venice

Example of masks used during the Carnival of V...Image via WikipediaBy Christopher Auriol
Mask Wearing in Venice
There was a time in the history of Venice when Venetians wore masks almost all year round, and not just for special occasions. They were a part of everyday life and became really popular when they started appearing at the Carnival of Venice in 1268. They were so popular with people from all walks of life because they allowed the wearer to hide their identity and to mingle with people from other classes of society without being known or found out.
The mask-makers, called mascherari, held a very important place in society and were highly skilled at the art of mask making. There was even a mask-makers statute dated 10 April 1436 in recognition of the industry, but after several hundred years of Venetian Masks being very much a part of the culture of Venice, the Senate decreed that mask wearing would be severely restricted. They believed there was a rise in mask wearing for illicit and illegal activities and with the culprit being masked it was very difficult to identify them.
Masks became a thing of children's parties until the Venice Carnival was re-launched in 1979 and suddenly their popularity shot up once again. During the Carnival of Venice you'll see many of the locals and tourists in Venice wearing Venetian masks of all different kinds, but you can buy these often exquisite works of art at any time of the year from numerous shops in Venice.
Where to Buy Venetian Masks
Authentic handmade Venetian Masks have been very carefully made with great skill and attention to detail so these masks come with a high price tag. But if you're looking for a mask that you would proudly hang on your wall or display on your sideboard the authentic Venetian Masks are what you should be buying.If you're looking more for a souvenir of your visit to Venice, or you want something affordable to wear at the Venice Carnival you can buy cheaper imitations in the majority of tourist oriented shops in Venice. These will be more affordable, but the quality will show and it's quite likely they weren't even made in Venice!
Different Types of Venetian Masks
There are several different kinds of Venetian Masks, some of which are more popular than others, and some are more beautiful than others. The popular Plague Doctor Masks (Medico della Peste) can be quite frightening and not at all beautiful in appearance, but this depends on how it's been decorated. If it's brightly coloured and decorated it makes them far less macabre!
The Plague Doctor Mask includes the characteristic long beak and they originated in the 16th century from a design by a French physician who was trying to protect himself from the plague.The other types of Venetian Masks are a little more normal in appearance and include the plainer Volto (or Lava) Masks that are mainly white and are usually worn with a 'tricorn' hat and a cloak.
Bauta Masks are beautifully decorated in comparison and are usually the most common mask that you'll see being worn at the Carnival of Venice, plus the most popular to buy as souvenirs. They usually cover the whole face, whereas a Columbine Mask covers just half of the face.
How to Make a Venetian Mask
If you're visiting the Venice Carnival and want to make your own mask this is possible! The most common way of making it is with paper-mache though this can be messy and time consuming. Another popular alternative is to buy a plain mask in your home country and then decorate it with feathers, beads, crystals and glitter for example, creating your own unique and personalised mask that you can bring with you to Venice for the Carnival!
Christopher Auriol is a specialist in European Travel. Read more about Venetian masks and the venice carnival.
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