The History of Carnival

For over 700 years, Venetian masks have played a major part in the intrigues and mystique of Venice.

In modern times this intrigue has been enhanced by two movies: Fellini's controversial Casanova in 1976 and the more recent Eyes Wide Shut, directedin 1999 by Stanley Kubrick and starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman

The current trend of Masks today are for wearing at masked balls and parties and also as display items, the beauty of it is that they can be both! Venetian masquerade carnival masks have been around since the 11th Century and played a large part in Venice society. In 1436  the mask makers of Venice or Mascereri were officially recognised with their own guild and were master craftsmen
Our range includes many exclusive masks as well as the more traditional Venetian style masquerade masks with the ever popular Cat mask and the very visible Zanni Nose Mask with its long beak which, was traditionally used to keep substances in which it was believed would protect the doctor from the plague
The Bauta was the most popular of disguises during Carnevale. The practice of wearing masks for disguise reached its peak in the 18th century when different social classes in Venice used Carnival as an excuse to mingle and, in some case, to make sexual favours without being recognised
There are many forms of mask which represent humans and animals and they are often accompanied by a costume to complete the transformation into make to change the identity of the wearer
Street performers donned masks to draw attention to themselves. Originally there were no scripts and the actors improvised following a very loose plot.
At first only the grotesque characters wore masks, the other players and ladies did not. Although the scripts changed for each play, the characters were always the same, so there was no need to explain to the audience who was what.

The three main characters were ‘El Captiano’, ’Pantalone’ and ‘El Dottore’ who displayed arrogance, stupidity, and greed. The servants who where smart and devious or sometimes rather stupid were always looking to get one up on their masters.

’Arlecchino’, the devious Joker, was believed to be one of the first characters created who developed into the character of ‘Harlequin’. The term ‘slapstick’ came from the wooden stick he wore, designed to produce maximum noise when engaging with other characters in mock fights.

For young Commedia actors, who were learning the trade, there was the neutral mask. This was quite expressionless and covered the whole face, meaning that they could use neither facial expressions nor speech to convey things to the audience, only body language and gestures.

Popular throughout the 16th and 17th developed into other forms such as the 18th century Vaudeville.

'Masquerading' started in the thirteenth century, when Venice was as lively and crowded as it is today.

As a result many people, particularly the rich and famous but also courtesans, gigolos, and others who needed to conduct themselves with the utmost discretion and privacy and who required anonymity, started to wear masks to achieve this.

Consequently a new breed of professionals emerged who were able to make stunning masks for these clients and a whole new industry was born.

But the secrecy that the masks provided also led to an inevitable increase in crime and a general decline in morals.

In the fourteenth century it became necessary to introduce decrees forbidding the everyday wearing of masks, and masquerading was restricted to special carnivals and festivals.

These spectacular happenings draw visitors from all over the world with the main Venetian event, The Carnavale, taking place in February each year