Carnival of Venice Masks

Carnival of Venice Masks

Why the masks? Since the Venetian carnival came into existence in 1162, it’s hard to say when the use of the masks began. But one theory is that during this time, Venice had an extremely hierarchical society. In the Middle Ages, Sumptuary Laws existed. These laws were instituted by the ruling class to suppress the lower classes from ‘appearing’ above their stations. The masks may have had a role, quote: One scholar argues that covering the face in public was a uniquely Venetian response to one of the most rigid class hierarchies in European history. (Source)  During Carnival, the Sumptuary Laws were suspended and perhaps it was at this time that the use of the mask was born.  Everyone could appear equal during the extended celebration. The masks may have even offered a kind of protection.

Tradition dictates that the Carnival of Venice originated from a victory of the Venice Republic against the Patriarch of Aqileia, Ulrico di Treven, in the year 1162. Excited by the victory, the people started to dance and gather in San Marco Square. According to legend, the Carnival of Venice was born and continued for centuries. It was driven underground by Napoleon who outlawed the carnival when he conquered Venice in 1797 believing that the nature of the carnival would stir up a rebellion. During the ensuing centuries, the carnival very slowly and sporadically returned to life and was finally restored completely in 1979. 

It was a group of Venetian college students who prompted the revival of the famous masks, though ostensibly for the tourist trade. Today, nearly 3 million visitors come to Venice every year for the Carnival. The signal event is the contest for la maschera più bella (“the most beautiful mask”) which is judged by a panel of international costume and fashion designers. 

Here’s a short video and perfect introduction to the beautiful masks of the carnival. Here’s a 16-minute video featuring a host of costumed and masked figures during the carnival. This short video really showcases the beauties of Venice as well as a few masks and costumes.

FunFacts about Carnival of Venice Masks: (Source) (Source)  

  • The carnival is held in Venice, Italy annually and takes place the 13th day of Lent up to Shrove Tuesday, or the day before Ash Wednesday.
  • The Carnival of Venice is world famous for its masks.
  • The carnival hosts many events including theatrical performances, masquerades, and fashion shows.
  • Traditional sweets of the carnival are called fritelles and galani, which apparently can be purchased in all the patisseries in town.
  • The ‘mascherari’, or creators of the masks, were honored as exceptional craftsmen through the centuries.
  • A number of traditional Venetian masks have names and styles, like the Volto or Larva and the Bauta. This blog has additional interesting information and pictures especially of these costumes and masks.
  • The carnival had been outlawed by Napoleon in 1797 after he conquered Venice – supposedly to suppress the rebellion of the people. The carnival continued, but only in private, safe settings. In more recent years during the latter part of the 20th Century, the Italian government wanted to restore some of the history and culture of Venice. They used the Carnival of Venice and the traditional, elaborate masks as a centerpiece for this effort.

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(Photos from Pixabay)

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To be entered into the giveaway drawing, please leave a comment about Carnival of Venice Masks. Have you ever attended the Carnival and seen the elaborate masks and costumes in person? Which photo did you like best? Feel free to share whatever comes to mind and share from the heart.

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42 thoughts on “Carnival of Venice Masks

  1. Sadly, the closest I’ve come to seeing the Carnival of Venice Masks is looking at some of the ones aimed at tourists at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. The photos are beautiful and the colors look amazing; I especially like the masks with purple accents.

  2. I used to buy my daughters some when they were smaller. They were still some in my youngest daughter ‘s bedroom when we turned it into a bedroom for her daughter. I don’t know what they did with them though. I think !y favorite is # 8 with the red hat. I thought a few were a little creepy though haha. Loved the blog. I didn’t know it started so long ago though..

  3. I have never been to a carnival where they wear those types of mask but there bebeautif l especially the one with what look like love flowers growing out of the top

  4. The masks are very ornate and beautiful. I liked the picture where they look like the king and queen in a deck of cards. Ga.

    • Catedid,
      I liked the expression on the last one as well. It was the reason I placed it last. It seemed fitting, somehow.

