It’s FRIDAY FASHION FACT! Right now a small city in Italy has been
transformed into a unique celebration that has been occurring for
centuries. That’s right- it’s Carnival in Venice! We have all seen the
photos of the spectacular costumes, always paired with mysterious and
alluring masks. Those fortunate enough to have attended the event in
person know just how jaw-dropping some of these elaborate costumes can
be. The masks are iconic, many instantly recognizable as Venetian. So
where did these fantastical looks come from?
To make a
long story short, Carnival itself dates all the way back to 1162, and
was originally a celebration of the victory over the Patriarch of
Aquileia. By the Renaissance, the celebration was made an official
annual event, held in the weeks leading up to Lent. Yet the masks date
back much earlier in Venetian culture. Though there is no record of when
or why masks first became popular in Venice, we do know that by the
13th Century they were already so common that laws were put in place to
regulate their use. At this time, masks were an everyday sight, not just
reserved for festivals. Masks allowed a person to break social
barriers, behaving in ways they might not typically had their identity
been known. The nobility was known to take advantage of the anonymity
provided by masks to indulge in gambling, brothels, and other such sins.
You can understand, then, why throughout the years more and more
regulations were put in place over when and where masks were permitted.
It is also the reason the raucous Carnival festival was banned from 1797
all the way through 1979.
Due to the freedom they
allowed, it is unsurprising that masks became so prevalent In my
opinion, it’s surprising that more cities didn’t follow suit! But what
about the designs of the masks? Let’s take a look at a few of the most
famous mask styles:
For men, the Bauta mask is perhaps
the most common style of mask, and most distinctly Venetian. A normal
fitted mask on top, it points away from the face on the lower half so
that the wearer could eat and drink without removing it. This mask
became incredibly popular during the 18th Century, which was also the
era when masquerades inspired by Carnival reached peak popularity
throughout much of Europe. This is why the bauta mask is still typically
paired with 18th century style clothing today, almost always including a
tricorn hat and cloak.
The most common between both
genders is the Volto (aka larva) mask. This is the mask that covers the
entire face, with only the eyes exposed. It is traditionally white,
though often ornately decorated.
Another distinctive mask is the Medico della Peste mask,
aka the plague doctor mask. This slightly creepy mask, with a dramatic
beak, is unique among the masks due to the fact that it is based off of
reality, rather than created out of frivolity. In other words, during
the days of the plague, doctors actually wore masks that looked like
this because they believed it would protect them from the deadly
There are many other styles of masks,
including the Gnana cat-like mask, and several based off of Commedia
dell'Arte characters such as Pantalone and Arlecchino. I can’t cover
them all, but I’ll leave you with one more mask which was all the rage
for women in the early 18th Century, yet is almost never seen today.
Known as the Moretta mask, this little black mask has a unique circular
shaped that covered the face, but not the chin, top of the forehead, or
other edges. What made it so infamous, though, was the fact that it
traditionally had no strap, and instead was held in place by a little
button on the back of the mask which a woman held in her mouth. As a
result, a woman could not speak while wearing the moretta mask. It gave
women an air of mystery, and in a way, a sense of power. Men would
strive to persuade the moretta woman to answer their questions,
therefore removing her mask and revealing her identity. Yet due to the
extreme impracticality of this style, it is understandable why the
moretta mask has not made a revival in modern times.
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