Venetian Mask History

Dreams of Venice Venetian Mask History

Venetian Mask History goes back 1000’s of years traversing continents and cultures an a most exotic tale.

A tourist recalls dreamy days lost in the labyrinth of cobblestone lanes and watery reflections. Music, art and the unmistakable feeling of being lost in time are typically Venetian.

Quaint Venetian shop windows filled to the brim with modern and traditional Venetian Masks that enchant the tourist.

Venetian Mask History – Before Venice’s Masks

In this lost moment, we share a fascination that goes back in time to before Napoleon, Casanova and the plague.

Here we find ourselves in the time of the Pharaohs, a time of masked pagan festivals to the Sun God, celebrating the the coming harvest.

Julius Caesar and his legions delighted in returning to their loved ones with exotic treats, gifts and tales of their experiences. The culture hungry Italians readily accepted customs and beliefs from foreign lands and made them their own.

Rebranding Masquerade

Though conflicting with Christian beliefs, the Egyptian Pagan Masked Festival was embraced by the worldly Italians and became a popular yearly event. About 1500 years ago the Pope of the time declared the Festival to be called Carnevale. It became a great Celebration of Indulgence that precedes 40 days of Lent’s fasting.

This Christian makeover helped the Mask to flourish. In 1436 the Mask Makers Guild of Venice was founded by members who sought to be held apart from the “general artisans” of the ancient city.

So Much Fun – It Must be Illegal!

Carnevale was a joyous time of revelry and excess. The rich mingled with the poor and the mask granted anonymity to the wearer. It became a useful tool to those who required secrecy. In a time of courtesans, forced marriage and religious control over sexual persuasion the mask flourished.

The Plague

Venice’s shipping port brought wealth but also invited the plague. Many times the city was afflicted. Symptoms of the plague included fever, sores and swollen infected glands.

Survivors were left with scarred faces and I imagine some stigma was attached to how the scars were acquired. During Carnevale the scars were so easily disguised behind the mask. Flamboyant Venetians sought to wear it all year round.

Indeed, it was as common to wear a mask as we wear sunglasses. The city of Venice became one of the most elegant, wealthy and cultured places in the world.

Venice was called La Serenissima or the Serene Republic. The Doge, being head of the church, government and police was and is to this day the most powerful person ever to have existed in the world.

Doctor of the Pestilence – Dottore

The day to day life within the city would have been filled with drama and excitement further embellished by wealth and fashion. Specific historical masks evolved including the “Doctor of the Pestilence” who was the cloaked Doctor during the time of the plague.

Dottore Masks are essentially birdlike with glasses that implied the wearer was well educated. Within the beak cavity was a sachet of sweet smelling disinfectant herbs. The superstitious believed the plague to be an evil manifestation and the intimidating bird shape mask was intended to ward off evil. The doctor would lift the bed covers cautiously looking for puss filled abscesses on the patient that would confirm the worst.

Good Films to Watch

This era can be impossible for us to picture, so I recommend you see the movies “A Destiny of Her Own” or Heath Ledgers “Casanova”. Venice will come to life, you will feel Venetian and these movies will leave you with life like memories.

Single Ladies

The Moretta mask was most popular in Venice but specifically worn by the unwed ladies. The mask was held to the face by biting onto a button located on the inside of the mask near the mouth. This rendered the girls silent as they could not talk without dropping the mask.

Young Venetian men found the lady’s silence mysteriously alluring. Of course once married the lady had not only a voice but an opinion which was sometimes unwelcome.

Favored Felines

Cats were brought back to Venice from Egypt when Cleopatra gifted cats to the Romans. Cleopatra’s massive wheat silos were protected from rodents by cats. This helped ensure the continuous supply of food to her people. With the most noble of intentions, the sacred cat was given to Julius Caesar. In the hope that the Romans had the same protection from vermin. From this gift between lovers, the domestic cat was introduced to Europe.

The plague once again showed the cats’ usefulness because the cats helped control vermin that spread the dreaded disease. To this day Cat Masks are readily available in Venice as the Venetians are fond of this delightful domestic creature.

Commedia del Arte

Ancient theatre also required the wearing of masks. Commedia dell Arte characters like Pulchinello, Scaramouche, Arlecchino, Zane and Capitano traditionally wore the masks according to their character.

Traditional Venetian Masks are quite often made from hand made Paper Mache but are rare. Young men love to wear Scaramouche who is a mischievous rogue with a very long nose or Pulchinello who is glutenous, laze and promiscuous.

The Traditional Mask of Venice – Bauta

The most Venetian Mask is undoubtedly the Bauta Mask which is worn by men and women with a long black cloak and a tricorn hat. It is said that the Bauta Mask is the ultimate disguise. The prominent mouth piece disguises the voice, the cloak disguises the gender. The face is completely covered so that identity is also hidden.


Casanova, the famous Venetian lover, doctor and lawyer Casanova would have most definitely worn the Bauta Mask. Gentlemen cut a dashing figure with their tricorn hat adding to their stature and the long black cape flowing as they walked down the cobblestone streets of the ancient city. In Venetian Mask History, the Bauta mask is commonly called Casanova.

Masks Banished

The Spanish Inquisition sought to eradicate the masks from Venice. It was impossible to police the promiscuous masked city and the Inquisition, though deadly serious, did not succeed in their endeavors.

When Napoleon conquered the Serene Republic of Venice he stamped out the wearing of masks because it posed a profound security problem.

Mask Rebirth

Hundreds of years went by before masks were reborn in 1978 when a sentimental artistic father decided to make some masks for his family to enjoy, similar to those that would have been used before the time of Napoleon.

So often was he asked where he got the masks from that the man decided to meet the demands of those who celebrated Carnevale. The following year he arranged the poor art students of the University of Venice to make masks for Carnevale.
It was an immediate success. These days the modern tourist would not be able to imagine the pre 1978 days when there were no masks in Venice.

Masks are modern art forms reflecting the imagination of the artisan. They often include Music decoupage because Vivaldi wrote his music in Venice. Cats, Bauta Masks, Amazon Warriors, Phantom of the Opera Masks and Commedia dell Arte characters are brought to life. With the inspiring backdrop of canals, unique architecture and cobblestone streets it creates magic.

Insignia Masks has transported this Venetian Masquerade Mask romance to Australia. We specialise in Wholesale Venetian Masquerade Masks, Decorator Masks and Murano Glass Jewelry. We recommend Mask Shop Australia for service, range and price.

We wish you great pleasure from your own Venetian Masquerade Mask or Home Decorator Mask.