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What Is the Origin of Masquerade Masks?

Updated April 17, 2017

For centuries, masks have been a way to add mystery and elegance to carnivals and balls, movies, books and everyday life. Today, we can admire them at Mardi Gras, in private collections or at exhibitions. Masks differ widely in style and coverage, but they all have the same origin: the Carnival of Venice.

History

Masks take us back to the Venetian balls of the 16th century, where men and women wore them to hide their identity. Masks allowed the Venetians to dance and flirt with anyone without being recognised. The popularity of masks spread across Europe during the Renaissance.

Bauta mask

The bauta mask was worn by Venetians all year long. It was originally white or black and covered almost the entire face. It was very popular because it allowed the wearer to eat and drink without having to remove it.

Moretta mask

The moretta mask was a black oval velvet mask worn only by women. It was also called "servetta muta," meaning mute maid servant, because women couldn't talk while wearing it. To wear the mask, they had to hold a button with their front teeth. The mask originally came from France and it was adopted by Venetians because it highlighted feminine beauty.

Volto mask

The volto mask, also called "larva" (ghost), was usually white and was worn mostly by men along with a tripod and black clothing. A man walking in the moonlight while wearing the volto mask gave the impression of a ghost. This costume was also adopted by movies, usually to foreshadow a crime or the coming of a villain. Like the bauta mask, it allowed Venetians to eat and drink without revealing their identity.

Columbine Mask

The columbine mask was decorated with silver, gold, feathers and crystals and it was held by a ribbon or stick. It only covered half of the face and was popularised by an Italian actress. She was playing a role in "Commedia Dell'arte" in which she had to wear a mask. She didn't want to cover her beautiful features completely, so the columbine mask was designed for her.

Medico Della Peste Mask

The Medico della Peste mask was popularised by doctors during the plague. The mask was worn with a hat, had round holes for the eyes surrounded by crystals for eye protection and a long beak stuffed with herbs and spices to filter the air. Doctors also wore leather gloves to protect their hands, a gown waxed from the exterior and long boots. They used a wooden stick to push away victims who wanted to get too close.

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About the Author

Richard Dixon is an Aircraft Maintenance Technician. Dixon studied airplanes during high-school and 2 years of college. His passion for writing brought him into Demand Studio's team of dedicated people.