      Buckeye, Arizona USA

  5. I’ve seen the masks at the Venetian Hotel in Vegas, too. I bought a mask there as a keepsake. I loved all of the pictures of the masks and costumes that you posted, although a few did creep me out a bit.

  6. The masks are pretty and unique, I especially like the colorful ones. I’ve never been to the carnival, but like watching videos of it. The people dressed are works of art not to be missed. Thank you for sharing.

  7. No, but I would love to see it and go. I have seen pictures and I love those masks. I have sketched them a few times…

  8. So now I want to go to Venice! Some masks are so pretty. My daughter collects masks. We have found some great ones. I like the half masks. I wonder how hot you would get with a full mask and costume. Would make for a fun theme party.

  9. I have a small Venetian Carnival Mask my brother Donavon brought back after visiting our brother Davey who was in the Army but stationed at the nearby Air Force base. It’s really pretty, and I put it out for Mardi Gras every year.

    Yes, my parents gave us all “D” names. But, I really can’t complain since my three sons all have “J” names.

    Denise from Maryland

  10. These masks are absolutely beautiful and show absolutely stunning workmanship. I’d love to go to carnival sometime.

  11. I have never been to the carnival but it looks amazing. They present this air of mystery with a whisper that anything is possible. It sends delicious shivers down my arms. This could be an enchanted dream or a spooky nightmare. Love them.

  12. I have never been to the Carnival of Venice nor have seen any of the masks. All the pictures are gorgeous but my favorites are #2 (blue mask) & #8 (red mask). Watched the short video and how extravagant the masks and outfits are-just beautiful! AZ

  13. I would love to see Carnival, but I am a bit more interested in Mardi Gras ….still the history is intriguing.

    Drea – Casa Grande, AZ

  14. Fascinating. However, I must say, I enjoyed carnival just fine here in my comfy office chair. The crowds! I would be a nervous wreck in seconds. But the masks. Beautiful. I have a half mask that is still in it’s cello. I don’t want it to get damaged. It is so pretty. These full face masks . . . None of them smile. So serious. I especially enjoyed the last video with it’s tour of the canals and plazas. Breathtaking. Thank you.

    • Pansy,
      I wondered about the non-smiling masks as well. Maybe if I’d done another hour of research, lol, I could have uncovered the reason for it. They all look serious and something more. Several people mentioned ‘creepy’ and I have to agree, but I think it might be intentional. Maybe it had something to do with the history of the carnival itself.

      I, too, loved the third video. It was a beautiful portrait of Venice.

      Buckeye, Arizona USA

  15. Impressive doesn’t begin to describe those masks.

    I especially like the one with the red hat, although the blue ones are right up there.

    I enjoyed the history of the carnival.
    I’ve learned so many interesting things on your blogs.

  16. Although, I don’t care for the costume that much, the mask 3rd from the bottom is gorgeous. Thanks for showing me Venice.

  17. I imagine the person working so strategically when painting and decorating these masks. I hope to be invited one day to a party, mascaraed party so I can wear one of these amazing pieces.

  18. These masks are beautiful but a little creepy haha. If I saw anyone walking around like that coming up behind me I might have to take him out LOL. Of course if I was at the carnival and everybody else was dressed like that that’s one thing but they’re still creepy he he.

  19. Our ship pulled into Trieste too early for carnivale BUT luckily I was able to buy some original masks in Venice when I visited. I highly recommend it on ANYONES bucket list as a place to visit. Heck Italy in general ~ I lived there for 3 years thanks to the Navy and I LOVED it so much. Sure Naples is NOT the gem of Italy but the trains can take You ANYWHERE ~ I LOVE Venice and so want to go back. Vicenza was glorious as well (that’s where the AFB is located just LOVELY too). I don’t think I could attend Carnivale as there are just too many people and I don’t do well in crowds any more after too many deployments…I love your pics..

    Erin from Hampton Roads, VA

  20. Pingback: Venice - Caris RoaneCaris Roane

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