Venetian mask

Venetian masks are a centuries-old tradition of Venice, Italy. The masks are typically worn during the Carnival (Carnival of Venice), but have been used on many other occasions in the past, usually as a device for hiding the wearer's identity and social status. The mask would permit the wearer to act more freely in cases where he or she wanted to interact with other members of the society outside the bounds of identity and everyday convention. It was useful for a variety of purposes, some of them illicit or criminal, others just personal, such as romantic encounters.

Venetian masks are characterised by their ornate design, featuring bright colours such as gold or silver and the use of complex decorations in the baroque style. Many designs of Venetian masks stem from Commedia dell'arte. They can be full-face masks (e.g. the bauta) or eye masks (e.g. the Columbina).



Near the end of the Republic, the wearing of masks in daily life was severely restricted. By the 18th century, it was limited only to about three months from December 26. The masks were traditionally worn with decorative beads matching in colour.

Types of masks

Bauta (sometimes referred as baùtta) is a mask which covers the whole face, this was a traditional piece of art, with a stubborn chin line, no mouth, and lots of gilding. The mask has a square jaw line often pointed and tilted upwards to enable the wearer to talk, eat and drink easily without having to remove the mask thereby preserving their anonymity. The Bauta was often accompanied by a red cape and a tricorn.

In 18th century, the Bauta had become a standardized society mask and disguise regulated by the Venetian government.[  It was obligatory to wear it at certain political decision-making events when all citizens were required to act anonymously as peers. Only citizens had the right to use the Bauta. Its role was similar to the anonymizing processes invented to guarantee general, direct, free, equal and secret ballots in modern democracies.

It was not allowed to wear weapons along with the mask, and police had the right to enforce




The Columbina (also known as Columbine and Columbino) is a half mask often highly decorated with gold, silver, crystals and feathers. It is held up to the face by a baton or tied with ribbon as with most other Venetian masks. The columbine was popularised by an early actress in the Commedia dell'arte of the same name. It is said it was designed for her because she did not wish to have her beautiful face covered completely.









Medico Della Peste (The Plague Doctor)

A "plague doctor" mask

The Medico Della Peste with its long beak is one of the most bizarre and recognisable of the Venetian masks. The striking design has a macabre history originating from 17th century French physician Charles de Lorme who adopted the mask together with other sanitary precautions while treating plague victims The mask is white consisting of a hollow beak and round eye holes covered with crystal discs creating a bespectacled effect.

Today, the masks are often more decorative. The doctors who followed de Lorme's example wore the usual black hat and long black cloak as well as the mask, white gloves and a stick (to move patients without having to come into physical contact). They hoped these precautions would prevent them contracting the disease. Those who wear the 'plague doctor' mask often wear the associated clothing of the beak doctor costume. The popularity of the Medico della Peste among carnivale celebrants can be seen as a memento mori.




Popular in Venice as it brought out the beauty of feminine features such as the female head, body and mind. The mask was held in place by the wearer biting on a button or bit and was finished off with a veil. Servetta Muta translates as 'mute maid servant'. This mask has not been widely worn since 1760.





Volto (Larva)

The larva, also called the volto mask, is mainly white, and typically Venetian. It is worn with a tricorn and cloak. It is thought the word "larva" comes from the Latin meaning "mask" or "ghost". Like the bauta, the shape of the mask allowed the wearer to breathe, drink, and speak easily without having to remove the mask. These masks were made of fine wax cloth and so were light and comfortable to wear, making them ideal for a night of socializing and dancing.






  Arlecchino (French: Arlequin, English: Harlequin) typically depicted in multicoloured costume comprised of diamond shaped patterns 






Brighella (French: Brighelle), a cunning and mischievous servant. He is associated with Bergamo.





Pulcinella (related to the Italian: pulcino or chick) is a crooked-nosed hunchback. He was the model for Punch in the English puppet theatre Punch and Judy. He is associated with Naples.










  La Ruffiana (Old Woman) is usually a mother or gossipy townswoman who intrudes into the lives of the Lovers



   Scaramuccia (French: Scaramouche) a roguish adventurer and swordsman who replaced Il Capitano in later troupes



Decline of Venetian Carnival

 By the eighteenth centaury the wearing of masks by Venetians continued for six months of the year as the original religious association and significance with carnevale diminished. On October 17th, 1797 (26 Vendémiaire, Year VI of the French Republic) Venice became part of the Austrian-held Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia when Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio. The Austrians took control of the city on January 18, 1798 and it fell into a decline which also effectively brought carnival celebrations to a halt for many years