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Top 7 Traditional Venetian Carnival Masks and Costumes

Carnevale is a truly grand celebration, especially in Venice. With lavish decorations and colorful costumes, people fill the event with a vibrant energy that adds to its festivity. One of the most iconic symbols of the Venetian carnival is the mask. Originally used as a status symbol in the 17th century, it has many different meanings and functions during the event, with each type of mask having its own distinct look and symbolism.


White Bauta | Tour Italy Now

One of the more popular traditional masks of the Venetian carnival, the Bauta features a white mask made of fine white cloth. It has a square-ish design that gives it a wide chin and normally lacks a mouth. Its particular shape still allows the wearer to eat or drink without having to remove the mask. It is usually worn with a black tricorn hat, a veil and a mantle that is worn over the shoulders to complete the costume. The name Bauta actually refers to the entire costume and not just the mask.

Medico della peste

The Plague Doctor's Mask | Tour Italy Now

This mask takes its origins from outside of the Venetian carnival setting. It was invented by French phycisian Charles de Lorme as a way to protect against the plague. It has a very distinct look consisting of a mask with a long and hollow beak-like nose with round eyes. It usually has a simple design and not as lavish as other carnival masks. The mask is coupled with an ankle length overcoat made of black fabric, as well as waxed, protective gloves. This design was inspired by 16th century Venetian doctors who believed that adopting this look protected them from disease and plague that was prevalent during this time.


Carnival Mask In Venice | Tour Italy Now

Volto masks feature a simple style that covers the entire face, giving the wearer complete anonymity from others. It is commonly seen even in modern times and has many variations in terms of decorations and style. It is typically worn with a three-cornered hat and a cloak, which adds to its mysterious aura. Unfortunately, because of its restrictive design, its wearer cannot eat or drink anything without taking it off.


Venitian Cat Carnivale Mask | Tour Italy Now

This peculiar Venetian half mask has a distinctive cat-like look. It has an unusual history tied to this mask. It was usually worn by men who want to disguise themselves as women. As such, it came with ordinary women’s clothing and a small basket under the arm, usually containing a kitten. Its name is taken from the Italian phonetic of a cat’s meowing (“gnau”).


Venetian Mask Isolated On White | Tour Italy Now

It is recognized as one of the most ancient of Venetian masks. It is derived from one of the characters in the Italian theater Commedia dell’arte, who is usually depicted as an old man with a witty and intelligent personality. The mask itself features a long and hooked nose with slanted eyes.  It is ideally worn by people who want to engage in light banter while showing off their intelligence.


Venetian Mask | Tour Italy Now

Another mask tied to Commedia dell’arte, the character of Arlecchino is known as the servant of Pantalone and the lover of Colombina. This mask has the classic Harlequin features, which include a colorful outfit and exudes a very flamboyant style. It usually has a large headpiece that may have bells attached, with the mask’s features having a short nose and arched brows for a more comical effect.


Portrait of a Girl in Mask | Tour Italy Now

Usually seen as a heavily decorated half mask worn by women, it takes its origins from the Commedia dell’arte and is considered the female version of the Bauta. It can be adorned with a variety of jewelry, feathers and other fabrics, which gives it a very ornate look. The character of Colombina usually wears ragged clothes to signify her status as a servant, but women nowadays who wear the mask usually pair it with elaborate costumes that represent their region.

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By Priscila Siano (266 Posts)

Priscila Siano is the Marketing Director of Tour Italy Now, an online tour operator specializing in Italy travel. She's a respected expert on making dream Italy vacations a reality for clients.

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