City of Masks - The Carnival of Venice

Updated on September 4, 2018
Nell Rose profile image

Nell is a trained Psychologist and lives in London England. She has been writing since she was a child.

Venice Carnival Masks
Venice Carnival Masks

Venice

Venice is the Capital of the Veneto region situated in North EasternItaly among a group of 118 small islands that are separated by small bridges and canals. It is surrounded by the Adriatic sea.

The city itself is situated in the Venetian lagoon, a marshy piece of land that spans between the Po and Piave rivers.

The actual place name, Venice, is derived from the ancient people who first inhabited the islands in the 10th century BC. They were called the Veneti. These days, approximately 272,000 people inhabit the islands of Venice.

The whole city is known as one of the most beautiful places in the world and is listed as a World Heritage Site.

It has been called the most beautiful city built by man, but is also known by many other names: La Dominante, Serenissima, The City of Water, City of Bridges, and of course the City of Masks.

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City of Masks Carnival

Each year, the Carnival starts around the time of Shrove Tuesday. The date changes slightly each year for Easter. The festival itself was restarted in 1979 after hundreds of years. The origins of the the festival actually began in the year 1162 and happened annually until 1797.

The history behind the festival began with the victory of the Repubblica della Serenissima, which was Venice's original name. The war was against the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico, in 1162 and after the victory, the local people began to celebrate by dancing. Each year, people began to meet in San Marco Square. When the city came under the rule of the King of Austria, the festival was banned and the wearing of masks was forbidden.

These days, over three million people visit Venice for the festival every year. And the masks are a center piece of the whole occasion. In fact, the masks were brought back purely to draw in the tourists, but has once again given Venice a mystique entirely unknown anywhere else in the world.

One of the highlights of the festival is the giving of awards for the best mask. This is known as "la mashcera piu bella," or the most beautiful mask.

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A Colorful Extravaganza

There are many varieties of masks worn at the festival. Some people chose to wear their everyday clothes with a mask or gloves added as their accessories. But many come dressed in spectacular renaissance clothing, complete with full masks, dress swords, and side daggers. There are so many variations on the costumes, and to see the people thronging to the main square dressed in these mysterious clothes is a sight to see.

It brings to life the times of old and adds a magical fairy like quality to the scene. At night, it's even more spectacular with the lanterns sparkling on the water of the canals. The bridges alight with people, set against a backdrop of stunning medieval buildings.

Masks have always been a part of the festival. Nobody really knows the origins, but its believed that people started to wear masks for various reasons around the 13th century. This was said to have been because of the rigid class system that was in vogue at that time. To cover the face was to show your status among the common people. But that's really just scholarly guesswork or so it states.

Traditional View of Venice

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The Bauta Mask

The Bauta mask can be gold colored, but it is usually a plain white color. The design covers the whole face and fits comfortably.

Even though it is regarded as a grotesque piece, with the over sized nose, large chin, and no mouth, it is one of the more common masks.

The look is completed with cape, usually red or black, but can be any color. This is finished of with a tricorn hat.

Strangely enough, back in the 18th century, this look was the norm for high society males who were in politics.

Obviously, this was to make sure nobody would know who they were when they were giving out prison sentences, hence they couldn't be identified. Back then there was a lot of political intrigue, and the assassin's knife was never far away!

In simpler terms, the Bauta Mask and cape were worn for voting, in a similar way that we have secret ballots or polling today.

Bauta Venetian Mask

Plague Doctor Mask
Plague Doctor Mask

The Plague Doctor Mask

Many people believe that the plague doctor mask worn throughout Europe in the 17th century in the midst of the plague offered protection against germs.

But, of course, back then the population had no idea of what germs were. The masks were in fact worn to scare away the Devil or demons that they believed were causing the population to be sick.

Of course, they knew that by touching the disease it could kill them, so as well as trying to scare away the Devil, they did hope that it would stop the illness from reaching them. Even though they didn't know how.

They often wore a long black cloak and white gloves to add to the effect and to prevent contamination. They also used a stick to push people out of the way.

It must have been a strange and disturbing sight, seeing these ghostly shadows walking through the fallen victims.

The design was invented in the 17th century by a French physician named Charles de Lorme.

Venice by Night

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Costume Contest - Video by Vlogitaly

Moretta Muta / Servetta Muta Mask

The Moretta or "Dark Mute One," was worn by ladies. It was a black velvet, rather small oval mask that had large eye holes but no mouth or lips.

