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Venetian Masks:The History Hiding Behind the Masks

Everything you need to know about Venetian masks

Venetian Mask If there’s one thing in Venice that’ll keep tourists window shopping, it’s the carnival masks. With originals being decorated with animal skins, fabric, jewels and striking coloured feathers, the masks are a real visual magnet.  

The history of Venetian masks goes back to Roman times, but their real moment of glory came during the 18th century. Although these days we associate them with Venice carnival, in the old times they were used during various occasions throughout the year, such as when going to the theatre or attending official parties. The masks guaranteed anonymity, so were perfect for allowing aristocrats to mingle with peasants and even for taking part in conspiracies or attending secret romantic encounters.

Types of Venetian mask

In the shops, you can find many different kinds of  masks, but some traditional models are repeated more often than others. These are some of the most typical Venetian masks:

Bauta – A white mask with a prolonged point under the nose that covers the mouth. Worn with a black cape, a three-peaked hat and a tunic. Represents mystery, intrigue and secrecy.

Moretta – Of French origin, this oval-shaped, black-velvet mask covers the face completely. Often accompanied by veils and hats, this mask is for female use only.

Dottore Peste – Originally used by doctors when attending victims of the plague. To avoid contagion and so as not to have to endure the stench of the disease, they wore these masks with glass eyepieces and a large beak in which to stuff perfumed tissues and herbs.

Other popular Venetian masks are those which come from the Comedia dell’Arte, a theatrical genre based on improvisation which is protagonised by characters like Harlequin, stingy old Pantalone, the adventurer Polichinela, Doctor Balanzone and Colombina.

Where to buy Venetian masks

In the street and souvenir shops, masks which are often of very basic quality are sold for 15€ - 20€. Authentic Venetian masks, however, are something else entirely. Works of art, they are made from papier-mâché, painted by hand and involve an enormous amount of work. To give a rough guideline, their price can oscillate between 30€ and 200€, depending on how complicated their design is. These are some of the best shops for mask buying in Venice:

mascaras-venecianasLa Bottega dei Mascareri – This is one of the best-known mask-buying shops in Venice, show casing meticulously hand painted masks. Where: San Polo 80, Ponte di Rialto.

Ca’ del Sol – Offers a wide variety of costumes and traditional masks at very reasonable prices. They also hold courses on Venetian mask-making. Where: Fondamenta dell' Osmarin, Castello 4964.

Laboratorio Artigiano Maschere – Another of the most famous and oldest workshops in Venice. Some of their designs are genuinely surprising. Where: Barbaria delle Tole, Castello 6657.

Tragicomica – This shop specialises in the costumes, masks and figures from the Commedia dell’Arte, although you’ll find lots more here as well. Where: Sestiere San Polo, 2874.

Ca'Macana- One of the city's oldest mask shops. Here, the masks that appeared in the Stanley Kubrick film “Eyes Wide Shut” were made. Where: Via delle Botteghe, Dorsoduro 3172.

- Marketing Team

    User Comments:

    • Alicia Loy
      24 February 2014
      Hi, I would like to find out the shop to get mini colourful Magnet Venetian Mask in Venice? thanks!
    • Friendly Rentals
      24 February 2014
      Hello Alicia! Thanks for writing. The best place for this kind of thing is generally in the small shops around the Rialto Bridge (https://maps.google.es/maps?q=rialto+bridge&hl=es&hq=rialto+bridge&t=m&z=15). Happy shopping!
    • Annie Maddox
      24 February 2014
      Fascinating article. Do you know how one could buy a mask that was actually worn in the carnivale parade?
    • Friendly Rentals
      24 February 2014
      Thanks for your comment, Annie. You can buy masks to wear during carnivale in any of the shops featured in our article - they're not just for decoration!
    • Carl
      24 February 2014
      Hi, what is the oldest venetian mask still in existence today that you know of? if any where can i get more info on it? Thanks
    • Cha
      24 February 2014
      Where can i buy venetiam masks in milan?thanks
    • Friendly Rentals
      24 February 2014
      Hello Cha,
      Although shops aren't as specialist, in Milan you can buy Venetian masks in costume shops such as Lariulà, la Bottega di Carnevale and Papillon Carnival.

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