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History of Venetian Masquerade Masks

carnivale Discover the history of Venetian Masquerade Masks and Masked Balls and how they are back in vogue once more.

If you need an idea for a School Prom, A Summer Ball or a Fundraiser event then read on….

The surge in popularity of modern day Masked Balls, Masquerade Theme Weddings, College Prom Balls and Charity Ball events all stem from a Venetian tradition which started as early as the 11th Century. It was a regular part of life well into the 15th Century – peaking in the 18th Century.

The masquerade masks themselves were originally created for the ‘masques’ or shows/theatre depicting various characters such as ‘El Captiano’, ‘El Dottore’ and ‘Pantalone’ who represented arrogance, stupidity, and greed. They then became popular as everyday disguises where mixing with different social classes, romantic affairs and anonymity were needed. This led to the Mascereri (the Masquerade Mask Makers) being officially recognized with their own guild as Master Craftsmen in 1436.

The range of masquerade masks increased to include the well known ‘Bauta’ (which was worn by both women and men), the ‘Arlecchino’ (the joker) and the ‘Moretta’ (a full faced masquerade mask favoured by women and usually black in colour). Of course, masks were not only used for disguises but as practical solutions to the influx of diseases. The famous ‘Medico della Peste’ (Doctor of the Plague Mask) was designed with a long beak like nose which would house aromatic grasses or herbs, thought to ward off disease or infections.

medico_peste_maskAs mask wearing increased, so too did debauchery and crime. This forced a decree in the 14th Century, restricting the wearing of the Venetian masks to carnivals and special events. One such event is the famous Venetian ‘Carnivale’, held every February in Venice and celebrated with street entertainers, masked balls, costumes and an abundance of gorgeous masquerade masks.

Back to modern day, the popularity of masked balls has been seen in literature, film and theatre, recognizing the important role masks plays in changing our lives for the short period of time we wear them. Films such as ‘Labyrinth’, ‘Mask of the Red Death’ (Edgar Allan Poe), ‘Casanova’, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (Stanley Kubrick), have all featured a masquerade of some description, and of course Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (opening with a masked ball scene) couldn’t have explained the intrigue of a masquerade better than from its lyrics “Masquerade, paper faces on parade. Masquerade, hide your face so the world will never find you”.

modern_masquerade_stick_maskAs masked balls moved into England and increased in popularity, we see a change from the wearing of the traditional Venetian mask to more contemporary versions – suitable to our attire than of the complimentary period dress. However, a mask in any form, achieves what the Mascereri originally intended, that it be used as a way to be someone else for the time that you wear it.

Visit for Venetian Carnivale information and costume/mask hire in Venice.

We stock a variety of masquerade ball masks including some Men’s Traditional Half Venetian Masks, Women’s Venetian Masks, Genuine Handcrafted Leather Masks, Gorgeous Lace Masks, Venetian Metal Filigree Masks and Modern Masquerade Eye Masks. To visit our full selection of Masquerade Masks, please click here.