It was a rather strange mask in the sense that the women who wore it could not speak, owing to the fact that they had to hold onto the mask from the inside using their teeth. Inside, there was a button or bit that would be placed between the teeth.

It was sometimes worn with a veil. This added to the mystery, but must have been very uncomfortable, and was likely worn for only short periods of time. This went out of fashion in the late 18th century.

Moretta Mask

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blog.privateislandparty.com

The Volto Mask

The Volto (face) or Larva (ghost) mask is one of the most popular masks. Even thought the original design was purely made in white, the ones we see today are nearly always multi-colored or gilded.

Always worn with a tricorn hat and cloak, the overall look is captivating but slightly unsettling. It is tied behind the head with a ribbon, but the full face mask doesn't have any mouth or hinged lower jaw, unlike the original which could be opened so people could eat and drink. I think its one of the most beautiful masks. Along with the cloak, hat, and gloves, the overall look is so colorful that it really brings to life the atmosphere of the ancient festival.

Volto Larva Mask

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www.eurotrip.hu

The Original Arlecchino or Harlequin Mask

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www.delpiano.com

The Harlequin Mask Today

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schwitty.de

The Arlecchino or Harlequin Venetian Mask

The Harlequin mask is the comedy Mask. It was first seen in the Italian Commedia or comedic stage play. The harlequin was a strange character, very similar to the "King's Fools" or court jester in the king's court in medieval Britain.

Rather than being a comedy character, he was in fact portrayed as a rather "noble savage" or lacking in sense, but full of emotion. Going from one extreme to the other. He had a short ape-like face, with a bump on his forehead that was said to show a devils horn.

The mask was originally made of wood but later changed to leather. He was shown to be a sad character, probably from peasant origin or even a slave.

The harlequin is bright and colorful, showing his mischievous side.

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travelblog.am

Venice Carnival Events

The Venice Carnival is not just about masks and costumes. There is so much to do and see. Each year there are classical concerts, Carnival photography tours, the classic gondolier rides, and so much more.

You also get to see the palace's and have a tour around the canals that span the whole of Venice.

As a collector of Venetian masks, I just love the color, the costumes, and the atmosphere of the Carnival of Masks.

I have at least 20 different styles of these fantastic masks placed around my home. They make great wall pieces and are so much more stylish than the usual paintings that adorn our houses.

I hope you enjoyed the tour of The Carnival of Venice.

Have You Ever Visited the Carnival of Venice?

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Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Nell Rose

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      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        3 years ago from England

        Thanks aesta, I would love to go to the Carnival, just think of all the masks I could bring back! lol! thanks for reading, nell

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        I had been to Venice 3 times but not during the carnival. I want to do this one day. The masks are lovely.

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Thanks so much moonlake, glad you liked it, nell

        Hi christopher, it is lovely isn't it. great to see you, nell

        Hi agus, yes the carnival is awesome, I love the masks, being a collector of them I would love to be there!

      • profile image

        Agus Fanani 

        5 years ago

        Those masks are really amazing and makes this carnival one of famous events in the world.

      • christopheranton profile image

        Christopher Antony Meade 

        5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

        Venice is such a beautiful city. I spent a day there once. Your splendid hub really manages to bring all its exotic magic to life.

        Thanks Nell.

      • moonlake profile image

        moonlake 

        5 years ago from America

        Very beautiful and interesting hub. I love all the masks. Someday maybe I will get to Venice. Voted up and shared.

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        HI Seeker, thanks so much, yes they are gorgeous aren't they? I would love to go and visit, and dress like that too, nell

      • Seeker7 profile image

        Helen Murphy Howell 

        5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

        What a fascinating hub this was and the masks of venice are extraordinary. This must be a wonderful site to see. I would imagine that Venice is a beautiful city at any time of the year, but the mask festival must add a special kind of magic to the city.

        A thoroughly enjoyable hub and the photographs are stunning! Voted up!

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi Deb, I can see you now snapping away at all the costumes and masks with your camera! lol! it would be great wouldn't it? glad you liked it, and thanks!

      • aviannovice profile image

        Deb Hirt 

        5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

        This was wonderful, Mel! I learned so much about the masks, and never even realized that there was a festival. Wow, could I get some great pictures!

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Thanks so much Anna, the Carnival of Masks is an amazing event, I had a friend who went last year, she doesn't stop talking about it! lol! thanks so much for reading, nell

      • Anna Haven profile image

        Anna Haven 

        5 years ago from Scotland

        I have been to Venice but unfortunately not at the time of the Carnival. It sounds incredible very romantic and mysterious.

