What Are Venetian Masks?

Venetian masks were worn during the medieval times in the Republic of Venice in Italy. Worn mostly during the Carnival of Venice, these masks were used during several occasions to hide the wearer’s identity and social status. During the repressed and religiously strict times in medieval Italy, people found a way to find freedom by hiding behind colorful masks. Interacting with different members of society was made possible due to the anonymity these masks offered. The rich could mingle with the poor and vice versa, with no judgments being made on anyone’s behavior given the lack of identity.

The Venetian masks thus unwittingly became tools for mischief, and people engaged in illicit, criminal, and immoral activities. For others who were less rebellious or adventurous, the masks allowed for the development of personality and romantic encounters.

Of these masks, the Bauta mask was an important political tool whose use was allowed by the Republic of Venice and regulated by its police in medieval times. Only citizens of Venice were allowed to use the mask while representing themselves in decision-making meetings. It was noticed that these masks allowed both top and low ranking citizens to freely express themselves in meetings. This was not the case earlier, when a person expressing his free opinion was targeted by others and sometimes even killed. As a result, it was officially declared that wearing these masks were a necessity in order to participate in meetings.

Other than the Bauta mask, the other masks were not approved for public use. However, encouraged by the official grant for the Bauta mask, people continued to use masks during the day and behaved in ways in which they normally would not. This led to a lot of free and unrepressed behavior and even though Venice was a republic, the Catholic Church that was behind the government in all aspects decided to ban these masks. After several unsuccessful bans, the Catholic Church decided to allow the use of masks during the three-month period after Christmas until Strove Tuesday. This time is known as Carnivale, or a period when meat is removed from one’s diet. Today it is known popularly among Christians as Lent.

The core aspect of Venetian masks is their ornate design, the use of bright colors, precious metals such as gold or silver and complex decorations in the baroque style. You’ll find full-face masks that belong to the Bauta style, or masks that cover only the eye such as the Columbina style. Each style gave birth to many different kinds of masks that are popular to this day in carnivals across the world, notably Mardi gras.

Today these masks are used only during carnivals or during masquerade balls and parties. Even today, these masks allow people to mingle freely and let go of their inhibitions and prejudices and embrace their true selves openly. It’s easier to appear in public clothed minimally when you’re hidden behind a mask. In today’s open times, these masks are a novelty and a joy to watch during carnivals, not a cause for worry as it was during medieval times.

Many people around the world collect Venetian masks, especially antique masks that have survived the centuries. These are valued and treasured by collectors the world over. Famous auction houses hold Venetian mask auctions that are always well attended. The monetary value of a mask, even a new one, depends on its design, its styling, its materials and the quality and value of the gemstones and precious metal that’s used on it. Venetian masks are loved for their mystique, their beauty and the intrigue of the anonymity they offer while adding glamour and beauty to one’s personage.

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