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Top Ten Carnevale Masks of Venice

October 13, 2015

Greetings Detectives! One of the shows performed by The Murder Mystery Company is “Midnight at the Masquerade.” This show is a high class mystery where faces are adorned with ornate masks that come from a very colorful history. These masks originate from Venice and had many uses, though they are mostly recognized today as costume pieces for the much celebrated Carnevale.

It all began in the late 1100’s and reached over an 800 year period. Masks were used in all aspects of Venetian life. Doctors used them to keep from catching ill from patients, diplomats used them for politics and voting, and the general public used them for anonymity and of course celebration.

There evolved a set of 10 basic masks that were used for different tasks or events, and they each had different meaning. Here we lay them out for you.

1) The Colombina

This mask is one of the more popular mask seen today, at Carnevale celebrations all over the world. Covering the top half of the face and sometimes the nose, this mask was named after a character in the Commedia dell’arte. It is very detailed and colorful, and worn most often by women during celebrations and parties.

2) The Bauta

A mask worn by men at political events where anonymity was key for voting and decision making. This mask was also worn by men who sought to get lost in a crowd and not be recognised. It is a very square mask that covers the face all the way to the chin, and is either very stark, or heavily gilded. This mask is also known as the Casanova.

3) The Volto

This is a full coverage mask that guaranteed full anonymity to the wearer, and was suitable for either gender. Venetians wore this mask to parties and celebrations where they wished to be completely anonymous. The mask emulates a normal mouth and nose and has ornate designs over the eye and upper face area of the mask.

4) The Arlecchino

For all appearances, a jesters mask, one of the more outrageous masks seen at Carnevale. This mask is often adorned with a large colorful collar, bells, and a big headpiece. It’s a full coverage mask worn by more outgoing characters prone to ranting and slapstick comedy. This mask is also seen in the Commedia dell’arte.

5) The Gatto

This mask covers half the face, and looks like it sounds, like a cat. These mask are very popular at Carnevale. Cats were highly valued, and also very scarce, during the time of the plague, as they were the primary killer of disease spreading rodents, so it’s no surprise that Venetians fashioned a mask after their sassy feline saviors.

6) The Dama

Worn by the ladies of the Cinquecento, this mask was opulent, covered in jewels and extremely expensive. Ladies wore these masks with fine gowns also covered in jewels and other finery. Interestingly enough, in other cultures in western Africa, there is also a mask called the Dama, and it was worn during funeral rites, and during mourning. What an interesting opposition of uses!

7) The Moretta

This traditional Venetian mask was worn year round by women. It was also commonly worn by women visiting convents. It was typically worn with a veil, and was considered one of the more beautiful masks, accentuating the natural beauty of a woman’s face. Originally created in France, it was adopted as a common Venetian mask.

8) The Pantalone

This is another masks from the Commedia dell’arte. It features a long hooked nose, and slanted eyes, and covers the top two thirds of the face. This mask comes in all colors and designs. The character this mask depicts is an old corrupt man who has lost his virility. It is also associated with a man of extreme wit and intelligence.

9) The Medico della Peste

Also from the Commedia dell’arte, and also known as Dottore Peste, this mask has a more gruesome history. Plague doctors in Venetia would wear this long beaked mask stuffed with poultices when they visited sick patients. They believed this would keep them from becoming infected. This mask has a bit of a bad association, but is still very popular during Carnevale.

10) The Zanni

Yet another mask featured in the Commedia dell’arte, the Zanni is associated with a silly, simple minded and sometimes vulgar character. They say the longer the nose of the Zanni mask, the more of an imbecile the wearer is. This mask covers the top half of the face, and has a long thin nose that hangs downward over the mouth and chin.

These masks are one of the most entertaining parts of the Carnevale experience in Venice. Now that you know about the different kinds, you may have a ton of fun picking out the different kinds you see at our masked marvel, “Midnight at the Masquerade.” It may shine a whole new light on some of our characters! Let us know what you think of these masks and our show!

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