The Venetian masks were always a central feature of the Carnevale. They were made either of leather or paper-Mache. The traditional method of making a mask involves sculpting a form out of clay as a base for the mask. The mold is then lubricated and then small pieces of special paper (rather stiff) are fitted into the mold. The mold is then placed in a special oven to dry. When the drying is complete, the mask is separated from the mold, the eyeholes are cut out and it is sanded. The mascherari, mask maker, then paints designs in gold, silver and bright colors such as royal purple or yellow. Common decorations include sequins, silk ribbons, and exotic bird feathers. Rhinestones, gold charms, glitter and other bizarre trinkets also are often added to Venetian masks. There were two types of masks that were most prominent: the Bauta and the Moretta.
The Bauta was typically a shining white face-shaped mask and worn with a black cape or veil of silk and a tri-cornered hat. This costume was worn by both Venetian men and ladies. Sometimes the Bautas covered only the upper part of the face from the forehead to the nose and upper cheeks, thereby concealing the person’s identity but still allowing the person to talk, eat or drink easily. During the 18th century, only citizens of Venice were allowed to use the Bauta and it was illegal to wear weapons along with the mask.
The Moretta was made of black velvet, oval in shape and worn only by ladies. It was held in place by a button held between the teeth. Men favored the Moretta as it forced a silence on women–after all they couldn’t talk while holding a button between their teeth! The Moretta mask is also called the Servetta Muta meaning mute maid servant.
Among the most bizarre masks is the Medico della Peste (Doctor of the Plague). It’s the one with the long nose. Originally, it wasn’t really a mask but rather a protection for the doctors who treated people infected with the plague.
Masks were used to conceal the identity of the wearers as they frequented the gaming houses (Il Ridotti) of Venice. Love trysts were also much easier when no one could identify who was meeting whom!