        You have done a brilliant job of showcasing an event which sounds different and definitely worth a visit. Voted up and awesome!

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi DDE, thanks so much for reading, nell

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi Sharan, that must have been lovely, I would love to go back just to get some more mask! lol! thanks for reading, and yes the link is great, thank you.

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Thanks Glimmer, I just love the costumes and masks and the whole atmosphere, the photos are great aren't they? thanks for reading, nell

      • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

        Claudia Mitchell 

        5 years ago

        Well before I was on the earth my mother said she visited Venice during Carnivale and said it was magnificent and almost eery. Love your photos and putting this on my list of things to do.

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 

        5 years ago from New Delhi, India

        Wonderful hub!

        It is like revisiting the place. I had been there last year and was amazed to see the masks and even bought some as Souvenirs.

        You have given some interesting facts with beautiful pictures. I have linked your hub to mine. If you have any objection, please say so.

        Thanks for sharing this interesting hub!

      • DDE profile image

        Devika Primić 

        5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

        Most beautiful and the photos are stunning, Venice is a lovely place to visit sounds extraordinary

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi b. Malin, aw thanks! lol! great to see you back, nell

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        HI pinto, glad you liked it, and thanks!

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hy ytsy, sounds like your daughter has great taste too! lol thanks so much for reading, nell

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi Genna, thanks so much, yes I love it, just wish I was there! lol!

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Thanks Mike, glad you liked it, and thanks for reading, nell

      • Mike Robbers profile image

        Mike Robbers 

        5 years ago from London

        Fascinating story of the Venice carnival and the mask culture and excellent photography as well. A wonderful hub that i really enjoyed reading!

      • Genna East profile image

        Genna East 

        5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

        Hi Nell;

        I’ve heard about this carnival, but have never seen it. The masks are fascinating, and I enjoyed your stories about their background and descriptions, and the carnival. This hub is the next best thing to actually being there. So interesting. Well done.

      • ytsenoh profile image

        Cathy 

        5 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

        Nell, I was pulled into your hub because of my daughter's mask collection. What a great job with your information and images! Sounds like a great event to put on a travel-to list. Venice has to be a place to travel to. The mystique of the masks is highly interesting. Thanks much for this history lesson too!

      • pinto2011 profile image

        Subhas 

        5 years ago from New Delhi, India

        Hi Nell! This is really a very well written and well informed hub. So many things I learned today.

      • b. Malin profile image

        b. Malin 

        5 years ago

        Hi Nell,

        Wow, this is really a "Treat" to read about and see the Video...It's like a "Mini Virtual Tour" of Venice...Masks and All! My Votes of UP Beautiful & Interesting go to YOU!

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi mary, I have a few of the Masks above but I wish I had all of them! lol! thanks so much for reading, and yes I would love to go back to Venice, its such a lovely place, nell

      • mary615 profile image

        Mary Hyatt 

        5 years ago from Florida

        Well, I am quite a collector, but sadly I don't have any of these masks. You are lucky to have them. You did a superb job with this Hub, Nell. I love the photos you used, too.

        I've never been to Venice, but I'd sure like to go.

        Voted UP and will share and Pin.

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi Faith, thank you so much, it was something I have been meaning to do for ages, but just kept forgetting, glad you liked it, nell

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi Suzette, you are so lucky to have visited it so many times, I love the masks they are so mysterious, every time I go anywhere and spot them I have to buy one! lol! thanks!

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi livingsta, thanks so much, I remember first seeing it on that tv program I can't remember the guys name, but it was fascinating, thanks!

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi Flourish, thanks so much for reading, its lovely isn't it?

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi Alicia, yes wouldn't it? I would take so many photos, and of course get dressed up too! glad you liked it, and thanks!

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi ruby, yes me too! I have watched a wonderful series on tv recently, and it took in all of italy and venice, I was smitten! lol!

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi drbj, thanks so much for reading, yes its so fascinating, I got interested in it when I read the mary hoffman books, now I am addicted to masks and all things Italy! lol!

      • drbj profile image

        drbj and sherry 

        5 years ago from south Florida

        Venice is a beautiful, fascinating city, Nell, and your hub is just as beautiful and fascinating with the story and photos of carnival masks. Thank you for this treat - voted up.

