Know Your Venetian Masks

August 16, 2010

Grinning yellows,
spinning reds . . .
Take your fill –
let the spectacle
astound you!
Burning glances,
turning heads . . .
Stop and stare
at the sea of smiles
around you!
Seething shadows
breathing lies . . .
You can fool
any friend who
ever knew you!
Leering satyrs,
peering eyes . . .
Run and hide –
but a face will
still pursue you!

The following Resurrected Article found here

While we mostly tend to associate freakish masks with Halloween, Mardi Gras/Carnevale gives us another celebration that openly embraces masks and costumes. While some may find them freakish, others find them equally beautiful. Whatever your stance on Venetian masks, knowing the different types of masks can help increase your appreciation of them. Without further delay, here is a quick primer on the different types of Venetian Masks.

The Bauta mask is one of easiest Venetian masks to identify. Characterized by a pronounced chin and jawline, the Bauta may even come to a jutting point at the tip of the chin. Different masks have their own historical adornment, and the Bauta traditionally features generous amounts of gilding and gold-leaf work. Interestingly enough, the pronounced chin feature of the Bauta also serves a very practical purpose, allowing party-goers to eat and drink with the mask still on, as to maintain their disguise at all times.

The Volto mask is also known as the Larva mask, from the Latin “evil spirit” or “ghost”. Appropriately, then, the traditional Volto mask is all white and usually worn with a black cloak and tri-corner hat. As a more form-fitting mask, Voltos were made of a light wax cloth to ensure more comfort and breathability than some other Venetian masks. Over time, the classic white Volto has been seen as a canvas for decoration, allowing for much more ornate versions than its original conception.


The Moretta is a mask traditionally worn by women who were visiting convents. The Moretta is also known as the “Servetta Muta” or “mute maid servant”. This name comes from the fact that the mask was held in place by a button on the inside of the mask that the wearer would bite down on, thus preventing the ability to speak while wearing the mask. Although invented in France, it became very popular in Venice for its simple black appearance that accentuated female features. This is the least common of Venetian masks still worn today, as it promptly fell out of favor in the 1760s.


The Columbine is a half-mask that is held in place with either a baton held in the hand or a ribbon tied around the back of the head. Whereas other masks discussed so far have been full masks, the Columbine is a half mask. Traditional decoration of the Columbine includes gold or silver, jewels, and a wide array of different feathers. The Columbine is the most popular Venetian mask in contemporary society as it is very light, comfortable, and makes talking, eating, and drinking very easy.


The Medico Della Peste is translated into English as “The Plague Doctor”. This unique name has origins that are just as macabre as the mask itself. Characterized by a long bird-like beak, the Medico Della Peste was originally worn as a full-mask, but many half-mask variations exist today. Unlike some other Venetian Masks that were designed with appearance as the primary focus, the Medico Della Peste has its roots with Charles de Lorme, a French doctor in the 16th century who fashioned this mask to wear in his extensive time spent treating plague victims. While other Venetian masks don’t usually have an identifiable accessory, the Medico Della Peste is, once again, very different. Because its roots lie with doctors during the plague era, the Medico Della Peste is often accompanied by a cane or stick that was originally used for poking dead or near-dead bodies to avoid contact and reduce the spread of the disease. CONCLUSION.In time, the lines that define the styles of Venetian masks have blurred. It is common for the once-white Volto to be very ornate. Indeed, we may have all done a mask painting project in high school art classes that involved creating a variation of the Volto. Likewise, there seems no limitation to the variations of the Columbine. One thing that has not changed in hundreds of year, however, is the availability of Venetian masks everywhere from your local costume shop, to high-end collectible artisan masks designers. Find one you love and make a statement this Mardi Gras / Carnevale season.

Brenda Hineman is a costume aficionado who also writes about Halloween Costumes at StarCostumes.com.



  1. Interesting! I’ve seen the various styles of Venetian masks, but knew nothing about the significance of each!

  2. Great piece of writing! The beaked front of the Bauta mask also chenged the timbre of the wearers voice, making it a perfect disguise for lovers who didnt want to be recognised in public.

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