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History of the Mask

Carnival History


The Venetian Carnival developed from two other celebrations – a religious celebration culminating in Lent and an annual celebration of a victory in battle (Doge Vitale Michieli II’s victory over Ulrich II of Treven in 1162). The heyday of the carnival itself was during the 16th – 18th century when the event had developed in to a festival with theatre and shows.

By the end of 18th century the wearing of masks had extended to 6 months of the year and the significance of the carnival had diminished. In 1798, when Venice became part of the Austrian kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, the carnival was discontinued.

Banned by Mussolini in the 1930’s, the carnival was revived in the late 1970’s and has returned to its former glory with the re-development of some spectacular theatre and shows.

The Masks

The wearing of masks is not mentioned until the 13th century but then quickly became associated with the carnival. The original masks were the Bauta (worn by both Ladies and Gentlemen) and Moretta (Ladies only). Both were full face – giving the wearer total anonymity if worn with the complete disguise of a cloak (black cape or veil) and the three-cornered hat (the tricorne).

By the 18th century the use of masks was common place and convenient in concealing the identity of ladies and gentlemen in the gambling houses of Venice.

The Entertainment

Alongside the development of the carnival was the introduction of the Commedia Dell’arte (Comedy of humours) – a form of improvisational theatre.

Some of the traditional characters, who also
wore masks, were: Arlecchino (Harlequin), Colombina, and Pulcinella