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The History of Venetian Eye Masks

Venetian Eye masks are typically known to cover the wearers identity during promiscuous activities or at an extravagant masquerade ball. Different types of the masks can be purchased at various places with one of the most well known in the UK being in North Wales. The masks originated for practical and aspirational purposes, allowing the wearer to be who they wanted to be and do what they wanted to do. Allowing the likes of a poor man to be a noble man for the day and so forth.

Dating back from 12th century, Venetian mask wearing was thought to be a response to the rigid class cultures throughout Europe at that time. Due to the heightened use of the masks throughout the country, the Italian government was forced to put a law in place to prevent the masks being worn with the exception of carnival season. The masks range in types from, eye masks to full face and traditional to carnival style masks, all individually and extraordinarily decorated.

This sumptuous and extravagant carnival used to go on for as long as two months, however, since the new laws the carnival has been reduced to just under a month long.

Masks that are traditionally used during carnival season are divided into two groups: Commedia Dell’ Arte and Carnival masks.

Commedia Dell’ Arte was a theatre which showcased improvisation and was popular between the 16th and 18th century, although the theatre is still in use today. Travelling actors and artists would perform juggling acts and set up improvisational plays. Venetian carnival masks from these plays which carry the names from these plays such as “Arlecchino” and “Brighella”. The Arlecchino is named after the harlequin, who is usually seen in a multicoloured costume with diamond shaped patterns. This half-mask has a short, wide nose, arching eyebrows featuring a bump or boil on the forehead. The Brighella is also a half-mask which is often painted green with a pointy nose and sombre eyes.

Carnival masks have names too which are more popular to wearers, such as “Bauta” and “Dama”, all of which feature different characteristics, from cat to bird and full face to half face. The Bauta is a traditional mask which covered the entire face and features a stubborn chin line, no mouth and lots of gilding. The square jawline of the mask is often pointed and tilted upward to enable the wearer to talk, eat and drink easily without having to remove the mask, preserving their identity. This societal mask was required to be worn during certain decision-making events where all citizens had to act anonymously, such as democratic votes etc. This was even enforced after the law came into place to guarantee direct, free and equal voting.

The strangest mask of them all are “Dottore Peste” which is a copy of an historical mask which was originally worn by doctors that treated patients in the plague. These strange looking masks were made with leather and featured long hollow beaks where herbs were placed and eyeholes covered with crystal discs, which was thought to prevent contracting the deadly disease. Today the masks are worn for more decorative purposes and are often seen following the example of the “plague doctor” by wearing a black hat and cloak and white gloves.

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