Venetian Carnival Masks as Art

Venetian Carnival Masks as Art
The annual Venetian Carnival or 'mardi gras' begins two weeks before Ash Wednesday. I will discuss the history 'behind' the illustrious masks worn by partygoers in Venice.

Oscar Wilde said, "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth."

The word "Carnevale" is Italian for "Carnival" and was first noted in writings from 1092, in celebration of the victory of Doge Vitale Michieli II over Ulrich I of Treven. The festivities would become an annual event until they were halted by Napoleon Bonaparte, who passed a peace treaty in 1797; thereby Venice became Austrian.

Then during the 1860s, Venice became part of the new Kingdom of Italy, as it remains to this day. In 1979, Venetian Carnival would begin again as a means to boost tourism.

The wearing of masks during carnival in Venice began in the 13th century. However, the documented act of "masked men throwing scented eggs at ladies" was prohibited by the council (Venetian Laws: May, 1268).

Today, the number of mask shops outnumbers all other shops, except restaurants (ristorante). The parade of revelers for Venetian Carnival can generally be seen in St. Mark’s Square.

Revelers (then and now) may wear the simple plain white volto mask or one more elaborately handmade (possibly of paper mache), hand painted, perhaps even embellished with Swarovski crystals.

Originally only in white, the mask was worn with a black cape of silk, a cloak (tabarro) or mantle, and a three cornered (tricorne) hat.
Historically, the basic premise of wearing a mask was to conceal one’s identity (allowing for indiscretions). This was also an essential accessory for women all year long when attending the theater.

The Venetian mask is meant to cover the face, yet allowing the wearer to indulge in eating and drinking. The Bauta mask is the traditional mask, and the origins of the word may come from the German "behüten" which means "to protect." Also, the Italian word for "monster" is "bau" or "babau."

Venetian Carnival 2014 runs February 22 – March 4 and includes a "Zombie Walk" from the Zattere (a waterfront promenade) to the Pescheria (Rialto fish market), near the Rialto Bridge, for an evening party.

You can own a photographic print of Sergio Pitamitz's "People in Masks and Costume, Venice Carnival,Venice, Italy."

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