The Venice Carnival and the history of its masks

Mask by Jayneandd
The History of Masks in Venice

Mask by Jayneandd

The History of Masks in Venice

Venetian History on the use of masks

The History of Masks in Venice: Masks are the quintessential icon of the Venice Carnival, but since when the Venetian have been using masks to disguise themselves?

Let’s find out!

In order to limit the relentless moral decline of Venice,Venice on several occasions has legislated on Carnival and has regulated the use of masks and disguises.

The history of the Venetian mask begins in 1268, t back to the year in which we have the oldest record of a law limiting the misuse of the mask. In that document it was forbidden for men in masks, called Mattaccini, to perform the game of “ova”, which consisted of throwing from the tall buildings eggs filled with rose water against the ladies who were walking below in the streets.

Since the early  ‘300 an increasing number of laws and decrees began to be promulgated to limit and control the excessive use of masks by the libertine Venetians.

The History of Masks in Venice

Bauta by Gnappo

It was forbidden to wear the mask during the periods that were not those of Carnival and in any places of worship, as weapons and group chattering were prohibited.

During these periods the use of masks was forbidden to prostitutes and men who frequented the brothels. This was due to the fact that the masks were often used to hide their identity and to carry on some dirty business or illegal relationship.

The mask was a sign of freedom and transgression of all social rules imposed by the Venetian Republic. The mask was the symbol of the need to indulge in gambling, drinking during parties and the illusion of being in someone else’s shoes expressing transgression, gambling and immorality.

Around the end of 1400, a group of young Venetian nobles, in order to create and set up some entertainment and shows during the Carnival, gave birth to the “Compagnie della Calza”. Between 1487 and 1565 there were 23 companies all over Venice with their own statute, which all members had to accept and follow strictly.

The 1600s witnessed an abuse of the use of the mask, so much so that the Government of the Republic of Venice imposed rules that limited their misuse, stipulating the obligation of the use only in official ceremonies and public holidays.

A series of decrees of the Council of Ten, limited the use of masks in the days of Carnival and the official holidays, including very heavy penalties in the event of infringement.
Seeing that many Venetian nobles who were going to gamble disguised themselves to avoid their creditors, in 1703 masks were banned in the casinos all year round.

The History of Masks in Venice

Woman in mask by Simo

The production of handmade Venetian masks was the activity par excellence, so much so that in 177312 mask shops. The request for masks and their use was such that many masks “in black.” began to be manufactured.  The masks began to spread to European level.

Woman in mask by Simo
In 1776, a new law, this time to protect the by now forgotten “family honour”, forbade women from going to the theatre without a mask “bauta” covering their face and a cloak.

With the beginning of the Austrian rule after the fall of the Republic, Venice lost the “original” version of  its carnival. The Venetian ladies put aside the masks adapting to the fact that the Austrian government did not allow the use of masks, except for private parties or for those elitist.
The Italian government was more open but by this time the Venetians were  diffident . Venice was no longer the city of Carnival, but only a little imperial province without personal liberty.
During the second Austrian government it was once again permitted to use the masks during Carnival.The History of Masks in Venice

Only two centuries later the Carnival returned to live, but with a new role, that is as artistic and creative expression, that every year takes over the scene of that wonderful stage that is Piazza San Marco.

The Carnival of today is a magnificent event that involves major sponsors, television networks, and cultural foundations and which draws crowds of onlookers from all over the world with thousands.

Among the streets of the beautiful city, for about ten days, there is a continuous theatre of joy and playfulness, with masks celebrating the charm of a world of dances, games, exclusive galas and romantic encounters.
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The Carnival of Venice will take place from 19/20 February and from 26th February till 8th march 2011.

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Food & Travel Blogger, Culinary & Food Tour Guide, Cooking Consultant & Instructor - this is well as an event organiser and overall talker - always in Venice! #aphotoofveniceaday Offering cooking lessons at As a friend once said: A Fire Cracker full of energy, not crazy but a visionary!

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