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Venice Carnival Masks: history, models and workshops

Symbol of the Venetian Carnival, Venice masks represent the essence of an event unique in the world and can be multiform: elegant, refined, lively, mysterious. So much loved for its joyful unbridledness, the carnival was born as a celebration of equality in freedom,eliminating social classes and allowing everyone to derogate from the rules that usually govern social conduct. It is also a hymn to beauty. Durng Carnival period, beautiful costummes and handmade masks color the Venetian streets. In effect, Masks, Carnival and Venice represent an inseparable trio.

We will take you into the heart of this relationship, to discover mask secrets and its link with the Carnival. If you are planning a trip to Venice, know that you can learn the art of mask making with the best craftsmen in the city, who will accompany you in practical workshops. On this page we will also talk about workshops for creating and decorating masks suitable for all ages. Let’s get started!

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Carnevale Maschere

Venice Carnival: typical masks

It is worth remembering that in the past the mask was an instrument used by Venetians in their daily lives, and not only at Carnival! For a certain period of the Serenissima, in fact, it was common to see people going around Venice wearing a mask in order to hide their identity. This could be due to various reasons that were not all transparent … Between crimes and clandestine relationships, the masks ended up facilitating  too much deviated conducts that the Serenissima feared, to the point that it was decided to ban the use of the mask in Venice, except during the Carnival. Thus the triad Masks, Carnival, Venice was born. It must also be said that the prohibition was less heavy than it seems, because at that time the Carnival began on St. Stephen’s Day and lasted until the beginning of Lent. Not bad, is it? “Buongiorno siora maschera” was the characteristic greeting that was given along the alleys and that you might hear while walking in Venice for the Carnival.

It may seem strange today, but in reality there are few historically verified models of traditional Venetian masks. Among them there is the bàuta, the classic mask white that camouflaged the voice and allowed you to drink and eat and the mask of the plague Doctors (medico della peste), weared with a black hat. 

Masks of the Commedia dell’arte are famous all over the world as Harlequin, for which Carlo Goldoni wrote the hilarious comedy “Servant of two Masters”.

How to recognize handmade Venice Carnival masks?

venice masksIf you are thinking of a nice souvenir of your trip, certainly an authentic Venice Carnival mask is a good choice. But there’s a though. In Venice you’ll find literally hundreds of mask shops. Some of them,beautiful, other flashy with bargain prices… at first glance. In fact, a quick examination will show you that the quality of these masks is poor, the material tends to be plastic and that you risk buying a chinese object that will not last long. It is good to know how to recognize authentic Venetian masks and there are various ways to do it. Here are a few adviceideas:

  • The original venetian carnival mask does not break, as it is made of paper mache and gauze on several layers.
  • It has a defined shape, but not as rigid as plastics. Therefore it can be compressed or stretched and will always resume its shape
  • resting on the face is soft, light and pleasant to wear
  • breathable: thanks to the materials that compose it will not run your face at the next masquerade party. With plastic instead… you can imagine
  • Look at the price. It is a clue. An original Venetian mask will never be on sale at 2, 5 or 10 euros. Think that these figures do not even repay the work of a craftsman to produce it.

So how much does a Venetian mask cost?

An authentic Mask Carnival Venice will cost approximately a few dozen euros (we find it difficult to think of something authentic at less than 35 / 40 E). The price then varies, and even a lot, depending on the model: next to very simple masks there are real works of art enriched with lace, feathers, Swarovski crystals! (…in Venice nothing is exaggerated).

It ‘a wonderful gift to be made to himself or others because it is a handmade product that does not risk ending up in shatters at the first opportunity.

 

mask making veniceVenice mask painting near Rialto

In the heart of Venice, between Rialto and San Marco, enter a dream atelier and learn the technique of the Venice carnival mask face to face with the craftsmen. Clay, papier-mâché, plaster and gauze, you will learn how the masks of the Commedia dell’arte were created and you will be able to create a splendid mask of excellent quality, guided by expert and passionate craftsmen. The course is available both for the decoration of a handmade mask only, and in the two-day version for the creation and decoration from scratch. A unique experience that will give you a wonderful souvenir. Venice mask painting offers are several on the island meanwhile masks fabrication atelier are really rare. Not miss the opportunity ! 

Mask making Venice: Courses on the Island of Burano

A splendid course suitable for all ages led in a small atelier in Burano where you can discover the secrets of the Venice Carnival mask and create your own. Immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the small island and in the quiet of the lagoon landscapes. Both the mask decoration course and the two-day creation and decoration course are available. Check our mask making venice offer. 

Do you have other curiosities about Masks, Carnival, Venice? Here you can find many other articles:

  • Venice Carnival 2020: program
  • Venice Carnival Events: discover the most beautiful masked parties and palace dances
  • History of the Carnival of Venice: from its origins to the present day
  • Venetian Carnival costumes