      • always exploring profile image

        Ruby Jean Richert 

        5 years ago from Southern Illinois

        This is a great hub Nell. I don't own any masks but i would love to. The history is fantastic. I would love to take a boat ride through The Grand Canal in a gondola......YEA!

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        This is a beautiful and fascinating hub, Nell! I would love to visit Venice and see the masks. The carnival would be a wonderful photo opportunity!

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        5 years ago from USA

        What intriguing masks in an intriguing city. I've never heard of this carnival but imagine it is quite the visual spectacle! Voted up and more!

      • livingsta profile image

        livingsta 

        5 years ago from United Kingdom

        Thank you for this hub Nell. Beautiful with lovely pictures. I have not heard about the masks, but now I know through your hub. Thank you for sharing this with us. Voted up, useful, interesting and sharing!

      • suzettenaples profile image

        Suzette Walker 

        5 years ago from Taos, NM

        Nell: I have been to Venice many times but have never been there for the Carnival. I have heard about it and many shops in Venice sell the masks. Aren't the masks wonderful? This is so well done and well presented. I so enjoyed reading this!

      • Faith Reaper profile image

        Faith Reaper 

        5 years ago from southern USA

        Wow, Nell, this is a hub extraordinaire!!!

        Oh, how I wish I could attend such. How very fascinating. And the imagery is beyond beautiful with the gorgeous colors and such!!!

        You have outdone yourself here. Thanks for such an extensive hub here covering the Carnival of Venice.

        Superb! Really enjoyed reading and viewing all of the amazing imagery. I don't know which mask I love the best, as they are all so unique and beautiful.

        Voted up ++++ and sharing

        Blessings, Faith Reaper

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi howler,thanks so much for reading, nell

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi billy, thanks so much and I am glad you liked it, yes its beautiful isn't it?

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi Feline, I haven't read it yet! not fair! lol! I didn't realise that it was set in Venice, I will definitely have to buy it now, thanks so much for reading, nell

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi kitty, thanks so much and yes we are fine over here, mind you the rain is turning my feet into ducks feet but hey can't have it all! haha! thanks kitty, nell

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi travmaj, lol! love that China placard! yes you are so lucky, I would love to go to the celebration too, thanks so much for reading, nell

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hiya Jools, those outfits are just gorgeous aren't they? maybe I should collect those too! lol! thanks so much for reading, nell

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Hi Rayne, thanks so much for reading, nell

      • Jools99 profile image

        Jools Hogg 

        5 years ago from North-East UK

        Loved this Nell; I would love to be there, all of that colour and tradition, the outfits are sublime.

      • profile image

        Rayne123 

        5 years ago

        wow great hub

        interesting information

        thanks

      • travmaj profile image

        travmaj 

        5 years ago from australia

        This was lovely - I enjoyed being back in Venice. I went last year -first time back after 25 years. It was glorious and remains in my top ten cities. Sadly, I haven't been to the carnival, not there at that particular time. I bought some masks though, for myself and gifts - so much choice, couldn't resist. I did see the humour in one stall promoting his masks with a huge placard - 'Not made in China' The fun of being a tourist! Thanks Nell Rose - voting.

      • kittythedreamer profile image

        Kitty Fields 

        5 years ago from Summerland

        What an enchanting place to be...beautiful! Thanks for sharing this with us, Nell. Hope all is well on your side of the pond. :)

      • profile image

        Feline Prophet 

        5 years ago

        Just read Dan Brown's 'Inferno', a lot of which is set in Venice...and this hub brought it alive!

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        5 years ago from Olympia, WA

        Beautiful! Venice by night is pretty spectacular. Thanks for the tour, Nell. It was almost like being on vacation. :)

      • howlermunkey profile image

        Jeff Boettner 

        5 years ago from Tampa, FL

        I've heard of the carnival of masks and hope to visit Venice someday (Your pics are amazing). Fascinating story on how the carnival originated. Cool to know you collect masks, I have a friend who has one as well, beautiful in detail and color.

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Thanks Jackie, I am addicted to my Masks! lol! they are dotted around my house, so I love this Carnival, glad you liked it, nell

      • Jackie Lynnley profile image

        Jackie Lynnley 

        5 years ago from The Beautiful South

        Wow this was fantastic, you really put some work on this one! Love all the pictures and info, you took me right there. I would love to go! ^&+

      • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

        Nell Rose 

        5 years ago from England

        Thanks so much Natasha, glad you liked it, nell

      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 

        5 years ago from Hawaii

        Those costumes and masks are so incredibly elaborate! Wow! Great information, too.

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