The word masquerade implies acting under false pretences. You may admire masquerade masks for the mystery they impart the wearer or the eye-catching designs. You may also be surprised to find that their use for concealing identities and spicing up a party has an intriguing history that dates back many centuries.
The origin of the masquerade mask dates to 1268 Venice, the first documented date the Venetians may have used the masks in the celebration of carnival, which marked the annual commemoration of the election of Doge Vitale Michieli. Venetians may have also been the originators of the use of masquerade masks during weddings and other festivities. Royals all over Europe adopted the custom of using masks for masquerade balls as early as the 17th and 18th centuries.
You will find four main types of masquerade masks: half, full, head and stick. A half masquerade mask goes over the eyes and covers most of the forehead. It ties behind the back of the head using ribbon. Full masks traditionally cover the entire face, including the mouth, making eating and drinking difficult. Many full masks now leave an opening for the mouth. Head masks cover the entire head, and tend to be more elaborate because they allow for designs of feather or fabric on the back of the head. You can hold a stick mask in your hand. It usually covers the eyes and forehead.
Masks became popular with the Venetians because they allowed the lower class to mingle with the upper class. They also allowed them to disguise their identity as they committed immoral acts. Venetians also used masquerade-style masks in improvisational theatre. They designed them to reflect emotions such as jealously and love. The Venetians mimicked masks of popular characters in these comedies for use in their celebrations. Though the use of masks in Venice faded after the Austrians took control of the city in 1797, a group of artists renewed their popularity in 1979.
Today masquerade masks appear at a variety of different events, including Venetian carnival celebrations. An unconventional wedding might see the bride wearing a mask instead of a veil. Teenagers use masquerade masks for costume balls at school dances such as prom. You may also see masks at special festivals such as Chinese New Year and Renaissance Festival, but one of the most popular uses is for the celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Participants in the parades as well as spectators wear the masks. If you choose not to wear masquerade masks, you can use them as interesting pieces of artwork.
Venetian masks are typically made of papier-mâché or feathers covered in rhinestones and crystals. Some may feature velvet, leather or a wax base. Less expensive masks may have a plastic shell that conforms to the curvature of the face. An artist then adorns the mask with feathers, paint, fabric, jewels and a whole host of other items. Decorative ribbons may secure the masks while simple versions may use an elastic band.