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Carnival of Venice - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Examples of masks worn during the carnival
Carnevale di Venezia 20100212.jpg
Venice Shop Window (Spring 2002).

The Carnival of Venice (Italian: Carnevale di Venezia) is an annual festival, held in Venice, Italy. The Carnival starts around two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday.




Carnival started as a time for celebration and expression throughout the classes, as wearing masks hid any form of identity between social classes. During the 1970s, the Italian government decided to bring back the history and culture of Venice, and sought to use the traditional Carnival as the centerpiece of their efforts. Today, approximately 30,000 visitors come to Venice each day for Carnivals.[1]

Venetian carnival masks

Masks have always been a central feature of the Venetian carnival; traditionally people were allowed to wear them between the festival of Santo Stefano (St. Stephen's Day, December 26) and the start of the carnival season and midnight of Shrove Tuesday. They have always been around Venice. As masks were also allowed Ascension and from October 5 to Christmas, people could spend a large proportion of the year in disguise [1]. Maskmakers (mascherari) enjoyed a special position in society, with their own laws and their own guild.

Venetian masks can be made in leather or with the original glass technique. The original masks were rather simple in design and decoration and often had a symbolic and practical function[2]. Nowadays, most of them are made with the application of gesso and gold leaf and are all hand-painted using natural feathers and gems to decorate.

Some masks at the Carnival of Venice.


Bauta is the whole face, with a stubborn chin line, no mouth, and lots of gilding".[3] One may find masks sold as Bautas that cover only the upper part of the face from the forehead to the nose and upper cheeks, thereby concealing identity but enabling the wearer to talk and eat or drink easily. It tends to be the main type of mask worn during the Carnival. It was used also on many other occasions as a device for hiding the wearer's identity and social status. It would permit the wearer to act more freely in cases where he or she wanted to interact with other members of the society outside the bounds of identity and everyday convention. It was thus useful for a variety of purposes, some of them illicit or criminal, others just personal, such as romantic encounters.

In 18th century, the Bauta had become a standardized society mask and disguise regulated by the Venetian government.[4][5] It was obligatory to wear it at certain political decision-making events when all citizens were required to act anonymously as peers. Only citizens had the right to use the Bauta. Its role was similar to the anonymizing processes invented to guarantee general, direct, free, equal and secret ballots in modern democracies.

It was not allowed to wear weapons along with the mask, and police had the right to enforce this ruling.


The moretta is an oval mask of black velvet that was usually worn by women visiting convents. It was invented in France and rapidly became popular in Venice as it brought out the beauty of feminine features. The mask was finished off with a veil, and was secured in place by a small bit in the wearer's mouth.

Volto or Larva

The "Volto" was the more common mask used in Venice for centuries. Volto means "face" to design that is was the most common, simplest mask.


The mascherari, or mask-makers had their own statute dated 10 April 1436. They belonged to the fringe of painters and were helped in their task by sign-painters who drew faces onto plaster in a range of different shapes and paying extreme attention to detail.

Cultural References

Carnevale is depicted in the 2009 video game; Assassin's Creed II. The main character, Ezio Auditore Da Firenze, is assisted by the artist, Leonardo Da Vinci, to hunt down and assassinate the corrupt Doge of Venice during Carnevale while wearing a mask.


  1. ^ Davis, Robert C.; Garry R. Marvin, (2004). Venice, the Tourist Maze: A Cultural Critique of the World’s Most Touristed City. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 35–50 & 246–60.
  2. ^ Nalesso, Roberta. ""The Maks of Venice". Meeting
  3. ^ "What are Venetian Masks?", wiseGEEK
  4. ^ Ignatio Toscani: Die venezianische Gesellschaftsmaske. Ein Versuch zur Deutung ihrer Ausformung, ihrer Entstehungsgründe und ihrer Funktion. Diss. Saarbrücken 1970.
  5. ^ Wiele, Johannes, "Licence to Mask: The Venetian Bauta Mask as a Historical Anonymization Device"

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Carnival of Venice - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia